[THE INVESTOR] The days of firms raising tens of millions of dollars through ICOs may have gone -- at least in Korea -- as heightened regulatory scrutiny has made it extremely difficult for blockchain projects to get big funding these days.
“The government’s hardline stance shows no sign of easing, while investors who have not yet reaped returns from their previous investments are reluctant to pour money in new blockchain projects. Now my advice is ‘play it small,’” Ted Koo, managing partner at Tek & Law, a Seoul-based law firm specialized in tech issues, told The Investor on the sidelines of the Blockfesta conference held on Aug. 22.
“Like other startups, blockchain firms should carry out a funding campaign in phases rather than getting the entire funds for the final project launch that could take years. If you prove your technological prowess enough, you can skip an ICO to launch an IEO (initial exchange offering).”
Koo, the former prosecutor and partner at Kim & Chang, Korea's No. 1 law firm, has been raising his voice for easing regulations in the burgeoning crypto and blockchain industry.
He stressed the current regulatory stalemate in Korea could continue for some time and raise uncertainties for both investors and tech firms.
“I think crypto investors now have better understanding and knowledge about the market. They read white papers and have exchange accounts. A healthy user base is being created,” he said. “But they still feel confused because there is no change in the government’s negative stance.”
He, especially, pinpointed Korea’s excessive control of crypto exchanges, saying the nation’s more regulated exchanges are losing their presence in the global market.
The top three exchanges -- Upbit, Bithumb and Coinone -- that used to dominate the global trading volumes are increasingly losing their spots to Chinese and Singaporean rivals. The No. 1 Upbit is ranked at 18th globally.
“Crypto trading and blockchain technology cannot be separated. The government should not ignore the role of exchanges,” he said, criticizing the Ministry of SMEs and Startups’ recent decision not to recognize crypto exchanges as venture business along with nightclubs and karaoke bars.
“The G20 ministers also consider crypto as assets whose transactions should be properly protected so that the money could be used for promising blockchain projects.”
He admitted there are speculative ICOs, including scams, but he stressed investors can be protected through properly designed regulations not by banning them altogether and expelling Korean projects to more crypto-friendly countries.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)