In an effort to unlock the what, why and wherefore of technology’s more enigmatic infrastructures, Christine Assouad, YPO member and Founder of Dunkin’ Lebanon, Semsom and The Catalyst of Growth, created a series of conversations with leaders across the tech world.
At recent virtual discussion, YPO member and Managing Director, South Asia and MENA at Ripple, Navin Gupta, and CEO of Ajyal Capita Hichem Ben Fadhl, defined and examined the uses of blockchain and crypto currency.
A blockchain is a distributed database or ledger, shared among the nodes of a computer network. Blockchains are best known for their crucial role in cryptocurrency systems, such as bitcoin, which maintains a decentralized record of transactions. Blockchain’s innovation is that it guarantees the fidelity of a record of data and generates trust without the need for a trusted third party. Gupta breaks blockchain’s foundation into three buckets.
“At its highest level, blockchain is nothing but a database,” he says, before segueing into an example. “Imagine Christine has money in her pocket. She gives that money to me. I give that money to Hichem. Christine writes these transactions down — how the money is moving from person to person — on a piece of paper in a notebook. When she’s done, she signs that page which essentially ‘blocks it.’”
Once that page is “blocked,” Gupta continues, it becomes immutable and the process begins all over again. Once multiple pages are filled out, they remain linked (again, like in a notebook), which creates a larger, connected block, aka blockchain.
Access to blockchain, follows what is called ‘tokenization.’
“What has happened in the markets is that crypto assets have been built on the top of the blockchain and are traded 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he explains. “When an asset is traded 24/7, it has the ability to transfer value from point A to point B.”
Gupta uses Apple as an example.
“Apple stock is widely exposed to the U.S. market, but what they are going to do at some point, is tokenize their stock.”
The tokenized stock will be available in the form of decentralized loans, which don’t offer ownership of the underlying asset, but is a tokenized representation of a stock that, in part, mirrors the underlying asset’s price. It can also be traded 24/7.
As Gupta puts it, “The hardest part of blockchain isn’t the technology — that already exists; it’s the ecosystem.”
And the ecosystem, is where opportunity lives.
“People are used to their lives being negotiated from the top, down — from a principal in school to a religion to government — we are used to there being a central authority we look up to and follow,” he says. “This particular moment is bottom, up. It’s the democratization of finance, which creates substantial opportunities for people who run their own businesses — they already have ecosystems. If they can find a technology particularly suitable for a use case, or for an industry they serve, it can be a marriage of the best of both worlds.”
Speaking of bottom, up, crypto has an interesting, what some would call idealistic, genesis story.
“The crypto ideology was the libertarians’ response to the 2008 financial crisis,” Fadhl explains. “Libertarians believe that government should be restricted. They advocate privacy and fear government wealth confiscation. With crypto, the idea is to create a future of greater political freedom and innovation.”
While in the beginning, the idea of a new form of currency seemed preposterous to many, once returns on investments became widely known, many doubters became believers.
“A few years ago, when you invested in crypto, you received astonishing returns,” says Fadhl. “For the past 10 years it’s been averaging 200% per year, which makes it the best performing asset in the world … if you believe in it.”
There are still doubters, after all. But, as Fadhl says, “The hype is ongoing today.”
Hype and risk
“In 2021 we saw a lot of growth,” Fadhl points out. “This includes U.S. regulations allowing companies to put some of their reserves in bitcoin. There are a lot of opportunities for investment, but at the same time, it’s showing a lot of volatility and you have to be very careful.”
Fadhl’s first suggestion for anyone considering investing, is to do your own research before buying anything in crypto.
“Don’t follow the hype,” he warns. “Don’t invest based on the fear of losing out and manage your risk. Don’t put all of your money at once in the crypto space — begin with small chunks and make them bigger once you become more confident with what you are doing.”
His second suggestion is to diversify and most importantly, consider your country’s regulations.
“This is very important,” he stresses. “There are a lot of regulation risks in different countries and a lot of different ways of investing in crypto.”
Fadhl mentions mining, buying and selling assets like NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and ICOs (initial cryptocurrencies), trading, staking, yield farming. “Each one of these has its own rules you need to understand and each one comes with a lot of risk. But if you understand the risks and you have strategies and discipline, they are all ways to make good money in the crypto space.”
For Fadhl, who as he puts it, “lives at the interface between crypto and the institutional world,” crypto is here to stay.
“It’s a bulletproof technology,” he surmises. “Like blockchain, crypto is available 24/7 with a real time digital infrastructure. It’s borderless, so there are no frontiers, no regulations and it’s an accessible, anonymous, inflation-resistant peer-to-peer exchange.”