Dive in and absorb as much as you can because it’s such a fast-moving industry. The industry is still nascent enough that users have to understand more in order to be involved. Using blockchain platforms is not yet the same as posting to traditional social media, sending an email, or purchasing something on Amazon. It requires some technical knowledge.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth (Liz) Kukka, Executive Director of Ethereum Classic Labs (ETC Labs), leading supporter of Ethereum Classic (ETC), a public blockchain with a market cap of 1.5B dollars. Liz manages the ETC Labs accelerator program for blockchain and crypto-focused startups and is responsible for the accelerator’s overall operations, processes, workshops, networking, investment committee and introductions. She is also Principal Investor at parent company Digital Finance Group where she brings her 10+ years of experience as a mentor and coach in science, design thinking, product development, and operational management to guide the entrepreneurs in each cohort.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
In 2014, I was getting my MBA. During my studies, I took a course called the Innovation of Money and I found out about bitcoin through that class. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, as it was too nascent to consider using it to create a product as part of the coase. Later, in 2016, when I learned about Ethereum and how its smart contracts can be deployed by developers to build decentralized applications that enable more private and secure peer-to-peer transactions, I was much more enthusiastic about the possibilities. Joining ETC Labs was a natural career move from there, given our focus on addressing issues of financial inclusion and leveraging the blockchain to support social impact projects.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Several of these projects have been introduced to us by UNICEF Innovation, a partner of ours who we made a 1 million-dollar contribution to last year. We made a commitment to co-invest in projects that UNICEF supports. One of these projects is OS City. We supported them in creating “proof of origin” for handicrafts for craftspeople in Mexico and Argentina. Sometimes the memorabilia you find as a traveler is actually made in a factory. These less expensive, falsely labeled “handicrafts” take potential income away from the true craftspeople who rely on this type of commerce for their livelihoods.
We also worked with W3, a team based in Bangladesh that built on Ethereum Classic to create a decentralized app that enables people in refugee camps to share phone data. Basically, if I have surplus data on my phone, I can give it or sell it to someone who needs it. This allows them to receive updates from the Red Cross on food and clothing handouts as well as severe weather and announcements.
Another project, PngMe, is a data company who provides a financial API for developers and the finance industry to offer innovative products and services to its customers throughout the continent of Africa. Some of those customers are unbanked/underbanked and lack a credit score or are unable to gain access to lines of credit, specifically SMB (Small and medium-sized enterprises).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I started in 2018, Kilian Rausch at our parent company Digital Finance Group, helped further my understanding of blockchain and cryptocurrency. I would grill him with technical questions about blockchain, and our conversations over lunch inspired me to dive deeper into this fascinating space.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Your wallet, your crypto — Blockchain’s capability of granting users control over their value is so important for financial empowerment and eliminating reliance on banks and other third parties that can’t always be trusted to make the best decisions for the people they serve.
- Data ownership and data privacy — Data is the new currency in today’s digital economy, and individuals should be able to control how their data is used and be protected from data breaches.
- Censorship resistance — The pseudonymity enabled by blockchain helps to protect people from being censored for their views and political beliefs, which is particularly important for those living under totalitarian regimes who wouldn’t otherwise have secure avenues for communication.
- Using blockchain for good — Blockchain technology is certainly deployed by investors to make money, but, more importantly, it can be leveraged to bring about positive change by putting power in the hands of people rather than corporations.
- Access to markets — There are too many people who cannot participate in the global economy because they do not have a bank account. Blockchain technology can close financial inclusion gaps by enabling access to financial services to the unbanked.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- Shifting regulations — London will no longer recognize crypto derivatives as legal come 2021. These types of regulatory changes hinder the industry’s overall growth and development, because it’s difficult for companies to predict what might come next.
- Need for more education — If someone who doesn’t understand the space goes to a random exchange and gets their funds stolen, they are going to have a negative perception about cryptocurrency, despite the reality that there are many highly-reputed exchanges with rigorous KYC processes and insurance measures to help traders get their money back in the event of a hack.
- Usability — Blockchain systems need to develop easier-to-use interfaces so that users don’t get frustrated by the complications and leave crypto entirely.
- Trust — Even though the whole idea of blockchain is that it’s supposed to be a trustless system, most people don’t want code to be their trust system. They need a human touch in order to feel comfortable. Much of blockchain is missing that right now.
- Reputation — Unfortunately, cryptocurrency got off to a bit of a rough start with its initial platforms like Silk Road that were primarily used for the sale of illegal products. Blockchain technology has matured massively since then and can be used to make the world a better place with its capacity to empower people with control over their own data, value, and governance.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
OriginalMy, another project we are working with, is based in Brazil. They are putting marriage certificates on the blockchain to ensure that no change in administration can undo those vows. Supporting these types of projects that are helping real people is what I find most rewarding.
As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?
- Women shouldn’t be afraid of talking to the men in the room. In order to get everyone to listen to your ideas, you need to build a report with each person, including men and women.
- Dive in and absorb as much as you can because it’s such a fast-moving industry. The industry is still nascent enough that users have to understand more in order to be involved. Using blockchain platforms is not yet the same as posting to traditional social media, sending an email, or purchasing something on Amazon. It requires some technical knowledge.
- Buy some crypto to be invested in learning more. Having a stake in the industry will motivate you to understand how to use a private wallet, metamask, etc..
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
In the Twitterverse and on some other community channels as well, the atmosphere can be a bit aggressive with images that clearly pander to men and don’t feel very welcoming to women. This would be one thing that the industry could work on.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
At the end of the day, we’re all just people — no better or worse from the next person — so treat everyone like they could be your best friend, sister, or brother. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone approached one another in this way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I care deeply about closing financial inclusion gaps, and I believe that the peer-to-peer transactions enabled by blockchain technology will help us to achieve that goal.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find us at our website: https://etclabs.org/, and here are our social media channels:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/etclabs
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ethereumclassiclabs/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/etclabs/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!