Korea’s Rising Crypto Generation | Cointelegraph Documentary


Are you young and bold and willing to start
your own crypto business? Do you see digital currencies as a path to
a better lifestyle? Are you ready to build the future of blockchain technology? Korea
has quickly become one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. But how exactly
are young blockchain entrepreneurs adapting to this rapid development? So first, I want to show you the most memorable
moments that will be in this film. This is the vice mayor of Busan. This is Ground X,
the major blockchain subsidiary of the №1 Korean Mobile Messenger. This is a major crypto
investor. This is my former student and this is traditional Korean food. And now, let’s
get started. Hi, I’m Maxwell and I’m here in Seoul, South
Korea. After I graduated from university in 2012, I moved out here with a friend to teach
English. While we were here, he told me about this crazy thing called Bitcoin. Sometime
around 2013 when there was a bunch of price movement. Well, he was showing me the graphs
and trying to explain the technology. But unfortunately, I didn’t take his advice and
I didn’t buy at the time. But anyway, it’s been four years now since I left Korea. And
in that time, crypto was blown up. So I decided to come back here to try to see what’s been
happening with crypto and who’s involved in the space. Four years, and during that time, a lot of
things have changed in Korea. Such as The Candle Protest, which was a series of protests
against corruption that occurred all throughout South Korea. The former President Park Geun
Hye was impeached on March 10th, 2017. The Winter Olympics were held in Pyeongchang.
These Olympics were a record for the number of participants. The leaders of the DPRK and
South Korea first met in the border village of Panmunjom on the South Side. This meeting
was the first time that a leader of North Korea set foot in the South. And South Korea,
meanwhile, has become the third largest cryptocurrency economy in the world after the US and Japan.
I’m not joking. Here are the graphs that show it. To begin with, I decided to meet with those
who I already knew – my former students. Hey, man, what’s up? How are you? Good to
see you. Yeah, for sure. Four years or something. Maybe even five years. Saint is in university now. He’s studying
software development. In 2017, he was investing in cryptocurrency with his pocket money. At
first, his mom and dad didn’t know about it, but later he did end up telling them… and
his father said he was crazy. And here we see the first characteristic of cryptocurrency
in South Korea. I don’t know like other countries, but in
Korea, like we know, we don’t afford to have a good house, good job. So it would be like
being a way to be upper class, you know. The modern pop culture in Korea like K-Pop
and the commercials, and shows, and movies, they all create among young people this idea
that their standard of living should be very high, but only few are able to actually achieve
it. And by the way, the most popular South Korean track in the world, Gangnam Style,
is all about this luxury lifestyle. Thousands of young people who are looking for money
in cryptocurrencies ended up going broke, but there are those who have succeeded. So this is James. He started his first e-commerce
business at the age of 19, which didn’t go very well. In 2011, he found a Gameberry,
a digital marketing company that focused on targeted advertising. And in 2017, the company
reportedly made $3 million in sales. And consequently, James was selected as a Forbes Asia entrepreneur
under the age of 30. Last year, he launched Blocore, blockchain investment firm. Can I
ask you, how old are you? In global age, I’m 27 now. Oh, I forgot. There’s a global age, international age and
Korean age. In Korean age, I’m 29. Wait, let’s digress for a second. For hundreds
of years, Koreans have used a different method of counting their age than most of the world.
It’s sometimes referred to as a lunar age or as a nominal age. But pretty much a person’s
Korean age goes up on the New Year’s Day, not his or her birthday. And this is important
because when you’re talking to someone older than you or if you’re talking to someone younger
than you, you have to use a different vocabulary. I guess in your generation do you see entrepreneurship?
Is that something that’s very strong in the Korean youth? Yeah. In Korea, especially Seoul, it’s very
already mature city. And it’s quite hard to get a house for the upcoming generation like
me. So it’s like, for example, in order to buy one apartment, it requires like one million
or two million USD. So for a young generation, there’s not much way to get money and have
a house and become rich. So crypto became quite a lot, very good method to having a
house in this kind of society. We’re in Gangnam. This district is the symbol
of success with rich shops and a very high cost of living. Gangnam is famous for its
luxury. And this is where most crypto companies in South Korea have their offices. And here’s
the office of one of the largest South Korean crypto funds. This is Hashed managed by Simon
Kim. He founded Hashed in mid-2017. But before he formally started the fund, he’d already
begun investing in Ethereum in late 2015. He said that it was really good timing to
start this kind of investment company in the space. We are always long time investors. Even in
the bear market in 2018, we used to invest into a lot of projects such as Terra and Clayton.
These days we are focusing on two sectors mainly in the application sectors. One is
decentralized finance, and the other one is blockchain gaming. In Korea it’s like the №1 place for DApps
and it’s the №3 market. Why do you think it’s so popular here in Korea to be involved
in cryptocurrency? So actually, Korea is a great place not only
for the cryptocurrency and blockchain. From late 1990 at the beginning of the kinds of
web 2.0 ecosystem, there were so many innovative applications on our web, born in Korea market,
such as the world first MMORPG game born in Korea. The e-sports market came from Korea.
And also the №1 game item exchanges come from Korean market as well. Let’s meet Jake Joonhong Kim, the managing
director and founder of Skytale Capital. After graduating college, he started his career
as a developer some 20 years ago. As a systems engineer at a joint position between EDF in
the United States and LG Group in Korea. And in 2013, one of his close friends gave him
the white paper for Bitcoin. I read the white paper a few times because
it was not easy for me to understand at first glance. And I realized if they’re quite innovative
in a way that think that computing power can be a measure of wealth. So I like the idea
of Bitcoin, but I didn’t want to do something related to that. But Jake’s interest in blockchain and Bitcoin
sparked a little bit later when he started his new career as a venture capitalist in
2014. And one of the reasons I became more attracted
to this space is a three of my portfolio companies, they decided to pivot their business to blockchain.
I recalled the time when I was a programmer 20 years ago when there was a huge venture
boom because of Internet technology. Yeah, .com bubble, right. I didn’t really understand what business is
and more about entrepreneurs at the time. And the environment in Korea 20 years ago
was not so friendly to the start of or entrepreneurs. Yeah, it was more the kind of larger corporations.
Chaebol rights. Okay, wait, let’s slow down again. A chaebol
is a large industrial conglomerate that is run and controlled by a single owner or a
family in South Korea. The Top 10 chaebols on more than 27% of all business assets in
South Korea. In the 1960s to the 1980s, chaebols played a key role in developing new industries,
markets and export production, helping make South Korea one of the four Asian tigers.
Yet chaebols oversized influence and cozy relationship with government have cast an
intense spotlight on the web like conglomerates. As many of them have been struggling with
generational transitions. So we’ve been spending most of our time down
in Gangnam, the newest kind of most technologically advanced part of the city. But in fact, Korea
hasn’t always been so technologically advanced, and it’s only been in the last 30 or 40 years
that Korea has become what it is today. In the 1980s, there was a time of hyper modernization.
And because of this quick change, it’s left a pretty big impact on the Korean mentality. Korea is one of the vastly developed countries.
So a generation gap between the generation is really huge. We call it a compressed development
compared to the advanced countries such as European countries or United States. We have
done the development in just six decades, right after the Korean War. The country was,
there was nothing in 1950, and we have built everything since then. Jake’s knowledge is that his generation was
a privileged one and that young people are having a much harder time succeeding in business. Most of them are very young compared to me
and I still respect them. Because they’re young, they’re passionate
and they’re more into the original idea of those technologies. Young people who really
like and share those ideas still grapples with the real implementation of those technologies
in the real world. So we’ve heard from a few different people
about how densely populated Korea is and how interconnected the blockchain space can be.
And well, while we were interviewing one of our last guest, Jake, he said: oh, hey, you
guys might be interested in checking out this place down the street. They have this really
cool use case about fractional ownership and art. And so we decided to come over here to
Pro/Rata and check it out. Here we are at Pro/Rata, which uses a blockchain-based
platform to tokenize pieces of art, allowing you to invest in or own a percentage of the
artworks value. So currently Pro/Rata has three different
pieces of art that are available for fractional ownership. These two that are here in the
viewing room and a third one by Banksy. The Banksy, however, isn’t here because it’s an
exhibition right now still in Seoul. But to gain some awareness and to spread the
word about this new tech investment scheme. So if anyone’s interested in saying that they
own a little bit of a Banksy piece, maybe you should check out Pro/Rata. So this guy is the most famous crypto blogger
in South Korea. Spunky Hwang aka Bitgosu. He’s been an entrepreneur for over 10 years
and has invested in several startups. Spunky has a very cynical point of view or a realistic
one, as he would say, about how the crypto industry is evolving in Korea and in the rest
of the world. People are greedy. People are very greedy.
People love shortcuts. People want to escape like whatever miserable life that they’re
living. When they see a chance, you know, I mean. And cryptocurrency has proven multiple
times that it made like really normal people on next level person financially. So people
just want to get on that ride, and that’s how the bubble was created. It’s not just
in crypto where 90%, 95%+ of all these coins are dying and disappearing and failing. That’s
how the world works. You know, even in the traditional field, like all these startups,
they all go bankrupt. They all fail, like they are fail. People see people succeeding
like Facebook, Instagram, Amazon. That’s like a 0.00001% out of how many companies,
you know? Well, Spunky has a point. Most crypto startups
are struggling to emerge in the very competitive Korean market. However, some of them can count
on the support of the country’s biggest brands. For instance, Ground X, which is the blockchain
subsidiary of Kakao, the №1 mobile messenger in Korea. The name of a Ground X comes from playground.
We want to make some playground for blockchain people or some people who want to change this
world with the blockchain. The first product is blockchain platform itself. And then we
are providing some developer tours and also we are developing ancrypto wallet. Actually,
this wallet will be embedded into Kakao Talk. So it is very different from our existing
crypto wallet. So it changes the blockchain user experience totally. So we are very interested
in this new type of user experience. From our perspective, as a startup doing business
in this field, the biggest challenge seems to be for the blockchain to prove its industrial
value first. That is why Ground X has focused on that. If the blockchain sector can prove
its value industrial wise, I think the regulators can be persuaded to harbor more positive views for this field. Despite their tough stance on CEOs, the Korean
authorities have started supporting the crypto industry and have even implemented blockchain
technology in the public sector. Best example is Busan, the second biggest
city in Korea. Here the local administration is working on a local cryptocurrency which
will be used in people’s everyday life. Jae Soo Yoo, the vice mayor of the metropolitan
city of Busan, heard about Bitcoin for the first time in 2008. Yes, 2008. That was actually
quite early and not long after the White Paper was first published. The Bank of Busan is pushing for the issuance
of local currency, which we call digital vouchers. This is a special purpose digital currency
and will only be used in the Busan area. A pilot version of the digital voucher will
be used in the Busan cities blockchain network related to logistics, tourism and public safety.
Although there are a lot of government regulations now, we will make Busan a test bed for many
young people in Korea to be able to fully expand their capabilities in the cryptocurrency
sector and lead to the fourth industrial revolution. Helping young people realize their dreams
will provide a boost to the Korean economy. This is Michael K Jeoung. He has a background
in finance and computer science. After working in Paris for international organizations and
then six years at Cisco, he founded his own blockchain company. Given his experience working
in the public sector, Michael is very much aware of the challenges that Korean regulators
are facing when they deal with the crypto industry. The Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Law.
These are the structures we have in Korea to build a public policy. They need to have
a consensus mechanism to be able to come up with one policy. The challenge that we have
is not from the technology area. It’s not like, you know, you cannot buy bitcoin or
so. It’s just don’t do ICOs because there are too many scam projects. People are losing
money. The people of Korea are very aware of cryptocurrency.
They know what it is. So if someone makes something useful, they provide some kind of
useful service or useful platform, something useful to use this cryptocurrency since people
already know what it is. The adoption can come quicker for sure. So this is something Korea is kind of ahead
of most countries because so many of the population are aware of what this is actually. In Korea, probably more than anywhere else
in the world, the future of cryptocurrency and blockchain is in the hands of the new
generation, even though the memories of the crypto crash are still fresh, these young
entrepreneurs remain ambitious. Will they be able to bring blockchain technology to
new highs and lead their country into a new era? So we came to South Korea to figure out what’s
going on in the crypto space and what the future might be. It’s huge here, but everyone’s
involved for different reasons. It’s a complex ecosystem with a lot of moving parts. But
actually, Korea is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. And whatever happens isn’t
just going to affect Korea, it’s going to affect us all no matter where you live. So
if you want to see the future as it happens, be sure to join us and follow our YouTube
channel.

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