After speaking in a panel on the role of crypto in finance at CoinMarketCap’s The Capital today, Jeremy Allaire chatted with us backstage.
We spoke to the Circle CEO and founder about blockchain adoption versus awareness, unintended consequences of tokenization and crypto’s 10x potential.
The Capital: During your panel, there was an argument between two people over whether blockchain mass adoption or merely mass awareness is widespread. Which side of this debate do you fall on?
Jeremy Allaire: We’re definitely more on the awareness side than the adoption side. By any measure, the actual adoption, the actual number of live wallet addresses that are used is very small. When you compare it to people who use email, people who use text messaging or people who use search or photo-sharing… The number of active end users that would say, “yeah, I’m using blockchain,” — It’s just factually very much smaller.
But absolutely awareness has grown significantly. And I think we’ve had multiple waves of that awareness growing, and that’s all really good leading indicators for ultimately what can be actual mass adoption by actual people.
The Capital: I’m paraphrasing here from someone else, but my question is about a more general debate in the industry between people who think blockchain should be something we use to absolutely reconfigure the financial system, and people who want to use blockchain to make existing systems more efficient.
As a person who represents both the traditional financial world and the crypto world, what are your thoughts on that?
Allaire: I think what got a lot of us into this was this idea that you could do things with money, and with the financial system, that were just radically better than what we could do before.
If the only goal is to just make things a little bit more efficient, then that’s not sufficient motivation. There’s a phrase, I forget exactly where it’s from, maybe it’s Peter Thiel actually… This basic idea that things should be 10x better. It has to be 10x better for it to be worth doing.
When you look at the promise of cryptocurrency, and the promise of tokenization and the promise of what you can do, you can see how it could be 10x better. And that would be that anyone, anywhere can enter into economic relationships in a safe, trustless way, without the gatekeepers, without the toll seekers.
And that creates more economic opportunities for everyone around the world in the same way that commerce, open communications and open content have done that in other realms.
I can see the 10x improvement, and I think that’s what animates and motivates people. Exactly how that translates is still very much up for debate. I think there’s some people who would say, “well, it’s only interesting if everyone moves to non-sovereign money, and there’s no longer nation state money and we’re all just using this non-sovereign thing;” versus, “ok, there is sovereign money, but it’s a radically more open and inclusive economic system.”
Those would be not necessarily mutually exclusive, but different outcomes that would both be potentially 10x better.
The Capital: Someone mentioned during your panel that after a mass tokenization of assets occurs, there can be a lot of unintended consequences. What other unintended consequences do you see coming from tokenization?
Allaire: We are just now starting to cope with what it means that there’s permanent data and permanent content that is uncensorable. That poses social questions that are really, really challenging. For example, child pornography can be permanent, no one can censor it and it’s everywhere. What does that mean? What does it mean for society? I’m just giving one really horrible example.
I think the flip side — and I think part of what Matthew [Roszak] was getting at — is that we actually haven’t thought of all the creative things that people are going to do with tokenization, we don’t actually even know.
It’s really easy to say, well, what you can do is you can take a piece of property and you can fractionalize it and slice it up and allow more people to own it and invest in it. And that’s an obvious thing, right?
It’s the un-obvious stuff, maybe that’s a little bit of the unintended. It’s the unobvious stuff that we haven’t thought of yet.
It’s like when the iPhone came out, and then it added GPS and 3G came available — those were building blocks, but no one thought, “oh that’s going to revolutionize on-demand transportation.” They just thought, “oh, the iPhone is a little bit faster and and now has a GPS and so you had better maps. That was all people could see.
And so with tokenization, we can’t see exactly what’s going to become possible. I think the really interesting things are how you can you coordinate economic activity or social activity in a new way — using a new corporate form or a new organizational form that’s all run on software, that’s run on the internet, where people participate in it from anywhere in the world.
And what are those institutions and organizations even called? The DAO [decentralized autonomous organization] is one framework and there’s that kind of stuff, but we just haven’t even begun to experiment yet. There’s like one DAO.
It’s sort of like the first websites being built in the early 90s and the mid-90s — no one was able to think about what was possible in 10 or 20 years. I think we’re in a similar place with this.
The Capital: I’m curious what your goal is when you come to these types of conferences? Who are you looking to speak to?
Allaire: It really varies. I think I’ve tended to try and do more speaking at events where it’s sort of reaching new audiences that haven’t already drank all the Kool-Aid.
Obviously, this is an event in particular where people are into crypto assets and trading. In that case, for me, there’s a lot going on with Circle, we’ve got a lot of different initiatives, and it’s just the opportunity to get in front of people and connect and share that is useful.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
You can watch the live stream of the conference here.