Blockchain Insider is a column dedicated to interviewing leaders in the blockchain world. These include founders, traditional industry veterans turned ICO participants and everything in-between. The weekly interviews will cover a wide range of questions and try to explore the motivation behind blockchain-based ideas and the problems blockchain technology is being used to solve.
Apolo Ohno is no stranger to mass media. As an 8-time Olympic medal winner, including two gold medals for his record speed skating performances, Apolo has dedicated his post-Olympic life to entrepreneurship. Most notably, he is the co-Founder of HybridBlock, a highly-anticipated cryptocurrency trading ecosystem that has grown a community of over 25,000 supporters and is looking to revolutionize cryptocurrency education and adoption in Asia.
I had the chance to sit down with Apolo in New York City during Consensus to learn more about HybridBlock, his strong track record in cryptocurrency, and what the future has in store.
1. How did you get started in blockchain?
I was introduced to cryptocurrency in 2012-2013 via close friends. After my friends participated in the first ever ICO, MasterCoin, we quickly realized that this new funding model would radically disrupt the traditional VC model. Even more important, was the underlying technology. I quickly fell in love with the concept of distributed ledger technology and distribured risk. In 2015 to 2016, I was really studying the space from an operational point of view and thinking of ways to contribute. A small group of individuals were working on blockchain at that time and I used that time to gain experience and immerse myself in everything they were building and how to build a team around that.
2. What was your inspiration behind HybridBlock? How did it all start?
The original inspiration was based on the difficulty associated with being onboarded on to cryptocurrency exchanges. The process was highly fragmented, trust was an issue, and custody was a challenge at the time. I started brainstorming how I could play a role to remove these pain points and provide a level of customer service that was not seen in most exchanges. Arguably more importantly, I wanted to give people a chance to learn before jumping in the deep end. I felt that with education, people would look beyond pure speculation and really understand and enjoy the power of blockchain.
Distributed risk and disruption need a place to exchange hands. Decentralized exchanges are great in theory but the UX/UI is still nascent and difficult for the next billion people. At HybridBlock, we understand this market well and hope to onboard hundreds of millions of people in Asia over the next few years. While doing this, we are working with regulators to ensure full compliance so that the exchange can operate legally in multiple jurisdictions.
Our goal is not only to help drive large-scale mass adoption, but to provide the tools necessary to take someone from an amateur level trader through the growth stage to becoming more advanced (if desired). We want people to feel comfortable and welcomed on HybridBlock, which is why customer service is such a critical piece of what we offer.
3. What is your competitive advantage? Let’s use Binance as an example.
Binance’s model is different. The founder has done extraordinary things and Binance’s rise has been astounding. We admire their tenacity and intelligence through their scaling journey which has been nothing short of amazing.
We have a different model. They cater to the existant cryptocurrency community. We do too, but we also concentrate on people who don’t own crypto assets right now. That large-scale population in Asia is huge (billions) and we want to gain access to them while being compliant, safe, and having the infrastructure to be a high-speed solution for both retail and institutional investors.
All in all, our ultimate goal is to make sure we provide the best service for our target market and provide that safe space. We constantly ask what it will take to get the next massive wave of adoption into the crypto ecosystem. Blockchain is extraordinarily transformative and will change our lives and we want to be a part of this transformation.
4. What is the biggest problem currently in the crypto?
I strongly feel that the biggest problem is education. The vast majority of people still do not know what crypto is, how to store it, the legality around it, what private keys are, what a transaction consists of, how tokens work, and how to even begin trading. There is no mass attempt to educate both retail and institutional investors.
We are creating an educational portal to engage with other people and learn. My goal is to make this long-lasting. I believe in free access to this type of education. All you will need is a cell phone and or computer and you will be able to learn the basics in the matter of a few days of casual study.
The industry is still new. Just recently the master technical minds behind blockchain technology are being celebrated. Mass adoption takes time and with the right tools, education, and teams in place, the community as a whole can grow to become commonplace.
5. What does 2018 have in store for you guys? Does the volatility of crypto concern you?
We are very excited for the great year. We will be launching multiple products very soon and will have a public token sale starting on May 23, 2017. These products include HybridCentral for education, BaseTrade for trading, and HybridExchange for intermediate users.
As far as the volatility, we will adapt and move accordingly. Some people are concerned, but the reality is that the underlying technology gets stronger and stronger. As more people get internet access and more real-world adoption happens, cryptocurrency will become more legitimately defined in the global capital markets. I think we will see another gold rush that we have yet seen in the market.
6. Is there anything else to add or you would like to discuss?
We choose Asia for a reason. I am half Japanese and have spent a lot of time in the region getting to know the people and their preferences. Besides loving the culture, the Asian population has a very positive appetite for cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Nowadays, Asia should be a core part of a company’s strategy as Asia constantly challenges the United States in everything from innovation to receptiveness. We want to be the portal to Asia and are excited to see the region’s growth in the market.
Update 5/27: A transcription error in a previous version of this article indicated that Mr. Ohno had participated in the Mastercoin ICO.