Ledn Co-Founder & CSO Mauricio Di Bartolomeo on Building Decentralized Community
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Building a Decentralized Community
Today on the Future of Fandom, we’ll tiptoe into crypto and its passionate worldwide following with Ledn Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Mauricio Di Bartolomeo. Mauricio grew up in Venezuela where he learned about Bitcoin and truly understands its global applications.
Heads up if you’re in North America, where media-forward, Ethereum-based NFTs and simpling HODLing coins forever rules the day. Mauricio has a much broader perspective for how it can be used and how its fans come together across the world. Today, we explore how crypto communities coalesce and how to build a centralized brand presence within it despite Bitcoin’s decentralized nature.
Connect with Mauricio Di Bartolomeo on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mauricio-di-bartolomeo-780284101/
Read more about Ledn: https://www.ledn.io/en
Here’s a quick sneak peek of this week’s episode:
FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Adam Conner (00:09):
Today on The Future of Fandom, we’ll tiptoe into crypto and its passionate worldwide following. My name’s Adam Conner, I’m your host. And our specific focus on this episode is Bitcoin and how one FinTech founder is building a community around its global appeal. In particular, you’ll hear from Ledn co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Mauricio Di Bartolomeo. Mauricio grew up in Venezuela where he learned about Bitcoin and truly understands its global applications.
Adam Conner (00:41):
Heads up if you’re in North America, where media-forward, Ethereum-based NFTs and simply HODLing coins forever rules the day. Mauricio has a much broader perspective for how it can be used and how its fans come together across the world. Today, we explore how crypto communities coalesce and how to build a centralized brand presence within it despite Bitcoin’s decentralized nature. I was glad to learn from him if only for just a bit and I think you’ll enjoy his two cents too. So with that, let’s bank some insight as we predict the future with Ledn and Mauricio Di Bartolomeo. Mauricio, it’s great to talk with you. I hope you could take me to school today, but first, how are you?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (01:27):
I’m doing great, Adam. Thanks for having me on.
Adam Conner (01:28):
A word to the listeners here, this is an expert in the crypto world that we’re speaking with and I’m privileged to be chatting with Mauricio because every time that I have come into close contact with the crypto world, I’m not a robust investor myself. I think I probably should, or at least will be once I get finished with this conversation, but I am paying a lot of attention to holders or HODLers as you might call them, and their passion for this type of investment and what it unlocks for the world. So we’re going to get into that today and Mauricio, the first one that I want to ask, the first real question here is taking me through what Bitcoin is doing for the world today. Maybe how that’s evolved over time, or at least how you see it, and then we’ll get in a little bit to what Ledn is all about.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (02:22):
Definitely. And you are way too kind with your introduction, but you know I’ll do my best to answer or to share some of my learnings spending so much time in this space. I think Bitcoin’s doing a lot of things, but I guess to put it succinctly, Bitcoin means different things for different people in different parts of the world. For people in investment markets where money works and you have ACH and Zelle, and Venmo and Tap and Visa and no shortage of access to credit, Bitcoin to many are seen as one more asset that you can throw into the pool of already great assets to invest in.
Adam Conner (03:03):
Right. This is the traditional understanding that I think of because every time I look at it, it’s almost trading these things like commodities, whereas I know it has a much broader purpose and so yeah, I’m hoping you’d take me to school because I know there’s got to be more to it than that.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (03:18):
Yeah. Underneath that veneer of just one more asset is an absolute financial revolution under the hood. But to see that you need to go to a place like El Salvador and places like Venezuela, where I’m from and where I originally got into Bitcoin many years back. And the reason that it’s so powerful in those markets is because it represents an absolute shift in the toolset that you had available to you.
“So maybe I’ll put it to you this way, for anyone outside of the United States and Europe, it is virtually impossible to have a US dollar bank account or to have your assets in any kind of form that is not subject to the whims of your government. People in Latin America have experienced bank collapses, almost every 10 years a banking system collapses in Latin America, almost every 10 years a government collapses in Latin America or an entire currency collapses.”
— Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (3:42)
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (04:18):
And that basically means that they just hyper-inflated into oblivion and they changed the name of it. And many times in Latin America, you go through these bouts of authoritarianism where assets can get expropriated from people and you basically see the value of what you thought was going to be a great asset, like real estate dwindle and have basically no market to sell into. And so what a lot of people in a lot of places of the world that don’t have the property assurances that investor markets do, what Bitcoin means to them is in many ways a life rack. Basically, a life vest or a life boat, if you want to call it, where until Bitcoin, it was very difficult to purchase assets that maintained their value over time and most people think of assets that can maintain their value over time as property and houses, perhaps gold, and maybe cars in some markets.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (05:17):
But if you think about that, all those things have very high price tags and in an inflationary market, like if you’re running a 20, 30% inflation and you’re trying to save a $100,000, to put down on a payment or say even $50,000 to put it down on a payment, and you’re trying to save it in $500 increments, if you’re up against 20% inflation, you’re never going to get to 50K, because inflation’s just going to eat away your savings, even as you’re trying to basically park them and to save up that critical mass to put down that down payment so you can buy your asset. Once you have the condo, it’s fine, because the condo can sustain its value over time, but the cash doesn’t.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (05:53):
And what happens now is that Miguel in Venezuela can essentially get 10% out of his paycheck every month and buy Bitcoin with it and by doing so, that little bit of Bitcoin will be hedged against inflation and will be able to essentially grow over time or not lose its purchasing power rather than grow, and essentially that enables Miguel to save faster and more effectively, and not only does it help him save, but now he can transfer those funds internationally without basically having to go through a local bank. And that is revolutionary. That is as revolutionary as when you first sent that first Blackberry messenger message or that first Whatsapp message where you realized that you could go from one end of the world to the other and exchange texts with your friends for free, where before you had to pay a $1.50 to your carrier to send the same text. And so it’s almost just as liberating.
Adam Conner (06:53):
So this is not just an asset as we see it in the US to maybe hedge against inflation here, but it’s an alternative way to store your money. It is a finite asset, which some people may say is not currently true about the US dollar, but abroad in places where things are a lot more volatile with regard to any type of money reserve, except for something hard like property. This is if I’m getting this correctly, another avenue of financial freedom, is that fair to say?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (07:26):
That’s absolutely fair to say. Yep.
Adam Conner (07:29):
So this is then a much bigger thing than what I see in the US with a very media forward approach to the exciting world of crypto, where it seems like every 18-year-old with a phone and a laptop is trading all these different types of coins. And I know I’m dumping them all into the broad crypto sphere and that Bitcoin is, can we say the gold standard here, as weird as that sounds with regard to this landscape, but regardless, there is and I’ll start domestically, a huge passionate followership and fan base of all things’ crypto. What I have seen the most recently is that it has proliferated inside of Ethereum.
Adam Conner (08:19):
So a currency that is not Bitcoin, but I’m curious from your perspective since Ledn is rooted in Bitcoin, what you see and what the typical profile is of somebody who’s a big fan of Bitcoin. And by the way, if me asking for that is foolish because there’s no characteristic to lump into a group like that, please tell me so, but I’m curious to try and get into the head of somebody who’s a big fan of Bitcoin. What might they look like? What interests might they have? Does it get that specific?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (08:52):
So I think Bitcoiners are as broad of the spectrum as probably any group of humans have ever been. I don’t think there’s a broader spectrum of people than Bitcoin. And I actually think that some of it hold true also for Ethereum perhaps, but I’m more familiar with the Bitcoin community so I can speak to that and there is no real blocks that you could put Bitcoiners into, but I think the underlying tone or the underlying sort of thinking that Bitcoiners have, or many of the Bitcoiners have, I should’ve said all, is that Bitcoin is basically the way of expressing financial independence. It’s their way of saying, I am able to choose my own path and I can self verify and this is a system that I feel that I can trust and understand better than my current financial system because I think the reason people become so fascinated with Bitcoin is very much related to when they understand how the current monetary system works.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (09:59):
I think once you understand how that system works, then you get a high-level understanding of how Bitcoin works, that’s when basically your blinders go on and that’s when it starts becoming very difficult to see beyond that. And again, there’s a broad spectrum of Bitcoiners, but most of them or not most of them, but a lot of them love this ideas of the fact that it’s a finite supply. It is programmatic money that they can understand way better than their current financial system. And because of that, they can feel that they are much more in control or at least have much more of a say or are much more aware of the changes in the system versus the current system. So it’s hard to put them in a bucket, and I would say that Bitcoiners, to your point about a lot of these new communities and new development that is happening in this Cambria explosion around Ethereum, that is very much the case.
“But I think both platforms and both groups celebrate different things. Bitcoin is a protocol that’s been around for many years and it’s basically in some ways ossified relative to some others because it doesn’t really change that much, but that’s exactly what people want out of Bitcoin, it’s that consistency, it’s that stability. Ethereum right now is very forward-thinking and some of the things that it does, for example, is changing its consensus mechanism. You know, that’s not a small feat, it’s kind of like changing a jet engine mid-flight. And so it’s exciting, but it also comes with some risk. And so I just think that both of them are catering to different fandoms if you would.”
— Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (10:59)
Adam Conner (11:36):
Okay. That’s helpful to know. And this is because when I have this thought in my head, it’s a much more targeted type, and this is because again, it’s outside of Bitcoin, but it’s really what I know this NFT landscape, people are buying digital art and sure it might represent real things eventually, but because Bitcoin’s been here for so long, it was really first to the world that its profile is similar to the profile of humanity, which I get and I appreciate. So let me ask about this, and maybe we can take a little history lesson here with when Bitcoin was the first and only player in the game, how communities of fans or of ardent users of crypto come together, and I ask that and it’s a bit loaded because I know that the whole point of Bitcoin is to not be bucketed anywhere, but, I want to push that for a moment. Can you help explain to me how communities in crypto using Bitcoin’s history as a base come together?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (12:44):
Yeah, so I can chat briefly about that and I wouldn’t consider myself the best Bitcoin historian, but I’m happy to speak to what I know of or what I do know about the history of Bitcoin and how it evolved. It all started with a mailing list and basically, it was the Cypherpunk mailing list and Cypherpunks were just a group of cryptographers that were just very into this movement or this idea that cryptography should be available to everybody because of privacy reasons and you should always be able to hold a high degree of privacy, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s online, whether it’s a physical realm. And so they were already kind of these… It’s kind of hard to say it, but they’re the bleeding edge of FinTechno files as far as cryptographers go.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (13:37):
And so Satoshi kind of mails out his proposal to this list and hoping to find some volunteers to help him hash out some of his idea and then most of the discussion stuck around email, however, then somebody in the community created this forum called Bitcoin Talk and some of the discussion basically moved to Bitcoin Talk because Satoshi himself posted many times on Bitcoin Talk. And then from Bitcoin Talk, I believe it started spreading into Reddit and Twitter. And that’s how the community congregated around Bitcoin and exchanged information around Bitcoin. Then you started seeing some physical Bitcoin meetups here and there. Meetups started popping up in places like New York, Korea, and then people started mining it.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (14:28):
And so there was also the social activity happening around Bitcoin, and also the other interesting thing was that you can make money from Bitcoin by mining, by basically downloading the software into your computer and basically how did your computer contribute to the network? So there was a bunch of incentives that fed into this building of the community, and that’s how the Bitcoin community came to be. Ethereum was a little bit different and I don’t have as much of in-depth knowledge of how the Ethereum stuff came together. I have a high level understanding, but that’s how it came together around Bitcoin.
Adam Conner (15:03):
Well, then let’s stay with that because that’s what you know. I will now turn to the best, which is Ledn. Can you start by telling me what Ledn is and doesn’t provide the world? And then I do have that question, which I’d mentioned before about how to create a community yourself around it, but let’s start with what’s Ledn is all about.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (15:23):
Yeah, no, it’s a great question. Ledn essentially is a platform where people can get more out of their Bitcoin and digital asset. So our thinking in many ways of saying we like is the best of us have the smallest menu. So we like to do a few things, but we do them better than anyone else in our view. And so we let people earn interest with their Bitcoin. So we have a Bitcoin savings account and also with their USC so dollar Stablecoin, or our Bitcoin savings account, just to give you a sense, you pay 6.25% interest on your first half of Bitcoin. And our USC savings account pays nine and a half percent interest on Stablecoin on the US dollar on Stablecoin. And the additional products we have is people that use our flagship product and what people know us most for is our Bitcoin back loans.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (16:11):
So these are people that have Bitcoin and do not want to sell their Bitcoin, but want access to financing to either pay for school, buy a house, pay down their credit cards, invest in a new business, and they want to keep the upside of holding the Bitcoin. So what they do is they place their Bitcoin as collateral, and we give them a dollar loan. And then once they are able to repay the loan, they can get their Bitcoin back. And then if the Bitcoin went up in value, it continues to be their Bitcoin, then it never changed. And then we have another loan product that’s B2X, that’s basically the same loan product, but the proceeds are used to buy more Bitcoin and you can trade in between your savings accounts. So you’re always earning interest, even if you want to move from Bitcoin into UCC, or if you’re in UCC and waiting for the right time to buy Bitcoin, vice-versa, you’re always earning interest and that’s one of the things clients really like about the platform.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (17:00):
And then the things we do differently is we’re a centralized entity, so we’re a Canadian entity. And we have an amazing team, right now we’re over 65 people. We were the first lender ever to do a proof of reserves attestation with certified public accountants. So every six months we have an accountant that comes into Ledn, makes sure that the totals of all the assets that we’ve lent out to institutions and then totals all the assets that we have from clients and make sure that we have more assets than liabilities. And every one of our clients basically gets an anonymized ID code that they could use to log into the accountant’s website to make sure that the balance that we gave the accountant was in fact, their balance at the time. And so we crowdsource the liability side of the equation so that all of our clients can basically see that we did indeed give the accountant the right balances and the audits basically match to this associate to the scent and that’s something that we’re really proud of.
Adam Conner (17:56):
Okay, understood. So a couple of thoughts from me, first off, I don’t know a whole lot about using Bitcoin as collateral for things, but I do know one thing and that’s that those interest rates that you said are a lot higher than you would get at a typical bank with regular Fiat. But I will also say this because this seems to take the structure of financial instruments that most people are aware of with regards to savings and loans and things like that and apply them to a new and perhaps mostly unfamiliar type of currency for a lot of investors and including those that have been investing in different things for years and years and years, it might make them more comfortable, more familiar, more willing to dip their toes into this world and that’s great for you because more fans of this will arise, which means in this case, that you might work towards a more financially free world.
Adam Conner (18:47):
Here’s my rub and the most burning question I have in my mind here which is, Bitcoin’s purpose as a financial instrument is to be a decentralized currency. And by the way, correct me on any of this, because you’re more knowledgeable than I am. Fans or investors or users of the crypto, as we’ve just laid out during this interview have broad interests which quickly approach the breadth of all of humanity. It’s impossible to nail them down into one particular corner, though, they may have started in certain forms and now the movement has grown to be truly global and massive. You now run a brand that you hope retains a specific cohort of users of Bitcoin. How do you marry the user’s decentralized preference of the way they do finance with the need as a business to corral a centralized community of fans?
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (19:46):
That’s a really good question. So while Bitcoin has a decentralized ethos to it, a big saying within the crypto community is, it’s not your keys and it’s not your Bitcoin. So basically they say that if you don’t hold the keys to your Bitcoin, then they are not your Bitcoin. Essentially, if you have your Bitcoin at a custodial service then they are not really your Bitcoin, because somebody else has the private keys for it. And so that’s just to show you and illustrate how emphatic the community is around this sense of financial independence. Not depending on anyone to process a transaction for you other than yourself. Now, there are some services that by the pure nature of how these services are provided, they need to have a central coordinator or an entity that manages the lifeline of the financial service.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (20:41):
And in this case, that is true for both savings and loans, right? You can’t generate interest by lending a Bitcoin if you don’t give someone else the ability to lend that Bitcoin out for a higher interest rate, right? Or to do something with that Bitcoin in some cases. So savings and lending, and also if you want to put your Bitcoin as collateral just to access financing, you cannot do that by holding the keys to the Bitcoin like no lender. That means that the lender has absolutely no protection on Bitcoin as collateral. And so what happens and what we try to do with Ledn is understanding that we have to be a custodial service to offer the services that we do. We try to structure those services in a format that is as transparent as Bitcoin and way better than the current options that people might have today.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (21:41):
And I’ll give you an example, this proof of reserves protocol that I just mentioned to you earlier with the accounts coming in, Ledn was the first lending company in the world ever to do that. And the reason we did that is because Bitcoiners have another big saying in their community, which is don’t trust, verify. And so it’s not necessarily always about telling clients what you’re doing, it’s giving them the tools to validate that what you’re saying you’re doing is in fact what you are doing. So basically prove that you’re doing what you said you would.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (22:13):
And by doing these things, and by being very transparent and remaining focused and keeping our simplicity into the core assets that we think we can do better than anyone else has helped us connect with the Bitcoin community and we’ve crafted that message in to let them know that it’s not that we’re holding the Bitcoin because we feel like it, it’s because it’s necessary for us to carry out the activities that we do to make these services happen. And so under that premise, they’ve been very receptive to the way we operate.
Adam Conner (22:45):
Thank you for that explanation, just because I was having a really hard time putting those two things together and my guess is that there will always be a line to walk here when dealing with preferences versus realities versus perceptions versus inherent, I don’t want to say skepticism, but perhaps the pursuit of verifiable truth, especially when it comes to things like lending. So that’s very helpful. Now I want to speak to the other key word of our show, which is the future. What do you predict the financial services world, the FinTech world, and this question’s going to be huge, so just bear with me for a second, where do you think that FIS will have to go? Maybe not just in the next year, but in the next few years to attract people who trust you above and beyond what they do today. Essentially, what I’m asking is, how will brands continue to make their mark such that consumers choose them over themselves? If that makes sense over just managing their own finances.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (23:55):
I think that is a really great question and a question that many people are exploring right now and just to basically make sure that their brand is going to remain relevant and just in these changing times.
“My personal view is that people aren’t watching ads anymore. Everything has a skip function. Everybody has blinders on when you have banners. So my view is that most successful companies are basically going to have media or an in-house or work very closely with a particular media arm to produce engaging content that’s relevant to their consumers. And I think that’s not necessarily a revolutionary new idea. You’ve seen this in the likes of a memorable and that’s Red Bull who a lot of people know for their extreme sports and videos, but it’s an energy drink.”
— Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (23:59)
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (24:53):
And so that’s an example of a brand that uses content to just find a way to stay relevant. And yeah, another one that I can think of is Nike. So Nike had these amazing commercial around every world cup and it had the top players in the world just playing around and it was super engaging and fun to watch. And so I think that’ll become even more true in the years to come as people have more and more options to basically not watch ads and also people connect better with organic content. So I see that as a trend that is likely going to continue, and I think that’s where you’re going to gain fans because if people just want to use your product, they’ll be clients, but for people to be fans, they have to really be engaged with your mission and with where you’re going and with your values. And you have to communicate those often so that you can stay relevant I think.
Adam Conner (25:47):
I agree. And I’m excited to see how that world proliferates. It wasn’t too long ago that stock trading, at least in the US became appified. I mean, I don’t know how long, maybe five, six, seven years ago, and there was a craze and I don’t know how much trust there was, maybe not complete trust, but there was ardent fandom. This wave will come to crypto in a more mainstream way, not to say that it isn’t mainstream globally, but to the mainstream investor. And I look forward to seeing you lead the charge. So for teaching me a little bit more about it here, I really appreciate it, Mauricio, thank you for showing me the future a little bit and best of luck to you.
Mauricio Di Bartolomeo (26:32):
Oh, thanks a lot, man. You’re way too kind. And we’re happy to have everyone along for the ride. It’s an amazing time to be in.
Adam Conner (26:42):
Thanks again to Mauricio Di Bartolomeo for joining us. Crypto is undoubtedly a world mover and I appreciate you helping us understand that world a little better. And thanks to you, the listener for exploring The Future of Fandom with us, I’d encourage you to stay connected, so be sure to subscribe to The Future of Fandom, wherever you listen to your podcast asked, or you can also find all of our content at livelike.com and across socials, we’re also on LinkedIn at LiveLike and Twitter at LiveLike Inc. I look forward to predicting the future again with you soon, until then, I’m Adam Conner saying so long and thanks for being a fan.
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