Net­mar­ble: Start-ups must serve as con­duit

New Straits Times - - Business -

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

BLOOMBERG PIC

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.

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