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John Karony SXSW Panel Discussions (March 12th, 2022)

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Venue: SXSW, Live Grit, Grit Daily House in Austin, Texas

Transcribed by: Pheonix Rising and Arie

Table of Contents:

Panel 1: What is Venture Philanthropy? Panel 2: Fast Launch - How to Create (and Sustain) a Giant Community Panel 3: How to Engage the 'Crypto Curious' Panel 4: Impact's Next Era: Impact Everywhere Panel 5: What does it truly take to create effective DeFi?


Panel One: What is Venture Philanthropy?

Video Source Credit: Crypto Control

Nicole Cobler, Axios Austin Reporter: So I'm gonna just let all of my panelists introduce themselves. Say hi, everybody.

John Karony, CEO of SafeMoon: I'm John. I'm the CEO of SafeMoon.

James Cole, CEO of The Jasco Group: I'm James. I'm the CEO of The Jasco Group.

Jo Jenson, CEO of Iron Light Labs: I'm Jo. I'm President of Iron Light Labs.

Nicole: And we're talking about venture philanthropy today. So James and I were chatting inside. I'd love for you to kind of talk about the different players in this space.

James: Sure. I think of them in pretty much four large categories. The government is one category, and that's at the federal, state and local level. And so the government actually engages in venture philanthropy.

The second would be corporations. So, it can be large banks, it can be Google, it can be any large corporation.

The third bucket, I would say, would be nonprofits like Iron Light.

And then the fourth and last bucket, I would say, would be angel investors, very wealthy individuals.

And each of those four players, you can be in more than one bucket. So there are some corporations that have nonprofit wings. There are some wealthy individuals that not only give on their own behalf, but they also run corporations.

And so, there's a bit of fluidity among all of the different players. And once you've got those four players, they tend to break out into two subject matters.

One is: what do I want my return on? Is it on impact? And so, do I want a return on my impact, or do I want a return on my money – a financial return?

And so, any of those four categories can go back and forth among the categories, and they can also go back and forth between those two big areas: return on impact, return on finance performance.

Nicole: Right! Oh, go ahead, John.

John: Yeah, so you can actually get both of those at the same time. So I think there's a third category where you can target business models or create a business model where a prime example is energy.

When you're able to reduce the amount of friction points, you can actually pass those savings on to the customer, rather than pass those savings on to your bottom line.

So, for SafeMoon, that's what we're focusing on is actually creating efficiency to reduce our overhead so we can pass those savings on to the customers, and actually, the goal is virtually free clean energy, once the entire ecosystem is up and running.

Nicole: Right, and all of you are in different spaces here, crypto and nonprofits. John just kind of talked about this, but how are you achieving and measuring venture philanthropy and return on impact in your own positions? And, Jo, you can take that.

Jo: Yeah, so for a nonprofit, obviously, we need to have money first, right? So did your project get funded? That's a market signal. But for us, impact is human capital, I guess you could say.

Did we change a lot? Did we create awareness? Is someone's life marginally better?

For us, it's about breaking barriers so that everyone can have limitless potential and reach their potential. But that's very different than just a financial, “Hey, did I get a return on my money?” It's much more purpose-driven on the nonprofit side.

Nicole: Anything you wanted to add to that, James?

James: Sure. I would say John is so correct when he says you can do both. One, I often do philanthropy through education, through storytelling. So we invested in a short film, and notoriously short films don’t tend to make a lot of money.

You're trying to build awareness. You're trying to get people to be more involved in a social project or social impact.

And so, we did one on race and micro-inequities that African Americans face. And so, we thought it would be a return on the impact that we would get the word out, we would support people. And then we turned it into a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) program, and we sold it to corporations.

And I've made more money on that short film from monetizing it that way, and it did both. It gave us financial performance and a financial return, as well as social impact, so they can be both.

John: Yeah, and using a kind of a business model like that, where you monetize a situation that you more traditionally wouldn't monetize, it allows you to continue doing exactly that – creating more videos, creating more awareness.

The other item is, at least for SafeMoon, the way we measure return on impact is, one, does it actually change lives? And two, are we making enough revenue from it that we can continue to build out the system?

Now, turbines are easy to calculate; how many turbines have we actually put into the ground? How many more do we have in the wing? And how much energy is it producing? So, for us, it's a lot easier to measure that metric.

Now, when you start adding in the second, third, and fourth order of effects, okay, now we provided that clean energy. Did it affect someone's life? Do they have clean water? Is the standard of living going up? So you actually have to measure it by both the human aspect, as well as the monetary aspect.

Nicole: I love that. You need revenue, right? And balancing those two things, balancing revenue with being impact minded, you don't usually think of those two things together, you know?

John: Well, I think it comes down to what your motivations are: Is it to do good or is it to make money? So, for SafeMoon, we gain resources so that we can do more good.

So, for us, it's more about the impact side of it and a continuous evolution because, at the end of the day, we're playing an infinite game and not a finite game. And so, we define success as a continuous evolution, non-stagnation.

As soon as we get stagnant, whether it's integrating our ecosystem into something, whether it's installing more turbines, we can actually measure that stagnation. How many months has it been since we installed another turbine? Or how many months has it been since we got another business-to-business partner?

So, it's an infinite game, where you have to continuously evolve and also be able to pivot. Because sometimes – I'll use wind turbines because it's an easy example – you might not be getting as much wind as you expect. So how do you solve that problem? Well, you can solve it from a technology problem, or you can go back and just reinstall the turbine, put it up higher because maybe there's more wind there.

For us, we actually looked into nanotechnology to enhance these turbines, because they are small; they're about 98 pounds, roughly. But they produce 600 watts. The large one produces 2,400 watts and weighs about 300 pounds. So, for us, it's like, “Well, how much more juice can we squeeze out of it?”

Jo: Well, and I would just add to that, to me, SafeMoon is hopefully the future of what companies look like, because you have this culture shift of you don't have to choose revenue or purpose-driven, right?

And, in fact, I think younger generations are looking to put their dollars in companies that care about human capital, human folks, that human side, not just, “How much money am I making year over year?”

James: I completely agree. The other thing I would say is when we think about financial return, it can be direct financial return or it can be indirect financial return. So, one of the nonprofits that I'm really excited about is Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow, and we teach inner city high school kids.

And so, we get in a summer workshop, we teach them how to start their business, and then we give them a grant. And it's not a large grant, like 500 bucks or $1,000 to start their company. And one of our young ladies started with her $500 or $1,000 grant, and grossed $100,000 in the business that she started.

We weren't looking for a financial return, but she got the financial return. And that's an indirect return that then goes back into the community.

John: Well, it also shows success in the program, which allows you to do more of those programs. So, while you might not get a financial return on it, you definitely do get a benefit from successes.

Jo: And on the nonprofit side, you can take that return to your donors and say, “Hey, this is working.” We do that with storytelling, right? So when one of our films changes a law, we can say, “Let's go change the law in 15 more states.”

Nicole: Yeah, and consumers, I mean, Jo kind of nodded to this, that consumers are more impact minded now. They're much more impact minded.

Now, is it easier or harder to build a community in this space?

James: I think it's easier.

Jo: Yeah.

James: I think it's easier because we all start at a great place, which is we want to make a difference. We're in philanthropy. And so, we've been doing that for hundreds of years.

What's really exciting is now we're marrying it with tech. We're marrying it with entrepreneurship. We're marrying it with, from the government, when I was in the Obama administration, we wanted to do evidence-based grants. So even when we were giving money to cities and states and individuals, we were excited about, “How do we determine who to give the money to?” And the way you do that is to say performance, which again, is a venture philanthropy kind of look at it.

So I think it excites the next generation, which is really fun and exciting. My generation is happy, but to get younger individuals into philanthropy in a way that they're excited about, I think, is just remarkable. So I think it's great to do it now and build community.

Jo: And not just that, I think community members are more sophisticated, right? And so, they're going to demand more out of that membership. So if they're raising their hand saying, “I'm into you,” you need to write them back. It's not just a one-way conversation anymore. It's really a dialogue. And that's, I think, what's exciting.

John: And SafeMoon does that heavily. I'm personally in our Discord, talking to people all the time. Like, I might have not ever met these people individually in person, but I've talked to many of them online. They're like, “Oh, hi! I'm Joe.” I'm like, “What's your Discord handle? Okay, we've had many conversations, and we've talked profusely about my hatred of pineapple on pizza.”

Audience: Tim who?

John: Who? I have no idea who you're talking about. But no, the importance of communicating with your community is, it can define whether you're gonna be successful in this venture philanthropy business model or not. Because if you can't tell the narrative or the story, who's gonna know about it? Who are you going to inspire to then continue and pass the flag on to keep going and doing this business model to show that it actually works?

Nicole: Are SafeMoon holders thinking about this? When they're buying crypto, are they thinking about social impact?

John: I would think so, yes. Definitely, a lot of them are behind that. But with SafeMoon, we have a large dichotomy of different types of people. We have college students, we have board-certified physicians, and everyone in between.

I have a funny story regarding, New York City Police Department was looking for me, but not to arrest me. They were SafeMoon holders. And so Scott Paul, who a lot of you know, he went up and they were like, “Oh, where's John at?” And he's like, “What did he do?” He's like, “Oh, we want to say hi.”

I'm like, okay, so I had the NYPD looking for me. That's great. But no, it shows the importance of community and actually being able to articulate the vision. Because if you articulate a vision correctly, they understand what SafeMoon stands for. We want to do good. And we want to change the world in a sustainable fashion.

Jo: And I would just add that, as a college student, I didn't have cryptocurrency, right? And so, to accumulate wealth and then be able to use that wealth to give to a nonprofit, which many are accepting cryptocurrency as donations, I think is also changing. You have more skin in the game because you can be philanthropic with your giving, but also accumulate even more wealth.

James: And talking about community, the other thing that's really exciting is so many of us play on both sides. We are funding and Iron Light is funding one of our projects, thank you very much, but we're also doing our own programmatic activities.

So, The Jasco Group looks to fund different philanthropic activities. But we also run our own philanthropy where we're asking other people to fund us. And so, the community is wonderful that way because a lot of us are on both sides.

Nicole: I'm ready to wrap it up. But am I missing anything? Do you guys want to plug anything? What's next for all of you?

John: So, SafeMoon’s got a bunch of products that we're releasing. I’m not going to talk about a few of them because we don't want to blow the birthday month surprises.

But to speak about donations, SafeMoon Connect will be able to help with that, whether or not you want to take native tokens or have it auto-convert into a stable coin to reduce risk. But SafeMoon Connect is one of the products that is coming out here very shortly, and SafeMoon’s just going to keep on truckin’.

James: I would say The Jasco Group is an investment management firm. So we manage money. We also do venture capital and filmmaking. And what I'm so excited about what's coming next is we just launched Jasco Philanthropies, which is going to bring philanthropy across all of those different verticals. So we're really excited about that.

Jo: I would just end it with – we train storytellers how to empower folks on the ground who are closest to the problem and have solutions, but maybe need their voice amplified to tell that story. And just being here at South By (Southwest), I've heard so many great stories that we could make a film on, help amplify, so this is great.

Nicole: Awesome. Thanks, y'all. Again, I'm Nicole Cobler with Axios. We have this local newsletter in Austin. Definitely check it out if it's in your city. But yeah, thank you all for joining.


Panel Two: Fast Launch - How to Create (and Sustain) a Giant Community

Video Source Credit: Crypto Control

John Karony, CEO of SafeMoon: College students to doctors to police officers to a very, very large audience. So, when you're working on your messaging, and this is something that we've both succeeded at and failed at, at times, you have to work on your messaging to be able to communicate to everyone simultaneously.

And when we're able to communicate with everyone simultaneously, that's when we see the largest amount of success when trying to put a message out.

So, for us, it was focusing on that. It was also, when relationship building, if they don't know who you are, you can't really build a relationship. You can't really make a friendship.

So, for us, we're one of the cryptocurrencies, or crypto companies and tech companies, that really mainstreamed what they call doxxing within the cryptosphere, because usually, projects are very quiet about their identities.

For us, we wanted to put our names behind what SafeMoon stands for, and that allows us to communicate more clearly with our community.

Alexa Curtis, Founder of Life Unfiltered: Hey, guys! Oh, wow, that's so loud. My name is Alexa Curtis. I am the founder of a college summit company and had a show on Radio Disney. But I started as a blogger back in 2011.

So, I was actually just talking to Sydney this morning about how, back when I started, this whole term influencer, Instagram wasn't even really around. So, I definitely think in the terms of building a community, really starting small.

I think people always go right to, “Be authentic and use your voice,” and I think that's great. But I think the bigger question is: how do we teach people how to be authentic? I don't think that a lot of people honestly know how to do it, right? Because of social media, everyone wants to kind of be someone else or look like someone else.

So, certainly failures; so much rejection along the way, especially in entertainment. And then, I think the biggest success has been with this college summit program that I started with the colleges, like you said, with those students, like getting in front of them and really being able to see how hard it is now for people to find their identity. That's kind of a huge main focus for us.

So yeah, and utilizing social media is obviously great to build community, engage with people. I know crypto’s super big on Twitter, so I'm kind of interested in that space. And I’m, yeah, glad to be here.

Sydney Bradley, Business Insider: So when you were building a community, when was the first time you realized you had a community? And what did that look like? And was it what you wanted it to look like?

John: So SafeMoon was an organic growth. And in all reality, we grew so fast, I don't actually know how to answer that question. It’s just like, here's the family, here's your family, here's the SafeMoon Army. Communicate with them. So that's kind of the inception.

Yeah, it moved really, really quickly. So didn't really have to go through some of those major building steps. But the steps that we had to take was, how do you build trust with that community, which was doxxing ourselves, learning how to communicate effectively with a wide audience.

And listening. Listening is super important, and it's also very beneficial for a business to be able to talk directly to their community, to their users, and hear exactly what kind of features they want.

We don't have to hold a focus group and then hope for the best. I can hop in the Discord and be like, “Do you want me to cross the chains?” And then if I get a resounding “Yes!,” then we cross the chains.

It's a very simple process, and it actually cuts down a lot of the costs that go into developing products. Again, to reference my former panel, if we're able to eliminate friction points, we're able to pass those savings on to our users and also on to the project where we're trying to get a return on impact.

Alexa: Back when I started blogging in 2011, does anyone remember This is so long ago. You would have to click on the side, click Subscribe – I don't know if anyone knows this – and now there's Squarespace and WordPress.

So, you would go on someone else's website and comment and then they would go back to yours. And you're like, “I want a follow, you follow me back.” Now, I think it's so much easier because you can build something on Twitter or on TikTok.

And you can use that same technique, right? Go and comment on someone's post or DM someone, LinkedIn and message them that way. So I think that's kind of cool with building a community. And I think that's how I did it from the beginning – authentically.

And now with social media, it's so much easier to just continue to grow it and when you get the yeses from people, so when you ask students questions, and we send out forms and whatnot, if they say “No,” then we won't proceed with an idea.

But then if a bunch of people say, “We want this panel idea” or whatnot, we take that pretty seriously, and then go from there and send out forms. And I think trying to get as much feedback as possible to continue to build a community is really important.

Sydney: Yeah. And so, John, I know you use Discord and obviously, Alexa, you use a plethora of platforms. What platform today do you find is the most effective to reach your audience and community and also go beyond providing a service, whether that's writing a podcast or providing products?

John: You can actually break it down a little bit. So, if you're trying to put a statement out, use Twitter. If you're actually trying to converse, use Discord. And then, you supplement that by using Instagram. Well, you can use the digital medium, such as YouTube or a video on Twitter, so you can then supplement each one of those.

But Discord’s kind of our main hub because it's a live conversation. Twitter is not really a live conversation. If your internet's slow, you gotta keep hitting refresh. So that's better for public statements.

YouTube is great, but that's kind of a fire-and-forget. Even if you have a live stream, the chat’s going so fast, you can't really converse. And if you're on the live stream, you're not really looking at the chat. You're looking at the camera as you're working with the crew on the set.

But yeah, so Twitter for statements and then Discord for engagement.

Alexa: That's a great question. So I agree with everything you said. I also think a lot of times when I'll talk to aspiring entrepreneurs or young college students who want to start a company or have a side hustle, they're always like, “Okay, I'm on Instagram or TikTok, but it's not working.”

And I'm like, “Okay, but I think you need a product, right?” Because people will always think, “I'm going to go right to TikTok and post or I'm going to go to Instagram.” It's too saturated now. When I started, this wasn't a thing, so I had so many years to build it.

So, unless you're going viral, which is a negative percentage of people, but even then it's like, “Why do you want to go viral?” What are you trying to promote?

So I'm a big fan of having a website. I mean, I'm on all the platforms. I have podcasts and whatnot. But I think something audio based is great. A podcast or having a blog is, honestly, really important. Because I think, then, you always have something to sell and fall back on, because social media might not always be here.

So I don't tell anyone, “Rely only on posting one tweet a week,” right? That's not going to build what you could build in the way that if you had a website or a product like SafeMoon obviously can do.

John: Yeah, it's playing on the strengths of the platform.

Sydney: And I think one thing that people, there are so many things we were told to do of building platforms and building communities. What's one of the biggest mistakes you've made in your past of trying to engage with that community and build it and build a safe but also an exciting community as well? That’s hard; some things are boring.

John: As I mentioned before, it's about learning how to communicate effectively to everyone and deliver a message that resonates with each individual person. And so, it wouldn't necessarily be “Oh, what was the biggest mistake?”

Well, there was an AMA back in April, I think that was probably one of the ones where we did not effectively communicate what we wanted to communicate. And so, I had to hop on a live stream after that and clarify the points we wanted to make.

But it was a learning experience for us, realizing if you're going to be in a very chaotic environment, either prep the person more beforehand or get them to go into a quiet environment where they can deliver the message that they intended to deliver.

So, it's about learning how to communicate effectively and using the proper mediums.

Alexa: I think coming from the influencer, I hate that term, but the influencer social media side of things, I would certainly say, I totally lost my train of thought. Can you ask me the question one more time?

Sydney: What are some of the biggest mistakes you've made as you built your community?

Alexa: Trying to do too many things. I think now with TikTok and Instagram and a website and a podcast, I have struggled watching it grow like this. When I started, none of this, like I said, was a thing.

So I’m trying to do all of it, but it's really hard. I mean, it's creating content. People who do that full-time, it's kind of fascinating because it's slightly exhausting and kind of boring if you do that all day, sometimes.