Tales of a Crypto Nomad…
Hello and welcome back — all curious cryptonauts who are following my journey!
This is Part II in continuation of Diaries of a Daring Crypto Nomad!
Though cryptocurrencies, blockchain and ICOs intermix, one needs to distinguish Community 1 that is building protocols, applications, secondary and tertiary layer solutions on top of base layer protocols like ethereum, vis-a-vis Community 2 of speculators or Hodlers that props up cryptocurrencies and their valuations, and the third type of Community 3 that is doing ICOs. Let’s put all ICOs in one bucket for now, without being judgmental. Blogs like hackingdistributed.com do a much better job of ripping apart ICOs passionately!
Devcon3 is the most technical blockchain conference ever. Though targeted at ethereum devs, Community 1 above, it drew over 1800 people from all over the world from all 3 types of communities. Ethereum devs are technically proficient geeks who first believed in bitcoin, saw its pervasive applicability and actually did something to extend its use to the real world. They are the heart and soul of the worldwide blockchain industry, which explains ethereum’s unique position at the epicentre of this new crypto paradigm. Ethereum is both a widely adopted generic blockchain protocol and a highly successful cryptocurrency, because of this community! Highly successful protocol layer ICOs such as Tezos, EOS find it hard to build community because ethereum devs are a cult of fervent believers in Ethereum and its leader/ (s). It is a difficult and protracted, if not an impossible job for any new protocol to switch over dev numbers and loyalty, no matter how much funding it has.
“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending atleast 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it” — Steve Jobs
Vitalik is waiting to have his last laugh someday — “Don ko beat karna mushkil hi nahi na-mumkin hai”! That hasn’t stopped a contender from popping up every few months and proclaim itself an Ethereum-eater, like hashgraph for example, while zilliqa and zen have been less bombastic. But my guess is that “The Man-eater of Malgudi” hasn’t arrived yet for ethereum. Vitalik has also preemptively partnered with other interesting protocol-builders like Poon of Lightning to come up with Plasma, a tool that can in theory enable Visa and Nasdaq-like applications on ethereum. Note: Plasma paper was published a few months after I shared my white paper for a first of its kind decentralised stock exchange for real world securities with him, so thank you Vitalik.
Back to Devcon3: I was excited to meet Gavin Wood at Polkadot Party at Fiesta Americana, the man who famously coded Ethereum and Parity! We had met in Paris and London earlier. Gavin was to actually speak at our first ever Blockchain India summit alongside Vitalik in Dec 2016. I discussed some existing decentralised exchanges with Gavin. After dispelling some of my conceptions on DEX, he informed me he had built a rudimentary DEX in early days of ethereum, just to prove a use-case. I bought an option to chase him down in Berlin to discuss DEX protocols further!
ZK-Snarks were one of the more interesting topics discussed at Devcon3, and a session by Eli Ben Sasoon on polynomial reductions for Zero Knowledge Proofs was fascinating and filled to the brim. Ethereum integrated with ZK-Snarks would render it enterprise grade as most Banks and Financial Institutions and their modern day ICO competitors like us (Capital Coin) would care about transaction privacy and anonymity to be able to give a superior offering to customers! Market for the decentralised tokenised stock exchange would be the whole world comprising every single industry on the planet , as opposed to a market for any other decentralised applications which would be a small subset— as I explained to a crypto fund in Hong Kong yesterday. So for blockchain to go truly mainstream, blockchain would need to build features — scaleability, privacy, security, user interface and user friendliness. We as blockchian infrastructure builders are on a mission!
In Mexico, I squeezed a day trip to the Mayan pyramid and a rather daring dive in a 500 m deep Cenotes. I hadn’t dived in a long time and it felt like forever underwater! I wouldn’t have ventured a swim had it not been for a Wharton couple who vouched to lifeguard me and looked strong enough to do so. It was literally breath-taking. The countryside had an uncanny resemblance to India for its terrain and the automobiles. If someone blindfolded me and took me to the Mexican country side I would have guessed India! With all my travel disorientation, it was hard for me to tell where I was any given day, anyway! It was also a scorching day for late November, just like India.
After resting in London for a day, I left for Davos, Switzerland where D10e invited me to give a keynote at the famed Kongress Zentrum — where Premieres & World Leaders hold their sway during The World Economic Forum (WEF). Had a group dinner at Waldhuus and boarded the Bernina Express to Poschiavo next morning with about 100 other ICO folks. I have been on this World Heritage Site tour on Bernina via the breakth-taking Alp Grum dozens of times, and yet crypto folks from across the world, ICO jokes and crypto camaraderie made it different this time. We had the most amazing mountain lunch at a Swiss Chalet in Poschiavo and proceeded back to our hotels with filled stomachs. In an argument, I asked a novice who was finding every blockchain conference exceptional just because he attended it “Would you rather learn from a crypto founder, or from industry folks who have just learnt that blockchain can be useful in their industry too? Do you consider X and Y crypto founders, or do you believe yourself to be one? In which case I do not contest your claim! ” The till then friendly Indian origin person started to dread me. :P I took the stage as keynote speaker on 13 Nov 2017 the next morning.
Hey, that’s me speaking at Kongress Zentrum ; well-rehearsed and ready should the world stage beckon me at WEF. It was also a recce for The World ICO Showcase we plan to host on 22 Jan 2018, just before the WEF 2018 kickstarts. Disruptive and promising ICOs are welcome to join us in the snowcapped city which would play host to the most concentration of power and influence per square metre, come January! Would you miss it? An amazing dinner party followed at the very charming Swiss Chalet Alpenhof, where an inviting sauna, a wood fire, and the never ending banquet provided fleshly comforts to the winter destitutes on a snowy night. From Mexico to Davos was quite an adjustment to make!
I had planned to make a stop at Singapore Fintech Festival but stayed back for the ICO showcase in Davos on 14 Nov, and proceeded to Bengaluru Tech Festival directly, where I was invited by Govt. of Karnataka. I had no plans of a road show in India, but I could not turn down a Government invitation, because I usually give them a rough time about quality of invited speakers at Govt hosted events. So I can’t be critical of their choice, and be unavailable when they invite me too, can I? When you travel this much, it is no longer optimal to stop at a new city for less than 12 hours, no matter how much you rationalise the importance of an information and influence packed day. So I missed running into Christine Lagarde and attending the panel on stock exchanges in Singapore, opting for a night’s rest in Bangalore instead.
Banaglore was decked up for the Benagluru Tech Festival being hosted at the historical Bangalore Palace, a regal sight. Next day, our Blockchain panel was very well-informed, exciting, and wide-ranging with CTO and CIO of Wipro and SBI, and other blockchain experts, and I represented Ethereum India on the panel. I was welcomed rather warmly by my Indian audience. I had warned my panelists against slipping to the comfort of being a last resort for insomniacs! :P I knew too well that career neurotics need only find the right panel for their sleep elixir, when all other devices fail. So, I’d like to believe my precautions ensured the opposite effect where journalists were thronging me with questions, and were wide awake! I obliged with glee.
My family arrived at the palace to meet me after my panel discussion, having driven from my hometown 3 hrs away in Andhra Pradesh. I visited the Maker Faire the next day where Baiju, my classmate from IIT Madras was showcasing his daughter Sara’s invention of an IOT-based intruder alarm. He took me around the stalls and gave me a primer on each new gadget he found interesting. Baiju takes pleasure in teaching me always!
Niti Ayog (CEO Amitabh Kant) invited me as India’s guest to GES 2017 which was being held in Hyderabad, our old charming capital, abode of Charminar, the birth place of Kohinoor , and the City of pearls. My school-mate Ivanka Trump was the Chief Guest, who did her undergrad at UPenn during the same time I was doing my MBA at Wharton. Trump’s daughter was famous even in 2004! She had brought Trump, himself a Wharton alum, for our graduation ceremony.
It was an opportunity for me to get a Tech update on Telangana / Andhra Pradesh, my home state. We are the largest exporters of tech talent to the world, our primary education being strong in mathematics. Our erstwhile Chief Minister for the combined states, Shri Chandra Babu Naidu had famously wooed Bill Gates to Hyderabad in the 90s and Microsoft had found its home in Hi Tech City, where GES was now being held. I was informed by the CM that the strong ties Microsoft cultivated with Andhra over the decades led to fellow Andhra-born Satya Nadella becoming Microsoft CEO! :P Alas, Andhra got split into two states by political interests, with the old capital Hyderabad going to Telangana and the onus of having to build a new capital on Andhra Pradesh. But we in Andhra have taken up the challenge to build a world class city Amaravati, now being designed by world’s best architects.
Ivanka came off as a smooth socialite with her perfectly rehearsed talk, but underwhelming for an Upenn grad. She played safe like a politician-in-making, and didn’t come out of her famous dad’s shadows, who was also a Wharton alumni. Let’s discuss the dad in another post! :P It was a lost opportunity to inspire women and to drive home the point that women can be formidable. It was plain for everyone partaking in the dinner spectacle, that being seated next to Ivanka does not make one her family friend, nor does it impart cool! Even if it did, Ivanka was no representative of the POTUS, so it passed off for “chamchagiri” style of politics which Modi otherwise finds every pretext to bemoan and attack. Ivanka dined with Modi and KCR, looking rather affected in her social countenance.The statesmanly Telangana CM KCR, seated next to her, was dignified in his silence! He was not pretending to be her friend, nor trying to look cool, and he was also letting PM have his way. Smart KCR! :P
The hypocrisy of BJP laid bare for an international audience — while vehemently complaining of dynasty politics in India, Modi had gone out of his way to invite the President’s daughter Ivanka as a state guest just to raise his cool quotient. So.. not family politics you see!
Telangana Govt pulled out at all stops to give the guests a taste of the princely Hyderabadi hospitality. It dawned on me how unfair the split was to Andhras, to lose a cultural heritage like Hyderabad’s, and how challenging it would be to build Amaravati. But we will leverage this opportunity to architect a new city that will set new world standards. A celestial dinner was arranged at the Taj Falaknuma Palace on a hillock under the star lit sky wher chef after chef stirred his delectable dish. As our cavalcade of dozens of buses ferrying global entrepreneurs made its way, traffic was stopped and hordes of hyderabadis gathered on roads to take a glimpse and wave! A showcase of Indian fashion and textiles, and a cultural melange accompanied the alfresco supper — the most lavish Mughal banquet I ever witnessed. The feast was fit for a prince with a dozen varieties of the succulent hyderabadi biryani — it was a challenge to pick one from the endless biryani options. In my younger days, I used to cook up a storm with my culinary skills — specially the slow-simmered variety. An artist takes pleasure in the sensuous and the creative.
The next evening, an even more bewitching cultural extravaganza awaited us at Golconda Fort, which was the highlight of GES! As many artists poured down on stage exemplifying the glory of Hyderabad, the deccan pride which was once home to the most coveted Kohinoor, the light show on the ramparts of Golconda mesmerised one and all reminding one of the resplendence of Baahubali and Maga Dheera for its sheer scale, glamour and inspiration. It instantly transported me to my childhood where I was an inspired Telugu poetess when I was barely 16!
A detour to my peaceful childhood:
Remarkably, whereas I found every other subject a breeze, I had found Telugu grammar with strange components, not seen in any other language, like ‘vibhakti”, the most challenging to master. Yet, once I mastered it I enjoyed the “rasa” — essence of rich telugu literature with its complexity of nuances, and was penning poems in telugu and writing essays quite young. This is what I enjoy and cherish most about my childhood. I was a master of not only the hard sciences but also sublime literature. I would find these gifts divine, even within me. It would be quite strange to explain. :P Even though I come from a muslim family where we do not speak telugu at home, I was proficient not only in the language but also in the south indian dance forms without training under any guru. This is the reason the superstar Deepika Padukone reminds me of myself, as her rendition of south indian dances is divine, and no less than any professional danseuse! As a child, the only art I was clueless about was painting, which magically came to me in my adult years without much effort on my part and overtook all my other artistic expressions!
The resplendence of Golconda magnified the stories recounted on its stone walls where the show was screened — the valour of Rudrama Devi, the courtiers of Telugu dynasties juxtaposed with the elegance of the mughal harems in long flowing robes. Eastern Chalukyas, Nizams of Hyderabad, Vijayanagara kings, cholas, Satavahanas, Kakathiyas...the love of arts that era came to represent for centuries to come, and the tales buried in the thick walls of Golconda… Oh Hyderabad, I love you so..
My childhood came alive in one evening. Usually one can have any experience, but one rarely gets to revisit one’s childhood! How grateful was I for this rich dream-like mirage with the magic of my childhood! My whole childhood - which was filled with telugu Chandamama stories, classrooms under trees reminiscent of Tagore’s Shantiniketan, and my bharatanatyam dance performances in my idyllic hometown Kadiri — came to life! I was unable to contain the joy, and was swaying to the performances. I was moved! Sania Mirza walked in, an incredible girl who was the first international sports superstar and a true hyderabadi muslim girl! She is a rare gem because I understand what it takes for muslim girls to choose unconventional careers and become accomplished global stars. Once you are so accomplished you start to break regional and even international barriers because first your country and then humanity takes pride in you. She is a lioness on and off the court. She inspired a generation of sports stars like Saina and Sindhu to follow suit. Sania is so beautiful that many girls in her place would have been content to bask in the glory of idle beauty. But fission and fusion are in the very origin and nature of a star! They burn incandescently to leave a trail for ages to come! Sania, I love you! For the pride you give India, and for holding a torch for muslim girls who struggle to break so many barriers.
From Hyderabad I flew to Singapore and hosted a meetup for Ethereum fans at the Swissotel Merchant Court. People appreciated being able to come together and have informal chats.
China calling again! I entered Macau to a dazzling welcome at casino hotel — Studio City Macau and had dinner with fellow speakers Mario Pazos and other rather youthful Asian investors. The next day I would be an opening speaker for 800 people, and I did not know yet that the superstardom I had left behind in my childhood was awaiting me just around the corner. :P
Feedback from my audience to my “Great Gamblers of Crypto” speech was heartening. It heightened my performance and made me even more impassioned and energetic. This is the energy stage artists talk of when they compare it with acting in movies vs acting on stage. I exhorted my crypto gamblers — who had flown in hundreds from all over China — to not just satisfy themselves playing flapjack and the occasional win in another’s casino, but to own and build more proverbial casinos — of the crypto world, and to build a new economy. By feedback, I do not yet mean the words they said to me afterwards, but how they reacted to me on stage. Lifting me up, making me float on subtler wavelengths of higher energy. Altered consciousness! My best performances are spontaneous, and are brought out by people as I do not speak to the script. That is why I commented on Ivanka’s speech earlier. I am grateful to people, for they brought out the speech and the speaker in me. For a different audience, my talk would have been entirely different and possibly flat too!
Actions speak loud. Here I was being thronged by Chinese women who were pouring love on me, as they perhaps saw in me an unspeakable force, that their language processing hemisphere could not grasp. First of all, no woman loves or compliments another, unless their life depends on it! :P Chinese women are aggressive go-getters and I would have thought would brook no competent rival for anything including generic attention. I was wrong. An unexpected befuddling phenomenon for me! I had somehow sheared through thick mental barriers and had penetrated their hearts, which is what speakers and global leaders strive towards for their entire lives! I normally struggle to speak much. I am normally reticent unless I am in love, but here the eloquence was coming from outside of me. It was like getting an acknowledgement from the outer world for the invisible stuff that you do secretly. You see, it is all connected. We are all the same substance bonded by a universal force called love. So when you mobilise the same force within you, the universe responds unfailingly. I had moved them. A rare epiphany came to me why they say to lead is to serve.
Many gave me concrete feedback — that some didn’t even understand what I said but they could feel my energy and message and were left very inspired nevertheless! How thankful I am to Satoshi and his bitcoin for this mysterious ability to inspire strangers without even relying on language! Stuff of the divine!
I strolled around vast casinos of Macau that strechted across miles and wondered what makes gambling so addictive. I had not had enough of Hong Kong on my last trip with a tightly packed schedule, so took a ferry here from Macau and got to attend Vitalik Buterin’s talk on Blockchain Governance hosted by Jehan Chu 8 Dec 2017.
A canadian crypto fan in HK read my Crypto Diaries and asked me when I would be giving a talk in Hong Kong. So we are looking to arrange a talk in HK this week. Let us know if you can help host talks, reach investors, find a kick ass team, join us on our journey!
Here is a tentative schedule for an extra ordinary World ICO Showcase
8 Jan Seoul , South Korea
10 Jan Shanghai, China
12 Jan Tokyo, Japan
16 Jan Mumbai, India
22 Jan Davos, Switzerland (Just before The World Economic Forum)
Any inspirational blockchain projects or ICOs are welcome to participate. I will be talking alongside participating ICOs. Get in touch with email@example.com if interested.
Are you with the fearless girl, or with the bull?
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. http://dgcamp.io
More from Arifa on Medium:
My long-awaited trip to China came most unexpectedly in September 2017. Since visiting China, I have been coming back…medium.com