Assume the best in others when you first meet them. Let that be your default. It is amazing how people will rise to the occasion.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie So, a Founder of Geeq Corporation, a blockchain infrastructure start-up. She believes blockchain technology will be more disruptive than the internet and will be adopted, on a massive scale, even more quickly. Stephanie is determined to build a platform to ensure every individual will have access to low-cost blockchain services without having to worry about whether their data may be exposed, corrupted, or accessed without their consent.
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?
Thank you for choosing me! I’m delighted to be asked that question.
The first thing I’d like to share is that this is my second career path. I’m old, chronologically. When I took French in middle school, we learned the phrase “a woman of a certain age”. I’ve always found that expression charming and, now, I relate to it. My kids are young adults and wonderful humans, my husband John and I have been married for a really long time and get along very well. So, I have the extreme luxury of entering the tech sector under those conditions. I think it’s important to be upfront about where I am in life.
I was teaching economics at Vanderbilt when I began to learn about blockchain. It was an area in which terms were thrown around without much consistency, so it was hard to get a foothold. Barriers like that really annoy me. The throughline that kept showing up, though, was that blockchain could change societies in ways that completely align with my values. I think the ultimate aims of technology should be to empower ordinary people, to improve all lives, to support civilization. There was an optimism and idealism in the blockchain (and cryptocurrency) space I have never seen anywhere else; at least, anywhere plausibly rooted in reality. If you think about the logical implications of the technology, blockchain has the potential to upend the power dynamic in marketplaces, create opportunities for those who have none, and allow people to protect their privacy.
John had been taking a hard look at the limitations in existing protocols. John’s initial project was to consult on blockchain for IoT. His client was Ric Asselstine, the CEO of Terepac. (Ric is also now CEO of Geeq.) Terepac’s IoT intrinsically required a public blockchain with complete security, the capacity for tremendous throughput, little latency and low cost. It was a tall order. Both John and I work at home, so we ended up talking about it a lot.
The focus of Geeq has always been on security, which is a complicated problem. There are many kinds of attacks and potential failures. However, if you want a permissionless blockchain to carry high value data with complete security, you have to consider every possibility. John and Ric had a moment when they realized they had an ultra secure, interoperable blockchain ecosystem that was appropriate for fintech and enterprise applications. My worldview is different. What might seem too insignificant to include in those applications might be another person’s most precious transaction. There are a lot of people whose lives will never intersect with the interests of fintech or enterprises. I didn’t get excited until John calculated the same system could support micropayments for less than 1/100th of a penny.
There it was: the secure, high volume, public, transformative blockchain I had wanted. Geeq’s low cost ensures access to any individual to participate in any role in blockchain. Imagine the possibilities! I didn’t so much make a choice to change careers as realize I’d already thought through the next steps. John and Ric would have started Geeq as a business with or without me. I asked for a seat at the table because I knew my perspective was important to include from the beginning and here I am.
That’s a long and roundabout story, but I think that’s why it is worth sharing. For me, a long and roundabout path has been invaluable, which is not the way most young people are taught to think. The traditional model of a career minded person was that you got yourself onto a ladder and then you tried to climb as far as you could. Yet the job market keeps reorganizing itself to pull up ladders. Kids are feeling so much pressure to compete for a straight and narrow path that might not exist and might be a bad fit even if they found it. I think it’s an extremely unhealthy mindset. We do them a disservice when our attitudes and expectations don’t change with the times but their circumstances have. A lot of people need to take a hard look at the new reality.
In all of life, there is a component of luck. I don’t beat myself up about bad luck and I try to make the most of good luck. I think of work as a series of trades and my career as a freeform jigsaw puzzle. If I’m seriously interested in something, I’ll learn it. If I encounter something or someone new, I assume I might learn then, as well. That’s how I acquire new puzzle pieces. I frequently rearrange my puzzle pieces to see if I might make a better trade. Economics students will recognize puzzle pieces as bits of human capital. I’ve been adding to my stock in policy, health, economics and technological innovation my entire life. Could I have predicted I would be able to put them together for blockchain? Absolutely not. But, as it happens, I’m ready.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I am concentrating on use cases where huge volumes of microtransactions can be processed securely and cheaply via blockchain. The use cases take roughly the following form.
Suppose you could send micropayments for the data you stream, and only for the data you stream. For practical reasons, you might have to set up an account ahead of time, but because we are talking about micropayments, let’s say you only need to have a few dollars in your account at a time. No one necessarily needs to know your personal information for a generic blockchain transaction. (That probably won’t hold up under subpoena, but let’s assume that’s not a problem.) You encrypt your personal information each time a transaction is sent to the blockchain, and that encryption remains intact while the transaction is verified by the blockchain. Geeq’s task, as a blockchain platform, is to verify your payments are good and going where they are supposed to go. Then, your transactions (still encrypted) are stored in a distributed ledger, which means the history of your transactions is not sitting in a single, identifiable place that is easy for hackers to attack.
Let’s go back to micropayments. YouTube won’t allow content creators to monetize their channels until they reach minimums in subscribers and views. In other words, content creators have to put in a lot of work before they can hope to get paid. Geeq will provide an alternative, decentralized platform. What if each viewer could purchase streaming video or audio, in real time, by sending micropayments directly to the content creators? Micropayments, by their nature, can increase the efficiency of markets.
Here is another example. One reason subscription services are offered is because it currently costs a lot to process individual payments. Let’s say Netflix has to pay $0.25 for every $2.99 credit card charge. I’m making those numbers up: the point is, they can’t offer you current episodes for $0.25 apiece. We’ve done the math. Geeq can process a simple payment transaction for 1/100th of a penny. That opens up worlds of opportunities for both sides of a content market.
The same logic applies for simple micropayments in a blockchain-based Internet of Things.
The beauty of building a platform is that I don’t have to figure out every use case. What I care about is setting up an infrastructure to safeguard the data, while reducing transaction costs to make blockchain accessible to all. The developers are the ones who will build the DApps. We are buillding some unique aspects into the platform architecture, but we need input from the developers who will build on top of it. An important part of my work is to create a supportive environment for independent developers, so they will want to build in our ecosystem and link their projects to ours.
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?
Something about the way you asked this question — the person I would like to thank is my high school math teacher, Mr. Richard Glahn, at New Providence High School in New Jersey. He was an excellent teacher. I had him for pre-calc. There are two things I remember from that class. How much I hated epsilon-delta limit proofs, and how much I loved that class anyway.
Mr. Glahn didn’t call attention to himself. He was very calm. Unflappable. If you were to visit the classroom for 10 minutes, it might have looked like a pretty dull math class because it was all math, all the time. What made that class great, though, was that I always felt as if Mr. Glahn knew exactly how much I understood at any given moment. I’d be willing to bet most of us felt that way.
I don’t remember ever having to raise my hand when I was confused. Mr. Glahn would know. He’d simply know. He’d stop, look at me, and wait. If I asked a question, he’d respond as if the entire class had asked. If my brain had caught up and I didn’t want to ask anything after all, he’d go on without comment. He rarely used our names, he didn’t single anyone out for praise or criticism. Mr. Glahn’s math class wasn’t about ego or competition. It was about math.
I am very grateful to Mr. Glahn for creating such a pure, safe, and intellectual environment. Reflecting on it now, I think he has had a profound effect on anything good I’ve ever done.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
i. Both blockchain and crypto offer the opportunity for people to take control of their data. For example, one of the promises of blockchain is that it will create a permanent and privately available audit trail. If you have a secure, accurate, and low cost way to track what is happening to your personal data, you can verify if others are doing what they were supposed to do and you will have proof if they are not.
Companies have a lot of control over our data now because we don’t have ways to hold them accountable. More fundamentally, we don’t even know what they are doing. I think it is past time to shift power away from companies and to the individual. I feel a tremendous sense of urgency to flip that power dynamic before it is too late.
ii. Like most people in this space, I think we are not far from being able to create peer-to-peer financial markets, at scale. It is staggering to imagine all the good it will do to provide billions of people with access to microloans. Blockchain and crypto can be used to bypass red tape, institutional inertia, and government corruption. These markets will accelerate development, create opportunities, and redistribute wealth all over the world.
iii. I want to backstop the ability of governments to collect our data without our consent. Once we develop the technology to protect individual rights, then we can have a credible and serious discussion about regulation, standards and mitigation for government use of our data.
iv. One reason the future of blockchain is so bright is because it provides ways for individuals to create value and engage in healthy market competition. It will be nice to see situations where producers aren’t fighting over a stagnant or dwindling market. When surplus is created, it is possible for everyone to win .
v. Blockchain can increase security for critical infrastructure. The world is a scary place. It is possible for blockchain to help us reduce threats and figure out which problems need to be fixed first.
What are the 5 things that most worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
i. It’s safe to say a lot of resources have been squandered on bad projects. While some amount of experimentation and failure is necessary, it bothers me to see resources wasted on proposals that will never make any sense.
ii. It will take some time to learn the appropriate uses for these technologies. There are some situations where they may never be useful. There are a lot of loud, misguided opinions out there which muddy those waters. That is not helpful. I worry about the backlash.
Iii. I can think of a lot of nightmare scenarios where people count on blockchain or crypto to be secure when it is not. I’ll feel a lot better when we can get some guardrails in place and people begin to understand what they are getting.
iv. I worry about projects disappearing and bankrupting people. I support some sort of regulation to be put in place for investors.
v. I worry organizations with a lot of market power will succeed in extending their market power into the blockchain and crypto sectors. That would make it a lot harder to return power to the people.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I feel a lot of satisfaction when I convince others to care more deeply about people who have not had a chance to express their pain. It’s hard to choose a single story. It’s something that has always been important to me.
As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?
i. Assume the best in others when you first meet them. Let that be your default. It is amazing how people will rise to the occasion.
ii. Prioritize. I used to feel pressure to be perfect in all areas of my life at the same time. Acknowledging I have limits has been so liberating. It is a great feeling to do your best on whatever matters most to you.
Iii. If you are working on something that needs all of your positive energy, don’t be around negative people. Seriously.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
I can’t remember whether I read this or was told it, unfortunately. The advice was from a woman. She said, “you may not be able to get everything you want in your life at the same time, but you might be able to get everything you want at some time.” I have lived by that.
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. 🙂
Pay it forward.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I don’t do a lot of social media. I am going to try to write the occasional blog post on geeq.io. I have a practically invisible Twitter account, where I mostly retweet random snippets of interest, with the handle @ComplicatedIsOK.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
The pleasure was entirely mine. Thank you.