The Story of Cryptocurrency is Being Written in the Developing World. Few in the West are Reading It.

Matt Ahlborg
5 min readJul 23, 2019

Introducing Matt Ahlborg’s dlab:Emurgo Fellowship Project

Hello! My name is Matt Ahlborg and I am a data scientist, analyst, and long time observer of Bitcoin. I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska and now reside in New York City. Today I am going to tell you about an exciting opportunity that I’ve been given while also outlining how it will benefit you, the reader. But before I get into that, I would like to share an anecdote about my own personal path “down the rabbit hole” of Bitcoin knowledge because I think that it will resonate with many others who share my background and give some context to the direction in research that I’m going.

Obligatory picture of a stack of de-valued Venezuelan Bolivars as is required for blog posts of this nature (taken by me from AirTM’s office in Mexico City earlier this year)

If you go onto crypto-twitter these days you will find no shortage of folks waxing poetic, seemingly-profound thoughts about what Bitcoin is, what it isn’t, and what it will be in the future. Some of these people even claim that they, upon reading the Satoshi white paper for the first time, had a “Eureka” moment of sorts where all of a sudden, a bolt of lightning hit them and they realized that Bitcoin was the future. My experience was different. When I read the paper sometime in 2014, the methods and mechanisms outlined therein did indeed seem novel and interesting to me, but it wasn’t until I put some time into learning about the world in which Bitcoin exists that I began to have my own series of Eureka moments.

For those of us residing in advanced economies which already have comparatively free, secure, convenient, and efficient value storage and transfer systems, the idea of Bitcoin may not resonate no matter how many degrees we have or what papers we’ve read. In order to truly understand the value propositions of cryptocurrency, one must often look outside of one’s own environment and peer into the corners of the world where these value transfer systems are lacking or do not exist at all.

With that realization in mind, in February of this year, I posted a blog to Medium which aggregated trading data from and I made the argument that Bitcoin was indeed providing utility to people living in certain socioeconomic and geopolitical environments. On the whole, I was able to show that Bitcoin usage consistently gravitated towards certain environments, and that utility, not speculation, was likely driving their usage. And as much as I learned investigating the patterns found within the data from LocalBitcoins, the real learning started afterwards when users and companies connected to this ecosystem engaged me and shared their own individual context on this data as it related to their own lives and experiences. Since then, I’ve learned a staggering amount about how this secret world of peer-to-peer cryptocurrency exchange works and I’ve been trying to frame my career in such a way that I could tell this story to the world.

Today I am happy to say that I have found the answer. It is with great excitement that I inform you that SOSV/Emurgo’s dlab in New York City has awesomely agreed to pay me to continue my research on the burgeoning phenomenon of utility usage of cryptocurrency in developing countries. During this research fellowship, I will be building a public-facing online dashboard with rich, accurate, and well-maintained data sets relating to this phenomenon. Additionally, I will also be publishing regular blog posts where I will provide qualitative context gained from users and other peers in the cryptocurrency space alongside the quantitative data displayed to the dashboard. The final result of this fellowship will be an analysis of these developing country use cases at a fidelity which has never before been seen in the community.

In addition to blog posts which give broad explanations of each interesting new data set I bring into the online dashboard, I will also be taking the time to write in-depth analysis on particular countries as they relate to the following use case categories which I’ve observed in research so far:

  • Capital Flight
  • Remittance
  • Financial Access
  • Online Payments
  • Digital Micro Services and Freelancing

The first data sets that I will be looking at will be from LocalBitcoins and Paxful. I am choosing these data sets because a majority of their users come from the places in the world that I am interested in, and also because they, true to the spirit of Bitcoin, provide trading data of sufficient granularity to allow for detailed analysis by data scientists such as myself. Future datasets to be integrated into the platform will be blockchain agnostic and prioritized according to the level at which they help further understand utility usage of cryptocurrency globally. Some candidates for future data sets include:

  • Bisq Decentralized Exchange
  • Abra
  • AirTM
  • Uphold
  • LocalEthereum
  • MakerDAO and the DAI ecosystem
  • Bitrefill
  • Google Trends
  • Alexa
  • A host of other small exchanges in developing countries of which you’ve likely not heard of

Admittedly, some of these entities have yet to give analysts such as myself access to their data. So uh, please respond to my request when you receive it. :)

In just the last couple of weeks, the President, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States all opined on cryptocurrency. Their posture towards it was widely perceived to be defensive. We have now entered into the reality that cryptocurrency is on trial by the most powerful governments in the world. Consequently, it is important now more than ever that as much information as possible is made about these burgeoning use cases so that we may bring this evidence to trial as well. Over the next six months to a year, I look forward to embarking on this adventure with you, the reader, in hopes that we may study and shed light on the full truth behind what is happening with cryptocurrency globally so that it may be allowed to flourish on into the future. If you are interested in following me along on this journey, please follow me on Medium and Twitter in order to receive updates on the progress that I’ve made. Stay tuned, you will be hearing from me again very soon!