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Guest post on Havingtime.com – How to Deal With the Challenges of Moving to a New Country

I’ve been in San Francisco for over 3 and a half years, but I’ve moved around a lot in the past 10ish years. At some point, I decided to document that journey and show the good and not so good parts of moving around.

Check out my latest post on dealing with the challenges of moving to a new country on Havingtime.com

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

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Romanian IT in San Francisco 2016 – 2018 retrospective (overdue) and some personal notes on events and community management

Ok, so I wrote about the great year we had and it got me thinking. Why not go all the way back in time and document the entire Romania IT in San Francisco history. It’s only been 3 years or so since it started, so it should be pretty easy.

Also, there’s power in retrospectives and I’ll write about that in a separate blog post.

Some background: I arrived in San Francisco in July 2016, took a few months to get a job, adjust and meet people before I got involved with the Romanian IT movement. Before that I ran the Romanian Entrepreneurs in UK group in London for about 2 years with Razvan and Mircea, but that’s a story for another post, too. I was also very focused on numbers and attendee counts at the beginning, and felt pressure to deliver. I don’t anymore and it’s become second nature. Funny to think about how, when I was a kid in 2nd grade (i think), I tried to organize my birthday party and no one showed up because I was too afraid to invite them, and now I’ve been organizing community events for a little more than 6 years.

Enough backstories, here it goes.

July 2016 – December 2016

I wrote my first official blog post in December 2016, as part of the greater Romanian IT community. We were planning to launch in multiple cities in Europe and US, and San Francisco was one of them. I was fresh off the plane and full of energy to start building the community here.

I also hosted the first AI & ML webinar, a 101 session with Ruben and Cosmin, We talked about my work at DigitalGenius, Ruben’s Microsoft experience and Cosmin’s ML engineering knowledge at Clusterr.io. I predicted AI would take off in 2017 and wrote a takeaways blog here pointing to the Medium post linked above. This was our first event in the Facebook group, too.

January 2017

This month was focused more on virtual events, with people attending Open Talk 2.0, an internal Romanian IT call, and two Startup feedback sessions, one for retargeting.biz and another one for pixteller.com.

February 2017

We met for the first time, at Natoma Cabana, with a very interesting, official crowd, more details in the dedicated blog post. Back then, we thought that this would be the format, some speaking/intros and then networking. It was also the first event Mihai and I organized together. See my official attire 🙂

During February, we promoted a Startup feedback session for CoinFlux and another Romanian IT webinar, this time about network security. We also promoted a Repatriot dinner in San Francisco, and a Romanian entrepreneurs and investors tour of Silicon Valley, both organized by Dea Wilson.

Nothing happened in March 2019, I was traveling a lot for work and didn’t get to organize an event until April. We promoted a few Romanian startup exits and recommender systems webinar.

April 2017

It was time for the second meetup for Romanian IT in San Francisco, and we chose another downtown location for our get-together – Thirsty Bear. It was a pretty good turnout and people said that this format would work better for them. I was also fundraising for Hospice of Hope’s Copaceni Tech House, as I was preparing for my marathon run in LA later in the year.

We continued to promote the webinar on recommender systems and a Romanian Investors from Fribourg Capital, Liberty Technology Park and the Principals of KPMG meetup organized by George Roth and his RABN group.

Thanks to Liana from Memo.ai, community members got discounted access to SuperBot 2017, an AI conference in San Francisco.

May – December 2017

In May, we only promoted one Startup feedback session, with Anda, a friend of mine, and her company, Colorimetrix. We also started promoting Spherik’s mentorship program, which I eventually ended up taking part in.

In June, we promoted an Ethereum Deep Dive in Berkeley, two Startup feedback sessions, one with Planable, run by Xenia, another friend, where I was a panelist, and another one with Baro.io.

In July, we met at another RABN meetup, at the JW Marriott in San Francisco, and in August we helped Repatriot promote their survey about Romanians abroad.

In October, we met again in San Francisco, at Thirsty Bear. Great turnout, no pics this time. We also promoted the Repatriot Summit, that took place in Romania, that October.

Towards the end of 2017, as crypto was taking off, I discovered El Rio, the place that was soon to be our home for the next few years. A few Romanians got together there, too, for a Bitcoin meetup, and that’s where Mihai and I got the idea to move our meetups to El Rio.

January – February 2018

It took another Thirsty Bear meetup in February to get us to move to El Rio in March. No pics this time, either, but we had a theme again – Blockchain and AI, two of the hottest topics that year. We also promoted a $200 discount that Dea was offering to our community for the StartupGrind conference.

March 2018

March was a pretty busy month, and we met up again, this time at El Rio. We realized that people didn’t want topics or too much of a structure for these meetups, so we ditched that part and evolved into what the group is today. Took us longer that I want to admit, but hey, we got there.

We also promoted a Romanian IT survey this month and Diaspora Invest, an event for people who wanted to return to Romania after living in San Francisco for a while.

April – June 2018

In April, we focused on promoting the Romanian IT global mentorship program, at its second edition. In May, we promoted the RABN get-together at their annual picnic in the South Bay. We also helped Code for Romania organize their event in June.

July – August 2018

That summer we got involved in an anti graft campaign in Romania, helped promote their signature gathering campaign. We also started recruiting for the 3rd mentorship program through Romanian IT. This is when we held our summer mixer at El Rio, great turnout for July.

September – October 2018

We had our Autumn mixer in September, I was still thinking about the right cadence for these meetups to get maximum attendance. After a great meetup in September, we hiked to Alamere Falls that October, albeit we had quite the drought and didn’t see much water. It was fun nevertheless.

October is summer in SF, so we tried a new venue, Zeitgeist, in one of the sunny Fridays. It was fun, but not for casual chats. We kept El Rio as our primary venue.

We also started promoting Code for Kids in October, for their November event in San Francisco.

November 2018

In November, we helped promote the Code for Kids in San Francisco event, where a few of us showed up to find out what they have been working on. Impressive stuff. In Berkeley, there were more Romanian films being screened, so we helped people learn more about those, too.

We did one more hike before the rainy season – this time in Purisima Creek. Great turnout, 7.6mi range. Last but not least, we organized a little Cards Against Humanity game at my place mid month. Lots of fun!

December 2018

We ended the year with a Romania 100 year old celebration and later that month the final official meetup at El Rio.

Overall, we did 22 events, both virtual and in-person. Lots of people, lots of learning, and lots of gratitude for everyone who is part of our community.

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Life

Romanian IT in San Francisco – 2019 retrospective

Later edit: Thanks Andrei for the extra info I missed!

After I set up the Mailchimp list earlier this month, time to complete 2/2 of my Romanian IT in San Francisco bucket list for this year. It’s been a great 2019 and I think it’s worth going through it month by month and seeing what happened in the local community, our events, hikes and announcements, and how the group has grown to 454 members to date.

January 2019

It was a quiet month, with no official events. We helped the Cassiopeia – Zero Robotics high school team connect with a few Romanians in the Bay Area, as they were visiting the US for a robotics competition. We also announced our first meetup of the year, and a visit from one of the Romanian IT founders.

Oana, and the Find My Mentor team, kick-started the 3rd (or 4th?) edition of their program in mid-January. Find My Mentor is a 3-month mentorship program, designed to connect entrepreneurs and tech professionals with mentors, in order to accelerate their personal and professional growth. It featured 30 mentors, and more than 360 mentorship sessions, in over 20 countries. We had several mentors that participated from the Bay Area, including me and Andrei.

February 2019

We had our 1st meetup of the year, thanks for those who showed up. We had a few people traveling in the Bay Area and we were happy to host them at our usual venue, in the Mission District.

Later that month, a few members decided to celebrate Valentine’s day together in San Francisco, at the Emporium SF – no pics.

UiPath also hosted their first meetup in the Bay Area, in Mountain View, which we helped promote via the group. There were three more events we announced in February – Google’s Cloud conference in April (we got free tickets for the community, thanks Victor), a South Bay Romanian IT meetup organized by Ionut and Adrian, and the European Chamber of Commerce May 9 cruise to celebrate Europe day.

Last but not least, Oana, one of the Romanian IT co-founders, decided we should expand to be Romanian IT in USA. Let’s just say the local community wasn’t very happy about the change, but we had to live with it for 30 days, due to Facebook Groups rules

March 2019

This month, we held the first San Jose meetup at the Three Sisters bar (in San Pedro Square Market) and it had a pretty good turnout. We announced our April meetup for San Francisco. I was away in Utah for a few weeks, so things had to be scheduled around that.

We also promoted

  • The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce 2019 Spring European Pitch Night, where Romania was to have one startup. I’m not sure if anyone from our community attended.
  • A Don Lothrop meetup about his Romanian projects, organized by the Romanian America Business Networking group

This month we were able to go back to our Romanian IT in San Francisco name. Business as usual.

April 2019

We met again at El Rio, but I didn’t take any pics of that meetup. I’m sure we had a blast and that’s why :). We also met at the Easter picnic, so overall it was a pretty busy month.

We also started planning hikes again, since the rain/snow season was coming to an end. With Easter and elections coming up, there were a few more things to promote:

  • Easter picnic in the South Bay, as usual (see pic, via Oleg)
  • Two projects via Alin Zainescu – Teleleu and Code for Romania HackDay in SF
  • Alina spoke at StemEd SF, where a few community members got together
  • Volunteers for the voting precinct & the polling station location for the May European Parliament voting session
  • A Declic / Mircea Bravo GOTV campaign for the May elections

May 2019

May was all about hiking and elections. We went to Berry Creek Falls (12mi), Stinson Beach/Cataract Falls (~8mi) and we also got together to vote and catch up afterwards in the East Bay.

This month, a lot of the focus was on elections, volunteers and the Code For Romania hack day that was to be held on June 1st.

June 2019

We started off the month with pics and videos from the hack day. I couldn’t make it, but a few of members did. We also connected with RoMADE – Romanian Mobile Apps Developers and Experts, an action financed by the Romanian Government and organized together with Romanian Creative Industries Business Federation. They were in San Jose to explore the business opportunities in Silicon Valley.

We then met for drinks again, at El Rio, and afterwards we headed out to the traditional El Farolito. Good turnout, fun night.

Later that month, a few of us connected with Cristian, one of the Meetin VR founders, who was visiting the Bay Area looking to network and potentially raise capital.

July 2019

This month was all about meetups again, with South Bay members getting their second event, with Adrian and Ionut hosting again in the San Pedro Square Market, Downtown San Jose. There was no SF meetup this month, but we promoted more Romanians doing cool things in tech and also kicked off Presidential elections voter registrations.

I had been organizing meetups by myself for a few months now. It was time for a change.

August 2019

The month kicked off with great news, Andrei joined me as co-host and organizer for the Romanian IT community in San Francisco. It was a few months after Mihai had left town and I had been looking for people to help out with event hosting, moderation and other responsibilities.

In August we organized a hike to Rodeo Beach (4.8mi) and the monthly El Rio meetup, which we had to move to the next-door bar, due to a wedding taking place at El Rio! Still great fun and good turnout.

This was the month where we decided we needed a WhatsApp group, so we can include people who went off Facebook. The group link is on the Facebook page, had to remove it from the blog due to spammers coming in. We also started promoting events for a very busy September.

September 2019

This month, besides elections updates and voter registration, we met and hiked not once, but twice each – Angel Island early in the month (6mi), then Coastal and Fox Trails Loop (6.3mi), plus 2x El Rio meetups.

I think by this time we found that everyone’s sweet spot with hiking is around 6 miles. I tried not to go over that so we don’t exhaust everyone after a full day on the trails. Love the feedback!

We also promoted Alianta‘s event in Washington DC, that was organized in October, the 7th edition of the Romanian Film Festival at Stanford University, UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University, also in October and more voter registration for the November elections.

Towards the end of the month we met with with Tudor, founder of Floating Dots and Studhub, who was visiting the US to look for new partnerships, and grow their development outsourcing business based in Cluj-Napoca.

October 2019

We took a bit of a break in October, with only one meetup at the end of the month, after the 4 events in September. It was great to see everyone again at El Rio.

We continued to help with the elections volunteer recruitment and posting regular updates for the community, as well as promoting the film festival.

We also met with Bogdan and Alex, the founders of Plant an App – a low code development platform for custom business applications. They’re spending some time in the Bay Area, as their company is part of the 500 Startups program (early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator).

November 2019

November was again very busy, with 4 events, 3 meetups and 1 hack day. 2 of the meetups were all about the Presidential elections, that take place in 2 rounds in Romania, usually.

We met twice in South Bay, where for the first time since I had arrived in the Bay Area, we had another polling station. Both were fun, thanks everyone for coming out to vote and chat afterwards!

This time elections lasted for 3 days outside of Romania and almost 1 million Romanians in the diaspora came out to vote.

In November, Code for Romania hosted their second Hack Day in San Francisco, which I managed to miss, again, due to business travels.

December 2019

We hosted a last meetup in mid-December, wishing everyone happy holidays and promising to see each other in the new year

(It poured, so we had a smaller turnout, and Adelina was our host, since El Rio was taken over by some office party with increasingly drunk people).

This month, we also promoted a Romanian night in the South Bay, and a few more movies in Berkeley. Unfortunately, due to rain and cold weather, I had to cancel the last hike of the year, much to the disappointment of a few of us.

Overall, we had a great year, with 19 events, two elections and the bar is high for 2020. Looking forward to more meetups, hikes and more people getting involved in the community. If you know someone who’s looking for likeminded Romanians to hang out with, Romanian IT in San Francisco is a welcoming group, granted we share the same values.

My commitment for next year is that we’ll do at least 1 event in January 2020, #promise! Happy new year!

Categories
Blockchain

Immutability is the foundation for identity

When I was working actively in the blockchain space, one of the biggest debates for the “non-believers” was around immutability and why it matters, especially in the notorious double-spend problem. If you don’t recognize the problem, it’s hard to see a solution or an advantage.

Chargebacks: If chargebacks are not a problem, “immutability is not an advantage of blockchain, it is simply a feature of blockchain. But it is not solving anything, so why put it up as an advantage?”

Government tax numbers: “For instance, I can say that I have a product which makes sure that the government does not arbitrarily change your tax number. Okay. But is there a big problem of governments changing people’s tax numbers? Not in the slightest! So why mention it as an advantage? It is solving a non-existing problem.”

These challenges seem to be very different. But they are not. Both the chargeback problem and the government tax problem described above are about identity. Let me explain how. Chargebacks are about who took my money for the wrong reasons and how I get it back, within a network. The government tax number is about how the government identifies its tax payers so you can be sure that it recognizes you have paid your dues. Both trust the central “ oracle”, the governor of the network or the country administrators/tax collectors. Both are vulnerable to Sybil attacks and can only work with other networks/countries if there is trust and transparency across networks.

Let’s take a step back and talk about identity. There are three forms of identity as of today:

  1. Non-digital identity – think of your birth certificate, your driver’s license, your old passport and other paper/plastic/metal documents
  2. Digital identity – your SSO service, your user management platform, Facebook account, your biometric data on a new passport, your email address, credit cards
  3. Decentralized identity – similar to the digital identity category, but issued and/or stored outside a centralized database, on individual devices/mediums that the owner controls

While the first two are easier to grasp, the third one is still nascent, with a few use cases emerging now in access management, cryptocurrency wallets, for example. You’d be tempted to say that immutability is only key for the decentralized identity category. And you would be wrong. Our world goes through great lengths to make sure that your non-digital and digital identity is unique and immutable, so that you can’t be one person today and another person the next day. This immutability and the identity consistency that it creates is the foundation of our society. You can create long term relationships only if the other person is who they say they are over time and that statement does not fundamentally change.

This immutability attribute is what makes identity possible, not just decentralized identity, all identity. The difference is that you’re not relying on a 3rd party to keep records of who is who, like in the centralized examples. With decentralized identity, you are relying on immutable records of a person’s (or a bot’s, if you like) collection of credentials and their minimum viable verification proof (MVVP). There’s a lot of materials to read on the topic, especially from the W3C, a standardization body that makes the internet interoperable.

Since I brought up interoperability, immutability is a direct enabler of that as it becomes exponentially easier to operate across networks if you don’t have always verify all the actors all over again from scratch. The costs and time to verify drop significantly.

If you’re a blockchain non-believer, or nay-sayer, try thinking about a time you had to redo something all over again, like prove who you are, because there was no easy way to cross networks reliably. It might not be an obvious problem today, but in the future it will speed up and increase the security of travel, payments, building access, virtually any kind of transaction that occurs between two or more parties that need to be identified.

Photo by Hitesh Choudhary on Unsplash

Categories
Advertising Strategy

Your marketing is boring and it’s killing the business

It’s almost the end of 2019, and there are still a lot of marketers out there that are too afraid to pour some personality into their strategies. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones who created and made “corporate speak” a category.

It’s those who tweet or post on LinkedIn using language that the board or some lawyers reviewed first, so it ends up sounding like all things to all people, or like nothing at all, failing to commit to a storyline.

Sure, it de-risks the post and the company, but it also reduces the possibility of a standout, and in turn, long term success for the brand. That might make sense for a quarter to quarter focused team, but for those who want to play the 5-10-15 year game, it’s quite damaging.

Brands are a lot like people. They can be interesting or boring, on a sliding scale, with 00s of shades of grey. You know an interesting person when you see them – they stand out using a few simple traits – loud voice, strong facial expressions, specific clothes, specific/expert/passion topics they speak about, clear attitudes, strong beliefs. All those flavors define them and help them show their inner uniqueness. The boring one will be the polar opposite – low voice, no facial expression, traditional, conservative clothing, talks about the weather, their commute or some other mundane topic that’s low risk, equivocal attitudes, weak or no beliefs they hold/show.

Obviously, no one is 100% interesting or 100% boring. Sometimes we are both at the same time, depending on the audience. For example, when I speak about cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence or quantum computing around my wife, she tunes out, and tells me outright that I’m boring her and I should change the topic. When I do it with my Romanian IT group, people listen and engage with me on those topics, and soon 2 hours pass without changing the subject.

Interesting people, like interesting brands, are deeply interesting to their target audience and uninteresting to the rest. It keeps the conversation clean – only the ones who care should engage with you and your brand. The rest are time wasters, better have them focus their time and energy elsewhere.

There’s tons of literature out there about how to best do this as a marketer, so I won’t get into that. The problem is not reading it, but putting it into practice, especially in an organization that is inherently risk averse and there are non-marketing gatekeepers on how the brand should materialize externally.

As marketers, we need to let go of our fear of being too out there, too forward or too bold. That fear is what keeps us from being interesting, same as in our personal lives. Sure, there will be people who don’t like the message. Sure, you will make mistakes along the way, and some may argue that this is a sure way to get fired. Not letting go of the fear is the best way to get fired, and not just from the company, but from the entire industry and practice.

Boring marketers have a special place in the world, and that’s not on any top or podium, but in the “looking for a career change category”.

Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

Categories
Change Management More

People that smell the failure

I heard the original line while driving to Los Altos, for the Romanian presidential elections, round one. My wife said it out loud in the car while we were discussing attitudes towards failing and where we had all grown up, back in Eastern Europe, and connected to a message on one of the leading party’s WhatsApp group about a candidate that received over 1.7M votes.

I thought then and there that I wanted to write about the topic, about our shared trauma, as a generation that grew up in fear of this dreaded failure. There’s more to it than that, but not for today.

Today, I was also prompted by something else. Another friend of mine wrote a beautiful post (in Romanian) about admiration and how rare of a muscle this was, and to some extent, still is where we come from.

While I was growing up, I didn’t understand until later that you had to hide any kind of weakness or hint of deviation from the norm. Others did, and the way they did it was directly linked to the ones that didn’t – like me. They learned to see a blush, a tremor in ones voice, a showing of emotion and to turn that against the “perpetrator”, thereby deflecting any attention on their own failures. It’s like they “felt” when someone around them could be perceived as failing and took the opportunity to point the first finger, and so positioning themselves in a safe space, as the accuser, not the accused.

Memories of public micro-moments where I failed, trying to ask girls out, speaking up against bullies, speaking out on topics I enjoyed, playing basketball, and later in work environments, both in companies and as an entrepreneur or consultant, they all share the same thing – one person or, usually, a group of people constantly looking for ways to tell you how you’re failing or you are going to fail.

It’s an incredibly toxic culture that pushes people to close up, create a large wall, a persona to hide behind and only come out when things are “perfect”, or not come out at all because they do not fell “worthy” or “enough” to face the scrutiny of the finger-pointers. This breeds insecurities and the imposter syndrome. This also breeds fake people, that are risk averse to anything that might tear down the wall or pierce the vail.

If I look inside and am very honest with myself, it was less about economic opportunity when I left Romania, it was more about escaping this cultural context where failure was ridiculed and constantly tracked. It still is, and probably will be until enough people speak up and tell those people off.

It’s ok to fail, it’s ok to try and not always win, it’s ok to show that you’re human.

I admire people who start something knowing that it’s highly likely they will fail.

Where I come from, it takes real guts to do that.

Categories
Life

My first guest post in a few years: Havingtime.com

I used to write a lot at some point and even guest post on other sites. Recently, I started writing again, and with the intro of a friend, I was invited to contribute to HavingTime.com, a platform for people with stories to tell.

I chose to share my thoughts about my own impostor syndrome, and how I managed to overcome it. I found it very ironic that it was the very first thought that struck me while I was searching for a first topic to send them for review. It was basically telling me I have no authority and that my story is not interesting enough to be shared there.

Plot twist, it is and you can find out how I did it by reading about my take on What is Impostor Syndrome & How Can You Manage it?

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

Categories
Life

Some personal news: I went back to AI and Machine Learning

It was an opportunity too good to refuse, that’s what I said about two years ago, when I left AI for the crypto world and joined Civic Technologies to help build what now is a decentralized marketplace (identity.com) and the for-profit startup on top of it (civic.com), that eventually expanded from identity to identity and finch – decentralized finance / defi. It was a great journey, with an amazing team and I’m sure they will do well moving forward.

Now for the personal news. This October, I have joined the Figure Eight team, part of Appen, as the Director of Marketing Communications. The group is the biggest ML-assisted and crowd data labeling platform for machine learning. I can’t share too much about the journey ahead, but I can tell you big things will happen in this industry in the next 5-10 years. Machine learning is at a point where it has become productive in a few industries and more and more giants are now looking at their data sets, their processes and trying to figure out how to optimize and improve efficiency. 

Data is the new energy, and it’s likely we will see a similar revolution with ML departments as we have seen with the IT function. It (and IT, ha!) started out in the basement, with the servers, and evolved from a fringe function to the core of many of the most profitable businesses in the world. The best jobs out there rely on IT today and will do so in the future. I see the same future for machine learning, now elevated from curiosity/research only domain to part of the engineering team, where it plays various roles, from marginal to core business, depending on the company. Soon, with enough data and understanding of ML processes and principles, any enterprise will be able to scale faster and more effectively. 

You might wonder what data labeling has to do with all this.

“During the gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business,” Mark Twain reportedly said

Think of it like the gold rush, where people flock to gold bearing mountains to find the prize, gold. They need food, supplies, clothes, fuel, picks and shovels, mining gear and machines, cars and planes. It this case, the prize is profit, the gold rush is the digital age and data is the energy powering everything. The more energy you have and the more refined/adequate it is, the better your chances to find gold. Same goes for machine learning, the more high quality data you have, the less of it you need to train an efficient model, the less resources you spend on computing power. Also, data, unlike fuel, comes in all shapes and sizes, and there will always be more data to be labeled as it is being created. 

Long story short, I’m excited about the journey ahead and looking forward to sharing more stories along the way. 

Photo by David Edkins on Unsplash

And as always, opinions here are solely mine and don’t reflect the views of my employer

Categories
More

What is Libra: a big step towards building the first super-country

I started this though process on Twitter a while ago and an event by Blockchain for Good helped me crystalize the “Facebook as a country” theory.

In an age where “the world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars, (…) the world’s most valuable retailer, Alibaba, carries no stock, and the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property,” (source) it’s possible to consider a country that has no land.

  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the largest in the world. It now has over 2.4B users and it’s still growing.
  • Once it launched its Marketplace in 2016,  Facebook started having its own economy – and that’s besides the advertising economy it had by selling user data and attention.
  • Facebook has a system of laws and rules, deemed in the terms of service, which get enforced by teams of moderators. It also has a network of robots that evaluate accounts periodically to weed out risky behavior, other bots or spammers.

There was one thing Facebook did not have – a currency – until they came up with Libra and Calibra, the network, basked-backed currency and wallet designed to replace current payment rails and change the financial system as we know it.

They have drawn significant attention and scrutiny from regulators (US, UK, Indian Government, for example), the banking system, and even made Christine Lagarde shrug on camera this summer.

But is this new or revolutionary? By no means. Facebook is drawing from exsiting stuff:

  • Special Drawing Rights by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (1969)
  • The launch of the Euro currency and its success (1999)
  • Visa as a foundation for inter-bank compensation 1958
  • Every other digital wallet out there, including Venmo, Cash App (2009, 2013)

Special Drawing Rights as an inspiration for Libra

Libra will issue a stable coin (a cryptocurrency that does not fluctuate severely) backed by a number of national currencies, to enable stability and interchangeability.

For anyone who knows a little bit about macroeconomy, baskets of currencies are not new. The International Monetary fund created them to support the global credit system and shield it from single country currency risks. The underlying mechanics are simple, weighted pot sums of each participating currency are used to determine the basked currency value at any point in time.

Libra will most likely combine a series of top economies’ currencies with a few top cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and others to determine the price of Libras. Libra will most likely operate outside the traditional banking and national currency sector, given the regulatory issues surrounding its birth. It will be interesting to see what on-ramps will be allowed early on.

Countries and banks don’t like this too much for two reasons:

  1. It takes away their power to control supply and demand for their currency and influence how the economy evolves – see the Eurozone’s issues with Greece, Spain, Italy
  2. It creates a network that can circumvent fees, rules that banking systems and countries set for their citizens, such as capital controls or restrictions, removes the possibility to charge exorbitant fees due to lack of alternatives when dealing in exotic trades and unusual territories

The launch of the Euro currency and its success

I’ve written about this topic before. The Euro and its launch are the original initial coin offering, with countries participating to the biggest artificial coin issue of its time. National banks were required to initially seed, and then exchange their currencies to Euros after a transition period, effectively ascribing value to the new currency. It has been successful thanks to its use inside the system, between citizens, countries, companies, and due the fact that it is mandatory to deal in Euros when dealing with the EU.

Libra learns from this and tries to get many entities involved to seed outside money (the basket of currencies), first in a limited format, with the membership fee – $10M or equivalent. They want as much exchangeability as possible from day one, so that the currency is useful. Having it also used alongside traditional money will create the foundation for “inside the system” transactions to start growing vs money having to constantly go out of the system.

Libra and Facebook will ultimately have to hold a trade balance with the rest of the world, ensuring that there is always enough liquidity of Libras to currencies that are needed to be withdrawn from the system. This is similar to preventing a run on the bank.

If they follow the EU model, they are likely to be successful.

Visa as a foundation for inter-bank compensation

A few months ago, I ordered a book called The Birth of the Chaordic Age, by Dee Hock. For those who don’t know who he is, he created VISA, one of the most impressive and important financial organizations of our time, about 60 years ago. He wrote the book on how the organization was created and his leadership style. It’s a great read.

This is relevant for Libra because VISA, unlike the publicly traded corporation that it is today, started out as a member-owned not-for-profit organization that helped banks settle payments faster than the 6 month process they previously had and reduce fraud that resulted due to ledgers being out of sync for so long. Each member organization had equal rights to vote – decentralization – and had to participate financially to the network to be able to vote – staking. Libra called them network members and has them stake the $10M to both regulate the network and provide liquidity.

The question here for Facebook and Libra is: If this becomes profitable, will you IPO Libra, the same way VISA decided to change from a member-owned not-for-profit to a public corporation?

I’m not saying that’s bad. Dee Hock, on the other hand, is more decisive about the topic than I am – he parted ways with Visa for this reason – he wanted to keep it from becoming a profit-seeking corporation to maintain its mission to open access to financial products for everyone.

Will Libra maintain its mission, or will it turn into Visa 2.0 meets Facebook-style data mining?

Peer to peer and payment functions

Libra claims that the network itself will enable two kinds of wallets – Facebook’s (Calibra), with full identity verification and affiliated with Libra, and more self-sovereign wallets, where if you control your key, you control your Libras, without any identity checks.

The second wallet type is interesting, but likely doomed from birth – most merchants, vendors won’t accept it due to risks. Some will, in the same way they accept cash today.

Calibra, the first wallet, is interesting to mention here because it wants to ultimately connect two things – identity and payment. The most interesting and concerning part about this fact is they want to do it fee free. That means that the users and their data will be the product. If you don’t pay for the service, you’re being offered to someone who does. Fun, right?

And, yes, Calibra will compete with Paypal, Venmo, Cash App, Zelle etc.

The ethics and moral debate on Facebook and Libra

This was the topic of debate when we met in San Francisco, for Libra-themed round table.

This comes at no surprise to anyone who has seen Facebook take off from a college-themed youth social network to the global organization that it is today. It’s over 2.4B strong user base has proven to be not just a tool for people to connect with each other – which is great, but also one of the best cash cows for advertising, a mass surveillance tool for governments and, more recently, a powerful elections / political medium. I’m sure the team behind Facebook never intended for more than the first 2, but as it happens when large groups of people gravitate in one place, so does a proportional level of bad actors (both individual and institutional).

Let’s fast forward a few years into a future where Facebook is successful, and Libra is being used by 3B people globally. We now have not only the biggest social network, but it is now interconnected with the global financial system – showing to whomever wants to see who is paying whom for what and when, further enriching human metadata.

Ethics of good and bad here are debatable and my inner libertarian-leaning self tends to argue that people have the right to choose to use a tool like that, if made available, with reasonable warnings / explanations / disclaimers.

The reason we need these disclaimers / communication pieces inside Facebook and Libra is the two type of users the platform has – unconscious and conscious. The unconscious ones share everything and are easy to profile due to the almost exact resemblance of their online profile to their physical self. The conscious users are engaged in a transaction with Facebook, only sharing that what is useful for them and receiving service as a result. In their case, the online persona can differ significantly from their physical selves.

You might think you are a conscious user and that Facebook doesn’t already have most of your data, but if you think harder, you’ll see that Facebook knows if you changed jobs, bought a house, had a child, got married, divorced, moved to a new city, country, neighborhood, how often you go on vacation and where, what media you follow, what jokes you like, your sexual and social preference, what opinions you share publicly with others, and that’s all just by looking at your usage data – friends, likes, shares, comments, posts, photos (and their EXIF info).

When looking at the bigger picture and what Facebook and similar companies do to our lives, my assessment is net positive. This doesn’t mean everything they do is good, but that for the most part they have made it easier for us to keep up with people in our lives.

Maybe hiring a Director for social good will help with this ethical debate.

Image Credits: Geralt

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Robinhood Cash Management – daily tap, tap, go program

I don’t usually post about referral programs, but this one has to be the best I’ve seen in a while. Remember those early mobile games where to you had to frantically tap your screen to get more points or win the game? Guess what, product managers and UX designers at Robinhood did, too.

They launched the Cash management waitlist where you tap to go up in line. You can only tap for about 1,000 times per day, it seems. Pretty crazy, right?

Here’s what they did.

They launched Cash management, an added feature to Robinhood Financial LLC brokerage accounts. The Annual Percentage Yield (APY) paid by Sutton Bank is 2.05% as of October 8, 2019, and can be changed at any time. If you’re interested, use my signup link and we’ll both get rewarded.

Previously, they tried this thing before with savings accounts, but regulators shut them down, since they didn’t ask for approval beforehand. Hopefully this time it’s more legit!

Don’t forget to tap daily after you sign up!