Ex-Morgan Stanley Banker Cleaned Houses Before Startup Took Off
(Bloomberg) -- John Lee cleaned houses in South Korea for six months after leaving his job at Morgan Stanley in 2014.
As a hospitality management graduate from Cornell University, the now 33-year-old entrepreneur had a bigger goal in mind: He wanted to get a foothold in a business that he thought was ripe for change. So he started out providing housekeeping services to Airbnb homes in Seoul.
“I had to experience it for myself,” Lee said in an interview in the South Korean capital. “Housekeeping is at the bottom of the hospitality pyramid, and it was a way for us to enter the industry.”
Today, the company Lee founded, H2O Hospitality Ltd., offers a one-stop management service to hotels, resorts and vacation homes in Japan, South Korea and Thailand. It raised funding last month at a valuation of $180 million, according to Lee.
H2O manages 12,000 rooms in the three countries, said Lee, the company’s chief executive officer. It’s aiming to more than double that number by year-end, he said, as it wins business from hotels struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.
If a hotel outsources its operations to H2O, it can cut its fixed costs by as much as 50%, he said. The reason, according to Lee, is H2O uses more advanced ways of operating, such as online check-in, smart locks and chat-based customer service.
H2O raised $30 million in the Series C funding round last month, according to a statement on Sept. 7. Its backers included Kakao Investment Co. and Korea Development Bank.
H2O is looking to expand its business into Southeast Asia, according to Lee. It’s in talks with global hotel brands in countries such as Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, he said, adding that he’s hoping to take the company public in the next five years.
“I sometimes feel bad for my 18-month-old daughter because I’d be earning a lot more money now if I’d stayed at Morgan Stanley,” Lee said. “But I have no regrets.”
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