Lee Su-jin, the founder and chairman of Yanolja, one of the world’s leading hotel booking sites, has a remarkable journey from being a motel janitor to amassing a net worth of $1.2 billion.
Yanolja, a Korean phrase meaning “Hey, let’s play,” began its operations in 2007 and quickly evolved into a popular travel app, boasting over 57 million downloads worldwide.
Lee had a challenging upbringing, losing his parents at a young age and spending most of his childhood with relatives. At the age of 23, Lee found himself working as a janitor at a love hotel, which offers short-term accommodations at hourly rates.
But despite the difficult circumstances, Lee saw an opportunity to save money and invest in stocks. He even attempted a salad business, which unfortunately didn’t work out. However, these experiences laid the groundwork for his future in the hospitality industry.
The love hotel business faced societal stigmas and challenges in the early 2000s, particularly with the passage of an anti-prostitution law in South Korea in 2004. Lee aimed to make love hotels more appealing to a broader audience, emphasizing safety, convenience, and affordability, eventually skyrocketing Yanolja’s success.
The company achieved “unicorn” status in 2019, reaching a valuation of over $1 billion during a funding round. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 further bolstered Yanolja’s growth by acquiring a minority stake for $1.7 billion at a $6.7 billion valuation. Speculation about an IPO arose, but the company prioritized the industry’s post-pandemic recovery.
Beyond its travel booking services, Yanolja expanded its offerings to include Yanolja Cloud, an AI-powered software for hospitality and leisure platforms. Currently, its combined software platforms serve 19 million users, facilitating booking, travel, and property management operations.
As Yanolja continues to make strides in the global travel industry, its impact extends far beyond its bottom line, transforming an entire sector and enriching the experiences of travelers worldwide.
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