Only three years after the first acquisition Yello Mobile has raised $78M, is nurturing an alliance of 35 startups, is profitable to the tune of $1.5M per month and plans to IPO next year. This is surely one of the most exciting startup stories in Asia this year.
Here is part two of a two part article about their founding story, growth, and ambitious plans for the future. Click here for part 1.
So far Yello Mobile has raised a total of $76M from investors, banks, and other private investment funds. This includes their last round of funding earlier this year of $28.5M. While no details are available at this stage, Jason also hinted that a new round of funding is being discussed at this time. He said it would be “much bigger” than their last round.
“Investors were very skeptical at the start But after a while they were convinced by the numbers. Our numbers look really good.”
“Right now we are talking with both American and Asian investors, but there is no news on that right now. We got $30M earlier this year and our next investment will be much bigger.”
But Yello Mobile is also making money. Having spoken to early investors in some of the companies, the feeling is that the value of their alliance companies is accelerated as a result of the alliance. Additionally, the alliance as a whole is making $1.5M profit monthly.
How are startups selected?
Traditional VCs select startup teams based on the merits of the team, their ability to execute on the solution to a problem, and the market potential. Yello Mobile do things a little differently, and if you are a startup team in Asia looking to join the alliance, take heed!
Yello Mobile first identifies a market with excellent potential. The next stage is to identify the top players in the market. Then they meet with the team, and aim to bring the top player into the alliance, or even the top three.
For Yello Mobile some of the red flags that might put off a traditional VC, may not be such an issue. Hiring for example can be covered internally, and gaps in marketing or technical skills can be filled in easily. An example of this is their first acquisition in Indonesia. The company had no expertise in mobile development but had a strong web presence. Instead of having to hire a team in Indonesia, Yello Mobile’s team in Korea build out their mobile service, at no financial cost to the Indonesian team. That’s just a benefit of being in the alliance.
How Do Entrepreneurs Exit?
As with a normal acquisition, Yello Mobile has a lock up structure for entrepreneurs meaning that for their equity to mature founders (and all share holders) must remain in the company for 3-5 years. If they want to retire from the alliance and their company they can sell their stock back to Yello Mobile.
“After IPO, we must focus on growth, growth, growth, growth, so founders don’t leave.”
However, with an IPO on the cards for next year it is highly unlikely that any founders are going to be rushing to exit any time soon. Jason also noted that currently the numbers are very good in acny case and so they don’t think founders will leave.
Long Term Ambitions – A Hundred Year Company
Criticism has been levelled at Yello Mobile from many quarters in the Korean tech scene. They have not been transparent with the press, until now, and few beyond the alliance know much about the organization. Concerns were raised about what happens after IPO.
For many founders IPO is the culmination of their efforts, and once public many founders eventually end up leaving their companies to pursue other interests. Jason, was adamant that this is absolutely not the case for them.
Is It Really that Great To Be Part Of Yello Mobile?
Yello Mobile has grown from an alliance of five startup teams to a company of around 1,500 employees in around three years. I was curious if there were struggles in growing so fast. Jason admitted that there were struggles related to growth of the company, but I wasn interested more in human struggles. On this front he genuinely seemed happy and the energy coming from him did not give me the impression of strife. Somehow Yello Mobile seems to have solved the acquisition churn issues that much larger corporations have not.
“I have worked in the mobile industry for 11 years and this has been the most peaceful time of my career. We don’t really have internal struggles. The only struggles we face are with growth, because we are growing so fast.”
Yello Mobile has been able to convince 35 startups to join them, have raised $78 million for continued growth, and want to become the biggest mobile platform company in Asia. The way they view competition was something I was keenly interested in.
Jason explained that Yello Mobile does not compete at a platform level. They are not trying to become the next Google, Facebook, or Rocket Internet. Instead they are more concerned about competition at a vertical level. They are interested in being a leader in many verticals, rather than become a single brand that competes with large corporations.
“Every internet entrepreneur is both a friend and competitor. We want all of them to be our friends. We are not evil.”
Jason went on to explain that in a sense they don’t have competition, because the leaders in every vertical they enter are part of the alliance. This is an over-simplification of real market conditions, but illustrated the point that they aim to be the best, and to attract at least the top three players in each vertical.
“We are concerned with expanding the market volume rather than competing.”
He also pointed out that currently one of their strongest areas is mobile marketing. In this space they have eight startups, and they are all competing and collaborating.
“IPO is not our end goal. It’s more like a first step into our next stage of development. It’s a method, not a goal.”
Most companies are 100% owned by Yello Mobile, but we own at least 50% of each company. With Alarm Mon we own 51% of their stock. With some companies we have only around 20% and we act as an accelerator for them.
“Yello Mobile is the biggest friend to SE Asian startups. We want to help them realize a huge vision and help them dominate the Asian market together. Please join us.”