“More than just a car rental price comparison site, Nature Mobility is already gearing up for what lies ahead. As a global mobility platform dedicated to Mobility as a Service (MaaS), we offer convenient modes of transportation to customers while serving as a partner that enhances efficiency and profits for businesses. Beginning in Jeju, we're broadening our horizons by establishing subsidiaries in the United States and Guam, and acquiring the Japanese OTA platform, Smartbox. Nature Mobility is poised to lead the mobility industry, transcending borders."
Lee Jusang, CEO of Nature Mobility
Starting from the Consumer's Perspective,
Winning the Business Owner's Heart
“While working in Qatar, driving was a challenge for me as an expatriate due to the inadequate transportation infrastructure. Even using local taxis wasn't easy. Then came the introduction of Uber, a service that allowed us to hail a taxi through an app. It was truly groundbreaking. Watching this service spread globally filled me with excitement. I sensed that the mobility market would undergo tremendous growth in the future.”
Lee Jusang, CEO of Nature Mobility, who had previously served as the Middle East regional manager of ICT at Hanwha Techwin and as a lead consultant at Samsung SDS, recalled discovering a blue ocean opportunity while using a rental car for a family trip to Jeju Island in 2017.
Q I heard that the startup idea for Nature Mobility stemmed from your personal experience with rental car overpricing.
Yes, after completing my overseas assignment, I set out on a family trip to Jeju Island, only to encounter a highly unexpected situation. The exorbitant prices of rental cars took me aback during the peak season, and I also experienced the high-handed practices of small-scale rental car companies. It suddenly struck me that while there are price comparison platforms related to travel for hotels, accommodations, and airline tickets, there wasn't one for rental cars. That's when I decided to venture into the mobility industry, envisioning a comprehensive mode of transportation that goes beyond just rental cars, and one that would evolve in the future. In 2018, I founded the company in Jeju, the epicenter of the rental car industry.
Above all, a platform business needs appealing products for consumers to embrace. A sophisticated platform driven by IT-based big data, created by engineers, was akin to a shop with an exquisite interior but no merchandise to offer. In the early days of Nature Mobility's establishment, all our employees rolled up their sleeves to stock that shop.
Q What was it like starting a business in Jeju, Korea's rental car industry hub?
Operating a rental car price comparison site in Jeju, where the rental car industry was already a “red ocean,” was no easy feat. There was a reason why this business remained as a "blue ocean." (Laughs) ZZIMCAR, Nature Mobility's inaugural service, provides real-time vehicle prices, enabling consumers to rent cars with peace of mind. To accomplish this, we had to forge partnerships with rental car companies in Jeju. Initially, gaining access to the Jeju rental car market, which had been shaped by numerous businesses over a long period, proved to be challenging. There were more small businesses than we had thought, and most owners were reluctant to break away from their established practices. They harbored thoughts like: "What does this outsider know about the Jeju rental car market?" "Their sales performance probably won't surpass that of travel agencies," and "They'll likely charge even higher commissions than what we have now."
It was a long process to meet rental car owners face-to-face, explain the ZZIMCAR service in detail, and persuade them that we could help them draw in new customers without incurring marketing costs. Additionally, we helped them operate the rental car business more conveniently by sharing our ERP operating system (vehicle inventory management system). As the saying goes, sincerity eventually wins, and although initially met with resistance, we gradually won over more partners by building trust with Jeju rental car businesses.
The Mobility Industry
Not As a ‘Means’ But a ‘Purpose’ of Movement
“The inception of ZZIMCAR was centered around comparing rental car prices for consumers, but there were certain limitations. There were unforeseeable situations where we had to find a middle ground between consumer and partner demands as frequently as the moment-to-moment price fluctuations. It brought to mind my time working for a company. Typically, employees are granted welfare points that can be redeemed on an exclusive site. I envisioned that ZZIMCAR could advance into employee welfare sites. Later, we broadened ZZIMCAR's clients from individuals to businesses.”
When Lee encounters aspiring entrepreneurs, he often advises that it's beneficial to have prior experience working for a company. He believes that on-the-job experience can significantly broaden and deepen one's perspective.
Q Your business has evolved from B2B to B2C through the ZZIMCAR platform.
While ZZIMCAR's business scope has broadened to encompass B2B partnership marketing as businesses are brought in as customers, in terms of simple profit comparison, not much has changed. Directly selling to individual customers generates more revenue, but selling to businesses means sharing the revenue. Nonetheless, ZZIMCAR's expansion as a platform ultimately spells success. Along the way, we've also achieved various positive outcomes. Within five years of our founding, 80% of Jeju's rental cars were registered with ZZIMCAR, and the sharing of rental car prices has helped enhance price competitiveness and service quality. In B2C, consumers rent local and international rental cars and car seats through the ZZIMCAR platform. They can then unlock and lock the vehicle with the ZZIMCAR app, and even returning the vehicle and checking the fuel gauge can be done remotely, eliminating any mistrust of rental car services. ZZIMCAR has collaborated with 360 global mobility suppliers, including car rental, railways, airline tickets, and taxis, and is expanding our intermediary business by providing products to 45 shopping malls and online travel agencies (OTA) such as Kakao Mobility, Coupang, GcCompany, Yanolja, and MyRealTrip.
Q Congratulations on being selected for the 2023 Baby Unicorn Plus project by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups.
We secured first place among the 60 baby unicorn companies selected in 2022. This project administers support programs to boost global competitiveness, including overseas market research, partner discovery, and investment relations sessions. We will concentrate on establishing a global hub in all facets of travel, encompassing rental cars and airline tickets, as well as expanding vendor partnerships and service areas. For Nature Mobility, the COVID-19 pandemic-induced situation served as a turning point. As international travel was disrupted by the pandemic, outbound travel agencies entered the rental car business. As a result, the rental car market expanded, and the Nature Mobility platform continued to grow steadily. For platform businesses, symbiotic relationships are pivotal to success.
Moreover, to diversify our business, we plan to distribute eco-friendly electric cargo vans, called ETvans, for logistics delivery. We will also introduce helmets for personal mobility users, such as electric skateboards. We are advancing towards the day when Nature Mobility specializes in "everything about mobility" beyond merely being a platform operator.
Starting from Jeju, Spreading Wings Towards the World
“Customers using Jeju rental cars seek diverse experiences through travel. They desire the freedom to move to their preferred destinations within a limited timeframe, enhancing the overall travel experience. This same experience can be enjoyed abroad as well. We are in the process of introducing a platform that addresses issues like language barriers and complicated rental conditions, making it equally accessible for overseas travelers. Convenient travel services will soon be available in countries like Japan, Guam, Saipan, Mainland USA, and Taiwan.”
Q Nature Mobility's global expansion is remarkable.
Building on the growth of ZZIMCAR, which initially focused on Jeju rental cars, our emphasis has shifted toward international markets. By acquiring the Japanese travel platform, Smartbox, we are expanding our business scope in major tourist destinations in Japan, with a focus on rental cars and leisure sports. Through Smartbox's two channels, "Okinawa Obaksa" and "gogo-tour.com," Nature Mobility's platform is expected to play a significant role not only in Korean travelers' trips to Japan but also in Japanese travelers' journeys to Korea. We have also established overseas subsidiaries in the US and Guam, catering to the high demand from Korean travelers. We are preparing to offer easy and convenient rental car services in the US, eliminating language barriers.
Q I heard that you also invest heavily in technology development and research, which is an essential element for a growing and successful company.
Given my background (CEO Lee is an expert in mechatronics and AI/big data. He graduated from a science high school and earned a Ph.D. from KAIST), and considering that we are a platform-based company led by developers, technology investment is crucial. The mobility market is evolving and growing at a rapid pace. To stay ahead rather than just catch up, R&D cannot be neglected. We operate an in-house MaaS (Mobility as a Service) research institute. In 2020, we collaborated with KAIST on MaaS and Mobility On Demand (MOD) research related to the use of electric vehicles and personal mobility services in Jeju. In 2022, we signed MOUs with Kakao Mobility and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST), enhancing the strength of Nature Mobility's MaaS, which will evolve into an integrated mobility platform.
Elevate Your Travel Experience with Special Services
“The purpose of travel is to break away from routine, enjoy freedom, and recharge with new inspiration and energy. Modes of transportation enrich the travel experience. Nature Mobility wants to be a part of this journey. Why not start at the NatureMobility complex, surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of Jeju Island?”
Q Do you think the future of the mobility industry hinges on "virtual" and "artificial intelligence" services?
Jeju Island is a popular destination for both local and international tourists. This is the very reason we chose to establish Nature Mobility on Jeju Island. While operating our core business, the ZZIMCAR rental car platform, we identified room for improvement, and we felt the need for a testbed for the future global rental car business.
Yongdam-dong, located near Jeju Airport, offers the closest view of airplanes, sweeping ocean panoramas, and a coastal park adorned with awe-inspiring basalt formations. Yet, it remains relatively unknown to tourists. Typically, when arriving at Jeju Airport, you take a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the car rental agency and head towards the city. You pick up your rental car from a similar location.
Here, we thought, "Why don't we make the process of picking up a rental car at the airport a pleasant experience?" This idea led to the ongoing rental car complex project. Nature Mobility aims to directly operate automated virtual services and unmanned services in the form of an integrated mobility platform. We plan to operate the rental car service directly, create successful cases, and even turn our rental car station into a cafe with a panoramic view, thus making it a tourist attraction.”
Q The KRW 70 billion valuation of Nature Mobility is attributed to your visionary insight into the industry, bold investments, and expansion into the global market. Of course, a strong workforce is crucial as well.
Ultimately, the mobility industry will transition from ownership to sharing. Commuting will be done with shared vehicles, people will go on dates using vehicle-hailing apps, and public bicycles will be used for leisure activities. For environmental reasons, electric vehicles will become mainstream. Sustainable travel will also become a central concept. Rental car travel falls into this category. This industry requires outstanding system developers.
Nature Mobility currently has its headquarters in Jeju and a branch office in Seoul. The ZZIMCAR team, responsible for the rental car business, is primarily based in Jeju, while system developers have the option to work in either Seoul or Jeju. As we further expand our overseas branches, opportunities for working overseas will increase, enabling a "digital nomad" work environment, which young talent prefers. Nature Mobility, a company that imparts the joy of travel, values work-life balance. We are dedicated to creating an ideal work environment for exceptional talent. We look forward to the interest and attention of many who envision a new blueprint for the mobility industry.