ICON 101 (Part 3): The People & Team
This chapter will focus on the organizations and individuals who play key, direct roles in the creation of the ICON ecosystem and network. By the end, you should have a firm grasp of the level of expertise, experience, and credibility that these individuals have and know a bit more about the personalities working to make sure ICON achieves it’s ambitions.
It will be easier to zoom out from an organizational level first, so let’s do that.
The Organizations Behind ICON
To begin with, let’s take a look at the helpful image below that can be found on the ICON official webpage, which provides an overview of the organizations with a direct tie to the “ICON Network.”
As you know by now, ICONLOOP — formerly theloop — is the blockchain company established by Dayli Intelligence to provide private blockchain implementation for companies and clients who see value in having their own private blockchain. Ultimately, it’s the goal of the ICON project to provide the public blockchain that allows multiple private blockchains built by ICONLOOP to interact with each other. While it’s an organization separate from ICON, they are reliant upon each other. The more entities using ICONLOOP, the better for ICON, and vice versa.
As you know (since you read in the previous Chapter in the series), the ICON Foundation is the non-profit entity charged with designing and building the ICON public blockchain.
“ICON and LINE PLUS, a global social platform with over 200 million monthly average users(MAU) worldwide, has co-founded ‘Unchain’ to build LINE’s blockchain network. Unchain aims to develop various DApp services while building synergies with ICON to expand the blockchain ecosystem.
Unchain will create a blockchain ecosystem fueled by a token economy, where the users are rewarded for their contributions to the network. DApp services discovered through ICON and Unblock, a subsidiary of LINE dedicated to blockchain research and to accelerate DApp projects, will be integrated with Unchain. This joint venture takes blockchain and decentralization another step closer to being a part of our everyday lives.”
This was an important development in the ICON network. First, this is a joint venture, rather than simply a partnership or MOU. Additionally, it was an agreement between a large company and ICON — not ICONLOOP.
“Until now, every partnership announcement from ICON has only involved [ICONLOOP] (ICON’s parent company) building private purpose-specific blockchains for various institutions. While we have good reason to believe that private solutions developed by theloop will eventually use ICON’s blockchain for interoperability if needed, this is merely speculation. Thus, today’s joint venture announcement with LINE is groundbreaking. It’s the first time a large corporation has committed to using the actual ICON blockchain, and not just a private solution developed by [ICONLOOP].”
While it’s been unclear just exactly this project will focus on specifically, the official release “noted that LINE and ICON will collaborate to develop and deploy a wide range of dApps that could be utilized by hundreds of millions of users on a daily basis.”
DeBlock was an entity formed by ICON and AD4th, a leading player in the Korean advertising industry, to serve as an accelerator of sorts for nascent projects building on the ICON platform. The joint venture provides consulting and networking for these projects, while also connecting them with possible investors.
According to an initial report on the launch of the endeavor, “Deblock will support 300 start-ups over the next three years through various partnerships and will focus on teams with strong performance and understanding of the block chain. Icon will actively invest and develop through deblock, and various domain experts will act as bridge to enter block-chain ecosystem.”
“We have a vested interest in seeing the growth of the ICON ecosystem, and we provide investments, acceleration: marketing, token economics advice, and active networking while also providing incentives for companies to build on the ICON platform. We work extremely closely with the ICON team, and regularly attend meetings together with teams so that ICON can provide technical consulting and support.”
If you’ve been following ICON for a while, you may remember the name Markus Jun. Markus served as Head of Research for DeBlock, and was an insightful and optimistic voice on behalf of ICON, even as he departed to seek new adventures. His writings and analysis of ICON are well worth a read.
ICX Station is a global accelerator program sponsored by the ICON Foundation, with hubs, known as Launchpads, in San Francisco, Tokyo, and Seoul.
“All Launchpads have the same mission: Accelerate projects pushing the boundaries of real-world adoption of blockchain technology using the ICON Protocol. With this mission statement in mind, along with the ICON ethos of “Hyperconnect the World”, ICX Station will open Launchpads around the world to help bring together a global network of investors and entrepreneurs. We can’t do this alone, but with the support of the global community we can turn this vision into a reality.
Projects accepted into ICX Station will be able to focus on what’s important, their project. While entrepreneurs stay focused on building the business, Launchpad Managers will take care of everything else. This includes introductions to important service providers (smart contract auditing, law firms, marketing firms, etc.), fundraising support, technical support from ICON experts, white paper review, and much more. If a project faces a roadblock, the Launchpad Managers are there to remove it. ICX Station enables entrepreneurs in the ICON community to have the chance to receive a direct investment from the ICON Foundation of up to $100,000 USD equivalent of ICX, along with the aforementioned services and guidance.”
Here is an article by the Iconist detailing a day in the life of an ICX Station employee in San Francisco.
Taken all together, these all combine to generate the ICON Network, which is comprised of:
- An entity focused on providing private blockchains (ICONLOOP)
- A project dedicated to building a public blockchain (ICON Foundation)
- A joint venture between ICON and a tech giant (UnChain)
- A high-level accelerator to help projects building on ICON get off the ground (DeBlock)
- A series of accelerators helping projects get off the ground around the world (ICX Station)
Note that this version of the ICON Network does not include the ever-growing list of partnerships that have been established; instead, it’s the collection of entities that the ICON project has a direct stake in, and that are helping build and grow the ICON blockchain network itself. However, take a moment to note that each of these entities has its own partnerships and relationships that sprawl around the globe: ICONLOOP with its many clients looking to build private blockchains; the ICON foundation itself, also with a number of partners; LINE, with several large subsidiaries (to see a partial list of them, I refer you again to Brian Li’s article); DeBlock, with potentially 300 supported startups; and the ICX Station’s with the many projects they are incubating to potentially run on ICON.
The People Behind ICON
Below, I am going to take a moment to take a look at some of the key personalities working to make the ICON project a success. While there are likely others playing just as key of a role, they are not as public (or not public at all) as those listed below. If you’ve been following ICON for a while, these names, and possibly biographies, will look familiar.
The ICON Foundation Council
As you may remember from Chapter 2, the ICON Foundation Council is the governing body of the ICON Foundation — the non-profit established in Switzerland dedicated to building the ICON public blockchain project. It’s members are listed below:
Min’s actual job title is the Chief Strategy Officer of the Dayli Financial Group (the company leading the ICON effort), but his service on the ICON Foundation Council has associated him far more with ICON than with Dayli. For a number of reasons, Min Kim is perceived as the “CEO” of ICON. Here is a description from the Iconist regarding Min’s actual role:
“Though some members of the community seem to think Kim is ICON’s CEO, a misunderstanding born in part because he’s so often the English-language voice of the project, he is just one member of the ICON Council, its true governing body. His main duties include solidifying the project’s finances and making sure it’s running smoothly on a course to fulfill its original vision. This second duty involves assembling the best team possible, putting the right people in the right places.”
Min is a graduate of the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to working for Dayli, Min spent several years working for Deutsche Bank and as a startup founder.
Jonghyup Kim (JH Kim)
A graduate of Pohang University of Science and Technology (one of the top-ranked universities in Asia), JH is arguably the second most visible member of the ICON Foundation, and serves an important role as the CEO of ICONLOOP, the company working most directly on the task of supporting the ICON project by building the private blockchains that will one day connect to the ICON public chain.
Prior to his work with ICONLOOP, “he was as an assistant manager at Jang Media Interactive and then co-founded BTWorks right after graduating. He started developing patented applications, such as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), authentication and security protocol and producers applied to an embedded environment in finance, public, and the private sector.”
Kyoung June Eee (KJ Eee)
KJ’s official job title is CEO of Dayli Financial Group — an important role running a large corporate organization. Prior to serving in that role, he was a founder of Nomad Connection, “a Korean software company developing mobile media solutions to enable IPTV streaming on mobile devices,” where he worked for ten years. He has been far less visible in press releases and other news about the ICON project than others have, but we can presume that his role as CEO of Dayli brings a great deal to the ICON table. Also a graduate of Pohang University of Science and Technology, he has worked for Dayli Financial Group since early 2016.
Hoon is currently the Chief Strategy Officer of Dayli Intelligence. He was previously Senior Analyst in macroeconomic research and strategic planning at Woori Finance Research Institute, the corporate think-tank at South Korea’s Woori Financial Group (ICONLOOP has a current partnership with Woori Bank). Hoon holds a BS in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Ph.D in Management of Technology from Seoul National University (considered to be the most prestigious university in Korea).
Keun Jae Kim
Keun Jae has served as the CFO of ICONLOOP since 2016, and was previously CFO of Dayli Intelligence. Prior to working for Dayli, he worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a graduate of Korea University, the top ranked private university in Korea.
These five individuals make up the core of ICON’s leadership team and are undoubtedly responsible for the long-term success of the project. What do they all have in common?
- They all have extended experience working in the technology sector prior to their work on ICON, typically at high levels.
- They all have experience working either directly for, or with, partners of ICONLOOP, so they understand possible needs for blockchain.
- They all have degrees from top-tier schools, including advanced degrees in some cases (while education doesn’t always mean everything, it’s encouraging to see a team with a strong academic pedigree)
Additionally, with experience as founders and entepreneurs of successful enterprises sprinkled throughout the group, they understand the difficulties of launching new enterprises with uncertain futures.
Of course, these five aren’t doing the majority of the work of actually developing the product(s). On its website, ICON currently boasts 147 team members in total, including 93 in development, 41 in business & marketing, and 13 in operations. To understand their backgrounds and experience, simply browse through the ICON Foundation LinkedIn. It’s ultimately an impressive collection of experienced and talented individuals.
Additionally, and as I wrote about in the prior Chapter, I believe a large portion of the team also works for the other entities involved — ICONLOOP, Dayli Financial Group, and Dayli Intelligence — meaning the picture painted by the ICON Foundation LinkedIn is far from complete.
Oh, and I’d like to focus on one more name for a moment:
Rather than coming up with original content, I’ll refer instead to the Iconist to provide most of the background:
Prior to joining ICON, Dodds spent eight years at Deutsche Bank in the United States. Though he spent the first five of those years in traditional investment banking, he eventually moved into equity research, becoming a Vice President. He says, “I really liked the idea of doing more fundamental research on particular companies, sectors and industries.”
With his research focused on banking, Dodds got interested in blockchain around 2014–2015, when Bitcoin and blockchain started attracting attention in the financial institution sector. In 2017 — after reading an article on the impact blockchain could have in the financial sector — he began thinking blockchain was something around which he could build a career.
Dodds brings a particular skill set to ICON, bringing to the organization expertise in strategy operations, contributor relations and institutional markets. Though he spent much of his time at Deutsche Bank meeting with investors, hedge funds and other institutions, he often talked with investor relations teams, too, on how they could position their companies, examining spaces in their entirety to determine where companies stacked up against their competitors. That kind of experience translates well in the blockchain space, where ICON, too, is keen to know how it stacks up against other projects tackling similar issues. He says, “We’re thinking about how ICON can position ourselves as a top-tier project that provides very clear information about the project.”
Dodds was brought on partly to serve as an important bridge between the ICON community and the rest of the team. That’s why you’ll see him host monthly AMA’s on reddit and occasionally hop into Telegram to provide information or clarification.
Now that we’ve looked at the core individuals behind the ICON team, ask yourself this: If you were to design a potentially revolutionary blockchain project, what type of people would you want working on it, and what set of backgrounds would you like to see? In my opinion, the Council members, and the individuals working on the project, all have the backgrounds, experience, skillset, and reputation to get it done.
A quick note on advisors: I believe that advisors are arguably the least important people as far as it relates to the likelihood of a project becoming success. This does not mean they are not important, but it’s my own personal opinion that you should not make a decision about whether to invest in a blockchain project based around its advisors.
In some circumstances, advisors are used almost entirely to provide initial credibility to a project on paper and to build hype, but it’s unclear to me the exact advantages they bring, especially over the long-term. Furthermore, projects that were less than credible often outright paid individuals to serve as advisors, solely for marketing purposes. There have even been instances in which advisors were mentioned as working with projects when that wasn’t the case at all.
That all being said, having a strong team of advisors can indeed provide credibility, relationships, and expertise to a project. I believe they can provide unique insight based on experience, and also connect the team to important people.
Again, this is all my personal perspective, and others likely may disagree with me. It’s ultimately up to you to decide how much value you think an advisory team can bring, on a case-by-case basis.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the personalities who have agreed to advise the ICON project.
Don Tapscott — Dan is the most well-known among the ICON investors. He is a business thought-leader and consultant with worldwide recognition and the author of multiple books (he has authored or co-authored 16) about business and emerging technologies. Having read some of his work before (long before blockchain even existed), he truly does bring unique insight and thought, and his credibility doesn’t come from shrewd branding and marketing, but true knowledge. In addition, despite his older age, he has a firm understanding of blockchain and it’s possible impact on the world, and wrote the book “The Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World.”
In addition, his commitment to ICON is genuine. Here he is giving a lecture on Blockchain technology last year (and I encourage you to watch the entire presentation if you have an hour to spare):
“Everyday I have two e-mails from someone who wants me to be an advisor to their company in this space, or to be part of their ICO. And I say no to all of them. I just have a handful of companies, and two of them are based in Korea, or have a big Korean play. One of them is ICON, which is an extraordinary company that is doing very well here.”
(Here is the section where this quote begins)
To learn more about Tapscott, be sure to visit his website.
Veradittakit is a Partner at Pantera Capital — debatably one of the most significant crypto “hedge funds” to date: “As the first U.S. Bitcoin investment firm, Pantera Capital is the leading blockchain investment firm and one of the largest institutional owners of cryptocurrencies. Our mission is to act as the catalyst for widespread blockchain adoption and innovation.”
According to Veradittakit’s bio, “As a partner at Pantera, Paul focuses on the firm’s venture capital and hedge fund investments. Since joining in 2014, he has helped launch Pantera Venture Fund II and the firm’s currency funds, executing over sixty investments. Paul also sits on the board of OpenToken and BitOasis, is a mentor at The House Fund, Boost VC, and Alchemist, and is an advisor to Orchid, Origin, and Icon. Paul’s prior experience includes working as an associate at Strive Capital, where he focused on investments in the mobile space, including an early stage investment in App Annie. He also performed partnerships and growth for Urban Spoils, a daily-deal aggregation startup, and worked with LECG and Hatch Consulting. Paul graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.”
If you’ve been following ICON for a while, you know that Pantera is famously bullish on ICON, pointing out that it is their largest holding. That means that Veradittakit is an advisor who has put his money where his mouth is and has invested directly in the project.
Chu was an early investor in Bitcoin, and in 2016, started a cryptocurrency investment firm, Kenetic Capital. According to a Medium article:
“After a robust launch in 2016, Kenetic Capital has grown from being a mere cryptocurrency fund, to one of the most powerful blockchain firms in Asia. The organization today offers a gamut of services that range from capital market solutions and token sale advisory to community building and application development.
And for a firm that’s only a couple of years old, Kenetic has a remarkably well-positioned portfolio, with early investments in top-tier projects like Bluzelle, Caspian, ICON, Quantstamp, and Decentraland. Along the way, they’ve also assembled a star-studded team with a wealth of experience in trading, project advisory, tech development, and more.
Much of their success stems from Chu’s insistence on only funding projects that offer strong fundamentals and have highly viable real-world applications.”
Chu’s blockchain experience is extensive. According to his bio on the ICON website, “He founded the Ethereum HK community (2014), co-Founded the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong (2014) and founded the Hyperledger HK community (2016). He was a partner with the KMA on the Blockchain: Surge event, and a Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) Council Member. Jehan is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and a Masters degree candidate at Hong Kong University (2017).” (Chu has since completed his Master’s Degree, according to his LinkedIn.)
Like Veradittakit, Chu also has skin in the ICON game, through his company’s investment in the project.
Best is a co-founder and partner of Crowdfund Capital Advisors — a unique business built around providing consulting for companies, non-profits, or projects who plan on utilizing crowdfunding. With a number of potential legal complications and roadblocks that come with crowdfunding, the company undoubtedly serves an important niche.
Based on his background and experience, I’d speculate that Best’s primary role was to guide the ICON Foundation through it’s successful ICO process. If that’s the case, his role with the team today is likely reduced — but that’s perfectly ok. For more information on Best, be sure to check out his official biography.
Cho is almost certainly the most technically skilled advisor for ICON. According to her biography:
“Acclaimed data scientist and blockchain expert Yiseul Cho has a decade (and counting) of experiences across academia, business leadership, entrepreneurship and technology. She holds a double Master’s in Energy Market & Strategy and Information Synthesis from École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris and Massachusetts Institute of Technology respectively.
An ex-Facebooker, Yiseul joined HSBC HQ for its first ever Blockchain team as blockchain engineer in 2016 and led the Blockchain analytics team. She won the 1st place in Consensus hackathon in 2016 with drone blockchain protocol (the 1st picks of Consensys, Deloitte, Microsoft) and is an ex-founding partner of Blockchain Partners Korea (currently HASHED).”
In 2017, she founded Perceptra. According to their website, “Perceptra is building effective go-to-market channels for blockchain projects. We conduct market research in Korea market, identify effective use cases, build core channels to users, and help projects grow.”
Simon Seojoon Kim
Simon’s primary role these days is serving as CEO of Hashed, which was formerly called “ Blockchain Partners Korea. According to their website, “Hashed is a global, early stage venture fund focused on backing founders who are pioneering the future of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Hashed is based in Seoul and San Francisco.” The company, which grew $600,000 to $250 million, is also an investor in ICON.
Travis is the CEO & Founder of Coinsilium. According to their website, “Coinsilium is a venture builder, investor and advisor, supporting early-stage blockchain technology companies and the digital token economy. As the first global blockchain accelerator to IPO in 2015, Coinsilium has harnessed its experience and wide-ranging network to advise leading blockchain-based projects around the world.”
According to his official bio, “Eddy has been living and working in China/Hong Kong for the past ten years where he has managed private equity investment funds focusing on Greater China. Previously, he was the Director of Admissions of a technology MBA (Theseus MBA) in Sophia Antipolis (France) now part of EDHEC business school. Eddy completed the Stanford Financial Engineering program for finance executives in Hong Kong. He has extensive experience in private equity, deal structuring, due diligence supervision and advising foreign funds and angel investors investing in emerging markets.”
According to his bio on the ICON website Malik, “has over 20 years experience in Technology related startups and entrepreneurship covering Asset Management, Cryptocurrencies, Mobile Payments in the City of London and Emerging Markets working with leading firms such as Vodafone, Cellnet and News International. He was the founder of the world’s first Blockchain Lab and first ‘DLT’ company within Level 39 in Canary Wharf (world’s largest Fintech accelerator).”
Ultimately, the ICON Advisory Board has a balanced set of advisors bringing expertise on business & technology. Each individual has direct experience with blockchain itself, and has access to a multitude of relationships throughout the industry.
I believe each individual involved with the ICON team — ranging from Council members, to advisors, to the engineers building the project — when looked at on an individual basis, can be seen as a top-tier figure in their given field. Whether it’s individuals who have launched multi-million dollar hedge funds dedicated to cryptocurrency, credentialed data-scientists, executives of large corporations, or sought-after business consultants with global recognition, each and every one carries an impressive resume that serves an important role within the ICON ecosystem.
Again, take a moment to perform a mental exercise, and try to come up with a realistic (Bill Gates and Satoshi likely wouldn’t be available) and ideal team to build a project like ICON; a team with relationships throughout the Korean business and corporate community; a team, from high up to down below, with experience in the blockchain industry; a team with the academic and technical backgrounds to build a potentially revolutionary project. I think what your imagination would deliver is very similar to the people who are making ICON a reality.
In the next chapter, we’ll break down the technology behind ICON in layman’s terms to better understand just how the network will run.