Dropping out of Harvard Business School after six months and folding his first company didn’t stop Bom Kim, 40, from going on to become South Korea’s second-youngest billionaire. That was through founding Coupang, Korea’s answer to Amazon. Starting as a Groupon-esque daily-deals business (and, curiously, Korea’s top diaper retailer), Coupang has ballooned into an e-commerce powerhouse that raked in $4.1 billion in sales revenue in 2018, and record investment from SoftBank.
Korean-born but American-bred, Kim was a New Englander for most of his formative years, attending boarding school in Massachusetts before the Harvard stint. He stayed in the Bay State, working at Boston Consulting Group, before starting his own magazine, an unofficial Harvard alumni publication called 02138—Cambridge’s zip code. The magazine stayed above water for two years—under Atlantic Media ownership for a portion of that time—before closing in 2008.
Better things were to come when Kim returned to his homeland, the Amazon-absent South Korea, where he founded what he envisions as a “next generation e-commerce model.”
Kim said he wanted to create a world that wonders, “How did I ever live without Coupang?” And the vision is becoming a reality: The company says half of Korea’s population has downloaded the app. The convenience factor is the pull, with Dawn Delivery promising items at your door by the time you wake up the next day.
The Harvard dropout is now likely unfazed by that college decision. In 2016, his business was named “one of the 50 smartest companies in the world” by nearby MIT—just next door to his alma mater, at 02139.