Denelle Dixon, CEO of the Stellar Foundation, joins Niki in the studio to talk about the real world, right-now positive use cases blockchain technology is having on the underbanked. They explore the work the foundation is doing with the UNHCR and IRC in Ukraine, their partnership with MoneyGram, and why you should care. Denelle shares some sage advice for the industry on how to better communicate with regulators.
Niki: I’m Niki Christoff and welcome to Tech’ed Up.
On today’s episode, we’re back to talking about crypto, but this time positive, right now, real-life ways people are using blockchain technology. I know - this isn’t exactly a message we’re reading about much in the news at the moment, so I found the conversation with Stellar Development Foundation CEO, Denelle Dixon, to be a breath of fresh air. Right now, the industry is facing the threat of potentially being regulated out of the U.S. altogether and she has a great perspective on why we shouldn’t let that happen.
Niki: Today, I am delighted to have a CEO in the studio whom I have admired from afar. Denelle Dixon, welcome.
Denelle: Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here.
Niki: So you have been pounding the pavement, talking about the Stellar Development Foundation, which is the project you're working on now. You, like me, come out of old tech.
[quizzically] Old Tech? [Denelle: Old tech?] Big Tech? [Denelle: That's what they call it!] Web2?
Denelle: We call it Web2. I guess is what we're supposed to call it, now.
Niki: So, Yahoo, Mozilla, and now you're working in the crypto space. [Denelle: Mm-hmm] What I'm excited about to talk about today is the real use cases of this because I gotta tell you, the listeners of this podcast are, like, “Are we done talking about crypto? [Denelle: chuckles] Like, it's over, right? We're done.”
And we're not done. [Denelle: I hope not!] I don't think we are done. It's, you're not gonna uninvent these inventions, but they might be pushed overseas. [Denelle: Mm-hmm] So what I wanna do is talk about what, what Stellar is doing. You guys have some real-deal, real life uses, not even use cases, uses right now [Denelle: Mm-hmm] of the tech.
And then I wanna talk at the end about something I harp on about constantly, which is how this industry tells its story. [Denelle: Mm-hmm] And what we could be doing better, especially in Washington, but in general.
So, let's start with the Stellar Development Foundation. What is it?
Denelle: The Stellar Development Foundation is a non-stock, non-profit company. Why is that important and why is that something I say all the time? We do not have shareholders. We don't have outside investors, we don't have anyone that we have to be beholden to. The only thing we have to focus on is our mission.
And so that, the mission of the Stellar Development Foundation is creating equitable access to the global financial system. It's a big one. And it should be! [Niki: it's a big mission!] It should be, it should be, like, massive so that it takes us years to be able to accomplish it.
And we think the best way to do that is to leverage the Stellar network and the notion of open borderless technology that can be leveraged for cross-border payments. It can be leveraged for securitized tokens, it can be leveraged for kind of anything.
The beauty of it is that the network is great for asset issuance and payments which is, sort of, the thing that I love about it. I love the, the notion of really focusing on those folks that are unbanked or underbanked all over the world so that they can get access to the traditional financial infrastructure in a different way.
So, that's what we do now. I spend a lot of time not just pounding the pavements about Stellar. I love Stellar, I love what we're, we're set up to do, but I look at it from the standpoint of this industry needs to have interoperability, and if we don't have interoperability, it sort of ends up being the exact same financial infrastructure that we have today.
So, I talk about not just Stellar, I talk about the ecosystem and the, and this whole blockchain technology piece at large and how we can, like, bring it together and, and interoperate not just with traditional financial infrastructure, but also with all the different chains because each chain has a lot of value for what they bring.
Niki: So, principles-based approach. [Denelle: Mm-hmm. Yeah] And I think this is something, I mean, obviously the traditional financial system, maybe this isn't obvious to people, is rusty. The rails are [chuckles] really archaic, not working well. This is, and stablecoins and the network you're talking about, and all of these chains can modernize our financial system.
They don't have to be at odds with the financial system, which I think is a myth that we need to bust.
Denelle: Well, that's the biggest thing. [Niki: Do you agree with that?] I think that one of the things when I when I first, when Jed first approached me to come into this role, I looked at it as an opportunity to, sort of, fix some of the things that I had done. [interrupts self] I looked back over my career and looked at the way that I had approached Web1 and Web2, and I sort of thought I did those a little wrong because we really didn't focus. We talked about interoperability, we talked about standards, and we did an awesome job in the underlying infrastructure layer of the web, but we didn't actually do it on the top layers.
We created walled gardens. We created a lot of separation. We created a world where five companies could sort of own all the content, and so, on the financial side of the web, we can't do that. And so, I think it's so, so important to really take the learnings from Web1 and 2 and say, okay, what can we do differently here?
One of the biggest things is interoperability standards. Thinking about how we can create this infrastructure to enhance and not supplant the traditional financial infrastructure. Cuz the truth of the matter is it works really well in some cases. You don't wanna “square peg, round hole it.” You don't wanna say, “Oh, we gotta use blockchain everywhere.”
The truth is, like, blockchain is awesome for some things and the traditional financial infrastructure is awesome for some things, too. So you blend the two together and you create a world of huge opportunity.
And that's what we're seeing despite the fact that we hear a lot of negativity around crypto and blockchain. There's so much good that's happening already leveraging these two, these two, sort of, technologies together. And that's what I love about it, is that we really can create this interoperable world without borders and allow it to really bring in those people who were de-risked from banking or who have chosen not to engage because of where they are in the world it might not be the safest for them.
Then when they control it and they have access to their own value in their wallet, it can just change their world for them.
Niki: And just for listeners who, just, one little thing I wanna highlight is when you talk about people who are de-risked from banking, that's a lot of Americans who have been, are not participating in the traditional banking system or financial system because they're seen as too risky. [Denelle: Mm-hmm]
And, and I think that one of the challenges the crypto industry has is convincing just the average American, cuz a lot of the great use cases make sense in countries where they don't have [Denelle: Mm-hmm] a well-functioning financial system. Just explaining and convincing them that this is still valuable, that it's not just “bros with Lambos”, y’know, making, [Denelle: Yeah] like, casino money.
And actually, this leads me to something, a specific pilot program you guys have done and, and a partnership you have in the works now. Because one of, and actually full disclosure, a friend of mine, I was saying, like, at a dinner party, y’know, “Crypto needs to do a better job with storytelling and bupubupbupbupbah”. She's like, “Isn't that your actual job?”
Niki: In fairness, yes. And it's hard! It's super, super hard when you have, not just Sam Bakeman-Fried, but other reckless behavior, not the; it's very hard to tell those positive stories. So, that's one of the reasons I want you here. But also, we sometimes focus; the narrative is often focused on two extremes.
One is a hypothetical utopian future world that, y’know, protects human rights and increases privacy, and, and it's about this super decentralized next internet, which I believe we will get to, but it's so hypothetical and abstract. And the other is this fear-mongering about the Weimar Republic, where you're gonna have all your dollars in a wheelbarrow to buy a loaf of bread.
And I think neither of those are as helpful as just talking about real-deal [Denelle: Yep] ways people are using this, which leads to what you guys are doing with MoneyGram and [Denelle: Mm-hmm] with Circle and USDC.
Denelle: Yeah, and I think that's so much of this. It's so interesting cuz when I reflect back, I'll get to that in just one second. [Niki: Yeah!] But I do wanna reflect back on when we actually did focus on, on web standards and all of that. We didn't actually bring that to the masses. That wasn't the point. The point was what you wanna do is bring utility, usability, and really interesting tools that solve people's problems to them. And we, sort of, did the reverse here where we brought the technology and tried to bring that to the masses.
And now we're like, “Oh, wait, what happened to the utility piece?” Well, the truth is, there's a lot of organizations who have been focused on the utility for a long time, but because we focus so much on the tech stack and on the crypto tokens on top of it, we've lost sight of the fact that actually, nobody needs to be talking about this. And what we need to be doing is delivering real value through these tools.
And so, one of the things that we've spent a lot of time on at the Stellar Development Foundation, but with the, the ecosystem at large around Stellar, it's focusing on on and off ramps because, as you mentioned, not just outside of the, the US but in the US there are lots of folks who have decided that they themselves don't wanna participate in banking or the banking infrastructure wasn't built for them because they've been de-risked from it.
And so, as a result of that, we have the opportunity to deliver utility to them that creates a change in their life. And that's part of what I think what we've done with MoneyGram is we say, y’know, [chuckles] “Crypto and blockchain, everybody says we can, y’know, you don't have to have a bank account or a credit card to leverage it. You should be able to have this new banking infrastructure without it,” and yet the only way to get onto it was using a bank account or a credit card, which by the way, might be fine for, y’know, 60% of the population, but for those who don't have it, MoneyGram was the perfect relationship for us to sort of foster because they actually work with folks who are in the cash-based world, folks in the US who are in the cash-based world, folks all around the world.
And so, part of it is this; actually, I started in May of 2019 at the Foundation, and I met with Alex, who's the chairman of MoneyGram. I met with him within the first month of going to the foundation because I realized that this is actually the space that we should pay attention to those on and off ramps, those cash, bringing those cash customers into this space to leverage these tools.
And so, that's what we did with MoneyGram. So MoneyGram, now you can go to, it's about 400,000 locations globally, and you can take cash in, and you can convert it into USDC on Stellar. And you can have it, hold it in your wallet. You can choose to send those assets to your family, to your friends, to pay bills, whatever you do, whatever the wallet actually allows you to do.
And you can off-ramp it as well, so you can cash out at a MoneyGram location, which to me is, like, so great to be able to combine this traditional financial infrastructure, the most traditional financial infrastructure with this amazing technology. And so, it's actually one of the things that, it's so funny cuz when we launched, we officially launched in June of last year, so of June of 2022. And I thought, this is just the most amazing thing to bring to this, to this ecosystem at large to really focus on these. And the truth is, it didn't get a lot of attention because it's not about trading use cases, it's not about, like, the, the, whether the crypto tokens are up or down. It really is about the utility.
And the truth of the matter is I'm okay that that didn't actually get the attention I think it deserved because the fact is it's getting the attention from the end users. [Niki: Mm-hmm] We're seeing this corridor between the US and Columbia that's opened up leveraging Stellar USDC through different wallets, and we're seeing it increase dramatically because users there are getting money from the US, from their family or friends in the US, or maybe it's the gig workers that are working in Columbia and we're seeing like this, this huge uptick in volume there.
Like, this is just a pocket that I found really interesting, but it's kind of all over the world [Niki: Yeah] that we see it happening. So, I love it! I think it's amazing. Right now, it's, MoneyGram’s doing it for no fees. So, it's a great thing to use to be able to leverage the wallets that are connected to MoneyGram.
And part of it was also getting MoneyGram to think about their business differently, opening up their infrastructure to other players. So, make their APIs be available to wallets. That was, like, a new business opportunity for them as well. So, it's a pretty awesome thing to see that it working together in that way.
And I love the, the outcomes.
Niki: Yeah. And if you just go to, just to recap it in a really simple way, we, I think part of the, I think many people in finance and in tech and in the media do not realize how many Americans are using cash, cash money, which don't get me started on places that won't accept cash! [Denelle: Mm-hmm] It's like I have Liz Lemon moments at those stores. I'm like, “You need to accept cash because there are a lot of people who do not have a credit card!”
But what you're talking about is one, if you can move it from a MoneyGram to a MoneyGram, that's more, much more secure than carrying it around. And if you're an American sending it overseas, that's a really good way to export US dollars. That’s what Allie on my team has actually done the math on this, which I'm sure will somehow drop into the show notes. But there's so many people sending money overseas after they've already paid taxes on it and they have delays and fees and they don't know exactly what's gonna arrive.
And this is a simplified way of getting that money to, often, their relatives, which a ton of Americans do.
Denelle: Yes! That's the thing that I think we don't, y’know, I was just actually, I was meeting with some folks outside the US in, in policy and they were like, “Well, how does it actually, why does it matter in the US and why does it matter here in Europe?”
And the issue is there are people who are de-risked from banking everywhere, and this does bring that opportunity for them and it actually removes so many intermediaries and so much cost. We've actually, with the MoneyGram use case and with actually other anchors, we call them anchors, these financial institutions that sit on the edges of the network for on and off-ramping, we've actually been able to, y’know, the World Bank Target's bringing it down below 3%.
We've actually been able to get it on a global average at 2% of fees. 2% is the fee for the transactions. That's huge. And what people who don't have to use that type of technology understand is that sometimes it can be upwards of 8 to 10 to 12%. That's not right when you're thinking about sending value that you've already paid taxes on in one country and you're transferring it to another country.
So, this is, like, such an awesome use of this technology. And it really integrates nicely with banking infrastructure. With MoneyGram, you can also put it into your bank account. If you receive it from you - somebody goes in, they put cash in on one side, they send it to you, you then receive it. You can just convert it to your bank account. [Niki: Yeah] or you can take it out in cash or you can just hold it.
Niki: I remember I talk about this a lot, but the first time I ever used Western Union, it was to get a relative out of jail, [Denelle: chuckles] which that's like another podcast episode. [both laugh] It was a $50 fee! [Denelle: Yeah] Which I was shocked by. I had no idea. But I don't often use Western Union. It's not in my daily life. And I was stunned!
So, it's this regressive fee structure. And to your point, there are many, I'm talking about Americans cuz we're sitting in DC and [chuckling] that's what people in DC care about. [Denelle: Mm-hmm] But I do wanna move to one other pilot case that you had.
But y’know, I think about Senator Tim Scott. He comes from a district with credit-invisible voters a ton of credit invisible, meaning they don't have credit. And so, I think that this is sort of, you think about the haves and the have-nots, and your point is it's okay that it didn't get attention as long as the people who need these services are finding them.
Denelle: That's right. And that's my - part of it is, like, I just want us to focus on utility and to focus on utility you need awesome UX design. You need simplification obfuscating the technology. Nobody knows that they're using - not nobody, some people do, that they're using HTTPS every day to send transactions over the web.
Niki: Yeah [chuckles] Nobody wants to know how the network works.
Denelle: They want to know they can, [Niki: laughing] but they don't need to understand the whole thing about how the technology works, as long as it's safe and secure to them and they're, they have the opportunity to, to understand it. That's the whole thing. What I learned in the early days of the web is that when it came to privacy, when it came to understanding the technology, notice and choice and opportunity were the most important pieces.
That is, like, not just dignifying to everybody, it's actually providing them you, you make the tool so easy for them to use that it solves their problem, and if they wanna get into the details, they can. And so, that's the way we need to think about this. It's a technology layer people, it's nothin’ more than that.
It's no different than HTTPS or how you send email. We don't understand how SMTTP works all the time, but it's okay cuz we know the emails get to where they wanna get to.
And one of the other things that I think is really important that gets lost a lot in the shuffle is that when you're sending value from one place to the other and people talk about, “It should be free,” the fact is it shouldn't, because if you're sending cash and somebody's taking cash out, there's gonna be these mom and pop shops on that, that have their feet on the ground, that are actually the ones that are providing that the tools for people to come and pick up their cash. They need a fee, but that fee right now is increased because of all the different players participating in it.
With blockchain, you can eliminate the intermediaries and get the feet of the people that actually really need it. And so, let's like really be clear about what we're doing here. We're trying to like, not just create a world where there's a borderless world for financial [interrupting self] and in order to bring people into the financial infrastructure, BUT we also want the people who are actually spending the time and money to be able to provide services to get paid too.
So there's a, there are fees, there's a place for fees, but the fees don't need to be at that level.
Niki: I think that you just hit on two points that are really, really important. So, former podcast guest Kathleen Breitman, who's a co-founder of the Tezos Blockchain, talks about how crypto feels so inaccessible to people because it's a combination of computer science, game theory, and finance, [Both chuckle], which is not exactly an easy place to start. [Denelle: Mm-hmm. Yeah]
And when you don't have, to your point, great UX so people can just very easily understand how to use it, when it's complicated, you're, it's hard to get masses involved. And that's almost the flip of what we did with early web. [Denelle: Yes] Well, not Web1, but Web2 made it really, really easy and simple for people to use it without having to understand why their email went from one place to the other. They just don't need to know and they don't even have time to know. [Denelle: Mm-hmm] So, I think that's an area of improvement.
And then, I also think the second really important thing you just said is you said something intellectually honest, which is, it's not free and it's not gonna be free. There will be fees, but they'll be much lower and more targeted.
And so, sometimes in the industry when there's a conversation, again that's very hypothetical or ideological, but not reality-based, we lose some credibility [Denelle: yes] because it's not really true that this is gonna be free.
Denelle: No! And that is so important for us not to lose credibility on these issues that frankly we just don't need to be embarrassed of.
The fact of the matter is we're making it better. We're actually bringing things down below what the World Bank has recommended that we focus on. And that is the kind of thing that we should be proud of and yelling from the rooftops.
And we do, frankly, like this is part of it for me, is that I love to focus on these uses because these uses really demonstrate that it's working, it's there and people are actually, are gaining a lot of value from it, but it doesn't need to work in every case all the time.
I always tell people that if you can find, like when you go meet with partners, and even for, for my team, when they're meeting with folks, don't- like, understand their business, make sure you understand what they need and what problems they have. Sometimes they might not even know that they have a problem that we can solve, but don't just assume that we're gonna be able to zero in and fix something because blockchain isn't like the, the glue that fixed everything together and brings everything together.
But it is the glue that actually makes the world, like, really, truly borderless so that we don't have to have all these cracks and these fissures in the financial infrastructure. We can just enhance it and bring it together.
Niki: So, another topic I wanna talk about for people who aren't, who are listening, who aren't based in Washington- if you are in the District of Columbia right now, you will see Ukrainian flags everywhere. [Denelle: mm-hmm]
We have them literally hanging over streets, in people’s, in actually my neighbors who are in my entryway, have an Ukrainian flag. It's incredibly, I know there’s some, a lot, of discussion about how much money we're sending over, but the fundamental issue of, of the freedom of the Ukrainian people is super important in DC. [Denelle: Mm-hmm] They care a lot. We care a lot. And you were involved in a pilot [Denelle: Mm-hmm] program with people in that country and I'd love you to talk about that.
Denelle: Yeah. So, We actually had spent a lot of time with the Ministry of Digital Transformation in Ukraine, and with Zelensky and his administration before the war.
And so, we were already talking and, and Zelensky was really focused, and still is today, actually, on making it so that they have a cashless society, CBDCs. Thinking about how you can leverage this technology to make it so that you're bringing, like, the most up-to-date, most ever-present technology into his administration and his country.
And so, we had spent a lot of time with them. We were working on a pilot with TASCOMBANK there to, to really create a digital Hryvnia. We actually, that, that, that's launched and they've been playing with that. And now, they're talking about doing the CBDC.
So much of the work that we had done there was focused on how they could improve the tools that they have available to them in that country. Cuz some folks were also underbanked and, or, unbanked there. And so, what, when the war hit, we thought, okay, like “This is awful.” We know, like, we not only know the people that we're working with there, and they worked. [interrupts self] So they have continued to work so hard during the war. It's pretty remarkable to see it.
Niki: It's, it's totally remarkable! Across the country on all different, [Denelle: I know] sectors. It's amazing. The Ukrainian people, man, [admiringly] are tough.
Denelle: I know. It's with something to learn from, from that standpoint. And so, when we, we looked and said, “What can we do?. Yes, we could donate money. Is that really the thing that we wanna do?”
That helps, but y’know, one of the things that we think about is “What tools can we provide to help them to, to, to create a different world for themselves? And what are we really good at? We're really good at payments.”
So, we spent some time with the UNHCR, actually, we started talking to them; I think it was in March of 2022 and we launched the pilot in December of 2022. So, it was a pretty fast turnaround for an organization of that scale because it's not super easy to get through all the different parameters of the UNHCR, but they were really committed to doing it, too. And so, we brought aid into Ukraine, leveraging the Stellar network, the USDC on Stellar, the Vibrant Wallet.
And really so the, the, the difference now with respect to aid, cuz believe me, I'm not an expert on humanitarian aid, and I defer, and I'm so respectful of those that are. But what we were able to do there is that you can, you receive a text message and it says, “You are able to receive aid from the UNHCR. Download this app,” and then they download the wallet, which the Vibrant Wallet is very, very user friendly.
It's that you don't actually have to be a crypto native to use it at all, which is a really, really big point for the UNHCR. They didn't want it to be like that. And they also wanted to sort of close off the pathways so that it was, it wasn't about crypto, it was just about getting the save.
And so, using end of stablecoin, which is what we always prefer for any kind of payments, and you download it and within two and a half minutes after you go through the process of downloading the app and, and, and registering with MoneyGram, you actually receive the aid in your wallet.
So, two and a half minutes versus what could be hours of waiting in line, what could be, y’know, hours of having, or you walk out of your house because you have, it's not safe there, and you're going to this environment to go pick up the cash. These are all really big challenges. You can do it in your basement.
Niki: Yeah, or in, literally, people are in subway tunnels.
Denelle: Yes! You can do this, you can do it wherever.
And, and then what you can choose to do is, do I wanna cash out now? Do I wanna go to MoneyGram and get my cash? Do I want, am I gonna, am I planning on moving to Poland? Well, I can move to Poland and cash out in Polish currency. I don't have to cash out in the Hryvnia. So the greatest thing about this is it provides dignity and choice for those who are feeling that they don't have that in those moments and, and, and the most in need.
And so, that's the thing that I love about this. It's, we, we helped we worked on creating a bulk disbursement tool so you can upload thousands and thousands of transactions at once and send them and it's, it works beautifully. And what we've also seen is that some users do have bank accounts and then they wanna transfer the value into their bank accounts.
Again, it's all about choice, so the tool itself gets it there so fast, securely, and into the user's hands, and the users don't have to worry about anybody else having access to that value except for themselves because it's an, it's a self-hosted wallet.
Niki: Right. So, you don't have people. So, just to really drill down on this, you can have, and do have a citizen in Ukraine in the middle of bombing, [Denelle: Mm-hmm] in their apartment with their cell phone, they're entitled to aid, they can't go get it in another more traditional way cuz they can't leave their house safely. If they did go get it in a more traditional way, there might be scraping of the, y’know, people taking their corrupt cuts of [Denelle: Exactly] of the aid. [Denelle: Right] That happens all the time [Denelle: All the time] with the humanitarian aid, so they're entitled to it. They download an app, they're able to get it. They can send it to, maybe their kid is leaving to go to Poland and they need to send it to somebody else. They can put it in their bank account. They can decide what to do.
But this happened, did happen.
Denelle: And it's happening. And the other, we did it with the IRC as well at the same time period. We did two pilots with them and with the UNHCR, they're looking at doing it not just in Ukraine now, but other countries because it is a very streamlined process. Again, it doesn't have to be the tool that's used everywhere, but it is a tool in their toolbox that they can leverage that brings a ton of value to them, to the UNHCR because of the transparency, the speed, they can actually now demonstrate to their donors exactly where the value went.
They can show it. They can show that money wasn't taken out and that there wasn't fraud that occurred there. And it's just a really amazing way to be able to use blockchain without making it clear that it's blockchain, but it's just this another rail that they get to choose from.
Niki: So the thing that I wanna end on, and I've, I've heard some of your testimony in front of Congress, and I think you're, I think you're an excellent storyteller.
[Denelle: Thank you] And I know you just said it doesn't really matter if we don't get a ton of attention, cuz the people who need to know know, but the industry couldn't be worse. [Denelle: mm-hmm] Like, the press situation couldn't be worse. There's, I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but we're not telling, I don't think we're speaking in the right way to the right people.
So, if you have advice for others in the space, you and I are both working and you're doing it full-time. I only do it part-time, [Denelle: chuckles] but it's, it's like you somehow end up [chcukling] in this, down this rabbit hole of being like, “No, no, I really hope we don't, you know, shoot ourselves in the head like, we have to actually get this right!”
What is your advice to the industry, to founders, to the people talking about this if they wanna move the needle. You've been in Washington quite a bit over the past year. What's your best advice?
Denelle: Well, part of it is something that I think that we forget, and so, I'm a mom of five boys, and one of the things that I would forget is listen. So, it's the listening piece. And so, they've taught me, my kids have taught me a lot about the need to listen to the, their perspective.
And when we listen to the perspectives of the policymakers, the regulators, sometimes the fear and understand that fear, and then can respond. Instead of walking in and saying, “Let me tell you,” we just listen and we hear and then we go, “Okay, I heard and here is my response to it,” and then you can lay the, the story out. So much of it is about the listening and then responding in a way that makes sense to what you heard instead of actually trying to get only your points across. So, that's one thing I think we can do.
The other thing is we spend a lot of time looking at the challenges that we're facing in the industry, which I understand because I feel it too. But we are not a victim. We actually can own this and we can turn this around. And I wanna shift our mentality to, like, this stuff is happening to us to ”No, let me show you how we can bring this to you,” and then it's no longer happening to us. We're changing the narrative, and that is such an important piece of saying, “No, we've got this!”
And I believe we do, by the way, because the, the uses out there are so strong and the utility is so valuable. That it's, it's just gonna be, 10 years from now, just like HTTPS. We're gonna be using this technology in the same way. So we've got this.
Stay calm, listen, and then, tell the stories. Don't just fight back. Actually explain it in a way that's like simple and truth, and, and really gets it there.
And I think that so much of that is lost right now because there's a lot of [pause] fear on both sides. And so, that fear generates a lot of anger and frustration. And I think that if we just sat down and had conversations, it changes the dynamic.
I also think that one of the big pieces of this is. Bring the utility, but bring the, the notion of not talking about the technology layer, the tech stack isn't what we're selling here. We're actually selling what it does. Let's talk about that. Bring those people who understand, y’know, humans and human character.
And I love to talk to operators because so much of it is like the operators don't come and spend a lot of time with policymakers and regulators, and that's actually who they wanna hear from. So operators know what their product can do. So, bring that to DC, bring that to Europe, bring that everywhere.
I actually feel like we're gonna make this, we're gonna make a shift here in the United States because we have to, because I don't wanna see technology leave this country. I don't wanna see operators leave this country. And I, I actually don't think that they will if we can just have those conversations and listen to one another.
Niki: I think that's really good advice. There's definitely a little bit of a sore-winner vibe. [Denelle: Mm-hmm] Which is, It's not constructive. And then I also think you we're talking about fear.
There's fear among congressional staffers, y’know, [Denelle: Of course] in people, people after the FTX collapse and Sam Bankman-Fried's arrest were sort of saying, “Well, you shouldn't have taken money from him. It's, like, “Okay, well then, I'm not gonna- Why would I take money?”
Denelle: “I’m not gonna take money from anybody. Not even gonna talk to them!”
Niki: Right. “You guys took meetings with this guy.” It's like, well, once bitten, twice shy, why should I take meetings with you?
So it's, I actually think it's incredibly non-constructive to focus on attacking staffers who have a lot of other things they could be focused on. But to your point, listening to their often valid concerns, national security concerns, right?
Denelle: Which we have great stories on! [Niki: Great stories on!] This is the most amazing thing when we listen and instead of just, like, reacting, we can just say, “Oh, okay, I gotcha. Like, this is a problem that you're having or a concern that you have and your constituents raise it. Let me give you the five things that you can say in response to that, because actually, the blockchain's pretty great when it comes to national security concerns.
The stability of the US dollar. Let me tell you how much companies around the globe want to leverage the US dollar and can do so with stablecoins in a way that's very, very positive for the United States.”
Like, these are all things that you hear about. And, and when the people talk about fraud and all these things happening, “Well, actually, if it does happen, you can see it. It's an immutable record.”
So, these are like really good stories to be able to tell. And it's all about; it's about just the, the notion of wanting to not win the conversation. It's so funny because when I think about, and I, and I say this all the time, to my teams that are doing deals, “When you do a deal, you know you've gotten to the best place on the deal when neither side is particularly happy with the outcome because what you don't want is that deal to result in litigation or result in breaking up and result in all these challenges. And when one side is really happy, and the other side's not so much, that's gonna happen, but when both sides are like, “Okay, fine, that was okay with me.” That's what happens in legislation. That's what happens with policy is if we think about it as a principle-based approach, we're not gonna get everything we want, but I bet you we can both get 90%.”
Niki: I think that’s exactly right. The goal should be a compromise meeting in the middle so that you can keep building, keep expanding, keep innovating, and also keep this technology in the US.
I said this at the beginning, these inventions are not gonna be uninvented, but they might go overseas and we don't need to be paying to bring them back [chuckling] like we did with semiconductors. It would be great if we could keep building in the US. [still chuckling] So, I'm glad you're in Washington!
Thank you for taking the time while you're here to come into the studio and, and talk about what you're working on.
Denelle: So awesome to be here! Thanks for having me, and thanks for doing the work to get our story out in a positive way.
Niki: I'll try!
Niki: As always, thank you for listening.
In our next episode we take a serious dive into the dark underbelly of social media with Previn Warren, partner at law firm Motley Rice. We’re talking Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook (and no, I do not consent to the Meta rebrand, and I never will).
And of course, we talk TikTok.
Previn and I don’t agree on everything, but what he has to say about the evidence that social media harms kids - socially, psychologically, and even physically - is something we all need to hear.