Korean online grocery startup Kurly secures $150m from existing investors

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

South Korea’s online grocery delivery startup Kurly Inc has secured an additional $150 million from existing investors Sequoia Capital, Hillhouse Capital, and DST Global, according to local news outlet Korean Investors.

The Series E financing round values the startup, which operates online premium grocery service Market Kurly, at around $780 million. The three investors had participated in Kurly’s $109-million Series D a year ago.

Investment banking sources interviewed by Korean Investors said the startup would have reached unicorn status in the latest funding round had local investors not hesitated to join the round.

Market Kurly, launched in May 2015, seeks to become the Amazon of online grocery delivery. It was the first to introduce the “full cold-chain” system, a temperature-controlled supply chain for fresh food delivery, to users in South Korea.

Shoppers can order in the evening and have fresh vegetables, eggs, and other perishable foods delivered directly to their doorstep by sunrise.

Kurly, however, is being challenged by sustainability issues and intensifying competition from other e-commerce companies and traditional retailers.

While the startup has raised more than 400 billion won ($329 million) in five rounds, it reportedly continues to lose money due to soaring labour and other operating costs.

According to reports, the startup’s losses reached 97.6 billion won ($80.3 million) in 2019 even as its sales nearly tripled to 430 billion won ($354 million).

The coronavirus pandemic, however, could boost sales of e-commerce and online delivery companies, including Kurly, as most South Koreans stay at home to avoid contracting the virus.

Kurly’s rivals have previously expressed interest in acquiring the startup. Suitors included domestic retail giants Shinsegae Inc and CJ Corp, which are said to have baulked at the online grocer’s asking price.

Kurly was founded by Sophie Kim, who began her career as a banker at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong before working at firms like Temasek Holdings and McKinsey & Co.

Kim earlier said about 300,000 people now use Kurly’s app each month to buy everything from salmon and beef to sea cucumbers and kale.

Singapore Reporter/s

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).

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

  • 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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Singapore Reporter/s

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).

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

  • 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. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.