Seung-pil Choi developed service for travel because he likes trip and developing chatbot because he wants to research on big data. He was actually widely well-known person. “Is the developer of <Tripgrida> coming to Jeju?” Do you know why did he come?
J-Space You have participated to <Lunch (Learn-chi)-hap-si-da(the mentoring program of J-CCEI)>, which is a mentoring program of Jeju Center for Creative Economy and Innovation, you are really popular that people surrounded you.
Seung-pil Choi Maybe I am popular in Jeju. I think Jeju has a good power. From the mentor I met in <Lunch (Learn-chi)-hap-si-da(the mentoring program of J-CCEI)>, it is not a plan for operation but I was asked to send what kind of service I am working on, but I couldn’t send it yet because I had to make the presentation material for the last networking for stay application program. (laugh)
J-Space It goes to show that the artificial intelligence and chatbot are the key word among people these days. What was your motivation to be interested in the field?
Seung-pil Choi I was already doing it even before the fight between Sae-dol Lee and AlphaGo. It only became popular after Sae-dol Lee and AlphaGo have played go. However, research on the artificial intelligence was continually done even prior to that. People didn’t know about artificial intelligence before but because of the popular go game, it became an issue. I was preparing for a data based trip service called <Tripgrida>. I was developing a service that suggests customized trip spot for individual and applying it to a conversational interface called chatbot. When we were developing it, no one understood this field. Every time I introduce it, I mentioned about applying the conversational interface function and usually, people asked me I don’t know what you want to do, are you making service for a trip, or what? However, when Google came up with the artificial intelligence technology and along with the fourth industrial revolution, it became a trend these days. Platforms like Facebook and Line began to offer chatbot function and it is becoming popularized. It is a good timing for us. We originally planned to do it and create a new one but now we just have made use of the existing platforms like the Facebook messenger. That’s why it is a good timing for us because we don’t have to make it anymore but make use of the existing ones. People show their interest on it first this time saying is this what you guys are doing.
A Chatbot is a trend of this era. For instance, WeChat of China has everything without having to download an additional mobile application, like payment transactions and all. The reason why we thought of the conversational interface was that we were thinking of ways to expand our service. These days, application download rates are decreasing and even being downloaded there are more numbers for it gets deleted and only using the necessary ones like Kakaotalk and Facebook messenger. So we thought that if we apply the mobile application we developed to the conversational interface, it would be better because people don’t have to download an additional application and the users don’t have to try to adjust to the new interface. In fact, we had an app and we did a field test in Vietnam last year with it but the result showed that people won’t use it because it is too difficult to use. We made it but even we found it complicated to use. So could think of attaching it to the conversational interface while segregating it by its functions and lessening it.
While developing chatbot by its function, repeated operations appeared. To try to make them simpler, we developed a function that makes the repeated operation simpler. We call it builder. With the builder, even the people without the knowledge of coding can create chatbot, without having to deal with coding. Nowadays, a specific company for an outside order is making chatbot. However, with the builder, a company or an individual can make chatbot so we would like to make it possible later. In fact, right now, to use chatbot in a business has limitations with regards to its scope. Nonetheless, there are still enough possibilities. Therefore, I would like to test it in Jeju, about its possibilities. Not following the trend but I think it’s being processed naturally.
<Seung-pil Choi, introducing online trip matching service ‘Tripgrida’ and chatbot builder ‘Botgrida’ at the “Lunch (Learn-chi)-hap-si-da”, the mentoring program of Jeju Center for Creative Economy and Innovation>
J-Space You were invited to be a judge for international competition being held by Institute of APEC Collaborative Education.
Seung-pil Choi I know a person from Indonesia whom I met while I was on a trip. I got to know him by helping him out when he was in a trouble. He introduced someone he knows from Korea and that person was from the Institute. I think he saw how I handled the process. So he recommended me after seeing what the things I was doing. It is an international competition targeting students from Asia Pacific region and I was offered to be a judge. At that time I refused because I had to judge in English. Then they offered again for the second time and this time they offered it with a translator but I refused again.
I want to talk about this stuff because actually at that time my heart was closed. I’ve been working alone and I wasn’t sure whether what I was doing is a right thing to do. I wasn’t in a position to judge someone as well. Though it was a great offer, I thought to myself ‘can I do it?’ because I was closed. However, in Jeju, many people were interested in what I am doing and I began to think that perhaps what I was doing could be helpful for others and even though I was not good at it, but there could still be people in need of my service. Then slowly I opened my mind. Recently, they offered for the third time and this time, the offer was even better and I said I would do it. So, I will be participating the competition as a judge for technology in Busan in August this year.
J-Space You opened your heart in Jeju. Your service and people you meet, they are all realated to travel. I think you like travelling.
Seung-pil Choi After I resigned from a company…
J-Space You used to work at a company? (suspiciously asking)
Seung-pil Choi I used to. I was an employee. When I resigned, I got my backpack with me and went around with the money I saved while working. That was my dream. The memory of backpacking trip when I went after finishing my military duty helped me go through my 20s, and it was a gift for my to face my 30s. I planned it to be a year but I came back after 6 months. It wasn’t just a trip but rather it was more like a field test that I checked many things while on a trip. It was more like a market research. I thought to myself that ‘I am not here to just enjoy’. I only use wifi and even in Seoul, I use wifi, because <Tripgrida> has its purpose to be a global service and we can use the internet anywhere in Korea but in abroad, there are many places without access to the internet. I tried to connect wifi in Jaisalmer desert in India and while climbing Annapurna. I tested it, made memos and went around while conceptualizing how I should develop it when I go back to Korea. When I was on my way down from Annapurna, I heard the news that my father had collapsed so I immediately went back to Korea and took care of him for a year at a hospital. The services I wanted to make were not available before but while taking care of my father, many of them were made available by others. It goes to know individual trip became more popular and many people felt of need of it. The made available services couldn’t stop me and I thought to myself that there’s nothing I can do about it and I have plenty of time so I began to make the things I planned thinking that I will learn from it.
I only talked about service. I like going on a trip. The top 5 things in my bucket list were in fact about trips. I have done the list from 1 to 5 after I resigned from my previous work, and they were going on a backpacking trip alone, staying in a foreign country for a month, climbing up Annapurna, and watching starts at a desert… but there’s one thing I failed and that is to get married before turning to 32 years old… 2 years have passed already.
J-Space Since you’re saying you like going on a trip and you’ve been doing it for a long time, I would like to know more about your travel stories.
Seung-pil Choi I went on a trip for 6 months after resigning from company. I was in Thailand before I went to Annapurna and I happened to meet someone on the way. I like going on a trip but also I am very interested in the environment and issues of the local area where I am visiting. About the elephant tracking in Thailand, I heard that the elephants are being raised their whole life with torture so I didn’t want to try it anymore. So I decided to visit elephant environmental park where there are injured abandoned elephants and the elephants are being cured in that park. I should pay the same amount of money for both elephant tracking and visit the Elephant environmental park and if it’s the same price then I wanted to go to the place where I can help the elephants be healed. At the park, you are buying the medicine for them with the entrance fee and giving it to them. I was talking about it with boys younger than me whom I met on a tour, and at that time someone at our back suddenly offered to buy us beer. He bought 2 bottles for us.
That place was called Pai and it is a small village. I wanted to treat him back if I meet him again and I met him the next day coincidentally. So we arranged an appointment and met again at night. I learned that what we were talking about the other day was called a fair trip. We talked a lot about trips and he said he was going on a trip a lot and it was really good to hear from young people genuinely talking about the fair trip and that was the reason why he offered to buy us beer. He asked me where I wanted to be on my last trip and I answered my dream was to climb up Annapurna. I thought only professionals could climb Annapurna. However he said, “I want the end of your trip to be for dream” I was like a line from a drama, but what’s more amazing was that a team was formed on the spot. He called to China and Korea and made a team, just because of me. Actually, he used to do tracking at Himalaya. We promised to meet after 2 months and said bye to each other. We climb up the mountain for 10 days. I cried when I saw the stars from the base camp of Annapurna. I still think it's a dream. I thought I gained everything from that moment but it was not. I fulfilled my dream to go to Annapurna. I was on my way back joyfully and that’s when I saw I got 70 missed calls. I felt something was wrong. I called back to Korea and heard that my father collapsed. I was hopeless. There is no domestic flight from Nepal so I to go to Katmandu through Taxi paying $100. I went over the snowy mountain by Taxi. Then, I came back to Korea through China. I made my way back home with the devastating heart because I had the thought that it could be the last time with my father. Then I took care of my father for a year in a hospital after came back to Korea and <Tripgrida> was made while taking care of my father.
<Main of online trip matching service ‘Tripgrida’>
J-Space Trip service <Tripgrida> fits you. You worked alone for 4 years.
Seung-pil Choi I worked on a nursing bed for a year in the hospital. After he came back home, he is still having a hard with walking so I couldn’t be out of the house, either. I thought I have to take care of home at home so for a while I developed it at home alone. There was an offer to me and even I did an interview. However, the working place was in abroad so I couldn’t take it. The place where I interviewed needed a developer for them to launch a business platform in Thailand. Since I stayed in Thailand for 3 months and handling trip service individually I was recommended and that’s how I could get to the interview, but I couldn’t go because I had to take care of my father.
After that, I became close to the person who interviewed me and I met him again after 1 year while developing it at home. At that time, he asked me ‘Isn’t it hard to concentrate at home?’. Actually other developers would be the same that we wake up during late hours, work quietly and go to sleep at around 6 am or 7 am and wake up at 11 am. There was not enough me time. Then my father has pity on me because from TV he hears news about young people’s unemployment issue and here comes his son doing computer overnight. He looked at me then, TV and had a sad look. I couldn’t tell him that I am actually preparing something because there was no achievement yet. Understanding my situation, the interviewer suggested me to work at a café and gave me a gift card for me to use at the cafe to work for 3 months. Later on, when my cellphone was broken, he even bought me a new phone saying that a developer should have a working cellphone. His intention was, you try it for 3 months and then if it’s not working, go back to the company. Maybe he wanted to work with me but I think he has given up now. I didn’t go to Starbucks usually and instead went to cafes that offered coffee in a lower price but, since he gave me the gift card from Starbucks, I became a luxurious guy. (laughing)
Nonetheless, I think it was even better to work in a café. I stayed at a hospital for a year and stayed at home for a year so I felt like I have a depression and socio phobia but I couldn’t reveal it, worrying that it might be an obstacle when taking care of my father. However, I could overcome it in café. At first, when people were sitting in a café, I couldn’t sit in between but as time went back I took the courage to sit and now I feel at home at café. After that, I worked in a café for 2 years and I didn’t look for an office, that’s because I have no income and just using the saved money. I go to café at 11 am and go back home at 11 pm. The manager likes me a lot because I use the table clean. I also help to close the café together. People could have teased me wondering, who is he come to café and help to close together?
I began by myself but now I am doing it with a like-minded friend. We are both doing a remote working in each other’s region. We hate to be intervened.
J-Space Is it possible to be there the whole day?
Seung-pil Choi Actually it’s a public harm and money spent for coffee is burdensome. To prolong this without any income, I unintentionally become not good. So I asked the employee there but the employee said it’s okay and I don’t have to worry about it. Then I became friends with them and one of them was a student from Engineering so from time to time that student sits beside me talking about concerns of future, asks me about homework and study together. I don’t really know about coffee so I order Americano every day and one day, they were recommending me to try other types of coffee and explained them to me. I think I wasn’t too bad or maybe it’s just my illusion…
Starbucks in Mangdon is special. There are many people living alone and many of them are developers, designers, and photographers. Also, there are start-ups in Hongdae and Hapjeong areas. There are a lot of 1 person director, 1 person developer and 1 person producer. Unlike other Starbucks branches, in here there are a lot of them like me. I sometimes feel solidarity with them but I couldn’t talk to them because I am shy. There are some whom I saw every day for years and they were in the field of creative works. I was hesitant to go to the café at first was but after knowing the fact that there are many like me, I say I am going to work to Starbucks. When I am late than usual the employees say ‘oh you are late today’. Café managers are like coworking space manager that they take care of the customers really well. When I said I am going to Jeju, I was given a gift and a letter. It made my heart beat, but from a person of the same industry, I heard that it was just part of customer management. Ah… It made my heart beat…
<Seung-pil Choi’s work place at J-Space in ’Yi-do-dong’ in Jeju, not in ‘Mangwon-dong’>
J-Space I heard that you failed in digital nomad in Jeju…
Seung-pil Choi I’d rather say I didn’t have accomplishment as a developer than it as a failure. I came up with only 10 lines of developing code for 4 weeks but instead, I did many other things. Hang out and have meetings as part of work. However in terms of developing, compare to Mangwon, the result is minimal. If you ask me why then… this program(J-CCEI Stay Support Program in Jeju) will be abolished… (laugh)
I loved the people here. I hang out, felt the nature. The environment is really good and since there are people I can be with. I developed all alone but in a group like this, there were things I had to do with them. So I didn’t have time to do developing, but instead, I hang out a lot with good people. I think if I just work even in Jeju, it is my lost. I had a really good time here hanging out and resting. Can you still abolish this program(J-CCEI Stay Support Program in Jeju)? (laugh)
I only brought my clothes for a week. Other people said if I am wearing my uniform because I was wearing the same thing the whole time. I’m not alone but also other friends were like that that we thought we would go back to Seoul after a week. However from the first day, with the other participants, we introduced ourselves and had a drink together and became close and that made me stay until the end. We became cohorts for each other. We were saying that since we met in this program, let’s finish it together. We were very close and had common understandings.
As a result, as a developer, I have not much achievement. Instead, I met a lot of local companies as part of work and got positive feedbacks from them. While away from Seoul, I received news for investment and cooperation. These are still in the process but I feel like good things are happening because I am in Jeju. Also when I was in Seoul I refused the public speech and presentation of service opportunities but in Jeju, I accepted them all. In Seoul, the environment will be changed so it couldn’t be the same but still, my heart will be more opened compare to when I came here. I only saw slow people at the hospital and so it was really different for me to see people at café because they were cheerful. Then suddenly I met even more active and cheerful people in Jeju and stayed with them for a month and that gave me an optimistic energy. This is what I mean by I opened by heart. I am actually a bright person.
J-Space I would like to visit Mangwondong.
Seung-pil Choi You should come.
J-Space Well actually, you drag the recorder near your mouth but actually that is not a mic that is a speaker.
Seung-pil Choi As a human being, I must have blind spots as well…
J-Space You are very humane yet you are dealing with artificial intelligence.
Seung-pil Choi I am dealing with natural lanuage but actually, I don't know about grmmar. So I am learning it again. There is no perfect person.
Seung-pil Choi’s trip service and chatbot in the process of development are very interesting but at the same time, all the people who met him in Jeju said they fell for him for his warm heart and humble humor. We will be expecting the next steps of trip matching service <Tripgrida> and chatbot builder <Botgrida>, which look like him!
*The above script has been slightly modified from the original interview for readability and the order of interview has been reorganized while we try to maintain Interviewee's original words and intention as much as possible.
Contact of <Tripgrida> Seung-pil Choi