Hashed's investment philosophy is based on three major market assumptions: all assets will eventually be tokenized; humans will engage in more social interactions in digital form; decentralized organizations will outlast and outscale existing ones.
Interview: Fiona, Foresight News
Editing: Peng SUN &Kean, Foresight News
- Hashed invests 60% of its projects in Asia and 40% in the United States, with a focus on the US and East Asian time zones.
- Hashed was founded in early 2017 with only $600,000, Hashed's team consists of engineers and founders without prior experience in crypto VC or finance.
- Before its first funding round in late 2020, Hashed used its own capital for investments, ensuring a strong balance sheet.
- UNOPND, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hashed, focuses on consumer-centric companies in the Web3 sector and aims to build the metaverse as an application layer on top of infrastructure projects in Hashed's portfolio.
- Hashed Emergent is a fund launched in 2022, focusing on emerging markets like India, Africa, and the Middle East, with investments ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 and regular local meetups and hackathons.
- Hashed maintains frequent communication with invested projects through Telegram, email, or phone, assessing whether the team's products meet market and community needs and can sustain growth.
- Hashed established Hashed Open Research, hiring Yongbeom Kim, former Vice Minister of Economy and Finance of South Korea, and former Chairman of the Financial Services Commission, to provide macroeconomic and policy research support for portfolio projects.
- Baek Kim predicts that Asia will emerge with more groundbreaking innovations, particularly driving the next market expansion within 1 to 2 years.
- Baek Kim encourages South Asian entrepreneurs to be more proactive, daring to try and challenge the unknown without excessive concern about regulations and consequences, as many South Asian countries are major markets for consumer adoption and retail.
- Hashed's investment philosophy is based on three assumptions: asset tokenization, increased digital social interactions, and the prolonged sustainability and larger scale of decentralized organizations.
- The current FDV of public blockchains exceeds their actual commercial value, and Hashed hopes for technological innovations during bear markets to bridge the gap and establish successful business models on public chains in the next cycle.
- Baek Kim explains the challenges for foreign crypto companies to gain a foothold in the Korean market, citing language barriers, intense international competition, the presence of local unicorns, and strict regulatory control over capital flow and venture investments. However, opportunities lie in the fact that the Korean market requires much less effort on finding meaningful partners to do BD.
When it comes to South Korea’s blockchain and crypto market, what comes to mind? “Kimchi Premium”? The Terra crash? The guy called DK? Or maybe the upcoming Asia Blockchain Summit KBW? In reality, amidst all these, there is a major player in the Web3 world that often gets overlooked – Hashed, a prominent crypto venture capital firm based in South Korea.
Established in 2017 as a crypto VC, Hashed grew from a small company with only $600,000 in capital to a globally influential top-tier crypto investment firm. Before the Terra crash in 2022, Hashed managed assets worth $4 billion. Despite losing over $3 billion in the LUNA crash, Hashed remained resilient. Over the past year, Hashed has been gradually recovering and actively exploring emerging markets for new opportunities.
So, what is Hashed? What have they been focusing on in the past year or two? What are their perspectives on the present and future of the crypto industry? What are the characteristics of the South Korean market, and what efforts have they made in emerging markets? These questions have been lingering.
Curious to learn more, Foresight News had the exclusive opportunity to interview Baek Kim, a charismatic crypto entrepreneur and partner at Hashed. He shared with us the detailed entrepreneurial journey of Hashed since 2017. Through his interview, we get a glimpse of the pragmatic approach, global vision, and unwavering belief in mass adoption of cryptocurrencies among the South Koreans. Before the official start of KBW2023, let’s dive into the story of Hashed and get a preview of the style of the South Korean market.
Hashed: From 3 Engineers to 200 Employees
Foresight News: Can you first share some information about the team at Hashed, such as the team’s size and distribution? Do you invest globally, and what communication methods do you use to address the issue of different time zones?
Baek Kim (Hashed): We have about 30 employees responsible for the operation of our investment vehicle, and they are located in offices across South Korea, Singapore, and the United States. In terms of team structure, we have an investment team with 7 members, including partners, a finance team, a legal team, and a platform team that provides investment portfolio support and research. Additionally, we have scientists and engineers.
The issue of time zones is related to the regions we invest in. Currently, 60% of our projects are in Asia, 40% in the United States, and we also have some investments in Europe, but the primary focus remains on the US and East Asian time zones. For example, it’s 8:00 AM in Korea, and it’s 3:00 PM in San Francisco or Los Angeles. During the overlap until lunchtime in Korea or Singapore, we can conduct internal communications effectively. Then, we utilize other time slots for external meetings or personal research, etc. So, if we were to increase meetings with European time zones, we would definitely need to make some adjustments. But so far, our communication methods have been working well. Of course, we allocate teams in different time zones to handle various tasks. This ensures that we cover different markets and provide portfolio services around the clock, especially during urgent events in the market or the investment portfolio.
Foresight News: Could you please explain the relationship between Hashed, Hashed Emergent, and UNOPND, as well as the specific responsibilities of each entity?
Baek Kim (Hashed): Hashed entire ecosystem has approximately 200 individuals, including those from Hashed Emergent and UNOPND.
In early 2017, we founded Hashed. Initially, Hashed was more like an angel team comprising engineers and founders, as myself, Simon, and Ryan all had backgrounds as engineers and founders. We started in South Korea and had the opportunity to meet many early crypto pioneers and founders visiting Korea, including Vitalik and others. As many teams started coming to Korea, we organized events and technical lectures for them, providing assistance in marketing and token economics. During this time, we realized that it could be a great opportunity to grow the industry together. At the same time, we were doing investments, as we believed we could handle most of the funds ourselves. There were only a few funds at that time, and Polychain hadn’t been established yet. So, it was a suitable time for us to build a platform. As angel investors, we couldn’t scale, but we believed that a fund platform and brand like Hashed could be global.
That was the starting point for Hashed. As you know, when we started the fund, we had only $600,000 in capital. We were all engineers and founders without prior experience in crypto VC or finance. We didn’t know how to establish a venture capital fund, let alone a crypto fund, but we saw an opportunity and wanted to do something more meaningful. Therefore, we began investing with our own money until the end of 2020 when we raised external funding.
Before raising funds, we only had our main investment vehicle, which we still manage. However, this means that when the invested projects appreciate, we don’t have to give them back to LPs like many other funds. We have a very strong balance sheet, but we knew we could do more with our resources, network, time, and capital, beyond just investing and waiting for returns or growth from companies.
This led to the birth of UNOPND. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hashed and serves as a venture studio dedicated to incubating and building consumer-centric companies in the Web3 space. One of UNOPND’s focuses is Web3 gaming, and they have invested in various Web3 games, including League of Kingdoms, a mobile game based on Ethereum, which received additional funding from a16z Crypto and Sequoia Asia. Another game is Derby Stars, a P2E horse racing game on Polygon, which secured additional funding from Galaxy Interactive and Jump Crypto. We also have a gaming company working on an MMOFPS game, a mass-market multiplayer online first-person shooting game that just completed a funding round. Lastly, there’s Modhaus, a Web3 Kpop music label where NFT holders can vote on the format of idol music and who can access the songs, etc.
Modhaus previously had a successful vote on the first music video via DAO, with a participation rate of about 37%, and the views on YouTube reached approximately 32 million in just one or two days. Thus, we have been closely following IP content in the metaverse for a long time. Our strategy is to build the metaverse as an application layer on top of Hashed’s investment portfolio (including Layer1, wallets, key management, or developer tools, etc.), to create a positive feedback loop, building distribution channels, and achieving consumer adoption to enter the market. We are providing support to infrastructure builders and creating real Web3 use cases for consumers.
UNOPND’s establishment aligns with this vision. Currently, UNOPND has around 30 people, and Nathan serves as the Marketing Director, previously working at MakerDAO and other companies, responsible for community support, among other tasks.
Initially, we did not expect UNOPND to grow to the scale it is today. We saw an opportunity and guided the company’s growth through its balance sheet.
Hashed Emergent is a fund we launched last year, focusing on emerging markets, based in Bangalore, India, with investments typically ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. The Hashed Emergent team currently has 15 members, covering India, Africa, and the Middle East. Our goal is to focus on driving Web3 adoption and real use cases, and we believe that emerging markets will have a significant impact, and there is a significant gap between the Ethereum hackathons like Eth Africa, Eth India, to US funds investing in some of the good ones.
Additionally, in these emerging markets, there are many innovative and talented entrepreneurs, but due to limited visibility, resources, and investment opportunities, they may fail due to a lack of funding. We see this as a massive opportunity that can help us grow faster. It is undoubtedly a very challenging task, and the probability of successful investments may be low, but we want to enter these markets as early as possible, just like how hashed was early in crypto to those markets, and show up in local meetups.
In fact, we hold events in emerging markets every week. Whether it’s visiting the Indian Institute of Technology campuses or Nairobi in Kenya, we organize meetups and hackathons every week to demonstrate how Hashed Global is genuinely assisting local communities. There are many narratives about emerging crypto markets on Twitter, but I don’t think anyone is genuinely committed, especially funds, Especially the funds, even though the funds claim that they want to support. This is our first step, and while it is still in the experimental stage, the results have been very positive. So far, Hashed Emergent has completed 25 investments in these emerging markets.
From 0 to 1 Support: Guided by Market Demand and Compliance
Foresight News: Apart from direct investments, how does Hashed empower the projects it invests in? What methods does Hashed use to help these projects achieve growth from 0 to 1?
Baek Kim (Hashed): As Web3 investors, we believe that many areas are continuously evolving. When Hashed was founded, we aimed to help people understand token economics, smart contract technology, consensus mechanisms, and market dynamics.
We recognize that the crypto gaming sector is going through a turbulent and chaotic iteration process. Therefore, maintaining good communication with founders is a top priority for us. We engage in regular communication with most of our invested projects through Telegram, email, or phone calls to stay updated on their progress. we have a sizable platform team rather than just having investment team. The platform team is responsible not only for technical and product design aspects but also for team-building and market entry strategies. This varies based on whether the project is at the infrastructure or application layer. For Layer1 projects, there are wider market entry options when building ecosystems and economies. For application layer projects, it may resemble Web2, with a greater focus on consumer feedback and market competition.
Consequently, we strive to provide meticulous assistance to these projects as our fund places significant emphasis on adoption. Whether it’s applications, games, protocols, or infrastructure, we support them by focusing on whether the team’s product aligns with market and community needs and whether there is potential for sustainable growth on the demand side. Our support extends to macro-market, policy, and legal aspects, as investing and growing in the crypto space require substantial risk management. We aim to ensure that founders build compliant and sustainable products, rather than adopting a short-term mindset that could be challenging to adjust later because of the changes in regulations.
Currently, we have 2 legal employees. We currently have two legal experts who are responsible for ensuring our compliance while implementing various ecosystem initiatives to promote policy and legal-related dialogues between multiple regions and stakeholders. Recently, they collaborated with the Hashed EM team to build the legal platform called “Hashed Open Dialogue for Law”. Additionally, we have a subsidiary called Hashed Open Research, a recently established Web3 policy think tank. Yongbeom Kim, former First Vice Minister of the South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance, and former Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Commission of Korea has joined us. He was responsible for drafting guidelines and monitoring financial markets during the bullish and bearish markets of 2017 and 2018. He has a Ph.D. in macroeconomics from George Washington University and has worked at the World Bank for ten years. Yongbeom Kim is a full-time member of our team, not just a part-time advisor, and provides our investment portfolio with extensive research and support.
Foresight News: South Korea, Japan, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries worldwide are all formulating cryptocurrency regulatory laws. As a VC, how do you view cryptocurrency regulation?
Baek Kim (Hashed): I am currently working in San Francisco and not directly involved in crypto regulatory work in any specific country. However, our team in South Korea is actively collaborating with educators, advocates, managers, researchers, and professors to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the industry and drive positive changes. The regulatory process, however, is slow and requires persistent efforts to achieve meaningful progress.
“The Asian market will be the main driving force behind the next bull run.”
Foresight News: what’s the difference between the US market and the Korean market from your personal experience?
Baek Kim (Hashed): The Asian countries and Southeast Asian countries are quite diverse, making it challenging to draw general conclusions. The same is true for African countries, each with its unique characteristics. However, from our perspective, the US and European markets have consistently driven development and innovation in various fields, especially around Ethereum core innovations.
The Asian market has historically been dominated by speculation and retail trading, with significant volumes in spot and leverage trading. However, this is gradually changing as more infrastructure builders and project teams emerge in Asia. We believe that as the Asian market matures, there will be an increasing number of groundbreaking innovations, particularly during the next market expansion, which we anticipate to be driven primarily by the Asian market within 1 or 2 years. This will stem from the emergence of super applications or use cases resulting from different experiments and iterations, which are already happening.
The US is expected to remain the largest financial market and VC market with the highest purchasing power. It will continue to set the tone for venture deployment, financial laws, and security regulations, which will also have a significant influence on Europe. Many Asian countries are also closely monitoring these legislative measures. However, we believe that much of the bottom-up innovation may come from Asia.
Furthermore, we have observed noticeable differences between US and Asian founders. The US and Europe, focus more on Crypto Native protocols, with many projects focusing on privacy, scalability, consensus, and cross-chain solutions. Asia, on the other hand, pays more attention to DeFi, gaming, NFTs, and consumer applications. We expect this trend to continue as it is challenging for the US or European markets to launch applications directly targeting consumers.
Foresight News: How do you think about the Southeast Asian market overall?
Baek Kim (Hashed): they are very similar, but I believe South Asian entrepreneurs are even more proactive. They dare to try and challenge all unknowns without the need to seek permission or worry excessively about regulations and consequences, unlike what we see in Japan, South Korea, or China.
As a result, I think this drives a significant amount of actual construction. Let’s see what happens. Overall, in the long term, most South Asian countries are expected to experience much faster growth rates in purchasing power and GDP compared to other developed countries. This will make it the primary market for consumer adoption and retail activities.
Foresight News: How is the current situation of the cryptocurrency market in South Korea? What do projects and regular users who want to enter the Korean market need to be aware of?
Baek Kim (Hashed): For many Web3 teams, companies, or protocols, the South Korean market may seem straightforward, but it is challenging to make a significant impact.
There are several reasons for this, including language barriers and intense international competition. Historically, the South Korean market has been unique, where only a few international companies from the US dominate the local market, such as automobile companies, smartphones, TVs, music, and internet browsers like Chrome. Internet service providers’ offerings are much more complex for South Korean users. For instance, e-commerce platforms like Amazon are not successful in Korea, as the country has its own local e-commerce platforms like Coupon, along with many other local providers. Therefore, it is an intriguing country where many local innovations have seen significant growth. For example, even though Coupon operates only in the Korean market, it is listed on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap of around 60 billion USD.
South Korea is quite an interesting market, as it is one of the few small countries in a concentrated region that has seen the emergence of multiple unicorn companies in the technology sector. This indicates that South Korea concentrates funds, education, and training in the technology domain. As a result, many Layer1, gaming, or crypto protocols find it straightforward to navigate the market because they know exactly who their BD (business development) targets should be. For instance, Nexon, one of the largest game publishers, transformed its main game into a Web3 game called MapleStory, with over 100 million active users.
All Layer1 protocols are competing for market share. Companies like SK, one of the biggest conglomerates, are looking to shift some loyalty programs and cashback services to the Web3 space. Krafton and Battleground are also exploring Web3 opportunities. All major public chains are competing in this market. Samsung, with its e-wallets and smartphones, also attracts various public chains. Therefore, the BD target is quite clear in South Korea, and you can expect good economic returns. In many other markets, it takes a long time to explore both evangelism and nurturing, but in Korea, companies can directly transform into BD and partnership. This is why many Layer1 founders like Solana, NEAR, Avalanche, Polygon, zkSync, etc., frequently visit Korea for BD.
Another aspect is the bottom-up process, where tech talents and highly educated individuals are shifting toward Web3. In the past 4-5 years, many talents have limited themselves and mostly observed the crypto industry from the sidelines. Even individuals of all ages, from grandparents to the younger generation, are aware of cryptocurrencies and local tokens in Korea, but full-time workers in the crypto industry were relatively scarce. However, this is changing, and we are now witnessing more genuine talents joining the industry, not just as retail crypto investors. So, I am very optimistic about this, although there is still a long way to go, I am confident it is heading in the right direction.
Regarding regulations, it remains a relatively opaque grey area, but through Hashed Open Research and many other efforts, we are conducting extensive education to ensure that the South Korean market becomes a key center for Web3.
However, this does not mean that South Korea is an easy market to penetrate for foreigners or foreign crypto projects because it is one of the countries with the strictest controls on capital inflow and outflow, currency exchange, and venture capital.
Hence, for foreigners, entering the South Korean market directly is not as easy as US companies entering the EU market, but it is indeed becoming more active these days.
Change or Not: The Future of the Industry in the Eyes of Hashed.
Foresight News: What is your investment mythology? How is it improved in the past years?
Baek Kim (Hashed): We were all first-time professional investors, which is why we postponed accepting external funding for a long time when we first started. When we were investing with our own money, although the financial risk was high internally, we could take full responsibility and make more decisions on the outcomes.
However, the situation changed when we had an LP in our venture fund. In December 2020, we raised $120 million in our first fund, and in December 2021, we raised $200 million. Most of our LPs are public companies, large conglomerates, and international corporations, so there are not as many individuals or founder funds operating. Therefore, this comes with significant responsibility with both mandate and limitations.
Overall, in the past six to seven years, we have been continuously adjusting, making mistakes, learning, and growing as investors. Despite our background as engineers and founders, we can now hire top talents globally. As a result, we have recruited many technology and finance professionals in the US, Korea, Singapore, India, and other places, allowing us to better collaborate as a team and build a stronger platform.
This is the change in the overall structure. I believe that, overall, we are more like an iteratively strong and flexible fund, with the only constant being our belief in this market and the mass adoption of Web3. We always focus on excellent entrepreneurs and engage in long-term partnerships with them for 5 to 10 years.
Our investment philosophy stems from three major assumptions about the market: First, all assets will eventually be tokenized. Second, humans will engage in more social interactions in digital manners. Third, decentralized organizations will last longer and scale larger eventually. These are ambitious assumptions, but I think they still apply to our investment decisions and industry research approach.
Foresight News: What changes have occurred in Hashed’s investment focus from last year until now, and which specific tracks and fields is Hashed currently paying more attention to?
Baek Kim (Hashed): In terms of geographical focus, Hashed’s investment priorities have not undergone significant changes because we have always followed a global strategy. We will continue to invest with the same approach, but we will hire local employees to better support the founders we collaborate with. Regarding the areas of investment focus, we have consistently centered our investments around infrastructure and gaming.
The reason for our focus on gaming is not necessarily because we enjoy playing games, but because we believe that gaming provides the best avenue for mass adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain infrastructure. We think that more users and content will drive mass adoption, and we see gaming as offering the best content and user experiences for the next decade. If you observe the younger generations, including Gen Z and Gen Alpha, you’ll notice that the popularity of traditional IPs, like Superman, is rapidly declining.
Nowadays, many new animated movies are based on game characters’ IPs. Therefore, we believe that the next generation of intellectual property will come from these interactive metaverses or games. If cryptocurrencies can be part of this wave, it will lead to the adoption by billions of people. Currently, the only content in the crypto industry seems to be price fluctuations, with people mainly focused on trading and speculative businesses rather than actual consumer spending. However, through gaming and IPs, we aim to drive the development of the crypto industry and its infrastructure.
Foresight News: What aspects do you think will be the competitive and growth points for future public blockchains? What are the reasons for being optimistic about public blockchains?
Baek Kim (Hashed): I’m still very optimistic about public chains, but the actual adoption results have been somewhat disappointing compared to expectations. I believe that public chains should play a role similar to game publishers, providing infrastructure, marketing, and ecosystem support. However, the challenge lies in how to coordinate and sustain this complex business model, as many public chains rely on inflationary incentives to attract capital artificially and thereby draw users and developers.
I think the reason for this lies in the lack of real demand to create the adoption case and select the infrastructure that only works for that specific goal whether that’s executing millions of people or executing a certain type of mechanism.
This situation is not uncommon, as most blockchain games have already been impacted by marketing and brand competition. Therefore, I hope that during this bear market, many technological innovations will emerge to address the problems we have become aware of. With that, in the next cycle, we can focus more on specific use cases and specific industry categories to see how successful projects are built on top of public chains.
I believe that the economic value on top of the infrastructure should be greater than the valuation of the infrastructure itself (for Layer 1 projects). I used to be a software engineer at Amazon, and even though Amazon is one of the most valuable companies, the total value of all businesses built on AWS is much larger. In contrast, in today’s public blockchain market, the Fully Diluted Valuation (FDV) of public chains is far greater than the actual business value generated on these chains.
Foresight News: How long do you think this bear market has lasted, and what kind of opportunity do we need to usher in the next bull market?
Baek Kim (Hashed): During my participation at EthCC in Paris, I noticed that many people were excited and believed that the bull market is about to come. However, I have some concerns because it seems like everyone is getting excited too early. The market is not mature yet, and there haven’t been substantial changes. I’m rather pessimistic about the current market as it still heavily depends on the development of macroeconomics and policies, especially in the latter half of this year.
Foresight News: One last question, we hope to have more people involved in Crypto, but most industry conferences seem to forget this mission and are essentially gatherings of the Web3 community. So, how do you encourage and help non-Web3 users to enter the Crypto and Web3 space?
Baek Kim (Hashed): I really enjoy sharing new ideas and concepts. Our focus is not limited to Web3; fields like robotics, healthcare, and AI are also hot topics. Personally, I want to do my part, even if it’s something small.
As a result, I have been guiding and sponsoring many blockchain clubs at universities and colleges. Three or four years ago, when the blockchain club was first established at my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, it only had 5 to 10 members. But now, it has become one of the largest clubs with over 200 registered members. I have also established an Innovation Scholar Program at my alma mater, which provides scholarships for students who aspire to become entrepreneurs. Nowadays, the core members of this club are mainly focused on cryptocurrencies and Web3, and many other organizations and communities I have helped are in similar situations.
Many of my former colleagues, bosses, and mentors come from the gaming industry. Amazon is also very interested in this area. I’m just being here as someone people think of and reach out to, when they start exploring crypto for a while and don’t know exactly what he/she does. That gives me a lot of joy, and I’m genuinely happy to help.
I remembered when I was at Amazon as an engineer, I had a mentor for us senior pm and he was helping me navigate to become a better product manager. Later, I left Amazon to join Hashed. However, many years later, that person also wanted to explore the crypto space and joined Circle as a product director. After he left Circle, I helped him start a new company, and eventually, Hashed led the funding round. So, I’m happy to be able to help some of the people who helped me early in my career.