The Big Interview

On a mission to bring people together. Q&A: Luis Carranza

The blockchain and crypto entrepreneur says that regulation is a good thing to weed out the bad apples; and he believes blockchain is a force for good

CR: Tell us a little about yourself and what you’re currently doing?

LC: I run London FinTech Week, Blockchain Week as well as FinTech weeks in Tel Aviv, New York, Silicon Valley, and blockchain conferences in Hong Kong, Washington DC, Seattle and many other cities. I’m also launching a platform that allows people to earn value for their data which will eventually be cryptocurrency. That project is called Census. Just keeping busy with events, but also by having a horse in the race.

CR: What attracted you to FinTech and then to blockchain and cryptocurrency?

LC: I’ve always followed tech trends, and then in London we noticed that FinTech was becoming a thing and indeed London is the perfect place for it to thrive as it is known worldwide as a finance capital. And doing the work in FinTech, you begin to see the interest of enterprises in blockchain and Bitcoin. We knew that was pretty big so we started organising blockchain conferences in 2015 and have been doing that ever since. Also, keeping up with the trends and even trying to stay ahead.

CR: Where are you from, originally?

LC: I was born in El Salvador, in Central America. I moved to northern Virginia, in the United States, when I was five years old, and I’ve been in London now for 10 years.

CR: Many refer to crypto and blockchain as a revolution. How do you fit in within this revolution and how do you and your companies plan to bring about change?

LC: My mission is to bring people together. Last year, we had EOS as a title sponsor. They did a roadshow with us in four different cities. We met a lot of interesting people. I also advise a couple of companies on marketing their ICOs and their ICO strategies.

Separately, I’m launching the platform I already mentioned to you, Census, which is essentially a crypto product to help monetise personal data. I’m involved in any way that I can; it’s really exciting. I feel we’re at the crossroads of a revolution. I mean it has its ups and downs as everybody knows; it’s a long-term game, and there are many changes happening, so it’s exciting to be involved.

CR: What compelled you to be where you are today?

LC: I’ve always been excited by the way things evolve, the trends, the technology and the things that are changing the world. I’ve been following tech trends for years, and that’s led me here. I didn’t plan on it; I’m just following the bread crumbs to where we are at today.

CR: What benefits do believe new technologies bring to the world we live in today?

LC: I believe new technologies can be transformational. Twenty years ago, computers were massive, and today everybody carries one in their pockets. So, having an encyclopedia, a phone, the entire internet in your hand can be transformative anywhere, especially in developing countries. And in developed countries, you can trade assets with your phone and do all kinds of previously unheard of things. No matter who you are, technologies can improve yours and other people’s lives.

CR: We all agree there’s significant hype around blockchain and cryptocurrency. There’s a major debate over cryptocurrencies having no real value or asset backing, how can their minds be put at ease?

LC: I think it’s going to be difficult to put people’s mind at ease. When telephones (landlines) first came out many decades ago, people thought it was weird to be talking to someone that’s not there. Now everybody does it: the same thing with the Internet. Same happens with all new technologies. It’s going to take time. It’s not normal behaviour yet, but it will be. Some of the bad players will be weeded out, and the space will become more secure. Once we stop talking about new technologies and their benefits, that’s when you’ll know we’re in a different age.

CR: Do you believe cryptocurrencies will become mainstream?

LC: If they do become more mainstream, the ideal scenario is that they be there and serve a purpose, but that they’re not the focus. The benefit of Bitcoin is not the distributed ledger or the security; it’s the fact that you can pay for things quickly, digitally and know that it’s happening. So, once we do get to that point that’s when we’ll see the changes, and that’s when it will become mainstream, it’s not about the technology.

CR: Your position regarding crypto and blockchain regulation?

LC: Regulation in this industry is either too much or ill-advised when the technology is being regulated rather than what it is used for. In general, though, regulation is a very good thing because there are a lot of bad actors out there who want to scam, steal money, make money quickly or people who think they have a good idea but that really isn’t and who can raise money for it. Regulation is weeding out those ideas that don’t have the potential for longevity: it’s making more rigorous and making it so that institutional investors are interested. Regulation is excellent from that point, and we need more of it to clean houses, but at the same time when it’s overdone or a mere reaction it can slow down innovation.

CR: Your stance on centralisation versus decentralisation?

LC: This is like back decades ago when there were mainframe computers, and then we switch over to decentralised computers, everybody having one at home or work. Now you have servers that work like mainframes, and you have a lot of distributed devices. It’s always going to be an ongoing battle between being central or de-central. I think that we are currently in a de-central phase, but we’re going to need central processes and security, so it’s a cycle of changes.

CR: Do you believe the world will benefit from decentralisation and does it have to happen?

LC: Yes, it definitely has to happen! And not just in blockchain and crypto, but also decentralisation of energy, for example. It’s the natural flow. It’s natural for central players to grow but at some point and when the technology is ripe, it makes more sense to decentralise like with solar panels that Elon Musk is building; it’s making energy decentralised. So, many things can be decentralised, and it makes sense to do so right now; it gives more power to individuals and changes the way the economy works, so definitely, by all means.

CR: What can blockchain do to improve the world we live in today?

LC: Blockchain has many potential benefits. It’s a distributed ledger that creates more transparency. It can reduce workloads and processes by being more efficient, and it can provide security. Many bad things can happen, but for now, the benefits and the change in how people are using data outweigh the negatives.

CR: Do you believe blockchain can help in the fight against poverty, corruption and inequality?

LC: Yes! Blockchain can help fight poverty by allowing anybody with a phone or mobile device to have a bank account. It can create more ability for people to own property, to vote through distributed ledgers that are immutable. So, yes, the most significant opportunities for blockchain are in the developing world.

CR: Corruption?

LC: Yes, definitely! It can also help fight corruption because of its immutability characteristic. There’s definitely potential for that. One of the things I’ve always said is that the most significant impact that can be made in blockchain is when a government decides to use it to be more transparent; to use it for voting. I believe it’s a challenge for leaders to go through those changes because they would be putting a lot of the corrupt institutions at risk for those who are involved in making illegal money through them, so I don’t see things changing as rapidly as we would like. The last thing you want to do is put corrupt people out of business because innocent people will get hurt fighting the system. It will happen eventually, but it will happen at an organic pace.

CR: Do you believe, then, that governments, multinationals and financial institutions will fully adopt blockchain?

LC: I think it will eventually be fully adopted. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen when they began implementing blockchain to systems or subsystems that urgently need to be made more efficient. They’re like building blocks. You’re right going to see Barclays suddenly become fully blockchain-powered. However, some of their processes where they share information and processes with other banks or entities can go on the blockchain to be more efficient, and everybody wins. So, it’s going to happen piece by piece. There’s no reason for everything to change.

CR: Blockchain lowers cost in various areas and processes. Do you believe banks and other major institutions will pass on those savings to the people or keep those savings to themselves to increase their profits?

LC: I see no reason to pass on the savings to users. Companies like Transferwise cut costs of transferring money overseas. Banks still charge lots more. Why give away billions in revenues when you don’t have to. There are companies like Transferwise that only take a very small percentage, but there are only very few, so until there’s real competition for price cutting and that becomes a factor for why somebody chooses one company over another, I see no reason. People still pay for inefficient services, and as long as you can make money off of it, banks will continue to do so.

CR: What are the highlights of your career within this technological revolution?

LC: The highlights have been to watch the revolution unfold. I remember in 2015 we had a panel that included the guys from the Bitcoin Foundation and some of the guys from Ethereum. This was before Ethereum fully launched, and I was observing the arguments on stage and later on, I was watching Steve Williams from Populous, who worked hard to get his token out there and then we met EOS last year when they were launching. So it’s at the forefront watching it happen and observing the immediate changes take place. It’s really exciting to just sort of be a part of it.

CR: Your most significant challenge?

LC: I think the biggest challenge for us is that we are actually trying to create our own token and the industry is changing so fast we’re having to adapt. We’re trying to make data work more for people and have data work more like a currency, but the regulations, the changes, the way the market is moving it means we have to work harder. It’s a moving target. Everything we build we’re having to adapt it to the new laws and regulations and jurisdictions. It’s all exciting but also very difficult.

CR: What has been the most memorable or most bizarre question anybody has asked you about cryptocurrency or blockchain?

LC: The most interesting statement I’ve heard comes from the crypto-anarchists. They’re really passionate people. We run commercial events that include banks and institutions, so it’s been kind of fun and entertaining to watch the two sometimes in the same room with completely opposing views.

CR: Tell us about your future within the industry and with your new venture Census?

LC: We hope to establish ourselves as a player. We’re not focused on blockchain, per se, but rather on making sure we have a solid business model through which people can earn, and we’re trying to make sure that we acquire users and that the technology that we’re building works. Blockchain for us will come in the future. For now, our focus is making sure our technology works; that doesn’t need blockchain, but that we can later implement some level of blockchain to improve.

CR: What have been the most significant successes of your firm FinTech Week?

LC: The most significant success or what I really enjoy seeing is the diversity we manage to gather. Yesterday, for example, we had the Financial Conduct Authority and then we had some folks from the Saudi Arabia 2030 followed by the Bank of England. And then you have guys from EOS VC, and you have startups that are just launching. So, yes, it’s been the diversity on the stage. We like to mix it up, and it’s simply interesting to hear.

CR: Would you like to add a message to the public?

LC: No, well, just watch the space because there are plenty of exciting things happening. We’re trying to keep up as best as we can. Blockchain Week is coming up at the end of January in London. I believe that’s going to be our fifth year. It has evolved from Blockchain Conferences and now its Blockchain Week. A lot of interesting people and companies will be there. Hopefully, Census will be in a good place by then, so hope to see a load of new people there.

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