Former Love Hotel concierge becomes billionaire, pandemic recovery boosts his super Korean travel app

AAs the world reopens and industries from travel to hospitality rebound from the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Korean travel super app Yanolja reported strong first-quarter sales growth in its first-ever quarterly report as it prepares to go public. The report, released last week, also revealed founder Lee Su-jin’s stake in the company, officially making the former janitor a billionaire.

Lee, who turned 44 in February, is CEO and second largest shareholder, with a 16.54% stake. His wife, Park Jung-hyun, and daughters Lee Ye-nim and Lee Ye-ra each hold a 5.18% stake in Yanolja. The largest shareholder is SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, which bought a 25.23% stake in July last year for $1.7 billion, valuing Yanolja at $6.7 billion. At this valuation, Forbes estimates the net worth of Lee and his family at $2 billion. (Forbes applies a 10% discount on private business appraisals.)

Founded in 2005, Yanolja, which means “Hey, let’s play” in Korean, has expanded from short-term hotels to transportation and, more recently, to cloud computing software that helps hotels and travel agencies digitize business processes. The company said first-quarter revenue rose 19% year-on-year to 100.5 billion won ($80 million), while net profit edged down to 8.8 billion won compared to 9 billion won during the same period.

Yanolja makes most of its money by taking a discount from bookings and charging hotels and travel agencies to advertise on its platform. In recent years, Yanolja has expanded its cloud-based businesses, such as management systems that help hotels manage reservations and big data analytics that predict guest behavior. Revenue from its cloud business contributed 20.5% to Yanolja’s total sales in the first quarter, compared to around 8.5% in calendar year 2021.

The company said in its first quarter report that non-face-to-face digital services have become widespread in the entertainment industry since the start of the pandemic. He also noted that more hotels are using software to reduce costs and increase efficiency during the pandemic.

Local media reported in April that Yanolja plans to list on Nasdaq in the third quarter of this year. Besides SoftBank, Yanolja’s other investors include Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC, online travel giant Booking.com and SkyLake Investment, a Korean private equity firm headed by former Samsung Electronics executive Chin Dae-je.

MORE FORBESKorea’s 50 Richest in 2022: Collective Wealth Falls Despite Economic Recovery, Only Eight See Their Wealth Increase

Like Kakao founder Kim Beom-su, No. 1 on this year’s Korea Rich List, Lee’s success is a rags-to-riches story. Orphaned as a child, Lee worked as a concierge in love hotels before founding Yanolja. Lee, who holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Kongju National University in the central South Korean city of Gongju, used his relationships with toilet paper suppliers and hotel owners to launch Yanolja, according to a Bloomberg News article.

Lee is the latest to join a growing group of self-made billionaires in South Korea, where family conglomerates have traditionally dominated its economy. Lee Seung-gun, for example, who ran away from home to start a startup against his parents’ wishes, joined the three-comma club last year, following a 410 round of funding. million that valued its startup, fintech superapp operator Viva Republica, at $7.4 billion.

Comments are closed.