“I think the blockchain is creating new opportunities for people who are open-minded and global. For example, Korea has been facing unemployment issues as the society is growing slowly and big enterprises slow down the recruiting. However, new emerging projects within the blockchain industry created many global job opportunities. For example, I know so many blockchain projects that want to get into the Korean market and are looking for local human talents. So that said, I have been organizing blockchain career advising sessions with top Korean universities to share these new opportunities and have been giving career advises to students and new comers.”
I had the pleasure to interview Sinhae Lee. Sinhae is a Stanford MBA graduate, who started her career in Silicon Valley, where she later discovered blockchain through her connections and partnerships. She is one of the founding partners at GBIC — a blockchain and cryptocurrency fund, and Block72 — a comprehensive blockchain consulting firm.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thanks for inviting me to share my stories :-) Graduating from Stanford MBA in 2014, I joined a fintech (payment) startup called Coin, Inc in Silicon Valley and naturally got exposed to conversations about Bitcoin as a payment solution. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine that I would be doing blockchain investment as my career. After Coin, Inc got acquired by FitBit, I worked for another FinTech start-up in SF called NerdWallet and soon realized that I wanted to move to an investment career. In 2017, I was about to join a traditional VC in San Francisco but one day I read an article explaining how ICOs were becoming a new way of fund-raising and it drew my attention. After learning more about the blockchain technology and the industry overall, I became very passionate about the possibilities that blockchain tech brings to the world, so I decided to do blockchain/crypto investing rather than joining a traditional VC.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Aergo! GBIC has been incubating this project, and I have been working with them very closely as an advisor. Aergo is a 4th-generation “enterprise ready” blockchain protocol combined with a state of the art development platform. The genesis of Aergo’s core blockchain technology was developed with the assistance of Blocko. Not many people may have heard of Blocko, but it is a very impressive blockchain company. It has 78% market share in supplying enterprise blockchain solutions in Korea and already has 21 paying clients which are big enterprises including Samsung, Hyundai, ShinHan financial group, etc. It is currently reaching over 9M live end users!
With scalability and other issues being constantly addressed with Blockchain 3.0 projects, our next big obstacle is figuring out how the blockchain technology is going to adopt mainstream users and enterprises. From my perspective, that’s the future and next generation of Blockchain, Blockchain 4.0. And I believe that Aergo team has the biggest potential to bring blockchain technology closer to the real-world and make real business impact.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I want to express my appreciation to my friend, Alex Shin, Partner at Hashed (Top crypto fund in Korea). He is the person who convinced me that I would be a great fit to the blockchain/ crypto industry. I am Korean native with working and studying experiences in both China and the U.S. I have been always longing to connect my three dots — Korea, China, and the U.S., and these three countries happen to be the most important markets for the crypto/blockchain world.
Alex and I were neighbors in SF and used to catch up regularly over coffee to give career and life (?!) advices to each other. When Alex first tried to convince me to come to the industry, I told myself that I should be careful as he is very good at selling (and at that time I was thinking to join a traditional VC). He continued to introduce me to other key people in the industry and showed me how the industry operates from within. Once I put my toes in to the industry, I could tell that this is the industry where I can realize my long-term career goals — working with smart interesting, and unique people for new technology which has potential to touch everyone’s life as well as put a bridge between my three dots — Korea, China, and US.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Smart and unique people: “People” have been always one of the most important aspects of my career choice. For example, I met many smart and polished business friends at McKinsey and the most amazing entrepreneurs while working at Fintech start-ups in Silicon Valley. Now, I am meeting some amazing visionary hustlers in the crypto industry
- Young energy: One of the most impressive thing about the crypto/blockchain is its young energy! The average age of the industry is young, but it is beyond just the age aspect. People work and play hard (crypto never sleeps), are very open-minded and inclusive.
- Huge potential to completely change the way we live: I admit that there are many technical, governance and even social challenges that we need to overcome, and it will take years for the new technology to get to the stage of mass adoption. However, I believe in its potential to touch our daily lives. It has huge potential to change how we communicate, how the society builds trust, how we work and live, etc. For example, every task and every change in events could be digitally stored and validated and shared which will lead to huge cost savings for organizations and individuals. Imagine, if we can use the blockchain technology to build a smart city or smart industrial zone in North Korea, it will lead to a quantum jump.
- Global aspects: With the Blockchain industry being naturally global, some amazing collaborations from different parts of the world are happening. It is amazing to see how people from all over the globe are working towards one goal or for one project.
- Creation of a whole new industry: More and more professional people from all over the industries are trying to enter this industry. There will be new Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Fidelity, etc. of the blockchain industry.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Scams and false valuation (aka hype): As we all know, the hype that generated last year brought in some scams into the industry. As an investor, I see many projects which do not have clear “why blockchain” but just try to create ICOs to raise easy and relatively large amounts of money compared to venture investing. I am worried that some scams just dilute the very strong potential of this new technology.
- When and how to cross the “chasm”: Like every new technology, the blockchain technology has to cross the chasm to have real impacts to the world. As I mentioned above, there are technical, governance and even social challenges that we need to overcome. Projects which have not only technical advantages but also business capabilities which can lead to agreements with various stakeholders will make real impacts.
- Security: We have experienced some unfortunate hacks and security challenges as the industry is getting more mature. There needs to be better technology on custody solutions for digital assets.
- Lack of clarity on regulations: (as everyone says) Clear and right regulations can help facilitate the industry growth and protect retail investors. Now, some countries still lack clear regulations, which creates unnecessary noise and uncertainty.
- “FUD” and short-term perspectives: “FUD” or “Fear, uncertainty and doubt” has devolved to be synonymous with distaste for any criticism. Now, any critique of a project, whether constructive or not, creates “FUD”. FUD and short-term perspectives can hurt the industry as new technology takes time to mature.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I think the blockchain is creating new opportunities for people who are open-minded and global. For example, Korea has been facing unemployment issues as the society is growing slowly and big enterprises slow down the recruiting. However, new emerging projects within the blockchain industry created many global job opportunities. For example, I know so many blockchain projects that want to get into the Korean market and are looking for local human talents. So that said, I have been organizing blockchain career advising sessions with top Korean universities to share these new opportunities and have been giving career advises to students and new comers.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
- To be clear about what you want to do and what you are good at. Some people come to me just saying that they want to work in the blockchain industry. However, there are many different roles in the industry. You can work for a project, and there are many functions that you can do at a project just like a start-up. You can do marketing, PR, Business Development, operations, engineering, etc. Or you can also do investment, working as a 3rd party consultant, etc. So I think it’s important to understand your skill set and interests.
- Bring professional knowledge and experiences from the traditional industry if possible. Even though the crypto/blockchain industry is almost like a new animal, professionalism is always appreciated.
- Tactical advice. Upgrading your online activities including your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Medium: Given how truly global it is nature, a lot of human interactions are done though online including messengers, social media, etc. So it is important to set these online social channels right.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Kersti Kaljulaid, the president of the Republic of Estonia. Estonia, a country of about 1.3 million people, has developed a reputation over the past decade as Europe’s digital leader and is testing the use of blockchain in the real world. It is impressive how the government is adopting the new technology and making a stronger effort to educate citizens about the digital safety and use cases. I want to meet her to learn about her visions of the blockchain technology and lessons learned from the execution of it. Also, how great it would be to invite her to talk to leaders of many countries including Korea, China, and US to share Estonia’s story. Plus, she is the first woman and youngest person ever to hold this position. I am always excited to meet more women leaders :-)