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Tezos Korea Team on How to Build Great Local Developer Communities in Korea

This is an interview transcript with Tezos Korea team, featured in the Tezos in Asia Podcast. To learn more, check it out here

Joyce Yang

Welcome to Tezos in Asia; a series featuring and showcasing the growing Tezos communities in Asia. I’m your host Joyce Yang, founder of Global Coin Research. Follow me in my journey in exploring and meeting the various Tezos communities in Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, China and more. Learn about the crypto happenings in each of these countries, the cultural backdrop and regulatory frameworks, and what these communities are doing locally.

In this episode, I speak with the team members from Tezos Korea and Tezos Korea Foundation. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out the introduction episode of this series where I speak to the founder of Tezos, Arthur Breitman, and anothermember of the Tezos community, Diego Olivier Fernandez Pons, to learn about the thought behind these Tezos communities.

In this episode, I first speak with Doo-Won Suh, Director of the Tezos Korea Foundation and Jinwoo Lee, Chief Strategy Officer of Tezos Korea, about the Korea team’s background and its approach to community building in Korea. In a separate conversation following, I speak to Jinhwa Kim, a board member of Tezos Korea foundation and also the former founder of Korbit, a leading Korean Cryptocurrency Exchange, about the Korea crypto and regulatory landscape overall. I first started the conversation with Doo-Won and Jinwoo introducing themselves.

Doo-Won Suh

Hi, my name is Doo-Won, and I am the director of the Tezos Korea Foundation.

Jinwoo Lee

This is Jinwoo who’s working for Tezos Korea. So I’m working as Chief Strategy Officer at Tezos Korea. So be sure that the Tezos Korea Foundation and the Tezos Korea are different organizations. So the Tezos Korea Foundation do more like non-profit things for like talent development and to enhance the technology for Tezos in local countries like in Korea. And Tezos Korea does some consulting services and the POC (Proof of Concept) things for some business clients.

Joyce Yang

Can you talk a little bit more about how you guys got involved into Tezos in Korea?

Jinwoo Lee

So me, Doo-Won and the other team members didn’t know each other before we knew the Tezos. So actually we started as some crypto researchers and like kind of investors at the first time. So actually Doo-Won created some Tezos Korea community in Korea first, so we can say he’s kind of founder of the Tezos Korea Community. So after that, he did some regular events in Korea like studying some Tezos technology and like inviting Tezos people from overseas to show the Tezos to the Koreans. So with his effort and some endeavor, Tezos foundation started to think about like it’s better to support the Tezos Korea community to make some strong organization. So that’s the reason how the Tezos Korea Foundation is founded in Korea. So it was last August.

So after the creation of the foundation, I met Doo-Won, he told me about like how Tezos community and ecosystem is strong and why this has some future potential. So that’s how I engaged with the Tezos Korea Foundation, so I joined this team. That is quite some short story of how we met, how we started.

Joyce Yang

That’s great. What are your backgrounds before you got into Tezos?

Doo-Won Suh

I used to be an architect and also designer. So I love doing some infographics. I used to architect. I was drawing some plans for building a house, and also I liked to create Interior Design.

Joyce Yang

So what about you?

Jinwoo Lee

I used to work as some global talent development manager at Samsung Electronics. So I did some global leadership training and global technology training to the employees. So with those backgrounds, that’s how I lead and brings me to the crypto and blockchain worlds because I love the new technology things. So this is how I got engaged in the blockchain. So after that, I know that like Tezos get started, it was 2 years ago when they did a ICO, so that’s how I knew it first, so I also participated. Anyway, so those are kind of some small points that lead me to this team.

Joyce Yang

You guys have made a lot of progress since starting the team in August, and you guys have been very fast and very good about making partnerships and forming a community and doing events here. How did you do that?

Jinwoo Lee

As you know, Tezos is a blockchain smart contract platform with really high technology like OCaml or Michelson. But it can also be a barrier for the general people to learn and understand it.

So we thought that the target of the audience is not just some general people, we thought the target was developers who already had some software background. So we tried to introduce those technologies to people. So because the developers are really like the new technology and new things, they love to learn something that we…. So we met some professors in the Seoul National University and Yonsei University, so we met some Professor Kwangkeun Yi in Seoul National University who is an expert of OCaml in Korea, so we talked about that.

Tezos is blockchain based on OCaml. So if you teach people, it will be a some really good opportunity to introduce Tezos to some software developers. So that’s how we started the Tezos blockchain camp with him.

So with this approach, we are able to invite the professors from Seoul National University and Korea University and Henan University who are experts in OCaml.So that we did some 7 days Tezos Blockchain Camp with some developers and students. We had a strong vision that to enhance the Tezos ecosystem in Korea, we have to train the developers in Korea.

Doo-Won Suh

We always try to introduce this technology.

Joyce Yang

So how much of Tezos do you talk about when you have OCaml camps?

Jinwoo Lee

So the name of the camp is the Tezos Blockchain Camp. So it has some 3 key topics on the curriculum. The first one is like learn OCaml, and second was learn about Tezos and Liquidity, and the last one is to learn blockchain business model.

So with this curriculum, people learn about what is Tezos and why Tezos uses OCaml, and they also learn about what is the future of the OCaml? What is Liquidity, which is also the same functional languageas OCaml.

Doo-Won Suh

Also why Tezos is a good technology.

Jinwoo Lee

And so we give a lesson to the student on how to build a smart contract on the Tezos platform.

Joyce Yang

That’s very cool. How many students have you been getting? Is it mostly students?

Doo-Won Suh

Almost 50% of students. And the others as well.

Jinwoo Lee

So there were one 130 applicants, and we selected 60 people from that. So the demographic is about 60% who are students who majored in software or computer science. And the remaining applicants are developers in the company who really work on the business side.

Jinwoo Lee

And then like 90% of the participant could be able to get certification.

Joyce Yang

For OCaml?

Jinwoo Lee

For the Tezos Blockchain Camp.

Joyce Yang

What do they have to deliver at the end of the camp? Do they build a smart contract on Tezos?

Jinwoo Lee

Yes, so they experience how to build a node and how to make some smart contract on the Tezos.

Doo-Won Suh

And the beginning concept of OCaml.

Joyce Yang

Yeah, for sure.

Jinwoo Lee

So our next plan is to make us some advanced class. So it’s focusing on the Liquidity, the smart contract language of the Tezos. So we are trying to make some new intensive course for the Liquidity training.

Joyce Yang

Do you write those on your own or do you work with professors to come up with the curriculum?

Jinwoo Lee

So we have one of our team members who is here with the Tezos Korea, so his background is a developer in Samsung Electronics. He teaches what is Tezos and how to build a smart contract with Tezos.

Joyce Yang

How is OCaml received in Korea? Is it a very new language and not many people know about it?

Doo-Won Suh

So in Korea, OCaml is not popular yet, but I think OCaml is growing.

Jinwoo Lee

So like undergraduate students, there are many undergraduate students who didn’t know about OCaml, but there are some graduate students who’ve heard about OCaml. So with the professor, we are trying to say that why OCaml is strong, why it is safe, and why it is secure. So with those features, students get more engaged in the OCaml world.

Doo-Won Suh

It is growing.

Jinwoo Lee

So we also said that the average salary the OCaml developer is quite high.

Joyce Yang

Yeah, I’m sure. It’s a very highly sought out skill.

Jinwoo Lee

And also there is recruitment for the developer, functional programming developers recruitment from Amazon or Facebook and Tesla. So we tell them, this is a new opportunity for you. You are using JavaScript, C sharp or Python, but this is quite new a language for you. So this is a new chance.

Joyce Yang

Yeah I mean, it’s great to know another language. And then also, not an easy language to learn. What are you guys looking to do this year for the Tezos community in Korea and what are your goals?

Doo-Won Suh

Yeah, we are planning to train 200 local developers. We are planning for that this year.

Joyce Yang

Are there more partnerships with schools that you’re doing or with companies that you’re doing here? If it’s in development, you don’t have to talk about it. Are you guys looking at working with more schools what companies?

Jinwoo Lee

We love to work with like university professors so that we can do more academic research on the Tezos and the potential of Tezos. So that is our goal.

Joyce Yang

This is a very unique approach for a lot of projects from U.S or Asia that are working with the education aspect.

Jinwoo Lee

What I found is like there are so many developers and students who already know how to make a smart contract like in Ethereum using solidity, but there were only a few people that know Tezos. and they even don’t know like what is the smart contract writing on Tezos. So our goal is like as I said, to train 200 local developers in Korea. So that with this, we can enhance the Tezos Korea developer community. This will be like some milestone of it.

Doo-Won Suh

We believe Tezos is a more serious and scientific project. I mean, blockchain project. So we love to talk to the professors at the local universities, and also professors love to talk with us because this is a scientific project.

Joyce Yang

And what is the general sentiment about cryptocurrency and blockchain in Korea overall now?

Jinwoo Lee

Do you mean like their feeling or so on the blockchain?

Joyce Yang

I think Korea was always the place where people heard about the Kimchi premium, people trading a lot on the exchanges. But what about the developer community? Can you talk a little bit more about that? Because that’s something I think it’s very interesting.

Jinwoo Lee

So there was a statistic, I don’t know whether this is true or not, out of 50 million of the population in Korea, 5 million people already invested in the crypto; this is really a huge ratio.

Joyce Yang

Do you think that’s true like if you think about your friends?

Jinwoo Lee

I think I already found some articles that say so, but that compared to the ratio of participation or investment, like serious approach, researching or developing the blockchain industry is quite low. I think because many people think that crypto or a blockchain as a way of making money.

So yesterday I heard from someone that there are many unicorn companies like in Silicon Valley, which by valuation is like really huge, but they have a layer product and services to the customer. But in crypto, it’s hard to find some real serious products or services, which give some value to the customer, but the value isn’t quite the same or similar.

Joyce Yang

For a crypto company in a technology company in Silicon Valley.

Jinwoo Lee

So it’s quite nonsense.

Jinwoo Lee

So I think this is a time that we have to do more researches and find the use case and have so many trial and errors, so to develop the industry.

Joyce Yang

Are we there yet in Korea where we’re seeing projects being built and use cases being built on Tezos?

Jinwoo Lee

In Korea, there were some trials. So there were some business clients contact us about how they can use the Tezos on their services. So we are still talking about it like how this is how Tezos Korea works. Give us some consulting services.

Joyce Yang

Okay, and just going backward, so Tezos Foundation is separate from Tezos Korea. How big are the teams each?

Jinwoo Lee

We cannot say how big it is because…. Let’s talk about how small it is.

Doo-Won Suh

Tezos Korea Foundation has 6 directors including me.

Jinwoo Lee

And Tezos Korea company has 2 members including me. We also have a plan to recruit more people into Tezos Korea.

Joyce Yang

I’m sure you’ll be very busy. What of the upcoming events that we should anticipate in Korea?

Doo-Won Suh

We are planning a Liquidity academic course to local developers. I think this is the next one. And the other one is some Tezos Asia Leadership Summit. This is a private event for the Tezos Asia Leaders in Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China. So bring them together and discuss our plan in Asia.

Joyce Yang

These are for leaders, for you guys only.

Doo-Won Suh

Yes, that’s correct. The last one was Hong Kong last September I think.

Joyce Yang

So you guys all take turns to do events around Asia?

Jinwoo Lee

Last one we did it in Hong Kong, and this time is in Seoul.

Joyce Yang

That’s great. Before the community event, you will be having this Liquidity bootcamp.And then will you be doing other things in the plans this year?

Jinwoo Lee

So we have a plan to do some competitions targeting the students.

Joyce Yang

Like hackathons?

Jinwoo Lee

Yeah. So like using blockchains whose services can be provided to the industry, those things. And then we also have some collaboration with a local university.

Actually, in Korea, we have some blockchain research club in the university. So we have Sungkyunkwan University which is a Top 4 university in Korea, they have some blockchain club, so we are giving some grant to them. So they’re doing some studying and researching aroundTezos.

Joyce Yang

Now, in a separate conversation that happened the following day, I spoke to Jinhwa Kim, a board member of Tezos foundation and also the former founder of Korbit, a leading Korean cryptocurrency exchange, about the Korea crypto and regulatory landscape overall. I first also had Jinhwa Kim introduce himself.

Jinhwa Kim

My name is Jinhwa Kim and I was a co-founder and COO of Korbit which is the first Korean won to Bitcoin exchange. And we founded Korbit in 2013 and we started our service in June 2013.

And last year, we sold our company to Nexon Holdings and after that, I founded the Korean Blockchain Association, which includes most of the Korean Exchanges like Bithumb, CoinOne and Upbit. We have a hundred companies as members and including 20 more exchanges in Korea.

So we founded the Association last year and I’m still one of director and board members of the Korean Blockchain Association. So actually since 2015 or 2016, some of Bitcoin exchanges and we made a forum for negotiation and discussion about the industry with Korean government officers, and we have discussed how to make laws and how to make regulations here.

And also, we have talked with many congressmen so now in Korean Parliament, there are many congressmen who are interested in cryptocurrency and blockchain. And the congressmen have their own table in Parliament now. So I was a startup-founder and also have been the spokesman of our industry and I have talked to the government sector since then.

Joyce Yang

Yeah and we’re meeting each other at Tezos Korea event. And are you involved with Tezos as well?

Jinhwa Kim

Oh yeah. I was invited to Tezos last year when Tezos Korea Foundation was founded and started, I joined as one of the board members. And as I mentioned, I think that their approach is very healthy and very long-term view.

So I hope a project like Tezos should have strong attention in the Korean industry, so I want to help them. Also, I’m an adviser to some project and funds like Signum Capitain Singapore. And a few projects, I’m involved as an adviser.

Joyce Yang

What was Tezos approach that was very unique for you?

Jinhwa Kim

I think in my opinion, Tezos’ approach, attitude and strategies are that they have people first. Their first priority is in my opinion that they are focusing on training people, training developers and help developers to be accustomed to their coding language, programming language, and their development environment structure.

Also, I think Tezos is very good at making and empowering communities. I think not many projects are interested in that kind of long-term activity, especially in Korea.Their priority and their interest are only focused on raising money, but Tezos is quite different for me. And when I met Diego and Arthur, they are very sincere to me, so I can trust them, I will help them.

Joyce Yang

And you said that they give a lot of empowerment. Is it because of a lot of independence that they let you run the community the way you like to do?

Jinhwa Kim

Yeah.

Joyce Yang

So you guys have a lot of freedom and you get to appeal to the local Korean community.

Jinhwa Kim

Yeah, I think so. They do not give specific directions to communities and to the people involved in the Tezos project. They provide responsibility and right. Both, they provide both to them.

Now I’m just doing a few things as a board member. I’m not actively participating in their community things or Foundation things.

But Doo-Won and other full-time members are very supportive and devoting themselves to…. They’re very good guys.

Joyce Yang

So how do you see the Korean community evolved in the cryptocurrency world? The regulators are opening up and learning more about cryptocurrencies as well, and Korea is one of the first Asian countries to really be getting into learning about cryptocurrency from the regulators’ point of view.

Jinhwa Kim

Korea is a very energetic country. The whole country is full of energy and dynamics, so yeah I think there are many talented youths, talented young business guys here in Korea, they’re working very hard studying this technology. You know, our country Korea is very high in education and there are a lot of clever people are here, but there are many talented and passionate people, young people especially, studying and developing knowledge of this technologies.

So that is a very strong point in my view. When I visit Japan and now I’m living in Boston, very few people are interested in actually. As when I visit New York, only some tech guys and some Wall Street guys are interested …. I think in Korea, a huge number of people have passion and also study hard. That’s a strong point.

Joyce Yang

To learn more about Tezos and the Tezos communities, make sure to check out the website links listed below and follow Tezos on Twitter. This podcast is produced by Global Coin Research.

Disclosure: Joyce Yang is a consultant to Tocqueville Group, a Tezos protocol company.

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