ICONLOOP’s new Product Management Officer Woong Kim is a recent convert to the blockchain way. “I wasn’t interested in blockchain before,” he says. “Then this spring, I listened to an explanation of blockchain from AD4th Insight CEO Joon Hong. That’s when I got interested in it.”
Though he might be new to blockchain, Kim nonetheless brings to ICONLOOP a wealth of experience and expertise gained from over a decade at some of Korea’s leading tech companies, particularly SK, the giant conglomerate that operates SK Telecom, one of the country’s biggest telecommunications companies. During this time, he played a leading role in rolling out some of Korea’s most successful mobile services. At ICONLOOP, he’ll be focused on discovering products that could integrate blockchain and crafting services for them based on the ICON platform.
A record of success
Kim joined tech giant SK in 1999 after majoring in physics in university. In 2003, he moved to Naver, where he worked in their mobile services division until 2007. He then rejoined the SK family, taking a position at SK Telecom, where he helped create T-store (now part of the unified local app market One Store), the largest application store independently operated by a Korean telecom company.
Moving to SK Planet, where he worked on OK Cashbag, Korea’s oldest and largest points mileage system, and Syrup Wallet, one of the country’s most popular mobile membership wallets.
After nine years at SK, he left to found a point-based advertising solution startup that was eventually acquired by Naver LINE. He left Naver after six months, but he didn’t have much time to relax. “I was resting when Hong called,” he says. The AD4th Insight CEO is not only an old friend, he says, but an excellent evangelist of blockchain technology.
Moving a classic to blockchain?
Kim gives a simple explanation of his role at ICONLOOP. He says, “My job is to discover products in distribution in Korea that can use blockchain and come up with services based on ICON.” His job description includes consulting and negotiating with potential projects that are likely to work well with ICON, as well as lending support to developers building the ICON ecosystem.
“ICON needs a lot of DApps,” he says. “I’ll be helping when problems arise in the application development process, so that those problems can be resolved easily.”
One project near and dear to Kim’s heart is OK Cashbag’s potential integration of blockchain. The point-based platform has 35 million registered users and over 50,000 affiliated merchants. ICON announced on Sept. 20 that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SK Planet for “Blockchain Technology and Business Cooperation,” an agreement that called for the two companies to work together to link ICON’s blockchain technology with SK Planet’s leading mobile services.
The learning curve
Kim finds the world of blockchain fun, though he says the technology aside, he’s mostly doing what he’s always done – finding new and exciting projects. The biggest difference from the traditional tech firms at which he’s worked is speed. “Things move much faster with blockchain,” he says. “It would take six months to a year to complete a project at a traditional tech company. Here it takes three or four months.” There’s an added focus on risk management, too, he says.
Though his noobie status to blockchain doesn’t present any difficulties in his actual duties – he still knows more about blockchain than most, he says – he’s working hard to deepen his knowledge of the technology. “I’ve read a ton,” he says. “In fact, there aren’t that many experts, and they’re all busy. So I’ve had to read a lot.” His coworkers in the ICON family have helped him a lot, too, patiently explaining the ins and outs of the technology.
The managers of potential projects can be a bit unsure of blockchain, too. “They are all uncertain,” he says. “They are uncertain about blockchain, and since the coin prices fell, they’ve worried a lot. They’ve worried whether blockchain is sustainable.”
The worry has been mixed with optimism, though. “Nevertheless, people think the blockchain sector will grow after its bubble burst, just like the Internet, mobile and smartphone sectors. So they’ve been encouraged.”
Communication is key
One of ICON’s core strengths in the Korean market is simply that it can communicate with local developers in their own language. In ICON’s Oct. 1 post press release announcing Kim’s hiring, the new Product Management Officer especially cited the difficulties Korean companies have integrating blockchain technology into their existing businesses. Because most of the platforms are developed overseas in countries such as the United States and China, he said, local developers are struggling to get technical support.
This is not a new phenomenon, says Kim. He noticed a similar dynamic at first when T Store first opened. Local Android developers had a difficult time getting support from the United States, which gave T Store an edge, at least initially. “In the end, who answers your questions well? Who provides technical support?,” he says. “I think ICON can be attractive to Korean developers in this way. I think this is important in creating a blockchain ecosystem.”
And if there’s something Kim’s optimistic about, it’s the future of the ICON ecosystem. “In fact, a lot of DApps based on ICON are preparing services. So the developers are having a lot of discussions with the developers here at ICON,” he says. “Since those services will come out soon, I hope that ICON supporters wait until then and give a lot of support and encouragement.”