Part one of an interview series with SingularDTV Co-Founder Arie Levy-Cohen, titled Un-shrugging Atlas, focused on blockchain and economic philosophy.
As one of the first successful, large-scale token generation events in Ethereum history all the way back in 2016, SingularDTV and the (ever-growing) team behind it have seen first hand the triumphs and tribulations that come with pioneering a new technology, a new business model, and a complete reorganization of the economics and infrastructure of an industry — in this case, entertainment.
Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer Arie Levy-Cohen, alongside founders Joseph Lubin, Zach LeBeau and Kim Jackson, has provided the guiding set of values for the SingularDTV organization, driven by the notion of coopetition (a portmanteau of cooperation and competition) and a holistic understanding of how concurrent evolutions in both finance and entertainment can be merged with the ever-expanding potential of blockchain tech.
With SingularDTV launching decentralized applications in the past year — maybe the most important of them being creator tokenization platform Tokit — Levy-Cohen et al have moved beyond potential, crossing the chasm between intention and execution. In turn, the team has achieved learnings that can guide the next generation of blockchain innovators towards better and best practices, both in philosophy and practice.
As we enter the next phase of blockchain adoption, with legacy and institutional elements entering the fray, we sat down with Arie Levy-Cohen to discuss coopetition, the state of the blockchain industry, and how the decentralization movement can uphold its values as we move towards mainstream adoption…
SingularDTV operates at the intersection of evolution in the two seemingly disparate sectors of economics and entertainment. How does the relationship between the two guide the company’s efforts?
In the world of finance and economics, we have lost our confidence in the middlemen and service providers. The entire financial system is underpinned by several values that most people around the world no longer trust. This is happening at the same as we are rising in a trustless consensus based process, which is the blockchain. That decline and that rise are happening simultaneously. This mirrors the decline of confidence in the Hollywood system vis-a-vis middlemen, non-transparent accounting, cooking of the books. It is particularly exciting to bring blockchain into Hollywood and entertainment because there’s so much chicanery taking place in that space. That’s what launched artists like Gramatik to do what he did with SingularDTV.
What we do is provide a mechanism to arrest those incentives away from the hands of those middlemen and provide more equitable access to others by way of giving the artist and creators the power. Hollywood is not the only sector experiencing this transition. It’s actually the financial, monetary, and economic systems experiencing this transition. We are riding the wave of that transition and applying all those improvements to the Hollywood economy, but they’re happening also in engineering, in healthcare, they will happen in aviation, in trade finance. They will happen in every economic specialization and sector.
There have been a number of blockchain startups popping up that claim to take on the legacy entertainment business. What are some common mistakes you see them making?
I don’t like to compare ourselves to others. I don’t believe that captures the essence of what blockchain is about. I believe SingularDTV is unique because — without comparing ourselves to anyone else — we just happened to have done it first, and we made all of the mistakes that none of them have made, just because we’ve been around for longer. We’re the old dudes in the blockchain space in this echelon of practice. In that regard, we just have more knowledge that was experienced and turned into wisdom. That is only possible by being willing to make mistakes. And that’s not mistakes from the traditional definition, but the willingness to try new things that lead to success in ways that are not traditional. To us, being here today talking about this is success already. Comparing ourselves to others is very difficult, because we are the Hollywood economy attempt to bring about coopetition and shared interests, and most of the folks I see out there are choosing very narrowly focused applications.
What is the notion of coopetition all about?
I live by the concept of coopetition by bringing about all players to offer their best value. Coopetition comes, for me, from the concept that we need to ensure that the planet survives so that we can all then have the chance to compete with each other in whatever ways we want. We are in a massive phase transition where the old economy, the old systems of finance, the centralized operating systems that rule the world, the totalitarian, top-down approach that arrests the value and makes you a serf to the system, is about to be turned on its head. The value will go to the periphery for a short period of time, while the centralized operators in the middle regroup and a new financial, economic, monetary, political, and controlling technological system will emerge that will give rise to the next financial and monetary system of the next century.
The evolutions from there are beyond our dreams. It’s what we cannot anticipate that is most exciting. And that is not something anyone can stop, but it’s about ushering that responsibly, being stewards of the transition. And that transition is global. Coopetition is required, so that all of the best minds can come together to create a brand new economy around what actually unites people.
How have you seen the blockchain space develop, particularly in relation to where we were at this time last year?
The biggest difference between this time now last year and this year: Goldman Sachs bought Poloniex. Nasdaq just announced that it’s going to explore becoming a crypto token trading marketplace on the heels of several token exchanges declaring their intentions of becoming licensed to trade crypto-securities. If you look at the Gantt chart of the diffusion of innovation, what the marketplace is telling you is that the early majority is here. We have breached the chasm of the innovators and early adopters, and we’re into the early majority stage. The MMA — mergers and acquisitions — phase is here, and the big boys are here.
All of this means that blockchain and digital currency have now become an institutionally accepted and a global game. They are going to adopt and inset into their own structure like it was theirs. And that’s an order of magnitude more activity than has ever taken place in this space. They’re no longer saying ‘we’re afraid to test out this technology.’ This is now. We’re coming in like the internet came in 2002, where e-commerce catapulted to TCP/IP to HTTP and HTTPS, and then HTML5. We’re headed there for blockchain. Our kids and their kids won’t know what blockchain is or how the process works, they’ll just know that’s how they live.
Does blockchain entering this next phase change the way that startups will have to engage with the industry?
I think that’s inevitable. I think it will be an iterative process that will happen as a result of those companies that choose to align and how they choose to change the way they operate. All evolutions spit out competing processes and systems. We’re now sure that the blockchain process is accepted by consensus, that it is true as a certainty and recognition of reality, so consensus has said that blockchain is the way to go. So now how we’re going to change the ways we’re going to do things will be determined by competing forces that are now jockeying for leadership, and that’s where the early majority comes in. We’re talking billions and tens of billions coming in the next quarters. So, will things change? For sure. How things will change depends on who the players are that land in the front together with all the leaders of the current crypto space, many of which are becoming just as powerful as those that are leading the legacy world today.
How can we reconcile the often-opposing perspectives of independent startups with a techno-libertarian slant and legacy institutions?
We have to be the change in the world we wish to see! Or we are going to simply make a slightly different version of what we already made. It’s going to be a dynamic tension. Let’s see where the true anchoring of all of these groups will be found. It’s an opportunity for us to really see who’s where, who’s gonna live what, and what’s possible.
I’m a believe in this fact: The value here is not the phone or the earbuds, nor the phone company that’s providing for the communication, nor the phone itself. The value here is you and I and the conversation we’re having. That’s the value. That is what the French figured out and gave them the impetus for every revolution and revolt and strike they pull off, which they still do. Why? The French have something going for them that the rest of the world doesn’t have. They know they are the value — maybe a little bit too much — but they know that without the people, there is no government, there is no queen, there is no nothing. Without you and without me, there is no consensus. There is nothing else in the universe to do except to interact with other human beings, with other species, with other realities. This is the only game in town. Life is the only thing to do! Without human beings, there is nothing. It doesn’t matter how high the value of a currency goes, how many bottles of gold you put in front of an empty space. If there are no real human beings adjudicating value to it, it has no value.