Former Dentist Becomes A Billionaire After Funding Round Boosts His Korean Fintech Startup

Lee Seung-gun is the founder and CEO of fintech startup Viva Republica. Family-owned conglomerates have dominated South Korea’s economy for many years.

Viva Republica, the company that operates Toss the finance app, announced earlier this week that it had raised $410m in financing. This valuation of the eight-year-old startup is $7.4billion. Allen Capital Management in New York and Altos Ventures Silicon Valley are the investors. In previous rounds, investors included PayPal, the Singapore sovereign-wealth funds GIC and Kleiner Perkins.

Toss’s spokesperson confirmed that Lee’s stake is more than $1Billion after the funding round. Forbes estimates Lee’s ownership of slightly less than 18% in Viva Republica at $1.2 billion after discounting the value because the company itself is private.

Viva Republica, a company based in Seoul’s Gangnam district, was founded in 2013. It launched Toss two years later as a money transfer company. Toss has since expanded its services to include loans, checking credit scores, and investing in stocks.

Toss claims it has more than one-third of South Korea’s users at 20 million. Viva Republica reported revenue increased more than threefold to 390 billion won (about $30 million) in 2020, while losses fell to 72.5 billion won (from 115 billion won).

Lee was a dentist at a Samsung-affiliated hospital before he founded Viva Republica. After being frustrated with the difficulty of transferring money via mobile phones, he decided to create Toss. He told Forbes that Toss was the way financing should be. “We have completely redesigned the experience and accessibility of financing services for mobile, and we hope that we can make it available to all mobile users in Korea.”

Lee, 39, joins a growing number of Korean entrepreneurs who have joined the three-comma club over the past few years. Bom Kim, Bang Shihyuk, founder of Coupang, and Chang Byunggyu (chairman of Krafton online gaming company) were all billionaires over the past few decades.

Celltrion cofounder Seojung-jin was the top earner on this year’s Korea’s richest list. Forbes released its inaugural list in 2005, and this is the first time that the No. 1 spot has been held. The top spot has been held by either the Samsung or Hyundai conglomerates’ head honchos, second-generation heirs who inherited the fortune.

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Samatha Vale
Samatha a senior writer for HC's entertainment team. She is an entreprenuer, mother and an excellent writer. She's also an avid reader, music enthusiast and all around inquisitive person - which is just a nice way of saying she's nosy.

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