Interview with the founders of Tree Planets, Hyungsoo Kim and Min Choel Jeong (1)
Writing about web page https://treepla.net/
Written by Yachi Chen and Suiki Park
Tree Planet is a mobile game from Korea, which combine the playfulness of mobile game and the action of protecting the environment. When the player plants a tree in the game, Tree Planet will further plant a tree in the real world. The vision of the business is “to make green the most visible color on our planet. “In the past 6 years, Tree Planet has planted more than 73 forests over 10 countries, including Korea, the U.S, China, Sudan, more than 488,165 Trees, in total. It is found by Hyungsoo Kim (29 years-old) and Min Choel Jeong(30 years-old) from Korea.
Q: What’s your rational to start the business of the mobile game Tree Planet?
A: Hyungsoo (H): We would like to solve the problem of environment protection. I majored in media and communication in undergraduate. Since I was 17 years old, I spent 5 years to make a film about environment issue. I used to watch TV programs related to environment issue, and I noticed that the deforestation had become a serious problem. In recent years, there are forest as big as half size of the U.K disappear every single year. Many people watched the film I made, but only few of them would really take an action.
Min Choel (M): We met each other in 2008 as I majored in animation. At that moment we were going to the army (In Korean, all males have to go to military serves for 2 years.) Both of us desired to do something fun and meaningful instead of commercial movies. We want to solve the problem, change the world. We might go to work in the government or Non-Government Organization. However, we decided to do something by ourselves, something worldwide and bring more deep impact.
Q: How it became the idea of mobile game business?
H: One day, a friend of mine was playing the farming online game. I asked him why he enjoyed it so much? He told me that he really enjoyed the feeling of planning trees and making money in the virtual world. That gave us an inspiration. We did not know much about the business or entrepreneurship, so we read many books about environment protection and CSR business to develop the idea.
Q: Both of you just graduated from college. How did you solve the problem of lack of resources and finance?
M: Our experience is, when you really desire and endeavor to do something, people will try their best to help you! At the beginning, we knew nothing about mobile game. During the 2 years we were in the military, we took off the army suit and put on the suit on the weekend. We went to many places visit different people as long as they might give us some suggestion, including engineers in the colleges. We have 40 holidays during that 2 years, and we tried our best in those days.
H: At the beginning, our idea is to develop a computer game. At that moment, the iPhone just went into the market. An engineer suggested me “hey! Why not develop a mobile game?” as he saw the future trend of the smart phone. We also visit some small enterprise or start-up venture, some people suggested us to visit the government, some people suggested us to start our own business as a social enterprise. After 15 days, we started our own business. It happened so soon! When we just focus on our goal, it just happened, we never even have time to think about giving up. Everyone around us was really willing to help us. It was the moment that smart phone, green business hit the market.
Q: What is the most difficult things to start this business? And how did you try to solve them?
M: People don’t believe that this could really make money at the very beginning, which make it difficult to convince them to help us. And in fact, Korean People rarely use smart phone at that time. We did not think it was difficult at the beginning, but actually it was really difficult (laugh). At the beginning our financial target is 100,000 US dollars, and we visit different people to find the sponsor. There are Angel Investors in the US but not in Korea at all. So we tried to join different entrepreneur competition, including the ones in Korea, and the global ones such as in Berkley University in the U.S. We won certain fund from the competition, and many business leaders noticed our idea from the competition and wanted to help us. We reached 1,000,000 US dollars in 3 months, which is beyond our expectation.
H: Another difficulty is to find the land to really plant the trees as they are owned by the government, and we have to convince them to join our idea of planting trees. What’s more, every country has its own regulation and law, to say nothing of the difficulty of communication in different languages. However, we really wanted to solve the problem in various countries. For example, the air pollution is really severe in China and Mongolia. China is closed to Korea geographically. Environment issue would not be a problem for an individual country, it is a global issue. People have to solve it even if we come from different countries.
Q: How did you reach the local government and business to solve this problem?
H: We tried to make the connection through the internet. We tried to reach a Chinese professor through his blog. He speaks Korean and cares much about the environment issue. We wrote him an e-mail to tell him about the idea. He was willing to meet us, and he further supports and help us since then on. He told us “At the beginning when I met you, I thought you would only take action for few time. But then you keep carrying on, never give it up. I saw your passion and belief.”
M: We also went to the US to visit Google. They gave us lots of suggestion and would like to work with us. The CMO told me that he was really impressed by our idea. He said he had seen many mobile application, but never an app changing a world like this. He joined the Tree Planet game and plant a tree in the game, and he is looking forwards to see how the tree is going to look like in the real world. After 20 years He is looking forwards to see how our business is going to look like after 20 years. It is hard for people to predict a picture of a company after 20 years, but they can image how the trees we plant after 20 years. That’s the value of Tree Planet.