The “crypto gold rush” and its massive price gains are doing a pretty good job of selling bitcoin and cryptocurrencies to newcomers, says blockchain advisor/strategist Emily Liu. But most still lack a deeper understanding of what the technology is for, and how revolutionary it can be. How can the industry and its professional communicators address this?
Liu got her first break in bitcoin when she took a position in international business development at K.K. Tibanne (operator of Mt. Gox) in Tokyo… in January 2014. In an event that’s now a major part of bitcoin lore, the company imploded just weeks later and took with it a lot of bitcoin’s early gains — both in market cap and reputation.
Liu worked for a while at Bitbank, another Tokyo-based exchange, before leaving the industry to work in other areas of tech including gaming giant Square Enix. She now advises on development strategy for a variety of companies in the blockchain industry via her company Eagles and Pandas. Her novel background and history in bitcoin, plus experience in the important markets of China, Japan and the U.S., provide an interesting insight.
Bitsonline chatted to Liu about bitcoin and blockchain’s current challenges: Can you still market all this to newcomers as fees rise, and Big Finance and governments are firming their grip? What can marketers, and others working to develop the industry, do to address this? What industries should be doing more to adopt the technology?
Read on to find out that, and more.
Interview: Emily Liu
JS: First of all… how did you become interested in bitcoin & cryptocurrency?
EL: I’d originally heard about bitcoin because I was involved in the startup scene in Tokyo but I wasn’t really interested in it until I started working for Mt. Gox — I got the job because of my experience in international business development and P.R. but I was by no means a bitcoin specialist. I’d studied law in school and had always been impressed by the degree of control sovereign governments had on our lives, and in particular their control of fiscal policy and markets, so to see a currency that was somehow beyond their reach fascinated me.
JS: How did you learn all about it? (and what convinced you to make the effort)
EL: Honestly it was baptism by fire, literally. Prepping for the job I researched as much as I could reading articles and talking to friends — I even read the original Satoshi Nakamoto paper (well, most of it) but to be honest the Tokyo Bitcoin community back then was very tight-knit and passionate and they were really helpful. But it wasn’t until I was a week into the job, when Mt. Gox got hacked, that I really had to understand what the heck was going on so I could represent Mt Gox and respond to the, well, fire.
JS: What’s your background, and what crypto-related projects have you worked on?
EL: Originally my background is in marketing, P.R. and business development for startups, but after Mt. Gox I worked with Bitbank as their marketing and P.R. manager and spent a lot of time raising general awareness for bitcoin, convincing merchants to accept bitcoin and even helping to install ATMs in Tokyo. Unfortunately at the time, the stigma of Mt. Gox made it difficult for me to stay in the Bitcoin community and I took a two year hiatus, working for Square Enix as Global Director of Business Development, but I’m excited to be back in the blockchain world again.
JS: What projects are you working on now? (general or specific)
EL: I’m currently advising a number of blockchain companies on their marketing and growth strategy. One company that really excites me is Shanghai-based Vechain which leverages a blockchain ID paired with a physical chip or IoT device to provide trusted identification and tracking of any item; a really valuable commercial application of the blockchain technology. It’s especially useful in the manufacturing space, which is undergoing a digital transformation with Industry 4.0 and supply chain digitization, as it lets companies track materials or inventory across their entire supply chain and enforce their respective SLA’s and contracts.
It’s also perfect for the luxury retail, fashion, or liquor space, because you have a complete and trusted supply chain trail of any item all the way from the manufacturer.
JS: Is there any sub-sector that interests you more than others? (eg: exchanges, remittance, fundraising, privacy etc.)
EL: I love the limitless potential of blockchain technology and its application to industry in general, versus just cryptocurrencies. I’m spending a lot of time looking at companies that can use the blockchain for decentralized services or infrastructure like Vechain for supply chain, or Filecoin and Golem for decentralized data storage or processing. I’m also frustrated by the lack of understanding and marketing methods of the blockchain space and see it as my “mission” in some ways to bridge that gap of awareness.
JS: In your opinion, what’s the best way to attract newcomers to this field?
EL: I actually think the rapid increase in value of cryptocurrencies is doing that job quite well — it’s gaining a lot of press and attracting people to learn more and invest.
Unfortunately I feel that these investments are still short-term because of the gap in truly understanding cryptocurrencies, the uncertain regulatory environment, and quite simply the frictions in attaining, trading and using cryptocurrencies for day-to-day transactions.
While the regulatory frameworks are working themselves out, we can make a difference by changing the words we use to describe cryptocurrencies to more laymen terms, by encouraging exchanges to make it easier to buy and trade cryptocurrencies, and perhaps by pushing for greater usage of “debit cards” which would allow people to store their funds in the crypto world but still have access to it day-to-day in the real world.
JS: Have you changed your mind about anything (regarding Bitcoin and promoting it) since you started out?
EL: I’m not sure if it’s my mind that’s changed or cryptocurrencies themselves, but there are two issues I currently see with Bitcoin in particular and to some degree cryptocurrencies in general.
Bitcoin’s main mission was to provide a secure and decentralized means of storing and trading value. Unfortunately the high transaction cost and duration that bitcoin has evolved, has made it an impractical means for normal transactions — people can’t wait hours to verify buying milk in a shop, or a computer online.
Likewise, and this applies to other cryptocurrencies as well, the volatility of cryptocurrency value, while serving as an incentive to attract people, is not practical for normal currency use. If you’re a store you need to know how much “value” you have so you can plan and buy things, and if you’re a person, you don’t want to be waiting three days to use your currency because it had a random dip.
I hope that Bitcoin has an official fork (to increase capacity) once its user base has begun to saturate, which would resolve this issue, and that the volatility is short term while people learn about cryptocurrencies. Otherwise, if bitcoin maintains its high cost and duration of transactions it may end up more of a long term value store, like gold, which isn’t a cryptocurrency anymore but more of a commodity.
JS: Is Bitcoin still too difficult for newcomers and “normal people” to use?
EL: I think Bitcoin is too difficult for everyone to use right now because it’s too expensive to transact and takes too long. Some good alternatives are Bitcoin Cash, Monacoin in Japan, or Litecoin in the West.
But in general, there are a lot of challenges with normal usage of cryptocurrencies because in most countries businesses don’t generally accept bitcoin. Some countries such as Japan, Canada, and Australia are quite a bit ahead on this point, and others such as Argentina and Venezuela see bitcoin as a solution to poor economic policy and inflation, but for the rest, I think bitcoin debit cards will make it easier for people to keep crypto accounts and buy as they please until more businesses adopt crypto payments.
JS: Why should someone in a developed country, with credit cards and a bank account, be interested in using bitcoin? Is it an investment or useful in daily life?
EL: Bitcoin itself is difficult because of the fees and time to transact, but even with those limitations, it’s still valuable for foreign exchange transactions for which banks often charge high fees and currency exchange rates, and take days to process.
Other cryptocurrencies provide value in that funds in cold wallets can’t be hacked and while exchanges have had outages for a few hours, they haven’t had anything close to the challenges banks have had globally post hacks or IT failures, such as in the U.K. where accounts were sometimes unavailable for days.
Likewise, it’s currently serving as a strong alternative to gold as a hedge to the stock market as well as to uncertainty of fiscal policy.
JS: Are ICOs a good, or bad thing for this industry?
EL: I don’t think ICOs are good or bad, they’re a means of funding a blockchain company by preselling tokens, each of which represent a blockchain-based service.
It’s like Kickstarter, where you pre-order a version of a product and they use your money to manufacture it. If the company and token has a real service then it’s a great way to get people using the service and to build an initial network.
The problem is that because of the exponential value increase of some tokens such as Tezos which raised $232 million USD in minutes, everyone wants to have an ICO for their company, so a lot of companies are finding a convoluted reason to have a blockchain and some are even just fraudulent.
So we have a challenge with credibility of ICOs and tokens, but I think we also have trusted organizations starting to review ICOs for credibility — and ultimately if people want to throw their money at companies without doing research, that’s their prerogative.
Do you agree with Emily Liu’s observations? What would you do to improve the message? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Images via Facebook, Pixabay