#29: Blockchain & Bitcoin for Business 101 with Justin Renken

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Guest

Justin Renken

Senior Brand Manager
Ark

Justin Renken is the Senior Brand Manager at Ark.io Blockchain ecosystem.

Sean has founded multiple companies and done multiple 8 figures worth of business.

He’s currently advising, consulting, and investing in business just like yours.

He knows where you’ve been, and he knows where you’re going.

Book a call with him today to see how he can help you get there smarter, faster, and in a way that aligns with your life goals.

Timestamps

00:00 – Introduction
06:56 – What is Blockchain?
08:41 – Pros and Cons of Blockchain
17:39 – Problems with public address and private keys
21:15 – Pros and cons of blockchain for businesses
27:16 – Final thoughts about Blockchain
30:24 – Bitcoin and Ethereum
36:39 – Uses of cryptocurrencies
45:55 – Follow up with Justin

Transcript

Read the transcript
Sean Weisbrot:
Welcome back to another episode of The We Live to Build Podcast. If you’ve listened to previous episodes like Number 26, you’ll know that I’m passionate about blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and how they can be helpful for you and your business. That’s why today I’ve invited Justin Renken, the senior brand manager at Ark.io’s Blockchain Ecosystem, to sit down and talk about these topics.

Justin has been featured at Blockchain Northwest, the Santa Cruz Bitcoin Meetup, World’s Crypto Con Las Vegas, Decentralizedsummit.com and Consensus New York. Justin has also produced 100 podcasts about all things Ark at podcast.Ark.io and produces video for Ark on YouTube.

In this episode, you’ll hear about what is Blockchain, what are the pros and cons of blockchain for business owners? What are cryptocurrencies? What are the pros and cons of cryptocurrencies? What are the different kinds of uses for cryptocurrencies? What are the different ways of making money using cryptocurrencies and more?

While it’s very easy to get into heated debates about the politics and or economics connected to this movement, we stick to the technology and its use cases. We also try really hard to explain things in a way that’s as easy as possible to understand. And if you get confused, it’s really okay. Just do your best to stick with us until the end, because it’s worth it, I promise. Also, I must say before we begin that neither myself nor our guests are certified financial advisors or planners. So, do not take the content of this episode as advice on whether or not to buy cryptocurrencies. So, with that out of the way, I hope you enjoy the show.

Welcome to We Live to Build. My name is Sean Weisbrot and I’m an entrepreneur, investor and advisor based in Asia for over twelve years. Join us every week to fast track your personal growth so you can meet the ever-increasing demands of the company or companies you are passionately building. Time waits for no one. So, let’s get started now.

Sean Weisbrot:
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today, Justin. I appreciate it. I can’t wait to talk more about Blockchain and hopefully help the audience to understand Blockchain, cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, and how it’s useful for their business.

Justin Renken:
I’m very pleased to be here. I know that we’ve been trying to get this interview going for a little while now and in the recent months since we first met over email, there’s been a lot of activity going on with Bitcoin and Blockchains and all that, so lots more to talk about than we originally thought.

Sean Weisbrot:
Yeah, definitely. And hopefully you’re still HODLing.

Justin Renken:
Always.

Sean Weisbrot:
Tell everyone real fast before we go a little bit deeper, more about what you’re currently involved in.

Justin Renken:
My name is Justin and I’m the senior brand manager for Ark.io. Ark.io is a business entity that’s designed to help facilitate cryptocurrency and blockchain ecosystem. And what we want to do is build tools for developers and users that make using blockchain much easier. Because we found that as the founders look back on the history of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, we’ve made a lot of technical progress. But the progress in terms of user experience for users and most importantly, developers, hasn’t really caught up to the technological advancements in blockchain.

And so, at Ark.io, we’re building a framework called the Arc Blockchain Framework for developers to enact their blockchain dreams with just a few clicks, using our Deployer product or discovering each other, discovering different projects and businesses, using our upcoming Market Square product. And these are just a few of the things that Ark is doing. And Ark is kind of like the umbrella entity that will be nurturing these sub entities such as Market Square or Deployer.

Sean Weisbrot:
When did you first get involved in blockchain? For me, it was well, the first time I heard about it was 2011. I ignored it because I didn’t understand it, heard about it again in 2014, didn’t understand it. So, I left it alone again, heard about it again in 2015, and then I said, you know what? I need to start learning more about this. So that was the beginning of my journey. What about you?

Justin Renken:
Similar, but different. I myself only discovered it a few years ago when I first heard about it from a friend at work. The cool thing was that I’ve always been interested and excited about new technologies, just in general. And I don’t feel like I need to understand something fully in order to have the desire to learn more right away. So, when I first heard about Bitcoin, like, the first day, I was like, this is awesome. Tell me more. I don’t know how it works. I don’t know why we would need a currency that’s not tied to a specific country, but the technology of it and the way that it’s been able to be achieved. It’s so interesting to me. I’m, like, already in. So, it’s the first day I heard about it. I was like, I’m in. And so, I researched it for, like, a month straight. My wife wasn’t super pleased with the fact that I was so obsessed. So, I have to watch the next video, I have to read the next article. And so that was like, a month of that.

And then once I kind of got up to speed with the reasons why Bitcoin and blockchains are important and what’s going on and what’s the difference between different coins and all that. I realized that there’s this growing industry surrounding this new asset class. And it’s almost like so new. Even though it’s been only less than ten years in existence, it’s so new that I felt like there was going to be an abundance of opportunities not just for like, purchasing an asset and then it goes up in price or whatever, but opportunities in industry where new jobs will be created, new businesses will be started. People with vision can enact those visions and get help with blockchain technology for doing that. So that’s one of the things that I really latched on to when I first heard of and discovered blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

And as a result of that mindset, I ended up working in one of these projects at Ark. And I was fortunate enough to get hired onto the Ark team in 2018. And since then, I’ve been traveling the world, speaking about Ark, going to different conferences. I’ve been producing media and content about blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and Ark, and also helping with product development and review by being a tester, making sure that products are easy to use for regular everyday people and getting developers excited into the tech. And the rest is kind of history. I’m still making it as we speak, so I have to keep you updated on that.

Sean Weisbrot:
Tell me like I’m five years old. What is blockchain?

Justin Renken:
Blockchain is a new way for computers to talk to each other. Normally, like, when you’re using an application, when you’re using, like playing a game, and you’re talking to other computers, other people on the Internet, you’re exchanging information with them. With blockchains, it gives a new feature that allows you to exchange value with other people. It’s kind of like being able to send cash to somebody in the mail, except instead of using the mail and using cash, you’re using digital cash and you’re using the Internet to do it.

What this technology means is that you can create business models that are backed and powered by blockchain technology and connect people or commerce that could previously not be connected together. Mainly, I’m talking about the unbanked. So, you may have a bank account and you may have a card, a debit card or credit card that allows you to spend money online. And you may have a service like Stripe that allows you to accept payments online. But for dozens of millions, hundreds of millions of people around the world, they don’t have these types of luxuries that we enjoy in the first world.

However, more people have smartphones than ever before. And with a smartphone and a smartphone only, you can interact with these blockchains and do commerce and run businesses, accept payments, make payments using your smartphone and the Internet without having a bank account at all. So, I guess I would summarize blockchain as a new tool that is now in the world that people can utilize to create new opportunities in the economy and economics and all that.

Sean Weisbrot:
What are the pros and cons of Blockchains?

Justin Renken:
So, what are the pros and cons of blockchain? I guess for a regular person out there, like a user, somebody who would be using cryptocurrencies as they should be, I’ll cover two pros. The first pro is, in general, you should be experiencing much lower fees when you’re using cryptocurrencies versus when you’re using other methods. Something that quickly comes to mind to me for that would be something like remittances.

So, remittances is an industry where you are sending money back to your home country as you work in an outside country and there are many different middlemen corporations and businesses that stand between you sending money out of the country that you’re in and then the money landing in the country that you want it to land on. So, what you’re doing is you are paying fees, high fees in many cases, remittances, you can be charged up to 15% in fees just to send money. And I’ve read in an article that in some cases there are six hops between you and the home country. So, with a cryptocurrency network, this is far different because the network is already in both countries and you’re already transferring something of value, a cryptocurrency. And the network is not aware of these borders, so there’s no borders involved. And when you send Bitcoin to another person, that person could be in any other country, but the fee stays the same and the fee is low.

Now, Bitcoin fees have fluctuated anywhere between, I don’t know, 10 cents to 50 dollars over the last few years. Sometimes, the network gets congested and the fees go up. However, the fees for Bitcoin are not percentage based. I just want to get that out there right now. And the fees are relatively low, especially if you don’t want to rush your payment through as soon as possible. It could take if you’re willing to wait like an hour for your transaction, you can get a very low fee even if other people are paying high fees at that moment.

So low fees are a feature that cryptocurrencies obviously provide. When you first start using cryptocurrencies, you can see firsthand, “Oh, I sent funds to somebody else and I only paid less than a penny, with Ark, for example, or with Bitcoin, I only paid $3 to send a million dollars to another country,” and you cannot do that with the current financial system. It’s just not possible. So that’s definitely a pro.

Another pro is, as I mentioned earlier, it exposes you to more opportunities of people who previously don’t have those opportunities online. So as a user, you can, for example, donate money directly to a small village in northern Africa that needs it, and you don’t have to worry about the red tape of middlemen and wondering how much of your donation will end up in the other person’s hands who really needs it. You get more access, more access to the world when you have cryptocurrencies. Assuming that the adoption curve continues the way it is. Now, it seems like both at the same time, cryptocurrencies are in the spotlight, but also cryptocurrencies are just getting started. It’s almost we’re still at the beginning point of it, so there’s a bit of a paradox there.

But let’s get into the cons, a little bit of blockchains and cryptocurrencies. So, for the regular, everyday person, the first big con would be the user experience. The user experience is definitely different and there’s definitely a learning curve attached to it. And when you are using applications called wallets to store and send cryptocurrencies, you have to be aware of different terms like the address, the network fee, like I mentioned earlier, and new ways of thinking about what money is and how to press the correct buttons in order to not make a mistake.

Because generally speaking, cryptocurrencies are irreversible. There is no middleman, which is a plus that I mentioned earlier. However, a con is there’s no middle man. So, if you press the wrong button and you send cryptocurrency to the wrong address, then there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s nothing another person can do about it. There’s nothing anybody can do about it. It’s your responsibility.

And I think that carries into the second con that I wanted to bring up, is that responsibility lies solely on the user. And this can be a bad thing if they’re not prepared to handle that responsibility. So, it’s your keys, your coins. That’s a very strong saying in the blockchain and crypto space. And it basically means that you are your own bank. And so, if you lose your private keys, which is the access method to control your coins, then your coins are lost forever. There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing anybody can do.

So, with the user experience still being an issue with cryptocurrency and with responsibility being so important for the space, for everybody who uses cryptocurrency, that can be a hindrance to a fast global adoption of this technology. Interestingly, I was looking at a graph on a statistic chart for adoption curves of different technologies, and it’s probably online, but I was looking at different adoption curves for different technologies, things like color television, radio, dishwashers and etc. They all had similar adoption curves. But then, I looked at the adoption curves for credit cards on that same chart and it was far longer. It was like 35 years or something like that to get from early adoption stage to late majority stage. And I just thought to myself for a minute, I was like, why is this? Why is this the case for credit cards when other technologies were adopted much faster?

And I think it’s because it’s difficult to change people’s views of what money is because it’s so ingrained in people that they’re like, this is what money is. This is how it works, I hold it, et cetera. But a lot of people don’t necessarily understand the intricacies of how money works and what money even is at its core. So, when you change the way money works, then it takes people a little bit longer to catch up in general, in my opinion, from what I’ve observed in articles and other things. So, it makes sense that cryptocurrency can take longer than usual for people to adapt to the new way that money works, according to cryptocurrencies. But I do believe that we can eventually get there to mass adoption. And one of the best ways I believe we can do that is by making the user experience simpler so that people can understand the principles behind cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology without being burdened down by the user experience of how the technology works.

Sean Weisbrot:
You were talking about getting into it and learning about it. For me, in 2015 and in early 2016, I spent about five months, I’d say 5-8 hours a day. Basically, when I wasn’t working, I was studying the technology and the token economics and everything about how it works.

Justin Renken:
That sounds familiar to me. Yup.

Sean Weisbrot:
Back then, there was just Bitcoin and Ethereum, really, and like a few other smaller coins, and now there’s thousands and thousands of them. I remember that the user experience was horrible, and it’s still horrible. The wallet address and the private keys are confusing for people, because one of the problems with the user experience that I found that I was trying to solve with the first iteration of Sidekick was tying the user’s identity.

So, like, let’s say, for example, your username would be Justin123. So, the way that our program is going to work was if somebody wanted to send you Bitcoin, they would send it to Justin123, not 10×531. So, one of the parts of the problems with the wallet address system is that it’s a string of letters and numbers that’s I believe about 32 characters, up to 64 characters. It’s difficult for some people to remember that. And the private key is like, what, 128 characters? They’re crazy. It was obviously created by a math person, not a design person or product person, the original things.

And so, we were trying to solve that. And it looks like it still hasn’t really been touched on by most companies that are creating wallets, unfortunately. But I think this is another problem that is affecting adoption. I can say on the pro side, I’ve seen instances of people sending $100 million for literally fifty cents, and it takes an hour to send. With some cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, you could send money in 10 seconds or 20 seconds. But in Bitcoin, sometimes it takes up to an hour. If the network is clogged by too many transactions, it could take hours. The difficulty of it all is people are impatient. They’re used to, I send money with my bank and you get it instantly. But what they don’t realize is, when you do a wire transfer, it actually takes five days, which we’ll get into now with business owners. I pay all of my contractors, all of my employees, my lawyers, designers, everybody. I pay in Bitcoin. We’ll talk about that out in a minute.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, let’s talk about pros and cons from a business owner’s point of view.

Justin Renken:
So, just real-quick, before we get into pros and cons for businesses, I wanted to touch on a brief point. You were talking about name resolutions and how different ways to remember or make easier the public address private key scenario. And I’m aware of a couple of projects that do this. Unstoppable domains come to mind; they’re working on creating like a name resolution service like that. But also, in the Ark ecosystem there’s a project called Unique Name which is using Ark technology and it’s designed to give people a unique name so that they can accept cryptocurrencies in an easy way for regular users.

And then, I wanted to close on that point just by mentioning that in these early years of blockchain technology, it seems that the public address and private key situation reminds me of more like the IP system. So, you have like you can go to a website and that website is at an IP address and you can type in the IP address and get to the website, but it’s really the DNS layer on top of it that makes the internet more usable for regular everyday people. And so, I think that it’s only a matter of time before people don’t even know about public addresses. Private keys will need to stay secure.

But there’s a new method that’s like a twelve-word mnemonic passphrase that will replace the private key. And instead of seeing this long string of alphanumeric characters for the private key, like with Bitcoin, you would actually see twelve easily readable words and those twelve easily readable words combined to create a very secure private key. Yeah, I wanted to touch on those couple of points there.

Sean Weisbrot:
I have to go out on a limb and say I think the twelve-word system, while it is more secure, it is asinine because who the hell is going to remember twelve words?

Justin Renken:
You can remember twelve words but I wouldn’t trust myself to remember twelve. Like I would have it stored somewhere. But I think that when you compare it against a private key that’s just one alphanumeric string, there’s less room for errors, less room for typos. It’s just a little bit easier to compare. I’m not saying it’s an end all be all, but I think it’s a step in the right direction compared to the private key. Because when you look at a Bitcoin key pair, as a regular person, you can’t even know the difference really between the public and private key, except for the length. And that’s like a very abstract way to know the difference. But with something like an arc key pair, you have the public address, which starts with a capital A. It’s an alphanumeric string, but then the passphrase is very different from the public address. It’s twelve words with spaces, so it’s very clear for people to see, “Okay, this is the one I should protect and keep secure and secret and safe. This is the one that I can share with my friend to receive funds.”

Sean Weisbrot:
The use of a string of sensical words in a most likely nonsensical order is secure. Because if you run a program specifically designed to decode a password, it’s a lot harder to guess random strings of words than it is alphanumeric.

Justin Renken:
Specifically with this protocol, there is a specific list of words. I think it’s somewhere around 1000 to 3000. It’s an official list of words. And when you permutate that across twelve words, there’s a statistic that I mentioned in a video on the Ark YouTube channel that says that if you try to guess the private key correctly, it would take like 115,000,000 million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million years.

Sean Weisbrot:
Let’s get into the pros and cons of the blockchain for business.

Justin Renken:
So, lots of pros. Lots of pros with blockchain technology for businesses. There are a lot of enterprises that are working with blockchain technology right now. Walmart is a good example, using blockchain for supply chain and tracking goods. With blockchain, it depends on how you build the system or how you integrate with the system. But blockchain can help a business in a number of different ways. I think that in a simpler way to just talk about payments. A business can now accept payments from more people than they previously could. So, if you’re running a business where you provide a digital product or service, you can accept payments from people who don’t have bank accounts, don’t have debit cards or credit cards from people who don’t believe in the credit debit card system because their identity was stolen. And so, they don’t, they just don’t do that. Cryptocurrency can protect against those things, and cryptocurrency users are users that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. And if businesses accept cryptocurrencies as payments, they expose their business to being more successful as a result of those users. So, I would say that that’s definitely a pro.

But on the technology side, I’m not the most qualified person to talk about how blockchains benefit businesses specifically. However, I’ve done many deep dives in specific use cases. For example, rewards programs. I recorded a podcast earlier on the Ark Crypto podcast about how blockchain technology could revolutionize rewards programs and bring benefits to businesses. Like one of the examples that I put in was how you can transfer points to somebody else, so you can earn points in a loyalty program.

And then if you move out of the areas where you can’t patronize that business anymore, then you can transfer your points to somebody who can use those points, and therefore, transfer the loyalty of yourself to the loyalty to another person who will then be loyal to your business. That’s more difficult to do with a centralized system. There’s a number of other things I talk about in that episode.

Blockchain technology with its ability to transfer value, store value and create an immutable record. A record that can’t be changed, which is very useful for industries like supply chain. The possibilities are numerous to benefit a business.

Sean Weisbrot:
Okay, what about the cons, though?

Justin Renken:
Just as with users, blockchains are difficult to understand and work with, for businesses too. And it can be even worse for businesses because there’s already an established infrastructure the way things work right now, legacy systems that have permeated their business processes. And also, the teams are already well versed in using specific technologies to solve their problems within their business. So, when you introduce blockchain technology, it can act as this wrench in the system that people are like, “Oh man, I don’t really know exactly how to take this technology and mold it onto the problem that I have to create a solution or I don’t know how to take this technology and integrate it with my legacy systems.” And it almost makes it seem like a hindrance to progress within the business when blockchain technology enters the mix.

This is a result of the con of the developer experience, like the user experience for developers and the business experience of how business managers and strategists can understand the pros of blockchain and apply them to the problems of their business. So, this is why there are things like consensus for Ethereum. This is why there are things like protocol for Ark to help providing insight in how blockchain technology can address specific problems for specific businesses. And then case studies can be built from that. So that’s definitely one of the cons for business is the difficulty of blockchain technology can slow things down, at least at first.

But another con would be the tax law. The way that taxes work for cryptocurrencies make it very arduous for businesses to work with cryptocurrencies because every time cryptocurrencies change hands, it’s a taxable event. It must be recorded; gains and losses must be calculated. The accounting system is different compared to the accounting system for legacy systems. Businesses would need to figure out how to keep track of cryptocurrency holdings and activity.

Now, incidentally, I started a very simple business in 2018 called arkstickers.com, where I just basically sent stickers, like Ark themed stickers all around the world. I’ve sent them to many, many countries and sent out many, many packs. But I would accept Ark in exchange for these stickers. It’s pretty simple stuff. At the end of the year, I would calculate all of the transactions. There is a special, like, desktop plugin that can match each transaction with a dollar amount for that day. And then, I can understand how much I earned from my tax reporting and blah, blah, blah. So that’s like a simple way to have a business that accepts crypto.

But when you’re talking about medium sized businesses, small sized businesses, and especially enterprises, it can get sticky with the tax situation. So, there are services out there to address that. For businesses, it pays probably a good example of that, but it is a con nevertheless.

Sean Weisbrot:
All right, thank you for that. I know there’s probably a lot more pros and cons for both users and businesses. It’s a very different world now because you hear of companies like PayPal and Square saying, “Yeah, we’re going to support cryptocurrencies, we’re going to support Bitcoin and all that.” And you hear them actually, like, I believe Jack Dorsey announced for 2018 that they had over a billion dollars in revenue specifically from Bitcoin, which was fantastic. And that’s not even capital gains, that’s just revenue from people transacting with Bitcoin in their system, for Square. It’s incredible to see the growth of the industry compared to what it was a little over five years ago from when I started with it.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, is there anything more that we can mention about blockchain before we move into cryptocurrencies? And I’ll have a new set of questions for you based on that.

Justin Renken:
I think that for a service level dive into the technology, I think we covered a lot of good points with blockchain. I think that the main key takeaway is that it’s new. However, it also has a sense of familiarity with how everything has been done so far. The only difference is it removes the middleman from the process. So, if people can understand the pros of removing middlemen from the process, and I think we’ve did cover that in this section, then they could see the value of blockchain technology as a technology inherently not necessarily like a price, but as a technology they could see the value of blockchain.

And I encourage any business that’s curious about blockchain technology to do a little bit of research to figure out how it can benefit them. There are lots of resources out there in terms of articles, videos, there’s also consultancy firms just like Protocol that does this as well.

Sean Weisbrot:
Teach me what are cryptocurrencies as if I was five.

Justin Renken:
Cryptocurrencies are a new type of money that exists online on the internet and they are not backed by the government. So, this money is not created by a country like United States creates the dollar, Europe creates Euros. So, it’s not like that. It’s actually created by computer code. So, the computer code creates special coins online that cannot be copied because of blockchain technology. And blockchain technology makes it such that you cannot create this money out of thin air. It can only be created with a specified system of rules that are defined in the code.

The code is distributed across all of these different computers all around the world. And the majority of people who run the code, they have to agree for any changes of the code to take place or upgrades. And because of this, it’s difficult to influence the system as one central entity that controls the system. So, to break it down even further, it’s a new kind of money online that’s not tied to a government that you can send to anyone in the world for near zero cost and near instantly. Which is something that’s new because the digital system of normal money has a lot of companies and middlemen and processors to make sure that their security because it’s easy to misrepresent normal money online and it’s easy to hack it. So, there’s this huge system in place to make sure that it’s difficult to hack it and hard to hack it.

That huge system is very expensive to operate. It’s called the Legacy Financial system. But with cryptocurrencies, the network is the system, and the network runs at a very low cost compared to the legacy financial system. So, what that means is by using cryptocurrencies, you’re actually using something that that’s far more affordable and easier to send than when you’re using regular money. And this is why a lot of people believe that cryptocurrencies will continue to grow and permeate within our culture and society.

Sean Weisbrot:
I’ll go ahead and add a little bit more to this. The first cryptocurrency that was created is Bitcoin. And that is why Bitcoin is probably the cryptocurrency that you hear about the most, because it has the most investment, it has the most money involved into it, the most space inside of the media in terms of the number of times it gets mentioned. It’s the grandfather of cryptocurrency, and it came out about ten years ago.

I think one of the reasons why Bitcoin is so special is because nobody knows who the founder is. There have been countless people around the world trying to claim they’ve discovered who the person is. We think we’ve gotten close many times. It’s a mystery. It probably will never be solved. But the person that created it, or people that created it, are sitting on like $100 billion worth of Bitcoin that has never been touched. So, nobody knows who this person is.

And I think maybe they were afraid that if they touch it, their identity will be discovered. But if their identity is discovered, they will probably be executed for upending the financial system. They will never have privacy for the rest of their life. From there, we got another cryptocurrency called Ethereum. And Ethereum really changed the game because of this thing called an initial coin offering. So why don’t you share a little bit more about Ethereum, how Ethereum is different from Bitcoin, and how it created this initial coin offering by mistake.

Justin Renken:
Ethereum, as you said, is another cryptocurrency besides Bitcoin. And when we’re talking about Bitcoin, we’re generally talking about a very simple implementation for cryptocurrency, which is a store value and a medium of exchange. These are important properties of sound money. And when you are talking about a store of value, you’re talking about something where you can rest assured that if you park your wealth in whatever this is, that it will remain safe from things like inflation over time, as fiat currencies suffer from inflation, especially countries that are experiencing hyperinflation, like Venezuela, but also a medium of exchange. So, you can easily send it and exchange it with somebody else. This is the primary focus of Bitcoin. This is the primary reason for Bitcoin. This is what people are talking about when they’re talking about Bitcoin.

Ethereum stacked on top of that simple implementation, a complex implementation of running a decentralized computer, running a decentralized operating system that is sitting on top of the blockchain that is running the cryptocurrency. So Ethereum allowed developers to write code and execute that code directly on the network. They’re calling it unstoppable code.

So, you have the Ethereum network, which runs the Ethereum cryptocurrency, which is used for a simple things like store value and medium of exchange. But then also, you have developers adding new cryptocurrencies on the blockchain called Tokens. And these tokens can do different things. You can think of them as tokens in an arcade. If you want to use an online service, that online service is decentralized. And in order to use that online service, you need to deposit tokens and you redeem other cryptocurrencies to get those tokens, that’s called an exchange. And then once you get those tokens, then you use them on the network, use them in the microcosm of that project that’s using that token.

In essence, what this enabled inadvertently was the ability for projects to actually execute fundraising campaigns in a decentralized way, where they could get funding from all over the world, from anybody who had access to the network. And that means anybody who has a smartphone can contribute Ethereum to a project and in exchange get tokens for that project that they can use in the future to use the products and services of that project. And that is what ICOs were.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, my interpretation of what you’ve just said is this. What Ethereum did was allowed anybody to create something new that then had its own value attached to it. And so, Ethereum now became a platform for which other projects could build on top of. And those projects were essentially building their own blockchains on top of Ethereum’s blockchain. In doing so, you could then quickly create a new project and develop your software like normal. But your project had these new cryptocurrencies that he called Tokens so that they could be spent inside of the project. Maybe that’s easier. Hopefully it is.

Justin Renken:
Yeah, that’s a very succinct summary. Exactly right.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, what happened as a result of people realizing what they could do with Ethereum, the value of Ethereum then skyrocketed because everybody wanted to purchase Ethereum in order to invest it into these new projects. So, Ethereum ended up usurping Bitcoin’s popularity from this ICO. This initial coin offering explosion. We had over 1000 new coins within, I believe, a year and a half.

Granted, a lot of them were scams. A lot of people lost a lot of money. The SEC is still suing tons of them, whether they’re American companies or not. Some people have been forced to give back the money. Some people have been ordered to go to jail for their scams. There was a person just recently, I don’t remember their name or the project name, they were caught with a $10 million yacht. Basically, they stole all of the funds that were raised and bought a yacht with it. And the SEC is like, “Yeah, that’s not how you’re supposed to use the funds, so now you’re going to jail.” There are some notable scams, like PlusToken out of China, they scammed $4.5 billion.

Sean Weisbrot:
Let’s talk about some notable uses of cryptocurrencies, as well as how people interact with the cryptocurrency industry in terms of trading, bots, all these kinds of things. Farming, lending, let’s talk about all of those as well. So, what are the uses of cryptocurrency in general and the different ways in which you can interact and make money with it and things like that.

Justin Renken:
So, we want to make sure that it’s clear that we’re not recommending or advising anybody to do any trading, make any financial decisions. I’m not here to convince people to buy Bitcoin. I’m not here to convince people that $35,000 is a fair price for Bitcoin. I’m just here to expose people to the world of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies and then let them explore it on their own.

One of the popular use cases for blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies that I love to talk with people about first are crypto debit cards. In fact, for our sub brand market square, we have a YouTube channel where I just released top five crypto debit cards in 2020. And the reason why I like to talk about crypto debit cards is because it takes this abstract concept of cryptocurrencies, and it wraps it inside of something that people can easily understand, a debit card. Everybody has cards. They’re swiping. They know what it is. They know it represents money. Cool.

So, with these crypto debit cards, you can load cryptocurrency or assign cryptocurrency to a debit card. The one I use myself is called Spend, which is for the US. And it’s a great card. I love the card. No problems with the service, great service, live chat, help. Ark is on it too. It’s great.

What the cool thing is about crypto debit card is that they’ll have sometimes crypto assets that power their ecosystem, and they’ll have tokens. So, for example, Spend has the SPND token or the Spend token. And what that means is when you’re swiping your spend cards instead of getting cash back in US dollars, like with a standard card that you might get in the mail or whatever, you’re getting cash back in the Spend coin. And the spend coin can be used within the Spend ecosystem. So also, these coins are used for registering cards. So, if user signs up to the platform, they need to acquire x thousands of Spend coins in order to reserve a card of a certain tier level.

So, if they want to get a card with a better tier level, with higher limits, with more cash back percentages, then they would need to reserve and stake a higher number of spent coins. Staking just means that you’re locking up coins that you own for a specific period of time and then after that time has elapsed, you get the coins back and you own the coin. So, you’re not giving the coins away, you’re just staking.

So, I know I don’t want it to turn into like Spend show fest or, “Spend is so great, go sign up right now.” It’s more like, it’s a very simple use case that everybody can understand how this works, they understand how cash back works, they understand how debit cards work. So, it’s a cool way for people to get into the crypto space and kind of get their feet wet with crypto debit cards for sure. And then also there are crypto lending platforms as well, where normally you’d go to a bank, you would get a loan that you would provide collateral and then you get your loan. But there’s high fees, there are long wait times, there’s the problem of gatekeepers who are like, “Sorry, you can’t have a loan,” even though you have the collateral. Like “Oh well, sorry about you.”

So, with crypto, they have platforms where you can approach the network with collateral that is cryptocurrency and then get a loan against that cryptocurrency from the network, not necessarily from an individual corporation or person. And that’s kind of mind blowing because anyone has access to credit now if they have collateral that the network understands and approves. Another huge use case that people can get involved with crypto.

I don’t know about US regulations because I think that there are tight regulations on lending situations. So, I haven’t really dabbled myself in these crypto lending platforms in the same way that I have a Spend card. I don’t know that much about firsthand use of crypto lending platforms, but I think it’s really great because it’s another use case that regular everyday people, especially business owners who are looking for new lines of credit, et cetera, they can understand this very simply and they can understand the value that cryptocurrencies bring to that use case.
So, a third use case that’s a little bit more abstract, but it’s still very interesting if people have time to listen and understand how it works is NFTs or nonfungible tokens. Actually, we’ve been working with a lot of different projects on the Hive Blockchain, which is another blockchain project that’s out there through our brand Market Square, and we’ve been covering a lot of different projects that use NFT’s.

Now, easily defined, NFT’s are unique coins that exist on the network that represent one item, be that digital or be that physical. So, you can think of an NFT like a certificate of authenticity. And what this does is it allows people to trade collectibles online without having fear of them being counterfeited online.

And a good example of that is CryptoKitties. CryptoKitties was a very popular, decentralized application that nearly ground Ethereum Network to a halt in 2017, made a lot of headlines. A lot of people were trading these digital tradable cats that existed on the blockchain, and you would look at them on your computer and you’d say, “Wow, that’s a nice cat.” But under the hood you don’t realize that that’s the only instance of that cat on the network. Yes, you can take a screenshot of that cat, but you will never have the certificate of authenticity that is represented by the NFT for that cat, that gives that cat value if you have the NFT and somebody else wants that cat to add to their collection.

But it goes far beyond just cats. There are also other blockchain related games that use NFTs. There are tracking systems, blockchain tracking systems for supply chain, like tracking coffee from the farm to the coffee cup. You can do that with NFTs where each bushel of beans of coffee is an NFT that you can track through the progress. So, NFTs are very, very interesting. They’ve been getting a lot of extra attention, especially in the last twelve months, and I think that NFTs are a good thing to look at for finding out some new innovations coming to the space.

Sean Weisbrot:
So unfortunately, we don’t have too much more time to get deeper into this. But I do want to mention things in passing for people to be able to Google. Maybe you have a few minutes to explain. There are other things if you want to get deeper into the blockchain, like proof of work, proof of staking, proof of capacity. There’s a lot of different methods of making sure that the transactions are actually working. This is, once you start are looking at the proofs, it’s a lot more technical.

What people might be interested in on a personal level is how you can make money with it. So, I’ll just rattle them off. You can hold it and hope that it goes up and not down. You can do trading, where just like with foreign exchange or stocks, you’re looking for opportunities to buy low and sell high. You can mine it which depending on each blockchain if it’s a proof of work blockchain, then you need to have a very expensive mining machine that’s literally just like a graphical user card inside of a box.

Justin Renken:
There’s a lot of small businesses that are mining cryptocurrency, especially in developing nations where fiat currencies are in jeopardy. That’s how they discover mining is that their business is struggling and they’re like, “What do I do,” and then they’re like “Oh I could mine cryptocurrency.” My friend just talked to me about it and it’s easier than people might think to mine specific cryptocurrencies, and in some cases, you don’t even need to mine it at all. With certain methods you can just garner support from the network and that support from the network will give you fresh coins instead of purchasing expensive mining hardware, and Ark is one of those networks.

But yeah, I just wanted to bring that up since it’s a business podcast, right? So, I wanted to give that little anecdote, where I’ve watched many documentaries of small businesses mining cryptocurrencies is very interesting.

Sean Weisbrot:
Beyond mining and holding and trading there’s also staking. So, staking is where as you mentioned earlier you basically lock up your coins for a period of time. Doing so can yield you good money. There’s also peer-to-peer lending, so you can actually lend out your cryptocurrency, and you know, make money when people pay you back. There’s also farming, but this is a very new term, I haven’t heard of this, I think it is related to decentralized finance.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, hopefully this has been a fascinating episode for everybody. I know we haven’t talked about any of it before, so hopefully this is all brand new for you. Thank you for your time, Justin. I appreciate your very amazing and clear answers for everybody.

How could people follow up with you?

Justin Renken:
Ark.io is a great place to start. That is our website designed for users and developers who are interested in the Ark ecosystem. Also, we just launched our new sub brand late last year, Market Square for content creation, at least. The platform itself is coming Q1 of 2021, a great platform for anybody who wants to learn more about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and see and connect with the real businesses that are powered by and using blockchain technology. That’s what Market Square’s goal is, but right now we’re making a lot of great videos. We’re writing a lot of great articles, so people can check me out on our YouTube channel on the Market Square YouTube channel, just search Market Square for that.

Sean Weisbrot:
Thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it. Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. So, take care of yourself every day.

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