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

AAs the world reopens and industries from travel to hotels recover from the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Korean travel super-app Yanolja posted strong first-quarter revenue growth in its first-ever earnings report as it prepares for its IPO prepared. 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 the second-largest shareholder with a 16.54% stake. His wife Park Jung-hyun and daughters Lee Ye-nim and Lee Ye-ra each own a 5.18% stake in Yanolja. The largest shareholder is SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, which acquired a 25.23% stake for $1.7 billion last July, valuing Yanolja at $6.7 billion. At this rating forbes estimates Lee and his family’s net worth at $2 billion. (forbes applies a 10% discount to private business reviews.)

Yanolja was founded in 2005 and means “Hey, let’s play” in Korean. The company reported that first-quarter revenue rose 19% year-on-year to 100.5 billion won ($80 million), while net income fell slightly to 8.8 billion won from 9 billion won in the same period be.

Yanolja makes most of his money by cutting bookings and charging hotels and travel companies for advertising on his platform. In recent years, Yanolja has expanded its cloud-based business, e.g. B. Management systems that help hotels manage reservations and big data analytics that predict customer behavior. Revenue from its cloud business contributed 20.5% of Yanolja’s total revenue in the first quarter, up from about 8.5% in calendar 2021.

The company said in its first-quarter report that non-face-to-face digital services have proliferated in the leisure industry since the pandemic began. It has also been noted that more and more hotels are using software to cut 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 led by former Samsung Electronics executive Chin Dae-je.

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Like Kakao founder Kim Beom-su, #1 on this year’s Korea Rich List, Lee’s success is a rags-to-riches tale. Orphaned as a child, Lee worked as a caretaker in love hotels before founding Yanolja. Lee, who has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Kongju National University in the central South Korean city of Gongju, used his connections 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-owned corporations have traditionally dominated the economy. For example, Lee Seung-gun, who ran away from home to start a startup against his parents’ wishes, joined the Three Comma Club last year after raising a $410 million round of funding that his Startup, fintech superapp operator Viva Republica, valued at $7.4 billion.

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