Ex-Love Hotel Janitor Becomes A Billionaire, Pandemic Recovery Boosts His Korean Travel Superapp

As the world shows up and the travel industry to hotels emerges from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Korean travel super app Yanolja has posted a strong increase in sales for the first quarter in its first-ever quarterly report as it prepares for a public offering. The information, published last week, also disclosed founder Lee Su-jin’s stake in the company, making the former janitor billionaire.

Lee, aged 44, who celebrated his birthday at the end of February, is the CEO and is the second-largest shareholder with a 16.54 percent stake. His wife Park Jung-Hyun and his daughters Lee Ye-nim and Lee Yee-ra hold a 5.18 percent part in Yanolja. The most prominent owner is SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, which purchased a 25.23 percent share in July of last calendar year in exchange for $1.7 billion, which valued Yanolja as $6.7 billion. In that estimation, Forbes estimates Lee and his family’s wealth as $1.9 billion. ( Forbes applies a 10% discount on valuations of private companies.)

Established in 2005, Yanolja –which is “Hey we’ll play” in Korean- has grown from short-stay hotels to transportation services. Recently, cloud computing software-assisted hotels and travel businesses to digitize business processes. The company announced that its first-quarter revenues increased 19% year-over-year to 100.5 billion won ($80 million), and net income fell by a small amount, 8.8 billion won from 9.8 billion won over the same time.

Lee Su-jin, the founder of Yanolja Lee Su-jin, the founder of Yanolja, poses for an image inside an unrealized motel room located at the company’s headquarters located in Seoul, South Korea.

Yanolja earns most of its revenue through a portion of bookings and charges hotels and travel agencies to promote their services on its platform. In recent times, Yanolja has been expanding its cloud-based operations that include management tools that allow hotels to manage reservations and big data analytics that can predict customers’ behavior. The cloud-based business was 20.5 percent of Yanolja’s total sales during the first quarter, an increase from 8.5 percent in 2021.

In its report for the first quarter, the company noted that non-face-to-face digital services have been spreading throughout the leisure industry since the beginning of the outbreak. It also said that more hotels had implemented software to lower expenses and improve efficiency during the outbreak.

Local media published on April 1 that Yanolja plans to be listed on Nasdaq during the third quarter of this year. Alongside SoftBank, Yanolja’s other investors include Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC and the travel website Booking.com and SkyLake Investment, a Korean private equity company headed by Chin Dae-Je, a former Samsung Electronics executive Chin Dae-Je.

Like Kakao founder Kim Beom-us, No. one on the Korea Rich List, Lee’s success is a story of poverty-to-riches. Born a stray, Lee worked as a cleaner in love hotels before beginning Yanolja. Lee has an engineering bachelor’s degree from Kongju National University in the central South Korean city of Gongju. He made use of his connections with toilet paper manufacturers and hotel managers to establish Yanolja in the Bloomberg News article.

Lee was the most recent member of many self-made billionaires in South Korea, where family-owned companies have always dominated the economy. Lee Seung-gun For instance, someone who escaped from home to create a new business in defiance of his parents, Joined the three-comma group in the year before after an investment round of $410 million which valued his startup fintech super app, Viva Republica, at $7.4 billion lion.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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