- "Make noise until the world listens!" October 22, 2018
Interview with alumnus Cheol-min Pyo, CEO of blockchain startup Chain Partners
"Make noise until the world listens!"
Startups are advancing in emerging markets with exciting career prospects such as blockchain technology, and innovative Yonsei alumni are at the forefront of the action. Cheol-Min Pyo (entering class of ’04, Communications), a rising figure in the blockchain industry as CEO of Chain Partners, shares his story and experience.
Q. Tell us about your startup, Chain Partners.
A. Our startup incubates businesses that create blockchain, or cryptocurrency, as a Company Builder. This model is not popular yet in Korea but is well established internationally; Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Japan’s Soft Bank, and Germany’s Rocket Internet are main examples of company builders.
Q. What is the difference between company builders and investment companies?
A. Whereas investment companies only invest, company builders take responsibility and accompany their ventures throughout the entire developmental value chain. Ownership of the shares is very flexible too, ranging from 1% to 100%. In other words, as a company builder, Chain Partners is more deeply and actively involved than companies that only invest. As such we are exposed to more direct risks, but it is more efficient because we can also proactively intervene in the performance of the venture.
Q. Can you explain what blockchain technology is?
A. Blockchain technology enables largely two things. First, now anyone can make a server. Even if you are a poor college student, you can create a deep-learning service to compete with YouTube or Google. The principle is simple — you make use of available PCs to create a server. If the money generated from mining coins is higher than the electricity bill to run the computer, users will participate.
Second, with blockchain you can eliminate the trusted “man in the middle.” For example, the reason we deposit money in banks is that it is reliable. Real estate agencies exist to ensure transactions are trustworthy. The more mediators there are, the more expensive commissions get, and the more complicated the operation. Blockchain solves these problems by having millions of computers keep track of transaction records, and validating the transaction with records from all the computers. This is called a transaction “without relying on trust.”
Q. As an expert, what is your opinion on the bitcoin boom?
A. There is an enormous amount of hype, but people actually do get rich through this technology. I see this every day. For the first time since the bust of the “dot-com bubble,” you hear about a young developer in his twenties accumulating billions of dollars in assets with a single program and coin. No individual has ever issued such a currency in the history of mankind, other than royalty. Therefore, it is important to grasp this opportunity than to think that it as mere hype. In a year or so this window of opportunity will close and the time to focus is now.
Q. What drew you to the blockchain industry?
A. I was always interested in the internet as a child. Since I found my first startup in middle school, I was always working online. In 2005, when I was a sophomore at Yonsei, I went through a period when I was contemplating entrepreneurship or serving in the military. Back then, radically new forms of internet service such as Wikipedia and YouTube were coming out. My infatuation with Web 2.0 has led to a series of entrepreneurship during my school years.
I first got interested in the blockchain industry when I was in the military brainstorming for a new business idea. The Japanese developer Satoshi Nakamoto had developed this technology eight years ago, but we had only recently paid attention. I couldn’t believe that we had overlooked this amazing invention which integrates social engineering and technology. I thought that the next new thing would be the Asian economy, but I was missing what was right in front of me all along. I thought better late than never. During this past year, I had the pleasure of working with many talented people while building this company. For one, there was an ex-analyst who used to work in the highly competitive Kookmin Bank. I think this shows how promising this industry is.
Q. What is the most important aspect of finding your own business?
A. The drive of the CEO, and the people you work with. Everything is uncertain when you are a startup that starts from scratch. The flux of the market and the team you work with is all subject to change. The people you work with is most important, but it is not something you can completely control. The only element you can control is your own will. Opportunities are given to people with determination. Even when you are feeling down after parting with a good team, there will be new recruits and growth if you keep pushing through. The most fundamental element is the CEO’s drive, and the rest is luck.
Q. How do you assess yourself as a CEO?
A. This may sound pretentious, but I am someone with vision for the future. I am creative and I have a clear understanding of how things work as well, as having an unstoppable drive. Of course I have many flaws, but for now, I think these are my strengths.
Q. What is your next goal?
A. I would like to be known as a contributor who added value to this industry. I would like to look back on 2018 and be proud of what I have accomplished. After all, you write your own history. After that I will look for new interesting and meaningful pursuits to embark on.
Q. Any words of advice to your alumni?
A. I once read an article before going to the army titled, “Make noise until the world listens.” Early on, I made a lot of noise which was not accepted well. Maybe that is why I faced a great deal of backlash. I appeared on TV, hosted events, did politics, and even gave talks. Doing all these different experiences made me realize that I am a natural entrepreneur. I want to tell my fellow Yonseians to not be afraid to make noise. The noise will fade once if you get it right. That is how you own your life.
Also, I hope more Yonseians get involved in the blockchain industry. As I said, there must be a reason why a former Kookmin Bank employee came knocking on the door of our startup, which is barely a year old. I wish more people will get into this promising market.