GIC-backed S Korean fintech startup Viva Republica plans to raise $200m

Lee Seung-gun founder Viva Republica. Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Viva Republica Ltd., the operator of South Korea’s largest fintech startup Toss, is planning to raise about $200 million from investors to bankroll its expansion in online banking and security trading services.

The company expects to complete the funding round in mid-2020, founder Lee Seung-gun said in an interview, declining to disclose the expected valuation. Lee is also aiming to go public in two to three years, with a listing in South Korea, Hong Kong, the U.S. or two of the destinations, he said.

Standing as South Korea’s largest fintech startup — with 10 million monthly active users — Toss reached its first break-even month in April. The seven-year-old company is planning to start a securities brokerage service in the second half of this year and build an internet bank in July next year, helping it win a bigger slice of the $43 billion financial market in South Korea.

“At a time like this, a company that grows fast and makes profit will get more money,” Lee, the 38-year-old dentist turned startup founder, said in an interview. “Our goal is to become a finance super app, making people open Toss for any financial activities without question.”

The Seoul-based company was able to cut spending thanks to a new open banking system adopted by the government late last year. That helped shrink commission payments to banks to a third of the original cost. Revenue grew six times in the last two years, and Lee aims to generate tens of billions of won in profit this year and more than one hundred billion won next year.

Lee’s goal is to make Toss the world’s first super app that aggregates all the services provided by fintech giants such as Paypal Holdings Inc., Robinhood Markets Inc. and Credit Karma. Out of a total of 40 services, Toss’s five major units — money transfer, credit rating management, insurance, investment and credit cards — evenly generate most of the revenue and profit.

Toss wants to offer securities brokerage services and loans to small businesses and consumers with interest rates between 5% and 15%. By eliminating complicated interfaces and terminology, Lee’s betting that the two services could lure half the country’s population, or about 25 million people, to actively use its app in two years.

Lee will hire around 200 workers for the online bank unit and as many as 90 employees for the brokerage service.

In a country dominated by family-run conglomerates, Toss stands out for advocating policy change. Lee said the government is now encouraging more “destructive players” to innovate in the finance industry.

“The founder dreams big, but he’s also great with execution and quick to deliver on his promises,” said He Tiantian, vice president of Sequoia Capital China, which invested in 2018 and followed up in every ensuing round. “Korea’s financial market is very well developed and the market potential for fintech is huge.”

Toss has raised a total of more than $350 million and was valued at $2.4 billion in its previous fund-raising round. It’s also backed by PayPal Holdings Inc., Goodwater Capital, GIC Pte, Altos Ventures.

Lee is looking for expansion outside of South Korea. The company started a reward service in Vietnam, giving people monetary incentive for completing tasks such as walking thousands of steps a day. It’s lured 300,000 monthly active users. It’s exploring opportunities in Southeast Asia and Japan as well.

For Lee, this is the first time he has broken even in his 10-year startup career. A yoga enthusiast, Lee said he’s planning to take a trip to Hawaii with his employees — all 350 of them — to celebrate the turnaround when the virus outbreak settles.

“There were concerns among the market whether fintech is a profitable business,” said Lee. “Toss proves that it can achieve fast growth and make profits at the same time.”

Bloomberg

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.

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.