We’ve all heard about the roller coaster speculation of cryptocurrency. But how many of us really understand how Bitcoin originated or how to use it? And blockchain—what is this disruptive technology that is indispensable for protecting our cryptocurrency and data? Let’s not forget NFTs (non-fungible tokens) like CryptoPunks, CryptoKitties and even digital artworks auctioned by Christie’s which are being sold and traded for hallucinating prices.
Like it or not, our dependency on the digital world is opening the doors to all kinds of new possibilities in finance, technology, innovation, art, culture and community building. To ignore its existence or its potential is to overlook what the future holds in store for us.
To help us demystify the world of crypto, blockchain and NFTs, INSPIRELLE turned to Trang M. Le Bozon, Co-Founder and CEO of Liquiid, a pioneering company in blockchain gaming and a Partner at Newmoon Accelerator, which builds startups with DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) and high-end NFT collections. Trang grew up in Silicon Valley and has been a gamer from the word go. In 2009, she entered the world of cryptocurrency. Currently based in Paris, France, she has nearly two decades of experience building growth-stage organizations in the US and the European Union. She currently advises three blockchain companies.
Trang, when and how did you get involved in the world of blockchain and cryptocurrency?
I was approached by two friends in Los Angeles about getting involved with Bitcoin in 2009 and from there it took off. I advised a few startups in the space. One of the startup founders introduced me to a blockchain company that was hosting a global hackathon that was seeking mentors. After this hackathon, more than half of my startups were in the blockchain ecosystem.
We hear a lot these days about blockchain and crypto, but most people don’t really know what they are. Can you give us a primer?
Basically, blockchain is a decentralized, digital ledger — a peer-to-peer shared database that stores and verifies information securely. However, unlike traditional databases, blockchain data is not held by or controlled by one central authority. Instead, many identical copies of a blockchain database are held on a network of computers (nodes) around the world. Blockchain data is also open source and public, verified by other parties, and cannot be altered once it has been verified. So, no individual or company can hack into or change the blockchain on their own. Before a new “block” of data is added to the “chain”, a validation process must occur (this process depends on whether the consensus mechanism uses Proof of Stake or Proof of Work or a hybrid of PoW) ensuring the new data is legitimate before it can be added to the ledger.
There are many uses for blockchain, including supply chain logistics. A company can track and trace products, ensure transparency, prevent counterfeit/fraud, isolate an issue via the blockchain, and reduce costs.
Blockchain is also the technology underpinning nearly all cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Cryptocurrencies are digital assets that can be sent or received over the blockchain without the need for intermediaries like banks or even apps like PayPal.
How can we actually use cryptocurrencies?
While cryptocurrency hasn’t quite hit the global mainstream yet, there are more and more ways to use it. You can buy gift cards that can be spent at retailers like Target and Apple, or put crypto on a debit card to make purchases. Some major companies have started to accept Bitcoin payments in certain countries, including Microsoft, Overstock, Twitch, Home Depot, Namecheap, Starbucks and Whole Foods. The auction houses Christies and Sotheby’s also started accepting cryptocurrency payments.
As for other digital items powered by blockchain like NFTs, Play2Earn or Wear2Earn one can use Bitcoin or alt coins like ETH (Ethereum) to purchase these as collectibles or to play blockchain games like Axie Infinity.
Axie Infinity—the blockchain version of Pokémon—is one of the most successful blockchain games to date. At the very beginning, players were earning US$1200 a day playing this game. It has an in-game economy that uses ETH-based cryptocurrencies. It is such a big hit in the Philippines, some people are playing the game as a full time job.
Bitcoin is also seen as legal tender in El Salvador. Its adoption has not paid off, but this is due to the way it was rolled out in the country, not the coin itself.
We’ve also seen a lot of buzz about NFTs, particularly in the art and collectibles space. What is an NFT and why is there so much hype about them?
An NFT is a non-fungible token, or a digital ledger of an asset that is one of a kind and irreplaceable. This can be in the form of art, music, or video that is represented by code recorded on the blockchain. These can be traded and each one has a unique identifier which guarantees its authenticity.
For example, the NBA has launched a collection of NFTs for their fanbase. NBA fans can collect their favorite player’s famous video moments licensed by the NBA for their own collection. NFTs like these give fans of art, sports, music and other things another way to access and collect digital items that are authorized and authentic.
We hear stories of people making lots of money in this space. What is the best way for novices to educate themselves about these technologies, their opportunities and risks, and how to start investing in crypto?
I would advise looking inwards—what are your core values? Blockchain has passionate communities. You can find one that aligns to your own beliefs and take it from there. That being said, it would be helpful to learn about Linux and open source software to understand blockchain’s roots. Good sources for industry updates include Cointelegraph, and the social media accounts of Consensys, Ethereum, Vitalyk Buterin (the founder of Ethereum), and Griff Green (Father of the Dao).
With so much volatility in the cryptocurrency market, lack of regulation, constant news of fraud and fake NFTs, is investing in cryptocurrency safe?
I do not offer any financial advice on where to buy or invest in these types of digital currencies. I would recommend doing your research and if you decide to do it, use one of the larger and well known exchanges like Coinbase or Bitstamp.
Do you think blockchain-enabled tech can help solve social problems and wealth inequality?
Yes. Data that is decentralized and immutable is one solution towards financial equity which could help social problems. For example, if a social network like Facebook was on a blockchain and had a DAO, users would see the data being collected about them and would be able to decide as a majority how that data could be utilized. Facebook would be beholden to the users and not just their investors. Imagine if this was the model during the US elections or Facebook’s decisions with their algorithm. These decisions would be brought to the DAO and decided by the users. There are a few use cases to consider about how decentralization could affect anyone from tech companies to banks or big pharma.
Are cryptocurrency and blockchain bad for the environment?
It depends on the blockchain. Ethereum and Bitcoin have their issues with energy and costs due to the amount of power consumption required for mining, or creating new digital coins. That being said, there are many green and low cost blockchain solutions.
With the war in the Ukraine, crypto is having its moment. Can you tell us about the important role that crypto assets play during this crisis?
Ukraine has been referred to as the crypto capital of the world, as it has been a front runner in this space. The country also recently passed a law legalizing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as legitimate payments.
Crypto allowed the military to quickly purchase military protection gear in mass and not be weighed down by bank transfers, the cost of the transfers that come with fiat (traditional currencies like US Dollars or Euros). They were able to convert US$15 million within a few hours versus days or weeks. For people who had to leave Ukraine and who are in blockchain, they were able to convert their crypto to fiat in their new countries and without relying on banks, which had shut down. It provides them an easier way to integrate to their new home/country as they have access to their finances.