Liina Laas-Billson: How I got into blockchain ‘by accident’

The blockchain expert based in Estonia first became interested around six or seven years ago then formed a cryptocurrency group with like-minded people

Liina Laas-Billson got into blockchain “quite by accident,” she tells me. It was about six or seven years ago when she first read about Bitcoin. “I thought – this is interesting”, she says.

“I wanted to know more about it but I couldn’t find anything more about it, so I started reading more. I don’t have a computer science background, so I had to read the white paper over and again to understand what it was all about.”

She formed a cryptocurrency group five years ago with members including “entrepreneurs, lawyers and crypto enthusiasts.”

Better regulation

The purpose of the group was to “promote the use of cryptocurrency and to encourage better regulation in Estonia because, at the time, it was stopping innovation.”

She has worked in fintech for a number of years. In an interview with Newsweek previously, she described how cryptocurrencies have gone through many bubbles.

She told the magazine: “Every time the crypto market crashes it brings a great deal of doom and gloom. I have already lost count of how many times bitcoin has been declared dead. The negativity around cryptocurrency can be compared to the negativity towards the internet in the 90s. Both have sailed on despite the bad press.”

Crypto ‘side product’

I ask if she’s most interested in cryptocurrency or blockchain and she answers, very definitely: “Blockchain. Cryptocurrency is definitely a side product. It is great and there’s a lot more you can do with it, but it’s blockchain for me.”

She recalls recently having a “bizarre argument” after she said she “didn’t care whether Bitcoin lives or dies.”

The analogy she points to is if you look at the first car ever made. “It uses an internal combustion engine, but we do not drive around in that same car. It’s the same with Bitcoin and its blockchain that drives innovation.”

There are real use cases for blockchain, with health records in Estonia using blockchain technology. “There are a lot of real use cases,” she says.

“With the scams, it is the same across the internet there are scams going on but we don’t say don’t use the internet.”

Huge amount of gossip

With crypto Twitter, she points to the “huge amount of gossip”, that can adversely affect the value of a coin as a consequence. “It can drive the price if someone starts saying something bad about Bitcoin, for example.”

And on International Women’s Day, when we speak it seems churlish not to mention gender inequality.

“Women are still in the minority – I’ve written a lot about this,” she adds. “It’s easy to get eyes on stories if you write about something controversial. You get hoards of men wanting to put you in your place.”

Lack of women

The most read article she’s written was about the lack of women in blockchain. Then she had men who “had not read the article” questioning why women are not buying cryptocurrency – when it was about women in blockchain!

Sometimes, she says the problem is there’s “young men” working in cryptocurrency who make diversity worse and she doesn’t like that. She feels that the percentage of women in blockchain has actually decreased since 2013/4 which seems a real shame.

“I used to go to cryptocurrency conferences then and I go now and there are less women,” she says. “It may be that more men have come in with money. I don’t know what the answer is to correcting the problem.”

Isolated student

Recently, she heard about a women who studied computer science at university and was the only woman in the cohort of students. She became isolated as she “wasn’t invited for beers” by the other male students and not surprisingly she quit three months later.
Women need to feel “less isolated” and “part of a community,” she adds.

She cites an example at a conference when a man came up to her and “asked if I was a model, when I clearly had a badge around my neck saying I was a delegate. I mean, what do you even say to that? It is something just so stupid.” She hopes that in 2019 these kinds of unfortunate comments will cease.

Recently, in Estonia the first female prime minister was elected. The country already has a female president. Someone stupidly asked a sexist comment which really annoyed the prime minister, so these kind of attitudes still prevail. “They wouldn’t have asked if there was a problem if there was a male prime minister and president,” she muses.

ICOs ‘not dead’

On the so-called death of ICOs, she says there’s still $21bn invested in ICOs which is “not exactly dead.” Institutional investors have started to move into the space and will continue to do so.

“The bigger investors have more control of more money,” she adds. They are also “less emotional” than smaller investors when the price of cryptocurrency goes down.

She says she’s “not a fan” of the hype surrounding some of the “big personalities,” in the space, but prefers the technology and the potential that blockchain can deliver.

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