When YJ Chung joined ICONLOOP as its new Business Management Officer in October, he discovered what a wild ride the blockchain world can be.
“Blockchain is getting a lot of attention now in Korea,” he says. “As ICON is the leading business in the sector, since I’ve got here, it’s been crazy. There’s so much to do.”
“Every day is different. Topics keep flooding in. I see a lot of potential. It is also tough at times.”
Bringing the experience of Korea’s tech giants
Chung brings to ICONLOOP over a decade’s worth of experience at some of Korea’s biggest tech companies. At Korean portal giant Naver, he worked on the company’s mobile services and search engine. Later, at Internet sensation Kakao, makers of one of Korea’s most popular messaging applications, he worked on their social services. It was in this role that he helped give birth to KakaoStory, Kakao’s social networking app, a service that boasted more users in the local market than Facebook or Instagram until 2016.
“Fortunately, KakaoTalk had a lot of power, so we produced a good result,” he says. “After that, I handled other similar projects such as Kakao Groups.”
At ICONLOOP, Chung will help businesses bring their products and services to ICON.
“Many teams in Korea and overseas have interest in ICON,” he says. “Many ask for help on how to bring their business and services to ICON. I help those teams so that they can create even more successful projects.”
The blessing of getting in early
Since joining ICONLOOP, Chung has come to realize just how new blockchain technology is. “It’s at a really early stage, so there are lots of difficulties,” he says. “But at the same time, I think getting in at a very early stage was lucky since there’s a lot to do and so much upside.”
Offering a refreshingly frank assessment, he concedes that so far, the technology has been solely defined by its potential.
Life-changing products are conspicuous by their absence. Indeed, Chung thinks turning blockchain’s potential into something the masses can actually use will go far in promoting the technology to the general public.
“The first thing to do is release products that people can use in their daily lives,” he says. “People come to use them, and only later realize that they are based on blockchain. That’s the most important thing.”
Entering an industry with a whole lot of nothing to show so far has its upside, though. In blockchain, you feel like you’re building a whole new world. “When I was at Naver, I couldn’t really say I was playing a role in starting the Internet,” says Chung. “At ICON, it’s different.”
You might imagine Chung’s jump from the relative career security of Korea’s tech giants to the great unknown of blockchain would have left some of his former colleagues scratching their heads. To the contrary, his move has intrigued them. There’s an ocean of interest in blockchain right now, he says, a considerable share of it directed at ICON.
“Lots of people ask what it’s like to work here, what we have planned,” he says. “Some say let’s meet and talk.”
Not letting the bubble get you down
Chung joins ICONLOOP as the crypto bubble bursts, bringing a period of potential transformation in the blockchain industry. Though it’s easy to be pessimistic – or even apoplectic – about the future of crypto, the grizzled tech industry veteran takes the long view. “A bubble was something that could happen,” he says, recalling that household names like Google and Naver also faced tough times of their own. “But there’s potential here.”
When Chung experiences moments of doubt, he likes to recall recent comments made by Ben Horowitz of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. Horowitz said the future of blockchain was bright, explaining that while the new platform still couldn’t do many things as well as older platforms, it offered something no previous platform ever could – trust.
Getting companies to take the leap
If there is one difficulty Chung faces, it’s convincing Korean companies why they should move to blockchain. As Korea is one of the world’s most wired nations, technology infuses people’s lives here to a degree equaled by few other places on Earth. While this encourages widespread technophilia, it also means that businesses are often already using solutions that meet their immediate needs.
“It’s hard to convince businesses that blockchain is better than what they’ve been using,” he says, noting that while the trust aspect is unique, the technology itself has more to improve in aspects such as speed due to its early stage.
Nevertheless, there are still many Korean companies who see the technology as the future and are willing to bank on its potential. “Fortunately, many Korean companies are aggressive,” he says. “There are many teams who want to explore opportunities before the technology matures”.