[Q&A] SoCar CEO Lee Jae-woong hints at aggressive investments
[THE INVESTOR] Lee Jae-woong is Korea’s first generation of entrepreneurs. The 50-year-old founded internet giant Daum Communication, now Kakao Corp. After stepping down as Daum CEO in 2007, he has focused on investing in startups and social ventures.
In April, while announcing that SoCar secured an investment of 60 billion won (US$53 million) from Private equity firm IMM PE, Lee made a comeback as CEO by heading Korea’s largest car-sharing platform. He is also the largest shareholder of the company with a 45 percent stake.
SoCar CEO Lee Jae-woong (left) and VCNC founder and CSO Park Jae-uk
His aspiration now is to bring mobility innovation in the country.
In the first step toward this goal, SoCar announced the acquisition of VNCN, the company behind popular couple messenger Between. The news came three days after it bought a stake in autonomous driving startup RideFlux on July 11.
Lee and the founder of VNCN, now Chief Strategy Officer Park Jae-wook, sat down with reporters on July 17 to talk about SoCar’s future.
Below are the excerpts.
Q. What made you come back as CEO of SoCar?
Lee Jae-woong: I’m the first generation of Korean startups. What I observe these days is less innovation and startups seem to be worried about many things. Now when I think about it, I had similar problems but I didn’t necessarily communicate these issues to the public.
Q. Why did you decide to acquire VNCN?
Lee: We acquired it to become a mobility company. We will do more aggressive investments in mobility-related companies. Acquiring VCNC is our first step in this direction.
VCNC is a data-driven company that processes a massive amount of data for its app Between. It is about 1.5 terabytes a day with 2 million photos uploaded and 50 million messages exchanged on a daily basis.
Naver acquired a startup called First Snow for 35 billion won in 2006. That team is behind Line, which is now worth 13 trillion won. I hope this could happen to SoCar.
SoCar CEO Lee Jae-woong
Q. Are you also considering investing overseas?
Lee: There are so many mobility-related companies but acquiring foreign companies might be difficult. So we will focus on Korean companies. We can buy ones with a competitive edge and then change them. Or we can help companies from the incubating stage.
Q. What is your overseas strategy?
A. I believe our business model has potential overseas. There are still many people who do not own cars in Southeast Asia and India. But, of course, we should first aim for success in the Korean market before going abroad. The company is still very small even after the acquisition. At the same time, Korea’s mobility industry lags behind a lot of others.
Q. As a first generation tech entrepreneur in Korea, how would you compare the ecosystem for startups compared to when you started your own company?
Lee: I see far less companies that dream big or that aim to bring new values to society. Of course, there are many problems including difficulties in exiting and dominance of big firms in technology. It is understandable considering that there are so many regulations and restrictions. There are more options these days too. When I started my company, the norm was either to join big companies or begin startups. In addition to big companies, there are many technology companies like Naver and Kakao.
I think we need a new set of rules and better communication between exiting industries and startups.
By Park Ga-young (email@example.com)