July 25, 2021

Fintech: a former dentist becomes billionaire after fundraising

fintech |
Lee Seung-gun joins the Forbes ranking of independent billionaires in South Korea. Getty Images

Lee Seung-gun, founder and CEO of fintech startup Viva Republica, is the latest to join the growing group of independent billionaires in South Korea, where family conglomerates have traditionally dominated the economy.

Earlier this week, Viva Republica, which operates the Toss financial app, announced it had raised $ 410 million in a funding round valuing the eight-year-old startup at $ 7.4 billion. Investors include New York-based Alkeon Capital Management and Silicon Valley-based Altos Ventures. Other investors in previous rounds include PayPal, Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

A spokesperson for Toss confirmed that fintech founder Viva Republica’s stake in the company was worth more than $ 1 billion after last week’s funding round. Forbes estimates that he owns just under an 18% stake in Viva Republica, which is worth $ 1.2 billion (after deducting valuation due to the company being private).

Based in Seoul’s upscale Gangnam district, Viva Republica was established in 2013. Two years later, it launched Toss, a money transfer service. Since then, Toss has expanded its services to provide loans, check credit scores, and invest in stocks, among other things.

Toss claims to have 20 million users, or more than a third of South Korea’s population. Viva Republica said its revenue more than tripled in 2020 from the previous year, to 390 billion won (around 280 million euros), while losses declined to 115 billion won. won to 72.5 billion won.

Prior to launching Viva Republica, Lee Seung-gun, who graduated from prestigious Seoul National University, was a dentist at a hospital affiliated with the Samsung conglomerate. He came up with the idea to create Toss after he got frustrated trying to transfer money through mobile phones. “Toss is the way financing should be,” he told Forbes in 2017. “We have completely redesigned the experience and accessibility in mobile financing services, and we hope we can deliver that offering. to every mobile user in Korea. “

At 39, Lee Seung-gun is the latest in a growing list of Korean entrepreneurs to join the Three Comma Club in recent years. Bom Kim, the founder of Coupang, Bang Shi-hyuk, the founder of the agency Big Hit Entertainment known for having created the K-pop group BTS, and Chang Byung-gyu, the president of the online game company Krafton, have all become billionaires in recent years.

In Forbes’ ranking of the richest people in Korea this year, a self-taught entrepreneur, Seo Jung-jin, co-founder of Celltrion, has taken the first place for the first time since Forbes released the inaugural ranking in 2005. Previously, the first place was still occupied by one of the bosses of the conglomerates Samsung or Hyundai, heirs of the second generation.

Article translated from Forbes US – Author: John Kang

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