Innovative Minds Part X: Tae-hee Lee
While the world zoomed in on PyeongChang during this year’s Winter Olympic Games, there was a hidden supporter, who helped foreign athletes and visitors to enjoy the event more conveniently. This month, that man, Mr. Tae-hee Lee, President of BUXI Korea, took the time to meet with us at Asia Society Korea.
BUXI Korea is a collective taxi calling system that utilizes the Online to Offline (O2O) network to link a driver with a group of different people who wish to travel in the same direction. BUXI Korea has become so successful that the PyeongChang Organizing Committee chose it for their application called ‘Go Pyeongchang’. This meant BUXI Korea, in fact, offered many of the transportation services during the Games, which enabled people to get around more easily. Let’s hear what Mr. Lee’s has to say about it.
1. Could you describe your business to our readers? How is it different from Uber or SoCar?
Our company name, BUXI, is a combination of bus and taxi. We are targeting a niche market that buses and taxis cannot serve. Since 2016, we have been offering a rental car service by smartphone that transports visitors from both Incheon and Gimpo airports to major tourist attractions. The key benefit is that, like a taxi, you can get a car wherever you want, but at a similar price to a bus.
We differ from Uber because it is simply a direct substitute for a regular taxi; whereas, BUXI has created a new ‘multiple pickup’ market, which the taxi industry cannot offer.
SoCar also contrasts to us because they are a rental service, which rents its cars per hour. BUXI provides a car for either the individual or a group of people. That means, we share the space, not time, so that our customers can go wherever they want with others.
2. What are the origins of your business? In other words, what motivated you to start your business?
I was a news reporter until I founded BUXI Korea in 2015. Throughout my career as a journalist, I went on a lot of business trips abroad. Every time I headed to the airport in Korea, the transfer was so uncomfortable. Furthermore, I noticed a few services like Supershuttle in the U.S. and MK taxi in Japan, where a user could get off at a number of stations for just 30 dollars. With the number of tourists in Korea starting to skyrocket, I was certain that a new airport transportation service would succeed. Also, during the period I was working as a research fellow in Atlanta at the Georgia Institute of Technology, I noticed that the fever for shared economies was starting to grow.
In 2000, I was in charge of covering developments in IT as a reporter and I experienced how the internet revolution changed the world with Korea at the forefront. When I witnessed the fever for shared economies in the U.S. in 2010, I perceived intuitively that it would eventually work its way around the world. After 4 years of preparation, I founded BUXI in 2015.
3. Were there any notable moments when you experienced difficulties with your business?
Money and people were the key issues. To expand a business, the two elements must come at the right moment. When I founded Buxi, I was fortunate that someone supported me with an early investment; however, there were two times when I found myself in a tricky situation because of a shortage of cash. That is called the ‘Death Valley Curve’ – when a startup cannot turn an initial investment into generating revenue before it runs out of money. Luckily, with policy funding from the government and a resolution from the board of directors, I was able to overcome the crisis. In fact, Korea’s biggest rental car company, Lotte Rental, is our representative investor and affiliate.
Regarding people, I remember some advice I received from the CEO of a large headhunting company in Korea. He told me, “When you run a small business or startup, in any possible case, you cannot hire people more talented than you. That is the reality. Also, that is why you have to make an endless effort to improve yourself.”
4. In a recent luncheon, the guest speaker, Wonjae Lee, mentioned that since North Korea would be starting from scratch, car sharing could work as a testbed for a new shared economy. Can you add a few words on how you feel about your business related to that matter?
Actually, that is the thing I have been interested in recently. Mr. Wonjae Lee and I share the exact same orientation.
When North Korea opens its economy for the first time, they will focus on tourism. For that, the roads should be clear and there needs to be accommodation facilities. Above all, they will need cars. Then, a new issue will arise over whether there should be the introduction of a traditional public transportation system, such as buses and taxis, or a totally new system based on car sharing and ride sharing. This issue can be better understood if you compare it to China where the initiation of the smartphone payment system meant that the credit card payment system was skipped. Transportation in North Korea can be similar by skipping traditional transportation, and moving directly to a more modern and innovative system.
5. What, in your personal view, are the most important values when it comes to business?
I think keeping promises is the most important value. Since I started my own business, I have been making an extreme effort to keep all of my promises, regardless of the significance. It goes without saying that promises to a client must be the number one priority. In my opinion, by keeping promises, you can develop trust, which is the most essential element of a relationship. Furthermore, promises related to money are especially important. During the time I had the experience with the ‘Death Valley Curve’, there were several occasions when I was not able to keep financial promises with my employees, which resulted in number of broken relationships. At that time, I made a solemn vow that I must keep promises to protect my network and business. Business is, after all, a relationship with people.