Women Power: 5 Korean startup CEOs conquering the business world

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Traditionally businesses are believed to be male domains, and so when the Korean startup system started booming, it was assumed that it would be men dominated arena as well. 

But Korean women are equally enterprising and have forged ahead developing successful ventures. A number of women entrepreneurs are challenging gender notions by launching their successful startups. What’s interesting is these promising young women are also venturing into the field of Tech and FinTech startups, which are predominantly male-oriented. 

As International Women’s Day is just around the corner, Koreatechdesk.com has picked out some Korean women entrepreneurs who run successful startups and are paving the way for more women to venture into the startup industry:

1. Sophie Kim, CEO, Market Kurly 

Kim, a former Goldman Sachs banker, turned her obsession with fresh food and groceries into a career. She launched Market Kurly in 2015, an app that delivers fresh vegetables, eggs, and perishable foods delivered by sunrise. The app offers a range of groceries and merchandise for delivery by 7 a.m. if the orders are placed the previous night. The startup’s sales reached over 157.1 billion won in 2018. In May 2019, the grocery platform startup received a $29.74 million investment from Hillhouse Capital in its series D round. Kim says her major driving force that keeps her motivated is customer satisfaction, and going by the success of the company, one can be sure that the customer is satisfied!

2. Lee Hyo-jin, CEO, 8percent

Korean P2P lending platform 8percent connects borrowers and lenders. Founded by Lee Hyo-jin, a former banker, the startup claims to factor in alternative sources of information for credit analysis about an individual’s characteristics. She launched 8Percent in November 2014, after being inspired by the Lending Club in the US. 8Percent offered algorithm-backed portfolios in February 2016, and today, the number of automated portfolios account for about 70 percent. It is one of the first three companies to be recognized as P2P lending platform operators. Lee says that for a P2P investment to be perceived as an investment destination, the rate of return counts more than the volume of return.

3. Ja-Young Yoon, CEO, Styleshare

Styleshare founder, Ja-young Yoon, is an alumnus of Yonsei University, and her fashion platform is one of the most promising startups in Korea. In less than a decade of its launch, the company has about 5.5 million users! It boasts of 73% of all South Korean women aged between 15-29 years.

StyleShare is a real-time online and mobile platform where users post their daily fashion look, share the hottest trends in fashion and beauty products. They can also sell secondhand apparel. The company also recently launched its fashion label and acquired the online shopping platform 29CM. Its sales stood at $107 million last year! It has become a famous destination for the fashion-conscious and the fashion industry. The app is available in seven languages and has users from 120 countries. According to Yoon, the secret behind Styleshare is its value of sharing, autonomy, and empowerment. You go!

In May 2021, the fashion unicorn startup Musinsa acquired a 100% stake in fashion platform StyleShare and 29CM. The acquisition scale is $265 million or 300 billion won. Styleshare will be utilising Musinsa’s brand value to expand globally.

4. Hyemin Lee, CEO, Finda

Hyemin Lee is the founder of two e-commerce startups and also brought the US-based AI healthcare app Noom to Korea, where it became a top-grossing app in its category. Lee has also launched the fintech startup, Finda, which has raised $1.5 million. It received a combined $3.8 million series A funding from multiple investors to enhance its paperless loan platform. Finda’s loan platform allows users to know the maximum loan they are entitled to and the lowest interest possible within a few seconds. This gives the user the advantage of making an informed decision. The app will also help the user take out loans accordingly. Finda’s web portal provides information on some 17,000 financial products by collaborating with about 50 institutions. 

5. Sophie Soowon Eom, CEO, Adriel Inc.

Sophie has co-founded the Seoul-based startup Adriel Inc., which offers Artificial Intelligence-based advertising and marketing solutions to small businesses and startups. Adriel has over 2,000 clients based out of 20 countries. The startup has been running over 4,000 advertisements on global online platforms. Adriel is not the first startup by Eom, as in 2014, she, together with her husband and Co-CEO Olivier Duchenne, had founded Solidware, a startup that uses big data and machine learning to help financial companies give better credit scores. The startup was later acquired by DAYLI Financial Group Inc., one of Asia’s leading FinTech companies. Sophie, who has a Master’s Degree focused in Grande-Ecole, Finance major from HEC Paris, was listed on the Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 in 2017.

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