Deana Burke is a communications partner at Celo, a mobile-first blockchain enabling peer-to-peer payments. She joins Niki Christoff and makes the case for Bitcoin: Why should we care about it at all? Deana is passionate about making sure people who don’t work in finance or technology can participate in this “revolution in money.” She also explains what the heck are DAOs.
Niki: I’m Niki Christoff, and welcome to Tech’ed Up. Today is our fifth Crypto 101 episode and we attempt to answer the question “Why?” Why should you care about Bitcoin? Why does anyone care about it? And why is this podcast spending so much time trying to figure out how it works?
At the end of the episode, we also talk briefly about DAOs. Remember that group of people who tried to buy a copy of the Constitution? That is a DAO. Thanks so much for listening as we kick off Season 2 of Tech’ed Up.
Niki: Today, our guest is Deana Burke. She's a mom. She's a marketer. She's all-in on crypto. We know each other a little bit through working with a company that's in the crypto payments space. Welcome to the show. Thank you for coming on.
Deana: Thank you for having me.
Niki: One of the things about you that I really admire is every time we talk, I learn about a new side hustle that you have. [Deana: chuckles] And a lot of those are in the crypto space. You've started an app to gift crypto. You have a community for the crypto-curious, which we'll talk about at the end of the show, but basically, I just want to hear how you feel about this space and why it's important and why you're so excited about it.
So, you are down the rabbit hole. And my first question for you is when and how did you get crypto pilled?
Deana: [chuckles] Okay. So, the year is 2017; if you aren't familiar with what was happening then, it was, like, a crazy bull market. The price, prices of everything were going insane. And I, admittedly, got drawn into the space from the price action. And I, basically, just started gambling. [chuckles] I was, like, buying all these altcoins. I was watching all these altcoins go up and down, and there was just, like, so much money, and so much money moving around. And I was, like, “Man, I want a piece of this.” And so I started, like, doing some very bad, like, sort of pseudo-day trading on altcoins.
And I wasn't very good at it, and I lost money, but like, I was just, like, sort of obsessed for a minute. And that was, like, my, my personal way in. And then I started-
Niki: [interrupts] Wait! Can I ask you a quick [Deana: chuckles] clarifying question? [Deana: Yeah] What is an altcoin?
Deana: Oh, I love that question! Ok. So, an altcoin is what people refer to- so, like, there's thousands of cryptocurrencies at this point, and at the time, altcoins were really anything that wasn't Bitcoin. Now that term is used, like, a little bit less, because there's so many other really prominent cryptocurrencies that are being traded and used and have utility. But, at the time, an altcoin was anything that wasn't Bitcoin, basically.
Niki: Okay. And you were thinking of it like gambling. So-
Deana: [interrupts] I mean, I wasn't thinking about it like gambling, [chuckling] but, like, that's effectively what I was doing. Yeah.
Niki: I sometimes think of this space still, like, Megabucks, like, y’know, [Deana: mm-hmm] my mom would drop me off, y’know, we'd be at the gas station- she's, like, “Go get 10 bucks of tickets” [Deana: chuckles], and I'd come back and say, “Mom, the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.” [Deana: Yeah] And she'd say, “You have a 0% chance of winning if you don’t play.” [Deana: I love that! Thanks mom!]
Niki: But it's not wrong. [Deana: It’s not wrong!] And so, I'm still kind of maybe in that space, but tell me more about, kind of, the mission around this and what beyond the day trading, where your next step was.
Deana: As I was, sort of, doing more research and, sort of, diligence on some of the projects that I was looking at investing in, I just really fell in love with, at the time, Bitcoin, and the technology and what I felt like what a new money that was completely outside the establishment could mean for, y’know, redistribution of wealth and creating new wealth for people and financial access. And all these things that, like, really speak to me emotionally. This is a pretty powerful thing that's been created that, y’ know, if wielded in the right direction, could have some really profound effects on humanity. [chuckles] Not to overstate things, but, like, I truly, I truly believe that. So, that was sort of the entry point for me.
Niki: And let's talk a little bit about Bitcoin. So, you mentioned it, that there was, not that long ago, anything that wasn't Bitcoin was considered an altcoin. I think some people, people, might've heard the name Satoshi, but they don't know, like, what's the origin story of Bitcoin specifically, which is the O.G. cryptocurrency.
Deana: Yeah. I love this! This is actually one of my favorite things about bringing new people into crypto because this story is just so juicy. So, the year’s, like, 2008, I believe, a person or persons working under a pseudonym called Satoshi Nakamoto, they published this white paper that was called Bitcoin: a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. And they posted it to, like, a listserv of cryptographers. Like, it was basically like an email list of a bunch of, like, cryptography, cryptographer nerds that, y’ know, no one cared about at first at all. Like, everyone was, like, “Okay, whatever.” Like, this is, like, a very niche corner of the internet and just a very niche community.
They spent some time building the network and writing the code, and then in 2009, the network was launched- again to no fanfare whatsoever and no one cared except for, like, a handful of cryptographers, in this, in this, mailing list.
Eventually, like, people started to pay attention, but Satoshi always remained a mystery. They never revealed who they were. They worked on the project, like sort of y’know, publicly in that, like, they're posting on message boards, and they were, sort of, like, pushing through updates to the code under the pseudonym for a couple years. And then, as it, sort of, started to take off, they receded from view and then disappeared completely. And I think that’s one of the most fascinating parts of this. That [pause] decision- I mean, there's just so much speculation about who this person is and why they receded from view.
They wanted to create a truly decentralized network and a truly decentralized form of value and money, and sort of knew they needed to make the sacrifice- to take themselves out of the picture completely in order for it to not have, like, a founder or CEO or someone who's tweeting dumb things that can affect the price up and down.
It was launched in 2009- 2008, 2009. Like, that was a moment in time where we all collectively watched so much greed and power on display with the 2008 financial crisis. And this felt, like, sort of, a radical act that was in direct response. At least for me, like, this is what I'm, like, reading the tea leaves, like, felt like a response to that.
Niki: I think you’re right that the timing seems purposeful. [Deana: Yeah] And when you say the sacrifice of leaving and receding, the sacrifice is [emphasis] zillions of dollars.
Deana: I mean the amount of money, it, it’s, mind-blowing! And, and, one of the things that we know, ok? So, the blockchain is this transparent immutable data set, right, of transactions. And so, we can see everything and we know what's called the “genesis block.” That's the first, first, transaction that was ever made on the Bitcoin network. And, at first, it was only Satoshi who was making, who was basically mining Bitcoin, who was making- who was enabling these transactions, for, for a couple of years. And so, within that, they, you earned as an, as this at many points, like, sole minor of the network, they earned many, many Bitcoin in that, in that moment. And we also know that none of that Bitcoin has ever been moved. So, as far as we know- moved or spent. So, as far as we know, they've not profited- [with emphasis] at all.
I mean, maybe they have another wallet set up, maybe there's other things, but that original Bitcoin that was mine to get the network off the ground has never been spent, has never been moved.
Niki: Which, which indicates that it's ideological. Right? [Deana: Yes] This is an ideological act. [Deana: Exactly] And I just want to back up a smidge [Deana: mm-hmm] and tell me if I'm explaining these terms correctly. So, mining is essentially- people are performing mathematical, complicated mathematical, equations and on the Bitcoin/ blockchain, they earn Bitcoin for those efforts?
Deana: That's an appropriate way to be thinking about it. I would think about it more like, uh, computers or servers doing the work [chuckles] and not, not, humans, but yes.
Niki: Ok! Great point. Excellent point. [Deana: laughs] ‘Cause I am literally picturing it like Hidden Figures, but with, with, like, bros in Japan [Deana: laughs] doing like, okay- excellent point.
[both laughing] [cross talk, laughter]
Niki: Not, not the people. But I think people, when they hear “mining” or they hear these terms-[Deana: mm-hmm] and this is something I want to talk about with you. It’s so intimidating. Like, the jargon, the accessibility of this space is, is, is hard, it’s steep. There's a barrier to entry that's not financial. [Deana: mm-hmm] The barrier is knowledge [Deana: mm-hmm] and kind of understanding it. And I think there's a major intimidation factor. You said something to me a couple months ago, you said “We're watching an enormous transfer of wealth and power and if people don't understand it and get into it and get curious about it, they could miss out.” I don't want to quote you to yourself.
Deana: Totally! [Niki: I mean this- do you feel that way?] That's right at the heart of everything I do all day. [chuckle] I mean, there's so much money being made and created right now. And beyond that, there are so many decisions and products and companies that are being created, right now, that are going to be creating the future that we're all living in, in seconds. Right? And there's so much value in that, and it's happening right before our eyes, like, it's, it's occurring. And, like, that's my number one reason for being is to get people [pause] seeing the opportunity for themselves and all of this and jumping in. Because if we don't do anything and if we just sort of let it go the way it's going right now, y’ know, it, we're just going to be sort of copying and pasting [chuckles] the same hierarchies of wealth and power as exists with the legacy financial systems onto crypto. And, to me, that would be just a profound waste.
We all need to help each other [chuckle] to get in. Um, especially folks who don't come from a finance background or don't come from a technical environment. I mean, those are the people that I'm interested in reaching, and I feel like are the people that could benefit from this revolution and money the most.
Niki: And I think this is such a good point because, my observation, you know, I'm sitting in Washington D.C. and I'm seeing a lot of billionaires, tech elite and venture capitalists [Deana: mm-hmm] coming to Washington. [Deana: mm-hmm]
And, and, sometimes their storytelling around Bitcoin and about, around, crypto uses these examples [Deana: mm-hmm] that to me seem, not impossible, but truly hypothetical and far-fetched, which is, y’know, helping the unbanked. [Deana: mm-hmm] Which I get as an idea, as a concept, [Deana: mm-hmm] but how are the unbanked going to have an unlimited plan on a smartphone? [Deana: mm-hmm] Because I tried to buy an NFT yesterday [Deana: chuckles] and when I tell you I'm downloading my MetaMask wallet [chuckles], I'm memorizing, y’know- it was tough! I haven't even gotten there. I got about a third of the way through and I gave up and I was like, I'll regroup and come back to this [Deana: Yay] But I needed time and data and I needed a credit card [Deana: Yeah] Well, I needed a specific credit card [Deana: Yup] because my- two of my cards were declined for even buying ETH. You have to trans- it's complicated. So, when you hear people telling the story of like, it's billionaires talking about the unbanked in failing financial systems, it doesn't feel real to me. And I think there are real examples- and maybe we can talk about this where people, regular people, interacting with a prejudiced and, at times, maybe even predatory, financial system can avoid fees if they can get away from intermediaries, just regular people using this technology.
Deana: Yeah. So, first of all, I'm dying to see what NFT you're buying! And you definitely gotta [chuckles] show me-
Niki: Oh, You’re going to see it! [chuckles] I'm going to post it on my Twitter. It's ridiculous!
Deana: Okay. Well, I, there, I have bought some truly dumb NFTs. So I mean, we'll just, we'll have to share in each other's, sort of, decision-making there.
Niki: Mine’s so dumb, but I'm going to get it. I'm going to figure out how to buy that thing. [chuckles]
Deana: Nice! Nice! Okay. So, there's a lot there in what you said, and I, sort of, want to unpack a few different, a few different parts of it. First of all, I think that, crypto specifically, money more generally, but definitely crypto is just sort of, like, a mirror to what you care about in the world. Like, you look for things that, you sort of, you can make this mean whatever you want, because it's new! It's all emerging right now. And it's all sort of being created right now. And money is so emotional, and like, so there's a lot of- people are finding their identity and it, so the people who are like Bitcoin maximalists, like that's like, y’know, there's, like, the libertarian movement who like see this as their, like, way to sort of subvert the government. And, like, so everyone sees what they want to see in crypto. And I, and I totally respect your note around, like that, that, y’know, the, the sort of emerging market or banking the unbanked, like, it doesn't speak to you personally. You don't, you can't comprehend it, or maybe you just don't feel like the infrastructure is ready for it yet.
By the way, that's another piece entirely- the infrastructure sucks. Like, it sucks! And, I think there's a lot of good work being done today. So I'm going to plug Celo; they’re a Layer 1 blockchain that's building intentionally for mobile phones, which is, like a, an intentional move, to, to reach emerging markets and to reach developing countries where people are going to be interacting with crypto on their phone.
It's not just you, the infrastructure sucks, that's a big part of the problem, but, I will say, that a lot of good work is being done today to fix that in the future. One thing I do want to say, I know that you mentioned, that you haven't seen very much evidence for this truly helping the unbanked.
One example, one story, I want to show you, want to tell you is, something that, like, really moved me was this project called- set up by a woman named Roya Mahboob. It was in Afghanistan. She- it was a few years ago, she was hiring Afghani women to work, many for the first time. And she was employing these women. And she needed to pay them, and she couldn't because these women, like culturally, it's just not the done thing for women to have their own bank accounts. So, she couldn't, like, actually, like, process their payments and she sort of fell into Bitcoin as a solution to this very specific problem. She's like, “Oh, okay, this could be a way for me to pay these people.” It wasn't, like, this big political thing for her. It was, like, “Oh, I can- they don't need a bank account. I can set them up and pay them through Bitcoin.”
So, she set them all up with Bitcoin wallets, and she started paying them. And, like, that's a pretty radical act- for the first time, these women, like, not only were working, but, like, owned their own money and the autonomy in that and the power in that, like, was just really moving to think about. And we also know now that, some of those women in the past couple months, that, y’know, there's clearly been a lot of upheaval in that country and some of those women have used that money, traded in that Bitcoin to resettle their families and to get to safety. So, that's the type of thing where I'm like, “Man, Ok!” I could see, that’s powerful, that’s powerful to those people.
Niki: I am so glad you pushed back on me because, first of all, on my business cards, it just says “devil's advocate.” [Deana: chuckles] That's what my main profession is, but you're, you're absolutely right. And one of the, one of the best use cases I think for Bitcoin or crypto right now [pause] the most compelling is remittances, right? [Deana: Yeah] So, in the United States, there are a lot of diaspora communities, people sending money back to their home countries, and the infrastructure in the traditional financial system sucks for that. [Deana: Yeah] It's super complicated. It's punitive fees, frankly, to send the money. [Deana: Yeah] And so, if you can find a way to reduce the cost of sending money you've already earned, you've already paid taxes on and you just want to send- to family, globally. That alone, the remittances issue, I think is a really good use case.
And then, I think, in that you're so right also that we mirror ourselves. I hope none of our listeners have had to bail a relative out of jail, but I have, and if you've had to, like, bail bondsmen are not taking credit cards. They only take Western Union, and the fee for a Western Union wire transfer is $50. If you don't have a hundred dollars in your bank account, which I never did in college, like, I was always right at the brink, you're paying fees, if you go under that amount, if you overdraft- and we know that most Americans don't have 400 bucks for an emergency.
So, you're paying all of these fees just to exist in, even if you have a bank account, even if you have the means to send money to other people, you're, you're paying intermediaries. And I think one of the best arguments for this is removing that layer so it's direct. And I think the people that can help the most, right now, are potentially people who are, like, in the system, but it's not just about building wealth or holding wealth, but in fact, getting out from under the existing power structures.
Deana: Totally. I mean, I think I saw a stat somewhere that was, like, $8 billion paid in overdraft fees last year. And y’know, that's just, like, that's, the people who can by definition, afford it the least, unfairly in my opinion, shouldering that burden. So, those are the sorts of things that get me real riled up. [chuckles] There's some disruption that's long overdue.
Niki: Yeah, yeah! And I think that's some of the excitement around this [Deana: Yeah], I think for me personally, but again, you're right: everybody comes to this with their own perspective. So, whether you're an artist, whether you're thinking about communities overseas, whether you're thinking about populations that haven't been able to access money or still can't have traditional accounts. I think these are all things we should explore because it is exciting! And it's an interesting part of the tech sector right now.
Deana: One thing that, if you and your listeners don't already know, El Salvador has recently, I think in the past six months, um, made Bitcoin legal tender. And in doing that, they launched this app called Chivo and they gave everyone in the country $30 worth of, of, Bitcoin. There were a lot of problems. This is, like, a very controversial program and not everyone is down with what's happening in El Salvador. But, I don't know, to me, there's something really powerful in, overnight, like, millions of people who have been systemically left out [chuckles] of this global financial infrastructure, which makes all the rich people richer, like, overnight then having access to something. To me, it feels really powerful. And, y’know, clearly, there's a, there's a, big remittances angle in El Salvador as well. I actually have family in El Salvador and, there's a lot of, there's a lot of education that's still needed around what it is and how it's used, but it's, still, to me, feels like a step in the right direction.
Niki: Right now, El Salvador's reliant on the U.S. dollar. [Deana: Exactly] And that, y’know, I am one of these people who's skeptical on the El Salvador experiment [Deana: Yeah?] because I feel like, okay, so you're, you're in a really, quite poor country and now if you buy a cup of coffee with Bitcoin, that could be the most expensive cup of coffee [chuckles] ever. Because there's holding it versus spending it, which is a whole other kettle, a whole other, [Deana: a whole other]
both: A whole other kettle of fish!
Deana: Well, I, I, you know, if I were designing that program would have done it much differently [Niki: Yeah] and probably would've chosen a different currency and a different network entirely, but-
Niki: [interrupts] I want to talk about one other thing and wrap up on this. So, setting aside cryptocurrency for the moment, there's also something called DAOs. Nobody knows what that is. D-A-O. You're excited about this- you understand what they are. Can you tell me more? ‘Cause I think this is maybe the next chapter in this decentralized concept and people are reading about it, but may not understand it.
Deana: Yeah! DAOs are so exciting. DAOs are basically a way to form collectives, online, using technology, using cryptocurrency. It's a way to organize a lot of disparate parties around the world around a project around a company or run an initiative around an investment really quickly and really simply. So, basically, it's- DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization. And, yeah, it's, it's, instead of, basically, like the, the, the, governance is hard-coded into the blockchain. And so, instead of a board of directors making decisions on behalf of a company that they, y’know, that they know very little about or that they aren't in the day-to-day operations of, you have a community of people who are empowered to, to, govern and to share in the upside of, of, an organization that's organized in this way.
So, we’re turning Boys Club- my community project is a DAO. One thing I do want to add to this is that I've used the word DAO and talked about decentralized autonomous organization. You could be sitting there being like, I have no idea what that means. I don't understand it. And the one takeaway, like, if there's, like, one thing that I want to leave people with, that I want to leave you with, Niki, is like [pause] Okay. I came across, it was 2013, 2014- I was reading an article about Bitcoin. I was jiving with it. I was like, “Cool. Ok- Bitcoin, new money, digitally native.” Like, I was sort of, like, getting it and I was really excited about it. And then I came across the term “mining” and I was, like, “Pickaxe on shovels underground?” [Niki: chuckles] Like, I was like, I could not get it. [chuckles] I was, like, “What are we, what are you guys talking about?” Like, I just do not understand what mining is. And so, I set the whole thing aside and I was, like, “This isn't for me. I don't understand mining. I don't understand this, very specific, one component of it. This is not my place, this isn't my, this isn't for me”- set it aside.
And I, like, I honestly can't even think about how much money I left on the table in doing that and not like investing in that moment. And, and then, sort of, setting it aside for, for years. I didn't pick it up again for, for, another four years. [big breath] So much money was lost, so much money, and, like, my one mission is to make it so that that doesn't happen to other people.
And I think that the lesson in that is that you don't have to fully understand everything that's happening in crypto. You don't have to understand every term or every idea that you come across in order to participate. You do not need to do that! You don't need to know what mining is. You don't need to know what a DAO is to jump in. And I think, I see a lot of people get stuck and, y’know, if there's a term or a word or an idea that you come across, like, just set it aside, like, just gently set it aside. And maybe you'll revisit that concept again in a couple of days, in a couple months, in a couple of years, and you'll be ready for it. Or maybe you'll never understand it. Maybe you'll never truly understand what a DAO is or what mining is, and like, that's okay. It's totally okay!
Niki: Yeah! Nobody knows how email works. [Deana: Exactly, exactly] Like, nobody knows. And I think this is great advice. So, you just said this in passing, but I want to make sure people understand. So, you are the co-founder of a community for crypto-curious women [Deana: mm-hmm] and nonbinary people, but also anyone can join [Deana: mm-hmm], called Boys Club. [Deana: Yes!] The newsletter’s great. I, literally, introduced myself on the Discord channel this morning because I am stuck in my NFT process [chuckles] and I want to ask people questions [Deana: Yeah] and I'm not going to Twitter for it. [Deana: Oh my gosh, yeah, yeah, yeah] Right? [both chuckle] Like, I need to be in a safe space [Deana: Yeah], right, to ask questions about how to do these things. So, definitely, if you're interested, check it out.
It's a very cool group of people. And I just want to thank you for coming on ‘cause we've had episodes on what's the blockchain, what are NFTs? What's a security? But we haven't really addressed the why. [Deana: mm-hmm] Like, why, why care about this? [both laugh] I mean, maybe we're a little late to the why- maybe we should’ve started with the why! Season 2 is kicking off with “Why?”.
The case for Bitcoin, I feel like you've made it in a really smart way and also the case for just jumping in, [Deana: Yeah!] like, just, y’know, not as financial advice, but just don't hang back because it's intimidating. ‘Cause it's actually intimidating to the vast majority of people. [Deana: A hundred percent, yeah!] Just keep going!
Deana: Yeah. I mean, I will say that, like, I, so, I have community calls, like, one-on-ones, with people who joined Boys Club and 95% of those meetings entail someone saying, “I don't feel like I get what's happening.” So that feeling is, everyone's feeling it, and it's okay. [chuckles] And you just got to push past it. And I think, like, one of the, the things that I've sort of, one of the ways in which I've grown since coming into crypto and sort of being in this, in this space, is like, sort of just being okay with that ambiguity and, like sort of, just, being able to, yeah, just keep, keep going. And, and, keep pulling on the string and keep going down the rabbit hole.
Niki: Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you for giving people this pep talk. [Deana: chuckles] The whole point of the show is to help people. Y’know, I ask a bunch of questions I don't know the answers to, and we, y’ know, turn it over and talk about it. I'm so grateful for you taking the time.
Niki: You can find a link to find out more about Boys Club and follow my Twitter account in the show’s notes. Next week, I’ll be talking to Ann Hiatt, she’s a leadership strategist and the former right-hand to legendary tech CEOs Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt.
We’re back to our regular schedule of new episodes dropping every Thursday, so be sure to follow Tech’ed Up wherever you get your podcasts.