Block Trooper: Jehan Chu, founder of blockchain venture capital firm Kenetic

Long a supporter of blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies, Jehan Chu now helms Kenetic, a venture  capital firm helping others looking to break into the industry.

Kenetic is an interesting business. As its founder and managing partner, how exactly do you define it?
Essentially, it’s a venture capital firm, one that supports start-up companies at a very early stage. In particular, we help to fund entrepreneurs in the blockchain sector, while also providing them with advice and guidance, allowing them to realise their visions of the technology’s future. I firmly believe that blockchain represents the next stage in the evolution of the internet – a new technology that will underpin developments over the next 50 years. With that in mind, Kenetic is a bespoke vehicle designed to help facilitate that evolution.

gafencu people interview Jehan Chu, founder of blockchain venture capital firm Kenetic (4)

At what point did you decide the time was right to launch Kenetic?
We opened Kenetic in 2016 when it became apparent that no Asian venture capital business was really focusing on blockchain technology. At the time, those of us who had first ventured into the bitcoin and blockchain space knew something special was
taking place. We also believed that, without support, it wouldn’t necessarily fulfil its potential. That’s where Kenetic comes in – we support those people crazy enough to try and make their dreams come true. 

What was it about blockchain / cryptocurrency that first drew you in?
Well, while I was studying International Relations at Johns Hopkins University, I taught myself how to code html. After that, I went to work in New York coding as a front-end developer during the first boom. In 2013, I first came across Bitcoin. Once I started researching it, I immediately fell down that particular rabbit hole. One of the things that drew me to Bitcoin was my love of decentralisation and the idea of returning power to the people. I soon started a number of related communities, including a local Ethereum group, one of the earliest such associations in Hong Kong, as a means of helping to provide investment advice for those interested in the sector. In 2016, I went fulltime, leaving my job as an art dealer to focus solely on providing blockchain and cryptocurrency investment advice.

gafencu people interview Jehan Chu, founder of blockchain venture capital firm Kenetic (2)

Why do you think cryptocurrency has become such an attractive investment option?
When I started out in cryptocurrency, nobody wanted to hear about it. It was, at best, a joke and, at worst, seen as somehow improper. Now, though, it seems as though everyone realises how important cryptocurrency is, especially with regard to decentralisation. If you look at what’s happening in the world right now, centralised systems are failing, making decentralisation seem an increasingly appealing prospect. Even companies like UBS, JP Morgan, Visa and PayPal are turning their attention to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. It took a little time but it’s happening. 

“ Kenetic aims to support people crazy enough to try and make their dreams come true”

Aside from Bitcoin, which other cryptocurrencies do you see as significant?
While Bitcoin is really a payment token or a store-in value token, Ethereum is an application-based blockchain with easily the largest community of developers and applications. Bitcoin is akin to gold, where Ethereum is more like oil – it is used to power things, whether an engine, a machine or a factory. The other interesting one is Polkadot, which is similar to Ethereum but has a very different approach in that it’s really trying to create a network of blockchains. 

What are the some of the most common cryptocurrency misconceptions that you encounter?
A lot of people think that as cryptocurrency is not “backed” by anything, it doesn’t have any intrinsic value. This is inherently untrue. The value of Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency stems from the subscription and investment of the community, both in terms of dollars and effort. This infuses cryptocurrency and blockchain with value, be it in terms of its use in applications or in having a multi-million-dollar market cap. Basically, they are backed by millions of people who say there is value and are willing to put their money and commitment into them.

gafencu people interview Jehan Chu, founder of blockchain venture capital firm Kenetic (3)

You co-founded Social Alpha Foundation, a blockchain / social impact non-profit. What can you tell us about its aims and ambitions?
I was raised by my parents to be very generous and try to support communities. As a result, I have always thought it was important never to take anything for granted and to use my resources to help others. In line with this, the idea behind Social Alpha Foundation is to support blockchain projects that are looking to create social impact. The first grant we made was to a small start-up in South Africa, which was providing official identity documents to children who were either too poor to apply for them or were refugees. What they would do is use blockchain technology to track these kids and verify an identity for them. Right now, though, we’re focused on environmental issues and have recently given a US$250,000 grant to Open Earth, a Yale University initiative aiming to use blockchain to help combat climate change. 

In terms of cryptocurrency-friendliness, how do you see Hong Kong ranking on the global scale?
Hong Kong is easily one of the most significant centres in the world when it comes to blockchain and cryptocurrency and is probably the most important such destination in Asia. This is partly because the regulation is very engaged here and the regulators
are very knowledgeable. The entrepreneurial spirit is also very strong and there are a lot of start-ups, especially in the financial sector. There are also many people in institutional and more traditional companies across a variety of different sectors that have become engaged with blockchain and cryptocurrency. All in all, I think that I’m very fortunate to be in Hong Kong as there’s just so much going on here in terms of both cryptocurrency and blockchain. 

gafencu people interview Jehan Chu, founder of blockchain venture capital firm Kenetic

You also invest in alternative proteins, notably Impossible Foods…
That’s largely because I have been going mostly vegan. I do what is called a 95-percent diet – depending on which week it is, I have only one or two animal protein meals in a seven-day period, staying vegan for the rest of the time. The fact that this has boosted my own health made me want to invest in initiatives such as Impossible Foods, as well as other alternative protein sources. My cholesterol has gone way down; my sleep,
skin and digestion are all better and it’s good for the planet too.

You are also big on meditation…
I actually practice Vipassana, an ancient breathing practice favoured by Buddha as the root of mindfulness and all other forms of meditation. When I was first introduced to it, it was quite a challenge – I had to undergo 10 days of silent retreat without 
reading, using a phone or having any human contact. During that time, though, I learned how to quieten my mind, focus and use breathing to achieve a state of centeredness and hyperawareness. While it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, it also transformed it in a very positive way. 


Thank you.


Interview by: Roberliza Eugenio
Photos: Jack Law
Video: Andy Wan
Art Direction & Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma


Risk vs Reward: Navigating the risky world of cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin was the first big cryptocurrency

There are few areas of finance at the moment that are generating as much hype as cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is the most popular, but it also fields its fair share of criticism. Earlier this year, Jamie Dimon, chief executive and chairman of JP Morgan, called it a scam and announced he’d fire any employee caught trading the digital currency.

To crypto-enthusiasts, this seemed to signal that the old world of finance is feeling threatened by the new. And from an investment perspective, they have a point.

As of December, the price of one bitcoin crossed the US$11,000 (HK$90,552) threshold. Compare that to the start of this year, when a bitcoin was worth less than US$1,000. Looking further back, for a lot of 2010 its value fluctuated between six and seven cents. Prescient people who bought bitcoin back in 2010 and held them until now would have seen their investment grow by 10 million per cent. Not a return to be sniffed at.

How to choose between different cryptocurrencies

Ether, the second most popular cryptocurrency, looks like it is at an earlier stage of the same process. After its creation in 2014, the price saw little growth for a couple of years, and one ether was worth less than US$1 at the start of 2016. It rose, however, and in December 2017 the price floated around the US$460 mark. Again, solid returns for the early enthusiasts.

Looking beyond the big two, things get a little more complicated. There are now thousands of cryptocurrencies. Some – Ripple, for example – have been around for a while, but more are arriving. Genesis Block, a crypto exchange in Hong Kong, now allows traders to buy and sell over a thousand different cryptocurrencies over the counter. Since there are only about 180 traditional currencies in the world, some of which are barely traded, life for the normal investor in the crypto world is not going to be easy.

Another exchange in Hong Kong, OKex, will soon launch trading in bitcoin derivatives, with plans to offer derivatives of other cryptocurrencies in the future. If you fancy speculating on what the price of an ether will be in six months’ time, there’s the place to do it.  

Picking the right cryptocurrency may yield large returns

With the crypto ecosystem clearly growing, how should a normal investor take advantage of it? At their simplest, cryptocurrencies are digital tokens underscored by distributed ledger technology, or blockchain. Whatever happens to cryptocurrencies, blockchain is going to be part of the future. It is turning up in everything from the world of financial services to shopping. Over on the mainland, US retail giant Walmart is experimenting with blockchain technology to track its produce.

In some ways, blockchain could be seen as many giant excel spreadsheets, linked in such a way that if one is updated, all the others are simultaneously updated. In the age of pre-blockchain internet, one of the problems that prevented a digital currency takeover was figuring out whether an asset was the original or a duplicate. If you can copy your digital token and pay two different people with the same coin, it doesn’t work. Blockchain technology has changed that, and alas, bitcoin was born.

Blockchain technology caused the rise of cryptocurrencies

While many of the new tokens use the bitcoin blockchain to operate, others use the Ethereum blockchain, which underscores ether. Yet many fall into neither camp and are off doing their own weird thing.  

Investors are advised to stick to cryptocurrencies that use an established blockchain. There are already enough variables to worry about when investing in crypto without throwing another into the mix.

If you understand what a token is used for and why, and it seems sensible, then maybe it’s worth a punt. If you really like an idea and want to get in on the action from the start, then a token sale, or ICO (initial coin offering), allows you to do just that.

Investing in cryptocurrencies are risky but rewarding

Developers looking to create a project using cryptocurrencies hold a token sale to raise funds and distribute their tokens. They don’t normally cost a lot to invest in, and they may even offer high returns.

Many are getting excited. So far, nearly US$2.3 billion has been raised in ICOs, mostly in the first half of 2017. Be careful, though – even experts in the crypto world are exercising caution. “There are so many ways to scam people with an ICO,” Leonhard Weese, president of the Hong Kong Bitcoin Association, told the South China Morning Post.

“Investors beautifully admit that most of these start-ups will fail, so all you need to do is raise a few million, appear busy on social media for a few years and then say you ran out of money and blame it on competition, developers or bitcoin. Alternatively, you could ‘hack yourself’ and retire immediately.”

Text: Emrys Gould