Today I have a very special guest. Nathaniel Whittemore – the master of crypto narratives. He is a renowned marketer, thought leader, and curator in the cryptocurrency space. He is most famous for his Long Read Sunday twitter threads, where every week he builds an engaging story off of the major news and opinions the crypto community is most excited about.
This talk consists of three distinct parts. Think of them as 3 crypto shots. You can listen to all of them at once here or you can listen to just one or two shots which cover the topics you’re most interested in. Each of these crypto shots is available as a separate episode on the playlist of the Borderless Crypto podcast.
In shot number 1, we discuss what is narrative marketing and why your crypto project needs a narrative. This is a must listen for founders. In shot number 2, we discuss what makes building a decentralized Facebook or Twitter so hard. And in shot number 3, we discuss how Apple’s move to defend privacy can be a catalyst for new privacy first online standards. Lastly, Nathaniel shares who are the two types of investors he thinks will benefit the most from Bitcoin’s growth.
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/nlw
- Website – http://whittemore.io/
- Long Reads Sunday – Weekly Newsletter – https://www.getrevue.co/profile/nlw
Full Episode Transcript
(00:01) George Manolov:
This is the Borderless Crypto Podcast.
(00:14) George Manolov:
Hello everyone. I’m your host George Manolov, and in this series; I bring you exceptional entrepreneurs, investors, hustlers and thought leaders from the crypto currency and fintech space.
Today I have a very special guest, Nathaniel Whittemore, who is a renowned marketer, thought leader and curator in the cryptocurrency space. He’s most famous for his long reads Twitter threads, where every week he builds an engaging story off of the major news and opinions the crypto community is most excited about.
This talk consists of three distinct parts. Think of them as 3 crypto shots. You can listen to all of them at once here or you can listen to just one or two shots which cover the topics you’re most interested in. Each of these crypto shots is available as a separate episode on the playlist of the Borderless Crypto podcast. In shot number 1, we discuss what is a narrative marketing and why your crypto project needs a narrative. This is a must listen for founders. In shot number 2, we discuss what makes building a decentralized Facebook or Twitter so hard. And in shot number 3, we discuss how Apple’s move to defend privacy can be a catalyst for new privacy first online standards. Lastly, Nathaniel shares who are the two types of investors he thinks will benefit the most from Bitcoin’s growth.
Please note that anything that I or my guests say in these talks is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as investment advice. Although during daylight I’m part of the team behind the crypto lending platform. Nexo, at night when I do these talks, I share only my personal thoughts, which in no way represent Nexo’s opinions.
Now it’s time to get the podcast started in three, two, one.
(02:21) George Manolov:
Nathaniel, I first heard about the concept of narrative marketing from you. Can you share what is narrative marketing and how can companies, specifically companies in crypto, leverage it?
(02:35) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Sure. For me, narrative marketing is just a way of looking at marketing and communications that recognizes that any conversation a company has, or any piece of content that they produce, all of that is happening in a specific context, and that specific context is whatever set of beliefs people have about the market that the company is operating in, and these beliefs are narratives. So, when a company is trying to articulate why it matters or why people should care, I think they need to have a sense of how their narratives and how the stories they want to tell about themselves and what they believe about the market, interact with what people believe already. The interesting thing about marketing narratives is that the goal of understanding what market narratives your communications are interacting with is not to, quote unquote, get it right in some way. What I mean by that is that you can run into a market narrative or you can run completely against it and say: that market narrative is wrong, and give people who don’t necessarily buy into the dominant market narrative a different outlook.
Either of those can really be a good strategy. The only strategy that I think is dangerous is when people don’t have any sense of how the story that they want to tell interacts with the market in general. To give a specific and very basic crypto example; a company, right now, could decide to do an IEO as a really good way to engage a broader set of constituents and make the argument that the way that these exchanges are setting up terms, actually makes it less likely, for value, to be captured by whales, and more likely to get back to the original idea of token sales, which was to distribute and get a whole bunch of people in a network engaged and excited. Or a company could say IEOs are just ICOs 2.0, they’re total BS, they’re just another value capture mechanism for exchanges to reinforce their power, so we’re going to take a firm stand against that.
I think either of those are viable strategies, but you have to know, at any given moment, which side is going to attract which type of people, and which of those conversations is larger and more dominant in the mindset at the moment.
(04:55) George Manolov:
Which brings me to your next point that narratives can be based on hard facts and data, but they’re much more often actually driven by the gut.
(05:05) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Sure. Just taking that same idea of something like IEOs, people could point all day long to any fact that they want to support their position. Let’s say that you’re pro IEO, you could say, there are caps on how much people can spend and there are wider degree or a wider array of people getting to participate. But ultimately what people think about that is going to have much more to do with what their experience was with the ICO boom and what they think about that, and what they are feeling is about what just a force like exchange offerings have in the crypto industry as a whole.
Again, those things may be informed by data, but people who are against those things aren’t necessarily making a data driven argument that highlights the data that shows why these things are bad for the industry. They’re going to make that argument on the basis of a set of theories and feelings about what they do and how they shape people’s incentives and shift how people behave. This is always the case with narratives in any industry context; they’re always going to be driven by both gut sensibilities as well as by data. But I think that the earlier and younger your industry is or that the industry of focus, the more likely to be shaped by the gut level sensibility those narratives are.
(06:20) George Manolov:
And why is that? Why is it that narrative in nascent industries like crypto can have a much bigger impact than narratives in mature industries?
(06:31) Nathaniel Whittemore:
For that same reason that in the absence of data, we have to have these guideposts to anchor us, and we have to rely on narratives a little bit to do that. It’s like a rudder for our behaviors and for our actions. And a lot of these narratives are themselves attempts for fulfilling a prophecy where people aren’t just saying, hey, here’s an explanation for what’s going on, they’re saying here’s what, can, should and will happen next. And by saying that and trying to get people to also believe it, it’s almost like they’re making an investment in that future and they’re trying to get it to come to fruition. So, I think anchors function as a rudder for the ship as we steer into uncharted waters.
(07:12) George Manolov:
That makes total sense. And what is the connection between narrative marketing and other types of marketing like SEO, social media and content marketing? Are they connected at all?
(07:26) Nathaniel Whittemore:
I think they’re definitely connected, and it comes down to the foundations that marketing is built on. In some ways, narrative is about core, underlying and foundational communications. Who are you as a company? What do you stand for? Why do you exist? Why did the people involve choose to focus on this project? And what are you hoping to create and change in the world? Once you answer those questions, you’d have the elements of your narrative and from there you do lots of different types of actual marketing tasks, marketing tactics and marketing work to bring those to life. That SEO strategy, what are the terms that you want to rank for? That could be just a purely tactical assessment of what terms are available, but it’s probably better if it relates to those core narratives that you want to do. Having content production, there’s certainly a clear and obvious path between what stories you want to tell and then the content is how you tell them. For me the, the idea of that narrative piece and really understanding your narrative as a company is about the foundations upon which any and all other marketing strategies and tactics are going to be built upon.
(08:33) George Manolov:
I totally agree with you. But when you look at companies out there in the crypto space, do you think they understand narrative marketing and do they leverage it? Or do you think most companies disregard all of this and just do their traditional posts, emails and announcements, without having this strong narrative foundation underlying everything that they do?
(08:55) Nathaniel Whittemore:
I think narrative and marketing is a way of thinking and looking at things. What I mean by that is that I think that most good companies have some sense of who they are and what they want to stand for. I think the difference is that the narrative marketing approach is trying to be explicit about distilling that down into some core foundational pillars that from which you can build upon. If you look at different companies in the space, you can see who’s indexing most strongly around; we stand for something and we’re going to tell that story over and over again. A good example is Casa, who really stands for the idea of Bitcoin and crypto more broadly as a force for self-sovereignty.
I did a tweet, a couple of days ago, asking what are the best solutions were for someone who wants to put in a bunch of money to BTC, but who really doesn’t want to do self-custody because they’re worried, or because they come from an old school because they just don’t necessarily understand technology that well. Casa’s social media arm was very active and engaged in the conversation about not just saying, hey, you should really get them to self-custody, but offering ideas for how you make it more accessible, and what they’ve set up to make this idea of self-sovereignty and self-custody more palatable for exactly this type of person. I think that they’re an example of someone who clearly has that root anchor and a core philosophy.
I’ll give you another example I just saw yesterday. Preethi from TruStory; she was at Coinbase previously, and the idea of TruStory originally was to create an ecosystem where fake news could be combated effectively by allowing crowds to source information about theories and opinions that were presented as facts. That was the original idea, at least as it was presented in TechCrunch and a bunch of the early press that they got. But she just wrote this great thread yesterday about what they’re really trying to build, they figured out over the course of the first year of their company, which is a safe space for debate. That it’s actually less about getting to the root of true facts and more about creating a safe space for people to debate in a healthy way using subjective opinions. And that’s really the true story that they want to encourage is a space where people can disagree without being disagreeable.
The way that she articulated this in a 15-tweet-thread shows a really strong, clear sense of narrative and where she wants to position, and where the company fits in the larger context of fake news and social media and all this sort of stuff. That’s the type of content that really anchors a narrative that’s going to allow people to understand that company better. If she hadn’t done that, people would still engage with the company in a way that someone like TechCrunch have defined it when they wrote about it six months ago or a year ago. Because she’s created that sort of foundational statement of: this is our narrative, this is the context, this is what we’re trying to do in that context, I think that the company is likely to be a lot more successful in communicating what they’re about and getting people to engage with them, and start on the right foot.
(12:18) George Manolov:
Absolutely. Now, aside from writing your long reads on Twitter threads, you’re also consulting companies exactly on building their marketing narratives. Now, imagine that you have a bunch of founders with a quality project sitting in front of you. How would you explain, in short, what you do and how they can work with you?
(12:38) Nathaniel Whittemore:
There’re almost two parts to your question. One, is what I do with companies and then two, how I help them construct narratives and maybe I’ll break them apart because I think the second one is probably more interesting for people than the first. The way that I work with companies is basically two parts. One, is I help them figure out their narratives and what they’re going to stand for and how they communicate that. And then two, I help them bring that to life through content production. So, that can be a lot of different things; I spend a lot of my time with writing and content production, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about multimedia and more interesting, bigger form projects as well.
But I think that maybe the more interesting question in some ways is how do you actually help a company figure out how to construct a narrative. For me, there’s an intersection of two things; on the one hand, what I’m bringing with me is my observations of the industry dialogue as it happens, which is similar to the long reads Sunday thing that I do, which for any of your listeners who don’t happen to know, is basically a weekly direct Twitter newsletter curation of 30+ of the most interesting essays and threads, it’s much more on the opinion side than the news side, the interpretation analysis side than the news side.
So, I’m spending a lot of my time each and every week just seeing what people are talking about, and how people are reacting to the news. Again, it’s not just what’s happening but how people are interpreting what’s happening and how it’s influencing those overall market narratives. So, I bring with me to any engagement this sense of how the market is thinking, feeling and discussing key things happening. Then, what I try to pull out of any company that I’m working with, and those companies’ leaders is their big whys; why are they’re doing what they’re doing, why they chose to do this instead of other things, what they feel that other people who are related to their project aren’t getting right or maybe just aren’t seeing the world in the same way as them.
What we try to do is that we try to find the intersection of those two things. On the one hand, how the market thinks, feels and discusses and then on the other hand, how the company thinks, feels and discusses. And from there we figure out what that company wants to bring to the market, what they want to try to reinforce to those market narratives, and what they want to try to challenge. Then, it’s just about figuring out how to turn that into great content.
(14:58) George Manolov:
How does it happen in practice, I just want to make it super practical for executives of companies who are listening to this. Can you walk me through this process? Is it an ongoing process? Is it a one-time process?
(15:11) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Yeah, sure. So, it’s usually a one-time foundational process that continuously gets refined over time. When I first start engagement with a company, we’re going to really dig deep; I’m going to read everything that they’ve ever created, I’m going to talk to them and a variety of people inside the company. I’m going to provide my feedback on where I feel that they’re trying to differentiate, and that’s not just necessarily what they’re saying, but what I’m feeling, the subtext of what I’m reading; the things that I here echoed over and over and over again that maybe they’re not articulating yet, but seem to be coming through pretty strongly when we talk to them. So, there’s a lot of learning that I do that then feeds back to them; I mostly pair it back with what I’m hearing, even if it’s not exactly what they’re saying. And that becomes the foundation for us; honing in on that key theme or that key set of themes that are going to define their narrative.
That’s a process that happens at the beginning of any engagement, so we’re at least playing in the same ballpark. From there we shift into content production mode, and that can either be in terms of collateral that needs to be updated because the website or materials aren’t really articulating those narratives that we’ve determined are really at the core of that company, or it can be in terms of content that’s trying to tell those narratives from a story in a content perspective. So, the way that I think about it is that you want to use that first process to make sure you’re speaking the same terms and that the company has a better sense of itself, but then it’s going to be refined through the actual content production.
A lot of times you’ll see something, let’s say that the key narrative theme is Crypto as a force for liberty, crypto is a force for self-sovereignty, or whatever it is, that’s a good ballpark to start with, but then when we get into the actual content production, oftentimes you’ll find there are refinements, or there’re specific subthemes. So, I try to move from the high level and subjectively help people figure out what their narratives are, and turning those narratives into content pretty quickly because that’s where it really gets refined in the process of building and designing that content.
(17:23) George Manolov:
All right. That sounds like a lot of work to me. How many companies do you do this for?
(17:30) Nathaniel Whittemore:
It’s constantly changing with this type of work to the extent that there’s ongoing relationships, it’s much more around content production. A lot of times I’ll work with companies and spend a couple of months with them figuring out these narratives, and then moving into content production, we get to a point where they’re ready to build out their marketing operations and have those full-time people and have the full slate of marketers involved. So, my engagements can be short or ongoing, but it’s constantly a moving target. For me, the key thing is really just being able to bring this specialized skill set in way of looking at things to the right companies who need it at any given time.
(18:13) George Manolov:
Nathaniel, there has been a lot of talk regarding decentralized versions of social media, most recently EOS, the blockchain project, announced their Voice platform, which would be a decentralized version of Twitter. You have a compelling argument as to why it is not viable to create decentralized versions of existing social media giants, could you share your argumentation with us?
(18:41) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Sure. Let’s actually start from what the problem with centralized networks might be. People are now finding that the social networks where we spend our time are really much more than just products in a traditional set, they are much more significant because of how integral they are to our social and professional lives. What that means practically is that they have really high exit cost; It becomes challenging for people to remove themselves from them. Obviously, this isn’t true across the board, people come and go from something like Twitter or Instagram all the time. But if something is a major communications channel for you, if it’s where you communicate everything to your customers or if it’s where you communicate with your friends and family and they’re all there, leaving those things can be challenging. This has given these networks a pretty high degree of power that’s really amplified by the fact that is the economy of the Internet, which is predicated on free access to products that’s paid for through user data turning into advertising, these companies also know a huge amount about us and we’re starting to see some of the challenges inherent in that. So, you have all these things that are going on and are stirring the pot for people to be worried about networks.
(20:01) George Manolov:
Hey there, this is George from the editing booth and I wanted to jump in here just to draw your attention to what Nathaniel has to say right after my intervention here as I believe he makes a brilliant analysis of the lifecycle of a social media platform, particularly with the example of Facebook, which however is valid for pretty much any social media platform out there.
(20:26) Nathaniel Whittemore:
From a theoretical perspective, you have this challenge where ultimately at the beginning of a network, there is an alignment between the network owners and the network participants. What I mean by that is there’s an alignment between Zuckerberg and his earliest investors and the earliest users of Facebook, which is that everyone wants growth; you want more of your friends to be on the network, you want more features to be on the network, and you want more applications building for the network. At some point, the network reaches a point where it’s hard for it to continue to grow at a strictly horizontal fashion through just new users and instead it has to get more from the users that actually exist. This is the moment where there becomes a difference of incentive, because those users just want the network to work really well, they want it to be a good experience and they don’t want to have new things imposed upon them, whether it’s new costs or a new cost in terms of data policy.
But shareholders have an ever-growing need for growth; they want more and they need more revenue and that’s just the way that our economy is organized. So, it becomes almost inevitable that at some point platforms have to start extracting more from their users or from their previous partners. So, people like Chris Dixon from Andreessen Horowitz have articulated this really well. Anyways, what it comes down to is that there’s a big part of the crypto space that’s a looking uncomfortably at these massive networks that have such an outsized influence in our lives and that are reaching the point where they really have to start extracting more from their users to satisfy the demands of shareholders, and they’re getting nervous. People are wondering if there might be an alternative.
What comes up is this idea of crypto backed projects or blockchain backed projects of providing an alternative. This happened a bunch of different times, but the most recent one to try this or to announce that they’re going to try this is the EOS backed Voice platform. The thread that I was pointing out is really just to put a pin in this simple fact, which is for me that the power of networks is that once they reach a sufficient scale, network effects make it very compelling for new people to join and very hard for existing people to leave. That’s what a network effect does.
But at the beginning of networks, they are really, really useless. They’re very low utility because there’s so few people there or so few of the people that you want to be there. This is called the bootstrap problem; you have to have this long period of very slow growth where people have to be incentivized in some other way to join or they just have to be comfortable being early pioneers who don’t get as much value to shift their behavior until you reach a critical mass where lots and lots of people come in.
(23:09) George Manolov:
Wouldn’t it be also the case where you’re attracted to this network at an early stage because it’s so different and there’s this unique value proposition there, that could be this one thing which really got you there, for example, Instagram’s picture filters.
(23:24) Nathaniel Whittemore:
This is exactly the point, you hit the nail on the head, I believe that for a social experience, we’re talking specifically about social network alternatives, for a social network to really command a behavior shift, which doesn’t necessarily mean just people moving from Twitter to Voice, but it just could mean that I’m willing to take the time to add in Voice to my regimen of social networks that I use. I think that there has to be a hook that is about some social experience or some type of content that is unavailable to them in other places, and this is just been shown over and over and over and over again throughout the history of social networks. The reason that new social networks come up and become popular is that they offer something that is really and truly different from a content perspective.
People have noted that over the last four years or so, there really haven’t been a huge number of hot new things that have actually emerged. In fact, you could argue that really the only one that achieved that Musical.ly was TikTok, which again offered a very, very different type of experience; a short lip sync type video and all the things that those could come up with. Obviously, that’s a wildly popular network because you can’t just port that experience into Instagram, Facebook or snapchat, it really is something different.
So, my point with any of these decentralized social network alternatives is just to remind the industry and builders of them that it seems extremely unlikely to me what are the ideological motivations of why a theoretically decentralized social network is better than a centralized social network. They Are unlikely to provide sufficient motivation to reach critical mass from a behavior shift perspective. You definitely will get some people who feel disenfranchised or who have principle arguments against networks, who want to go shift behavior and be the early pioneers, but getting any sort of mainstream growth and adoption almost takes something that is so compelling that people don’t really have to care about what’s going on in the background.
So far, the big argument that I’ve seen has to do with paying content creators for their content. You’ve seen this with Cent and they’re working really hard and trying, and there are some interesting things going on there. I think particularly how artists are using it is compelling to watch. But I think for the average user right now, the idea of shifting your behavior over to a network just because they pay you for the content you create seems hard. Maybe the idea is that you get influencers to shift over, but the lifeblood of influencers is their audience, so it’s going to be really difficult.
Now, there are some interesting counter points to that. You’ve got DLive, which is effectively a Twitch competitor, that has signed a big deal with PewDiePie for him to move all of his live streaming over to DLive instead of YouTube.
(26:16) George Manolov:
Just to clarify, PewDiePie is one of the biggest youtubers, if not the biggest youtuber ever. He has close to 100 million subscribers, so naturally a deal in which he moves some or all of his content to another social media platform is huge for that social media platform.
(26:35) Nathaniel Whittemore:
But at the same time, he makes so much money from prerecorded YouTube videos that it’s low risk for him. It’s going to be interesting to see. If I had to bet right now; just paying content creators isn’t enough of a behavior shift, but perhaps that becomes a default thing that happens across all the social networks because someone invents some really cool new content format that people really like and respond to that has that built into it.
(27:07) George Manolov:
Does this make existing social media invincible? Or do existing social media giants still have some vulnerabilities? And if so, what are they?
(27:19) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Maybe, but it’s hard. We haven’t, for a long time, really seen one of the dominant networks fail. Facebook has never been imperiled, even if Instagram is ripped out of Facebook through US antitrust action, I don’t think Facebook’s going anywhere. It’s just become such a utility; we’re really dealing with a new phenomenon that we have no real context for. I think you could make the strongest argument that of the major social networks, Snapchat is having the hardest time. But one, it’s still working, it’s still being successful. But two, it’s so close in some ways to Instagram, that to the extent that it fails, it would be because Instagram just beat it at its own game.
I think what you have to look at is what are the risk factors that would really drive people en mass to a different network. I guess the one that is notable is if bots became such a huge problem on a platform like Twitter that it really started to imperil the experience of being there, or if one of these networks became so aggressive about deplatforming that big chunks of people were worried about that, maybe that would create a shift. But right now, I think that there’s still a gap between how dangerous the potentials are and what it would take to motivate a mass behavior shift. But that could change.
(28:43) George Manolov:
Nathaniel, in recent years, privacy has had a growing part of the conversation when it comes to the Internet and when it comes to blockchain’s new services. There has been a growing talk of people wanting more privacy. One of the biggest reasons for people, for example, to complain or talk bad about existing social media is the amount of data that they extract from us in order to sell to advertisers. You stated that the marketing narrative and the sentiment about privacy might be switching with the recent announcement of Apple, can you share what Apple did announce? And why do you think that this move from apple might be the driver for building a new type of online environment where privacy comes first instead of last?
(29:32) Nathaniel Whittemore:
This comes back to the question of what does the average consumer expect. This is about consumer expectations, what do they feel should be possible or should be their rights? I think this is a moving target that changes over time and in some ways whenever we’re looking at a shift in phenomenon, we need to ask what’s changed about what consumers expect. When it comes to the privacy conversation, for quite a long time, the default position, and by the way this is a very US centric perspective, I think this is very different depending on where you go and what experiences people have had with authority and with government, it’s a big caveat there, but in the US, the privacy conversation has been largely; one, it’s not been a conversation, but two, to the extent that it has, there’s been this idea that why would you care about privacy if you’re not doing anything wrong, that it’s only people who are doing things that are bad care about privacy, which I think is so patently and self-evidently obviously wrong.
I’ve joked before online: I would like to see the number of people who push that argument but also who use the incognito window regularly in their browser. But that’s been the dominant overall thinking. By the way, for a long time, privacy mattered, but it mattered in such a different way. What’s really changed is the amount of insight into our behaviors, interests, likes or whatever that the trail of breadcrumbs that we leave in our daily course of internet browsing and mobile usage creates.
The reason that privacy is increasing as a point of focus is that so too is the possibility of panopticon where we’re constantly monitored and we’re constantly surveilled. That’s not just some crazy conspiracy thing. It’s undeniable how much data there is about us. The only question is who’s using it and for what and how far that goes. So far, it’s been just things like advertising, but the problems and the challenges that that data exists and there’s a lot more types of things that it can be used for outside of just those relatively benign, I guess you could call them, targeted advertising use cases.
So, you have this background of the privacy conversation, which is, it’s growing as a point of focus in large part simply because it has to. But at the same time, for a while it’s been like what privacy’s for! Someone else. At the same time, there’s also this, privacy is the enemy of convenience; if you’re willing to trade free services and good services for access to data, that’s been a fine trade for a long time, or at least it felt like that to a lot of people. You obviously have a growing counterpoint to that way of looking at the world, and there are a few reasons; one is the 2016 elections were hotly contested, obviously in the US, half of the country was very upset about how that election went, which is always the case in the US, but this is particularly the case this time.
(32:20) George Manolov:
I would say a big part of the world as well.
(32:23) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Yeah, but let’s just keeping it in the US though. When months later that Cambridge Analytica whistleblower showed how that data had been taken outside of Facebook’s ecosystem and used to potentially have an impact on the election. For the first time, people felt that there was a consequence to how their data had been misused or mishandled, that it wasn’t just a theoretical breach or an inconvenience, that there was a world scale outcome that was really bad for that as something that they felt personal about. I think that was a really big moment of shift because previous data breaches impacted you if you had to change your credit card or whatever, and that sucks and it’s inconvenient, but mostly the system was designed to quickly fix those things. Again, I’m not talking about the people who have really had their identity stolen and all those challenges which had been growing and growing and growing too, I’m talking about just on the average scale. I think that Cambridge Analytica moment with Facebook and the election of Trump was maybe a watershed moment for the conversation about privacy.
Since then you’ve had a near constant barrage of news of data breaches and I think that in some ways these could have one of two impacts or maybe both simultaneously. On the one hand, convinces you that this is a problem, that data is an issue, that this is going to be something that has to be addressed. At the same time, the amount and the sheer number of them can almost be desensitizing; it’s like, well these keeps happening over and over and the world still stands, so maybe I shouldn’t care. So, you’ve got that as one factor. Then you have a second factor, which is interesting, which is politicians making privacy and data issues really important campaign point, and this is obviously happening, especially as we get into the 2020 election season with a huge field of democratic contenders coming up, you have most prominently Elizabeth Warren who’s calling for antitrust regulation of some of these tech giants making data such an issue.
So, now you have constant barrage of data breaches and you’ve got elected leaders really, really trying to make it an issue. The final factor and the most recent one which just came up; you have another huge company, which has an incredibly high presence in people’s lives and an incredibly high brand regard relative to their peers, saying that your privacy is something that you should value and we value it and these other guys don’t. The reason that I think that’s powerful, both on its own, but especially in combination with the other two factors, is that it’s actionizing a privacy shift. Those breaches may make you aware and those politicians may make you support regulation, but Apple is actually putting in your hand what they’re effectively calling a privacy device. They’re basically offering an alternative to social sign on that has privacy built into it. So, they’re not just saying you should care, although that’s part of what they’re saying. They’re also saying you should care and here’s how you make that caring actionable.
To me, that’s a really big shift and I wonder and hope that those things all taken together; the greater awareness, the more focus from leaders on this issue, and then companies actually marketing against it and creating products that provide alternatives to the existing way that causes data and privacy to get threatened, and together create a different situation in the minds of consumers. So again, this comes back to consumer expectations. Do consumers expect privacy by default and the products that they use to protect and preserve that in really clear actionable ways, not just trust us ways. Right now, we don’t. But I think that maybe with all these factors combined, that could be shifting.
(36:01) George Manolov:
The very interesting point, which I would like to stress here is what you shared about Apple being in a very specific position because their main products are basically hardware, they have the privilege essentially to do such a switch towards privacy compared to Amazon, Google or Facebook who are essentially have, for the most part, software products.
(36:28) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Yeah, 100%. You could cynically say, well of course Apple gets to do this because their business model is different. But that’s the point, Apple has consistently and routinely chosen business models where people buy things, their relationship is directly with the consumers. Even with how long they focused on paid downloads vs streaming before finally shifting more to streaming when it comes to their music services, and even with the fact that their streaming services is really focused on the papers, not the services. This is a company that very clearly exists in a paradigm of; if people value what you are selling, they pay you for it, rather than a newer digital advertising related world of; if consumers are valuing what you’re selling, they pay you with their attention, which then you can resell to advertisers, that’s just not Apple’s DNA
So, I do think it gives them the privilege of making this point, but I don’t think that that necessarily matters in terms of how it impacts consumer perception. I think that the average consumer isn’t analyzing the ins and outs of Apple’s business model, they’re just hearing a company that they trust or at least like telling them that they should care about privacy and then giving them the tools to actually make it so.
(37:41) George Manolov:
Oh yeah, of course. This is yet another example of a great marketing narrative that Apple is employing on a very high level.
(37:50) Nathaniel Whittemore:
(37:52) George Manolov:
Nathaniel, I would like to take a moment to talk a little about another tweet which you shared to the crypto career playbook. Before we dive into it, I want to understand a little more about your background since you have majored in history, right? Which is not the thing which people would connect to cryptocurrencies business. I’ll say even marketing is a far distance from it. I’d be curious to learn what was your decision-making process to start to study history back in the day when you enrolled in college, and before you enrolled, what was your reason for it? Did you envision to enter academia, or was it just a passion for you?
(38:37) Nathaniel Whittemore:
I was always pretty entrepreneurial. I wasn’t sure that I was going to go start companies or my own businesses or anything like that, I was just pretty sure that I would figure it out. So, when I went to college, it was with the objective of just learning about what I found most interesting. Honestly, my process at the beginning of every semester was that, we had paper guidebooks back then still for all the courses that were available, I’d look through history, anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, and flag the courses that were most interesting. I was at a trimester school, so per trimester recorder that ended up being history. So, I fell into it pretty quickly. I think for me though, the attraction of history is that you look at the events and what’s transpired, trying to understand the patterns and how they came together, but with less of an emphasis on explanatory theories. Things like sociology and political science look at a lot of the same events, but they do with the explicit intention of trying to weave them together with explanatory theories. I think that that’s really difficult to do well and you’re constantly trying to map events to your theory rather than map your theories to your events.
So, I was always attracted to the root data of history as compared to some other social science fields. For me, history is just about big patterns and watching big patterns transpire and seeing how different events shape how people exist in the decisions that they make at any given time. So, it was a natural extension to go from that to types of work that were about watching patterns, communicating against those patterns and trying to take actions against those patterns.
That manifested in a bunch of different ways. I always had a strong basis in writing. There’s always been a marketing bent to what I do, but especially again from this kind of 10,000 foot watch the pattern, see what happens, and communicate against those patterns level.
Then for a while, I was also a VC in San Francisco, which I think has a similar thing in the sense of watching patterns and then trying to invest against them. For me, I did history because it’s what made sense to how my brain worked and how I look at the world. In a lot of ways, it’s actually served me very well, not so much from a skill perspective but from a how to look at the world and things happening in the world perspective.
(41:01) George Manolov:
Love it. With that in mind, tell us a little about the Crypto Career Playbook. If somebody wants to enter the crypto industry, what should they do?
(41:12) Nathaniel Whittemore:
This is a tweet that I shared a few months ago. I was just reflecting on how open this industry is to new people and new ideas coming into it, which I think is really cool and somewhat unique relative to other spaces. The tweet was something like: one; be here now, two; learn everything, three; be useful, four; on the basis of number 3 meet everyone, and five; when someone from number 4 invents your dream job, talk to them about it.
The point was that there’s so many people that I’ve seen who find their way into crypto by starting to engage with people on Twitter and adding meaningful contributions to discussion, not sitting back and trolling or not just even lurking, but actually saying, Hey! I interpret this data differently or whatever it is. Then, they start to write or they start to do their own media creation, and people start to get to know them. Then through that they use whatever media they’re creating to go meet a ton of people. And through that, they see a whole new set of opportunities. Then, they end up jumping on one.
I’m not going to go so far as to claim that everything is a perfect meritocracy in crypto or that this is perfect. I think there are certain patterns and biases that a lot of people still have. But I do think this is an industry where literally no one can request on a job application that you have 10 years of experience because that limits you to three people, that’s totally different than any other space. I guess what I would encourage from a career perspective is that it’s still insanely early and it’s a learner’s paradise, and the more that you can learn out loud, learn in the open and learn by engaging with people, the better you’re going to position yourself to be in the place where you can jump on exciting opportunities or even go create them for yourself, depending on what you’re looking for.
(42:57) George Manolov:
All right. With that in mind, I would like to go on to some final questions, which I usually tend to ask most of my guests. First of all, what was the moment when you realized that crypto is going to be huge and you need to devote all of your time into it? Was it something that you read? Was it something that you listened to or was it a specific person who influenced you?
(43:22) Nathaniel Whittemore:
I didn’t really have a single moment. It had been flooding around in the background, Bitcoin specifically, for a while. I lived in San Francisco for a decade and a company that I advised while I was there, went through Y-Combinator at the same classes as Coinbase. So, we had that exposure to it. And for a while I was working with a company that created educational content and did consulting for fortune 500 about new technologies, and we actually created videos about Bitcoin and Blockchain in 2014 – 2015. So, it was always around.
The interesting thing was that in San Francisco during that time, the narrative about Bitcoin was not about this non sovereign permissionless global money that didn’t function in terms of the global system and it provided a refuge for people in unstable monetary regimes. It was just another mobile payment type thing, another payment solution. It was another thing that you could pay for your coffee with as you’re pitching the investor at Coupa cafe in Palo Alto.
That was supremely uninteresting to me. I didn’t even really think too much beyond that, which is totally my fault, I tend to be pretty laser-focused on whatever I’m focused on, to the exclusion of everything else. So, when I was working on different companies and different projects, I think at the time I was in education, it wasn’t something that was making a dent on first impression. It really wasn’t until I left San Francisco a few years later and got out of it and had space to reflect on things. Then, I started to connect the dots between that kind of the technology side of Bitcoin and the global impact side.
My background and where I actually started was in global impact work. So, I thought I was going to spend my life doing conflict resolution stuff or post-conflict rebuilding. I Only got into San Francisco via working with a company called Change.org when it first started. When I started to reframe and recognize that Bitcoin was actually much more about that side of my interests than about the technology side, I started to think about it in terms of the use case for people who for the first time could protect their assets from totally untrustworthy regimes in a more meaningful way. That’s what got me really excited. So, it was a set of reframing things. There wasn’t one specific piece of content or person. I think there’s a body of people who have, over the last three, four years really told that story about Bitcoin. I think that for many people Bitcoin creates a bridge into everything else.
(45:52) George Manolov:
Do think Bitcoin is helping or going to help people in developing countries to really get out of poverty? Or is it more about creating a new class of elite, which for whatever different reasons happens to be at the right time and the right place and might even become more powerful than the existing elite?
(46:12) Nathaniel Whittemore:
I think as a permissionless technology, it has the capacity to go both ways. I will put it less about getting out of poverty per se; I don’t really think that as it’s structured now and as it functions in the world, that’s the main thing. And actually, I think this is a point of confusion. I think it’s powerful as a protection mechanism in conflict situations or an economic crisis. So, it’s less about getting oneself out of poverty and more about protecting assets if the group that you belong to is targeted in some way, or if you have just a monetary regime in a total free fall. To take the Venezuela example, what’s powerful about this is not that Bitcoin can somehow save the country, I think that’s a ridiculous assertion and I’m glad that we’re seeing more and more conversations trying to hit all our narrative hopes on this country. What I do think is powerful and undeniable though is that for some small set of people who are enfranchised with the tools and the know-how to actually use it, it has been a lifeline that has allowed them to operate outside and beyond the control of the state to protect their families and to get out of the country which was never an opportunity before.
If I look back at the conflict situations that I was looking at in 2003, 2004 & 2005, when I was first exploring that as a career and a life for myself, there wasn’t anything equivalent, there was no way that you can move resources out. You were totally subject to the whims of whatever local fiat currency or whatever the black-market cost of dollars was.
For me it’s a positive and exciting thing at this moment is much more about the fact that it exists now as this hedge against the worst situations that people find themselves in, but I’m positive or and optimistic that it continues to expand as a tool for a much wider array of people and context.
(48:02) George Manolov:
That makes sense. Another question I have is what is your investment strategy when it comes to crypto currency assets?
(48:10) Nathaniel Whittemore:
I actually had a conversation about this with someone recently. Right now, the people who are going to be really successful in cryptocurrency investments fall into exactly two categories. The one hand are people who are really good, dispassionate, active traders who don’t let ideology influence them, they watch market movements, they have a sense of what’s going to happen, they know how to trade, they know how to use leverage, and they are professional. For those guys, this is a dream market in some ways, because those are the types of folks who can make money, whether it’s a good market or a bad market. The other type of people who I think are going to make money are people who are convinced about a single asset in Bitcoin and just accumulate and let it grow and have a very long-time horizon.
I think that people who are in between are either going to get wrecked or they’re going to be lucky, but if they don’t get wrecked, it’s almost entirely because they’re lucky. And that’s not to disparage any of these traders. I think a lot of the kids who are coming up now who have been successful in this market, even though it’s their first time out, just have the emergent pedigree of good traders who could go in a different world and work for a different type of firm.
I am not that. It’s a different way of looking at things and frankly it requires agnosticism to the fundamental value in the long-term of these assets to trade it well in the short term because you can’t really have a perspective on something like XRP, EOS or whatever, except in so far as what you think it’s going to do next and how you can make money from that. That’s very different from someone who’s looking at the world in terms of big patterns. So, I can’t really escape my big patternicity and my fundamental investing nature. For me, to the extent that I put assets in this space, it’s going to be largely on the basis of the core fundamental belief that I have, which is that Bitcoin is going to continue to grow and develop.
That said, there are projects that I work with that I think are cool that maybe I’ll go and just have some skin in the game. Although it frankly doesn’t happen that often. For me, it’s really about the long-term buy and hold strategy, which I think for the vast majority of people who are interested in crypto assets is the right, at least, starting point.
(50:21) George Manolov:
With a strict focus on Bitcoin, correct?
(50:24) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Yeah. For me that’s for sure the case. But I think that you could have a reasonable person who takes the same belief set, about this is a long-term asset class, it’s got a long-term disruptive potential, I think that asset X is the one that’s going to be important for the long-term. And it would still be the same idea just maybe with a different starting point. But for me, it’s definitely Bitcoin.
(50:50) George Manolov:
All right. Finally, where can people find out about you? Where can they read long reads Sundays?
(50:56) Nathaniel Whittemore:
The best starting point is definitely my Twitter profile, it links out to the website and to where you could sign up for long reads via email and that’s just “@NLW” on Twitter, so it really easy to find; twitter.com/nlw
(51:09) George Manolov:
awesome and I highly recommend it to everyone who’s listening to this. Nathaniel Is definitely doing an amazing job of curating and telling a story around the narratives and the important facts and opinions around them that have happened every week, so you should definitely go check him out and check his content.
(51:28) Nathaniel Whittemore:
Awesome. Thanks so much for having me. This is great, this is super fun.
(51:32) George Manolov:
A couple of things before you take off. First, if you enjoyed this episode, be generous and share it with your best friends. They deserve it, they will appreciate it and they will be grateful to you.
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Finally, if you have any suggestions, feedback, or anything you want to tell me, you can find me on Twitter at “@BorderlessBTC” or my website on “borderlesscrypto.com”. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll see you soon again.