Netmarble: Start-ups must serve as conduit
SEOUL: When mobile gaming firm Netmarble Games debuts on Friday, its founder Bang Jun-hyuk will be the only billionaire in South Korea’s top-10 wealthiest stock holders with no ties to the chaebol, the mainly family-owned industrial conglomerates that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Bang’s is a rare South Korean rags-to-riches story, and the high-school dropout with two business failures on his resume wants the state to revive support for start-up companies and nurture a new crop of businesses as an alternative to the economy’s dependence on the industrial might of groups including Samsung and Hyundai.
“If you look at start-ups these days, they’re predominantly about fried chicken delivery, which is worrying,” said Netmarble’s founder and chairman. “We need start-ups that would serve as a conduit for new business areas for our future.”
Bang, 48, owns 24.5 per cent of Netmarble, which priced its US$2.3 billion (RM9.97 billion) initial public offering at the top of the range. That would make him worth around US$2.9 billion and rank him sixth in South Korea’s richest stock holders, according to data provider FnGuide.
Bang is part of a generation of South Korean technology entrepreneurs that founded startups from the late 1990s when state investment helped create one of the world’s most wired nations. Non-chaebol companies founded around then include internet portal Naver and game developer NCSOFT.
Born into a relatively poor family, Bang dropped out of high school and unsuccessfully founded two start-ups, one of which was an online movie streaming business similar to Netflix.
“Looking back, there were many new businesses like movie streaming where Korea was ahead of others, and they were spun out of high-speed Internet and other infrastructure we had,” he said. “But it was very difficult to succeed as there were not many people who were betting on such future businesses at the time.”
“When you fail twice, there’s nothing left. You’ve hit bottom not only economically, but mentally ... You start thinking, am I stupid? Is this all I am?”
With just US$90,000 in seed money from acquaintances, Bang founded Netmarble in 2000 with eight employees. The firm is now worth 13.3 trillion won (RM50.91 billion) and its 3,000 employees generate 1.5 trillion won in annual sales.
Netmarble aims to be among the world’s top five games companies by 2020, with five trillion won in annual revenue, partly through acquisitions. Reuters
Netmarble Games founder is part of a generation of South Korean technology entrepreneurs that founded start-ups from the late 1990s with no ties to the chaebol.