As Simon Seojoon Kim tells it, he started investing in Ether, the coin that fuels the Ethereum network, back in the year it started — 2015.
His friends told him he was crazy as he ploughed a big part of his life savings into the new cryptocurrency. By the end of March 2017, he’d put in close to $400,000.
While Kim’s investments are hard to verify, one thing is beyond dispute: Ether has surged in value compared to the start of 2017. In the past year, it’s up more than 10-fold. And Kim, meanwhile, has become one of South Korea’s most famous blockchain advocates. After raising a first blockchain fund in December, he’s planning a second one this month.
“He is like Yoda, the Jedi Master of cryptocurrency,” said Sean Park, a senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group Inc. based in Hong Kong, who worked with Kim on a blockchain project.
Kim is a part of a burgeoning class of newly wealthy who made their money in virtual currencies. Bitcoin and Ether, the two largest tokens, continue to swing wildly, but both rose to records this year.
“The most successful investment is when you spot a fundamentally strong asset that’s either not getting much attention or being viewed negatively,” Kim said in an interview in Seoul, speaking about his early crypto bet.
The 36-year-old entrepreneur is a software developer by trade who has built and sold two companies. One was in education technology, while the other was a dating app.
In 2018, he co-founded Hashed, a kind of venture capital firm for blockchain projects. It takes stakes in companies and helps them to develop, including by arranging partnerships, providing financial advice and even helping with public relations.
Hashed raised $120 million in December for its first blockchain fund. Its backers included South Korean giants Naver Corp. and Kakao Corp., according to the companies’ half-year business reports.
Now Hashed is planning to raise at least 200 billion won ($173 million) for a second fund this month, Kim said.
Hashed’s investments typically range from $1 million to $10 million per company. It took part in a $7.5 million funding round in May for Vietnamese game-maker Sky Mavis, alongside billionaire Mark Cuban, following a seed round in 2019. It also invested $2.5 million in Loco, an India-based game streaming platform, Kim said.
But Hashed has attracted big players such as internet firm Naver, the third-largest company listed in South Korea by market value. Hashed has the most experience in the blockchain sector, according to Naver, which has so far disclosed investments of 14 billion won in Hashed’s first fund.
“Our investors want to maximize their profit,” Kim said. “But they also want to learn about the market through us.”
Kim Kyonghwan, dean of the graduate school of entrepreneurship at Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, a city near Seoul, sounds a note of caution.
“Given that the blockchain industry is new, unpredictability can be a short-term risk,” he said. “Still, I believe it’s a market that will ultimately be institutionalized and grow.”
Kim said there’s huge upside because the blockchain technology market is still in its infancy. But on crypto trading, he encourages people with no experience to be cautious about trying to make quick fortunes.
Sitting in a room named after Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of Bitcoin, Kim said he still has most of his Ether holdings. He said he’s also a major investor in a token called Luna coin.
But when it comes to conventional investments like bonds and commodities, Kim prefers not to get involved. He even lives in a rented apartment with his wife rather than buying his own property, he said.