Startup sets the hotel by the hour as ‘unicorn’ Korea

Su Jin Lee used to be the gatekeeper for a “love hotel”, so he is grateful and enthusiastic to make healthy the scandalous service industry.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you must be passionate. That’s what Su Jin Lee owns when he embarks on a business venture. He is the founder of Yanolja, an online hotel reservation platform that specializes in “love hotels”. His startup has become Korea’s latest unicorn.

“Love hotel” is a metaphor for short-term, hourly pay. This service is quite popular all over the world and is often associated with eroticism.

Yanolja in Korean means “Hey, let’s play” (Hey, let’s play). Lee’s group founded the company in Seoul in 2007 with the goal of modernizing the hourly hotel room rental market he considered to be misleading. The application has 32 million downloads and a large number of young customers follow.

Originating in Japan, “love hotels” emerged in South Korea in the late 1980s, during an era of growing sexual liberalization. But in the decades that followed, the industry distorted the country’s hotel industry by producing illegal and adultery activities.

For Lee, however, the “love hotel” business is a respectable business. Orphaned from a young age, he said he was grateful to have a stable salary when he was accepted as a gatekeeper for a “love hotel” when he was 23.

“I think it was a very helpful experience to understand the nature of this industry,” CEO Yanolja Jong Yoon Kim commented on founder Su Jin Lee with CNBC Make It.

So when the anti-prostitution law passed in 2004, threatening to kill the hotel industry by the hour, Lee saw it as an opportunity. He started creating an online advertising platform for hotel owners to attract new guests. By 2007, a complete booking page called Yanolja was launched.

Lee also operates renovation services, helping “love hotels” to keep their image healthy and target new customers. Chief among them are two main segments: young couples and tourists seeking short-term accommodation.

In South Korea, young couples often live with their families, so a “love hotel” is an attractive option to have private moments from prying eyes of their parents. Along with that, the booming tourism industry has made the country one of the largest tourism markets in Asia.

“Lee thought of problems that no one understood or realized,” Kim said.

After gaining traction as one of the country’s leading hotel booking websites, Lee’s startup expanded its reservation service to regular hotels and motels and launched its own brand hotel chain. .

For Lee, however, the “love hotel” business is a respectable business. Orphaned from a young age, he said he was grateful to have a stable salary when he was accepted as a gatekeeper for a “love hotel” when he was 23.

“I think it was a very helpful experience to understand the nature of this industry,” CEO Yanolja Jong Yoon Kim commented on founder Su Jin Lee with CNBC Make It.

So when the anti-prostitution law passed in 2004, threatening to kill the hotel industry by the hour, Lee saw it as an opportunity. He started creating an online advertising platform for hotel owners to attract new guests. By 2007, a complete booking page called Yanolja was launched.

Lee also operates renovation services, helping “love hotels” to keep their image healthy and target new customers. Chief among them are two main segments: young couples and tourists seeking short-term accommodation.

In South Korea, young couples often live with their families, so a “love hotel” is an attractive option to have private moments from prying eyes of their parents. Along with that, the booming tourism industry has made the country one of the largest tourism markets in Asia.

“Lee thought of problems that no one understood or realized,” Kim said.

After gaining traction as one of the country’s leading hotel booking websites, Lee’s startup expanded its reservation service to regular hotels and motels and launched its own brand hotel chain. .