Today, I was shocked to read on Startup Daily the announcement of a new car app called ‘Shebah.’

I wasn’t shocked by the idea of Shebah or the great journalism that Startup Daily put into the article – it was the name. Here’s a little backstory …

Previously, I co-founded and in Seoul. My wife is Korean, and we have a very cute daughter who’s almost three years old. I speak some Korean too.

You might be thinking, what does all this have to do with a story on Startup Daily? Well, when you first start out living in a foreign country, the first few words you learn are naturally all of those that are bad.

The name ‘Shebah’ actually means ‘F**k’ in Korean. In Korean, it is officially written as 씨발. If you were to spell the Korean word phonetically in English – it could be either: Shebah, Si Ba, Shiba or Si Bahl. Regarding pronunciation, they are all pronounced the same. There are also several Korean slang derivatives of the word like “C Foot” and “C Bar.”

The description that Startup Daily gave adds a level of irony. The kind that you would expect to see in a comedy movie.

Startup Daily describes the mission of the product as providing: “women with peace of mind” and that it is “a rideshare service for female-identifying drivers and passengers only (boys to the age of 12 traveling with a woman are welcome).”

And further goes on to say that: “Beyond limiting the service to women, Shebah shows it has been designed with women in mind by allowing passengers to easily pre-book a car with a baby capsule or booster seat for young children (a feature offered by Uber in the US, though not yet in Australia).”

According to the Founder of Shebah, Georgina McEncroe: “Bringing Shebah into the world will not make men less safe or inconvenience them in any way, it just provides a positive option for some women who might want to use it. Some women won’t give two figs about Shebah, but for some others, it could change their whole way of feeling.”

There is a strong Korean presence in Australia and ranks as the tenth most popular destination for Korean tourism. In 2011, there were 39,694 Korean residents living in Sydney. The most popular Korean website in Australia, Hojunara (the Korean version of Gumtree) gets on average 870,000 monthly page visits.

I’m 100 per cent confident, McEncroe had no intentions or awareness of what her startup name means in Korean. But, it does bring Shebah into the world with a word that goes against its whole philosophy of keeping women in mind.

Putting the name aside. I personally think there is a need for this product – and it’s a very good idea. I do know for a fact, if my Korean wife were to rideshare with someone alone, she would prefer the driver to be female.

The real questions are.

Will Shebah continue with the same name, or change it?

If Uber decided to let women riders ‘choose’ whether their drivers are female-only, would Shebah lose its competitive advantage?

Or, could this accidental naming mistake turn into a PR frenzy, leading to huge growth overnight?


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