Diaries of a Daring Crypto Nomad — Part 1
My long-awaited trip to China came most unexpectedly in September 2017. Since visiting China, I have been coming back to Asia every few weeks.
I want to share with you the highlights from my most amazing Crypto Tour Around the World in the past 4 months.
Having traveled around the globe, and spent years living in three continents Europe, USA and Asia, I would be expected to be confident about my crypto tour to Asia. But, no the prospect of going to China unsettled me so I took an entourage with me. I had always wanted to explore the Chinese terrain and the befuddling contrasts of its diaspora, from a curious traveller’s standpoint. But, I ended up cutting my teeth as a crypto speaker in China. Though the english proficiency of the chinese would have helped any aspiring public speaker!
Chinese goods are everywhere. Their imports in India having risen from Rs 1.5 Trillion to over Rs 2 trillion in just one year post India’s drastic demonetisation saga that bled its labour intensive small and medium enterprises to a slow agonising death. So one is aware of China’s manufacturing edge and the surfeit labour supply at rock bottom wages. On the other hand, the second generation offspring of wealthy chinese millennials are conspicuously present at every western high-end shopping destination, as purveyors of rare art and now ICOs. So China has come to not only represent the brash displays of the nouveau riche, but also money on rocket fuel, searching for new moons, raring to go to stratospheres it has not gone before — like the crypto world.
We kicked off the tour with a stop in Dubai and hosted a Dubai ICO Summit on 5 Sep with 3 other ICOs — Brickblock , New Alchemy, and Sweetbridge. From Dubai we proceeded to Singapore where we addressed 300 people at NUS campus. The next day in Hong Kong, crowds were bursting at seems at Garage Society. While other speakers talked about their ICO proposition, I talked about my idea of A Decentralised Global Capital Markets Platform — DGCAMP — that I had been working on for the good part of 2017. Somehow over the course of these talks, perhaps drawing from audience’s energy and love, I morphed from a mere presenter of a pitch to a visionary arousing people’s emotions. I was surprised by the outcome. My audience started to share with me highly charged emotional states such as “I feel your angst about the current system of banking, and it is time for something like this”. A girl in Hong Kong told me “I don’t know much about blockchain technology or banking but I am so touched by your vision that I just want to accompany you wherever you go”. My audience was empowering me!
The Annual Ethereum India Summit I had hosted at Taj Mahal Mumbai featuring Vitalik Buterin as Chief Guest earlier in May 2017 had given me the fillip to embark on this ambitious project. I was complaining to Vitalik presciently that he wasn’t dispensing his world famous advice to me, and he had asked me — so what do you want to do? Soon, I was to learn , within weeks infact, that I had company in Russian President Putin who also solicited Vitalik’s advice in a similar impromptu conversation! So Vitalik’s question inspired me to do something legendary. Moral: Everything a legend speaks — no matter how plain — has a legendary impact!
Eventful as always with my odysseys, no sooner had I stepped foot in Beijing to attend a crypto conference on a september sunday, than I learnt that China had pulled its curtains on all things crypto and so the conference was called off rather abruptly. The Global Annual Blockchain Summit awaited me just a few days later in Shanghai, so I did not lose heart. I enrolled in an introduction to China program and heard an insightful talk on Chinese economy and demographics by the Dean of a Chinese Business School. The program was to introduce startup founders like myself to chinese economy. My idea had been to tour the globe and introduce the idea of crypto disruption to capital markets , which encompasses every single industry on earth — totalling over USD85 trillion at last count, that would dwarf every single crypto application, Dapp , and protocol in its scope. I was also enthused by the ambitious vision of my project and its grand scale — to put the power of decentralisation and access to far away capital markets in the hands of every global citizen , entity and government that wanted to raise capital by issuing real securities instruments — like stocks and bonds — but with the ease, swiftness and simplicity of a coin sale. Surely such a widely impactful idea warranted education of the global community, and I had to start somewhere. Community building is the real challenge for even the most successful ICOs, as the value of the coin derives from community’s adoption and not from money pumped into it.
I reckoned that the real challenge for a project of this stature would be to build a global following of believers, who would ultimately use the platform. The project is utopian in nature. This would be one of the first few projects, if not the only one, to take crypto mainstream. Imagine a widget manufacturer in Taiwan or a cruise operator in Alaska or a Robot manufacturer in Tokyo that had nothing to do with blockchain, being able to raise money in public markets through a coin-like offering, by offering real securities instead of tokens, which in most cases represent nothing.
I had not announced the ICO and there was no deadline as such and so undeterred by the fresh Chinese ban, I proceeded to use the trip to interact with the community and learn about what hindrances there might be for mass adoption. DGCAMP was the only ICO in the Chinese program among a batch of a dozen startups— like Rainfin — the online lending platform from South Africa, which were looking to give away equity for funding. And since ICOs were banned, I relaxed and let go of any pressure to quickly find investors. As I told fellow participant Nicole who was nervous before every pitch - “ Trust me Nicole, not a single one of our pitches is going to get funded on this trip, not you, not me, not anyone else, so relax and go and tell your story the way you would tell a friend. What’s there to stress so much about describing a dating app?. Forget that you are pitching to an audience who has to be persuaded.” She told me I was her best public speaking coach and became a friend. We also visited the Chinese Amazon — JD.com — and an Artificial Intelligence Company. I had begun to get a taste of China’s edge in technology even before we took off to Shanghai on a 6 hour train ride. The ride was a group pitch practice where everyone was pitching to every one else. I asked Altesh, Rainfin CEO who was sitting next to me to hear my pitch. Altesh patiently listened to my elevator pitch again and again until I became confident. He is a clear-headed entrepreneur with crisp words, so it wasn’t surprising that we got my pitch to a minimalist punch.
In Shanghai, we practised a bit of Taichi the next morning before meeting a few more companies like Fosun Group on the Bund. The group then headed to Shenzhen but I stayed back in Shanghai for the highlight of my China trip — The Annual Global Blockchain Summit by Wangxian Labs, where I met the great Nick Szabo! I hung on to every word he spoke, with the greatest concentration I could muster. He transported me to an altered consciousness just with his aura. I had not studied much about Nick Szabo before this. So I was able to get his essence first-hand through sheer permeation, and with no preconceived notions. The phenomenal Nick is more curious, humble, and eager to learn than any other genius I have ever encountered. This complemenetd by his unmissable aura convinced me I was standing in presence of a great legend. Though our initial encounter was brief, as luck would have it, I kept running into him unexpectedly for the next few hours at various corners of W and managed to have a conversation with him. I exclaimed to Nick “ You are the only person other me speaking about decentralising financial markets! I thought I was the first and only one. I have heard no one else speak about this.” (I know many would object to this statement, but it is true and I don’t owe any of the others who take offense to my statement an answer or explanation. As Nick would put it, there is nothing interesting about them — the other blockchain projects in finance! ) I discussed my decentralised capital markets project which intrigued him, and also advanced protocols for scaleability. I am a big believer in serendipity. Many such awe-inspiring things have happened in my life without me actively playing a part. For those I am grateful.
For someone who has spent over a decade in Europe never needing to interpret a foreign language, Mandarin came as a complete somersault. I could hardly communicate with the curious Chinese housewives who wanted to take swimming pool selfies with me in Beijing, nor could I convey a simple message that I wanted purely vegetarian food. And here were full-fledged presentations in entirely interesting colour schemes and formats that would be too outlandish for the western world! But it sufficed to convey the initial impression that China was ahead of the other global economies, in its race for tech domination. I stayed at the W hotel, which was the most exhilarating hotel stay I ever, I still recall its fragrance. I called a Shanghai meetup and hosted my DGCAMP talk at the Westin on Bund. Luckily, wherever I was hosting these meetups, a sizeable group would turn up even at very short notice. The audience would promise to be my local accomplices and help us build the community in future. It hit me for the first time that the West was not in a tech leading position anymore. The Chinese know it when they see a good thing, and they want it now. That sharp Asian instinct! For a first trip, it intrigued me and I promised to spend more time in Asia. I have since returned to Asia a third time now, as I type this from my room in Studio City Macau after my most impactful talk so far delivered at Hybrid Summit.
Back to September. Someone invited me to speak in Thailand at a Blockchain meetup, which I accepted and booked a day trip to Bangkok before going to Seoul the next day for another talk. But I later cancelled the Bangkok trip because the flight schedule was looking crazy even for an indefatigable me deriving energy from mysterious sources every single day. I still had a long tour ahead of me, with more speaking invitations in Kiev, Brussels and Paris before returning to base in London where I planned to sit down and progress on my technical white paper. I had published the preliminary paper in July just a month after returning from my India trip where I hosted the Blockchain India Week with Vitalik.
A few weeks in London, I got invited by one of the investors who was impressed with my pitch in China to visit him again in Malaysia. So I took the longest flight of my life to-date (13.5 hours) Garuda Indonesia from London to Shanghai via Jakarta. I was stopping in Shanghai to attend Slush Shanghai where I met a young team of japanese organisers, but ended up giving much of the event a miss and proceeded to Kualalumpur. But not before visiting the salons and the fabric market and getting a bit of a fashion quick fix in Shanghai. I am convinced, no one has ever survived a crazier crypto road-show than me!
In Kualalumur, crypto enthusiasts gathered at The Garden Hotel, where my host had organised my public talk. I was heartened to see a lot of young pretty girls in the audience. The girls told my host that they now know more about blockchain than a blockchain expert who had earlier visited them, thanks to my talk. I also recruited a couple of team members who were eager to join my project at any cost. They were egging me on that we should start executing the project right away and not wait for funding! They joined me on the spot!
My Malaysian host and his wife were most gracious. When they showed up in exactly similar attire for our mouth-watering lunch, I dug more both into my dishes and into their love story and found out it was filled with much hollywoodish drama. Here I had thought my life had the most drama. They are a couple much in love, and I found myself enjoying their company and trust. I made a brief 8 hour stop in Chennai on my way back to Europe and gave a talk at IIT Chennai, my alma mater which drew audience from Mumbai even. I had not seen my family in India since May but my sister living in Chennai spent the day with me and observed that I was now drawing people magnetically and that I had acquired a certain mysterious something that was making me a star effortlessly!
More fascinating interludes awaited me in Dubai enroute to Europe in October 2017, where Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and his delegation were visiting the UAE government. I arrived at Four Seasons Resort from the airport and presented DGCAMP to a team of advisers to the Chief Minister who were curious to experiment with it in Amaravati and learn more about crypto. As i laid down my special wisdom on crypto with example use cases for the state, one man exclaimed that “I had always found you a cookie, now I think I know why”. It was the first time someone was calling me a cookie so I asked him what he meant. He said he had always found me a bit eccentric! As a special adviser to the Chief Minister, he insisted that I absolutely must make a proposal for a coin for Telugu Desam Party and I drafted a proposal then and there. We also struck a deal that if this proposal were to see light of the day, I would be the architect of this coin. I was now ready to be CryptoCurrency adviser to the Telugu Desam Party!
Having had an audience of the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu at the World Economic Forum Davos Switzerland in January 2017, where I had made a detailed presentation on how Andhra Pradesh can leverage the promise of this new economy, I now make it a point to update him on new ideas whenever we have an opportunity. So I took the same flight as him from Dubai to London and informed that I had an idea for him. The next day I managed to hand in my proposal for “TDP Coin” to Chandra Babu Naidu at a London award ceremony where he and his wife were both receiving some awards. So if you ever see a crypto coin created by a political party for their party workers, you know where the idea came from. I met many TDP party loyalists in London who were camping at the hotel for days, with the sole intention of stalking the Chief Minister whenever he entered or exited the hotel! So we Andhra folks in London had some fun Andhra meals together :P
The next morning I stepped foot in rather cold Turkey, and enjoyed the turbulent boat ride over the Bosphorous for a pre-conference dinner with other speakers that night. Finding Eyal seated next to me, I couldn’t resist bringing up Emin Gun Sirer’s “Bancor is flawed” which had made me an Emin fan. I was to later learn from Devcon3 that Emin is Turkish! In Istanbul, I was for some reason permeated with thoughts of super-star Amitabh Bachchan and his highly romantic song-and-dance interludes with the most desirable women of his era. I for some inexplicable reason was feeling very gorgeous, and floating on highly romantic feelings directed nowhere. I attributed it to the old world magnificence of Istanbul, which would have tales of shopping soirees of many a princess buried in its labyrinthine Grand Bazaar. I gave a talk on decentralisation of capital markets, which was very well received. Also shared a cab with Ransu of Token Market to Grand Bazaar.
Hosted a crypto meetup the next evening at Levant co-working space, which the kind manager let us have. I arrived at the meetup a bit late. My audience reminded me I had better start the talk right away as people had sacrificed their friday evenings to come and listen to me. Apparently I did not disappoint, as they were reluctant to let go of me even after a 150 min talk and wanted to ask more questions so we headed to an old turkish restaurant where they bought me turkish dinner. Talked to everyone at dinner which somehow moved them, and they all volunteered to be my Istanbul team organising themselves into an Ethereum Istanbul WhatsApp group. The evening was fun. A young woman told me she was feeling this strong aura around me, and asked me if i was Satoshi :O I told her she was right about the aura, and that she could call me Istanbul’s Satoshi :P Among them was Halit — a young college kid who wanted to learn more about blockchain and I teasingly called him Istanbul’s Vitalik Buterin.
I left again to Europe to speak at an ICO Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.
Who is a cross between Houdini, Bolt and Jaadu ?
Who is Jaadu? He is an endearing movie character , the closest alien our Indian imagination could come up with in Hrithik Roshan starrer alien movie ‘Koi Mil Gaya’. Who is Bolt? Usain Bolt of course!
I flew back to London via Kiev. in Kiev, a woman from USA came to see me to discuss crypto. I quickly learnt she was grieving over her father’s death and ended up sharing wisdom on grief and loss, nothing to do with crypto. She told me she would be in India later for GES 2017 with Ivanka Trump’s USA delegation which I attended too. I rested in London for 2 days before flying to Cancun Mexico, for the most exciting Devcon3! As soon as I entered the convention centre, late as usual, around afternoon, Vitalik greeted me on the escalator. There it was — my instant ROI for the long trip and the longer immigration queues at the Mexico city airport.
A detour to space and to 2016:
If you are thinking I would have pinned Vitalik down immediately for some discussion, I am afraid I will have to tell you, you don’t know Vitalik — because he is a defter Houdini, disappearing from the sight of the most vigilant and sharp-sighted of us, sometimes literally sprinting away, heels to his hips. Yes he gives even an athlete the slip. :P Like he did when he first tasted Gol Gappas at the wedding reception of Nitin Gadkari Ji’s daughter in Delhi and my nephew Sohail had been teasing him running away with water and got a good chase by Vitalik. To be fair, this back reference was to 2016 when Ethereum had not landed on moon, and when Vitalik’s possible alien lineage wasn’t as widely known. It was only late in Nov 2017 that Buterin Sr publicly issued a clarification on Vitalik’s genetic lineage on both parents’ side. Yet, Vit had caught my little nephew’s attention. Just as a failed bollywood celebrity had caught Vit’s attention! The very formal wedding party of a VVIP was apparently intrigued about this alien looking thing sprinting in their midst. Given the high security, and the entourage of Prime Minister and President that had just visited the party, and the international consensus on Vit’s alien looks, it was an alarming thing to witness Vit’s instant acceleration as if he was suddenly in a Monaco circuit of Formula One. Do you now get what an Indian spice (chilli or mirchi) can do to the most composed?!
India’s intelligence is smarter than the world has you believe. We are better than Artificial Intelligence in facial recognition, so Vit escaped scrutiny. But, you forget who he was with! Being an athlete myself, I found Vit’s athleticism not too shabby. So, when I recently saw a desperate crypto bid for fitvitalik.io ICO in Nov 2017, I found myself berating the current breed of ICOs. How dare someone attempt to displace me from the self-appointed post of Vitalik’s fitness monitor. Attempts to assuage my ire by offering me advisership to said ICO only irked me further.
Back to Cancun Devcon3. I was pleased to see him in a different set of pastel T-shirts this time, the best of which had an yellow cheshire cat which he had carefully picked for a day with the Foundation colleagues post-conference. Cancun was filled with parties both official, and impromptu. We threw our DGCAMP party at the beach side shack of the Intercontinental hotel, where we drowned ourselves in the most calming crypto conversations by sea waves and edibly alluring white sands (which I was informed was all a certain fish poo)!
I met another remarkably witty Turkish man Dr Emin Gun Sirer of Cornell, who was more charming in person than his social media presence. I enjoyed his keynote on Smart Contracts, which was one of the more understood talks of Devcon! :P We discussed further on his piece “ Bancor is flawed”, which I had started earlier on the Bosphorous with Bancor’s Founder Eyal, and I invited Dr Emin to join us as an esteemed adviser of our ICO.
It is no longer a matter of debate that we are approaching crypto-singularity, and irreversibly so. We are at a special inflection point in human kind’s history where we have an unique opportunity to give the world the magic gift of decentralisation and go down as legends. I consider myself extremely lucky to be living in such momentous times and to be a part of this special breed of fearless adventurers, working with the tallest intellectual giants our civilisation has ever seen! One moment spent with the legends is equivalent to lifetimes of inspiration. My life is full of such awesome moments and even more awesome legends. For which I am immensely grateful!
With so much awesomeness flooding my life, I wonder how I am even able to function normally..
More coming up shortly on Davos Switzerland talk at D10e, Bengaluru Tech Summit, Paris, Singapore etc and the best ever blockchain disruption since bitcoin and ethereum. Stay tuned!
unstoppbale cash — bitcoin by Satoshi Nakamoto
unstoppbale computing — ethereum by Vitalik Buterin
unstoppbale capital — Capital Coin by Arifa Khan
Series to be continued…
The author Arifa Khan is Founder of Capital Coin ICO powering an ambitious global stock exchange on blockchain — Decentralised Global Capital Markets Platform/ DGCAMP. She is Ethereum India Partner, a former investment banker with Credit Suisse and UBS, and adviser to Government of India on international bond financing and to Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh on blockchain technology. By education, she is a mathematician and an engineer from IIT Madras, and an MBA from Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, USA.