Quest for fresh food pushed this ex-Goldman banker to come up with Market Kurly app

Founder and CEO Sophie Kim shows the Market Kurly app. Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

A mobile app created by a former Goldman Sachs banker obsessed with fresh food is disrupting South Korea’s retail industry by giving grocery shoppers fewer reasons to visit a store.

With the Market Kurly app, shoppers can order in the evening and have fresh vegetables, eggs and other perishable foods delivered directly to the doorstep by sunrise. The company promises delivery before 7 a.m. for orders made before 11 p.m.

The overnight service has caught on among high-income families with little time to go grocery shopping and is nipping at the heels of chaebol-run companies like E-Mart and Softbank-backed Coupang over the country’s 23-trillion-won ($20 billion) fresh-food market.

“Market Kurly is becoming an alternative for hypermarkets like E-Mart, whose sway over fresh foods has been unchallenged until now,” said Kim Hyun-Su, a fund manager at IBK Asset Management. “More and more people who work will probably turn to this kind of service.”

Working moms

After mostly focusing on Seoul’s posh Gangnam neighborhoods the delivery service is expanding beyond the country’s largest city thanks to a 67 billion won ($60 million) investment last year from investors including Sequoia Capital Ltd.

“I knew this type of business would thrive with the rise of working women, including moms,” said Sophie Kim, the 35-year-old founder of Kurly Inc. “As income rises, people start caring more about quality.”

Kim began her career as a banker in mergers and acquisitions at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Hong Kong before working at firms like Temasek Holdings Pte and McKinsey & Co. It was at management consulting firm Bain & Co. that she came up with the idea for Market Kurly, after becoming frustrated with spending most of her downtime searching for fresh foods to take care of her deteriorating health. Kurly, formed in 2015, is a play on the word “culinary”

About 300,000 people now use the app each month to buy everything from salmon and beef to sea cucumbers and kale, according to Kim, who sometimes stays up at the company’s warehouse on the outskirts of Seoul until 3 a.m., when delivery begins.

Competition rising

A typical pack of 10 eggs sold on Market Kurly can cost from 5,400 won to 19,000 won while a similar product will sell for less than 5,000 won on other online stores. Most customers range in their thirties and forties with many enjoying posting photos of their food on social media like Instagram, Kim said.

Kim, who declined to provide company sales and earnings for 2018, said she hopes to have Kurly turn a profit in a couple of years and is pushing for more funding from other investors. The company probably quadrupled its revenue to 160 billion won ($142 million) in 2018, according to business journal E-Today.

Other retailers are trying to catch up. E-commerce startup Coupang last year began to offer overnight delivery for fresh foods in certain locations, and E-Mart also rolled out a similar service, hoping to stem the hemorrhage of store customers. Kim said she welcomes the competition because it’ll help expand the market for overnight delivery services.

“Some rivals are trying to build their own shipping centers for grocery and catch up with Market Kurly,” said Park Hee-jin, analyst at Shinhan Investment. But Market Kurly is “competitive in its selection of premium foods,” which may not be readily available at E-Mart or at other grocery stores.

Also read:

S. Korea’s Shinsegae, E-Mart to get $940m from Affinity, BRV Capital for online foray

Bloomberg

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In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

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  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
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