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.
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 blogger.com? 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.
So, I think probably the biggest mistake was trying to do all of it, instead of just really focusing on one thing. So, sometimes, I remind myself to really go back to the blog because that was the starting ground. And I think that was what made me successful.
So I would certainly say, trying to pick one avenue and put a lot of effort into that and see how that grows.
Sydney: Yeah, and I think, for the audience, it’d be helpful to know when was your community actually solidified? When did you realize, like a year almost, what year did you see this is a community? This isn't just a bunch of people using one service, one product.
John: So, SafeMoon’s only been around 12 months as of this month. Happy birthday, SafeMoon. And happy birthday, SafeMoon Army. So last year.
Alexa: I've been doing this for about 10 years now. So I think I had two pivotal moments that I really realized. Probably the first summit that I hosted with Drexel in 2019 but, before that, it was just years of rejection. So seeing all the students come to that was really interesting.
And then, probably when I got the yes from Radio Disney because, before that, like I said, I was just doing so many different things. And then, that was the one where I was like, “Okay, if someone at that caliber believes in me at Disney,” then I think that's when I really realized, “this is the product.”
Sydney: So only a year, but several years, as well. How did you keep everyone engaged? Did you ever feel like you were losing your community? And how did you fix that?
John: For us, it's not really about losing community. The community evolves, people come and go, but generally speaking, it's just about communicating and continuing. We're playing an infinite game, not a finite game.
And so, you can't look at it as an, “Okay, next year, we're done.” No, we're continuously evolving, and we need to continuously be able to deliver the messaging regarding what we're doing, and we've gone through different evolutions.
In the early days, it was an AMA three times a week on voice chat on Discord. Quickly realized that was absolutely chaotic. So then, we went to two times a week, but we then were using Microsoft Teams. And so we’d do a live stream, but we’d just get the screen of Microsoft Teams and talk there.
We did that for a bit. We were doing that two to three times a week, then it kind of evolved to twice a month, and now we're doing SafeMoon “Special Events.”
And so, being able to evolve your communication style will allow you to continuously engage your community, but you can't forget your roots. So, for us, I still engage on Twitter, Discord, Reddit, Facebook. Am I missing anything else? No, I think that's it.
Alexa: That's a really good question, too. I have noticed that, and that was kind of why I launched this summit program, is I didn't really always want to be in front of the camera, because the issue with that is that you have people relying on you to talk and be yourself every day. But if you deal with depression or anxiety, you don't want to go on Instagram every day, right?
So, I think that something that I found really interesting is having a product where you don't have to be the face of it, so not a personal brand, and that can kind of roll on its own.
So as long as you're putting out consistent stuff to people and with me hosting the summits or whatnot, if I have days where I don't want to go on Instagram, like my personal one, people are still following that.
But I think that actually is a good point to try and at least be on two or three of these platforms – TikTok or YouTube or have a podcast – so that people, if you aren't necessarily on Instagram, they're still able to go other places and find you and what you're working on.
Sydney: Yeah, I think also, you were saying before how SafeMoon wants to “doxx” yourselves and be the face and the name behind things. And, Alexa, a lot of your work is putting your personality out there.
When it comes to owning a community, building that, and building those relationships, how do you discern what to include and reveal about yourself? And is there anything you wish you’d never shared with your community?
John: I'm just myself. There's no version of me that exists with the community and outside. I might not share some personal details about my life, but what you see is what you get with me.
Alexa: I wish I had started in crypto. This wasn't around really – well, I guess kind of in 2011, I'd be really rich if I was in it then. But I find it so interesting because it's all anonymous. Like, in a sense, a lot of people in crypto are anonymous, so it's the opposite of what I've built.
John: It's very robotic. So, crypto was very robotic, and there wasn't a human element to it. And so, SafeMoon is a human-focused innovation company. So you can't run as a bot, so you have to run it as a person.
Alexa: Yeah. But yeah, I mean, I've put thousands of things, over the years, I shouldn't have put on the internet. And I tell kids, “Don't do what I did; use my mistakes.”
So yeah, but I mean, I think a lot of that is trial and error, too. If you are building something, you just don't always know. Like I said, I’ve put stuff out there, and it wasn't perceived in the way that I thought it would come off.
So, I think whenever you do post on social media now, because it is a company, right? So, even if it is my life, or I go on a bad date or something, someone at a TV place might look at that and be like, “Oh, my God, this is not appropriate.”
So, I think just trying to be unfiltered, but always having some sense of a filter so that nothing you put out is taken the wrong way.
John: I would say it's like decorum, common courtesies. So what you might do at home, whether you slurp your soup or you don't put the dishes away, that's the stuff you don't really share. But this is who I am, this is what I believe in – that's the stuff you do share.
Sydney: Yeah, and so when it comes to running businesses, with communities as the base, customers as the people who are promoting the companies, promoting the brand, using their services, why is having a community so important for your companies?
And how do you use that, whether that's pitching VC’s for investments or finding new opportunities? How does that community bring you ahead and why is that important?
John: So, for SafeMoon, 0ur community is at our core and also integrate into our development cycle. As I said before, when I was wondering whether or not we should do cross-chain, I'm like, “Well, I'm just gonna ask: Do we want to cross the chains?”
We got a resounding yes. Great! Put it into the development cycle and get it out.
Alexa: I mean, it's crucial. You can't really get anything or anywhere. I mean, no one's going to give someone, just for a small idea, a million dollars, right? They need a product behind it, some type of plan.
So I certainly think that building a community and just being really good with networking and outreach is just critical in all of the early phases, and even further into it.
I mean, I think a lot of successful people become successful because the success is not really what they're looking for. Even if they become successful, they still want to build something else.
So really going back to those roots and, again, trying to look at the first people who followed or wrote emails and whatnot, those people have followed me from the beginning because of authenticity, right? They like this personality, they like this voice.
So, as I evolve and change, they kind of grow with me. And I think that's kind of cool about social media, too, is there are so many different trends and whatnot. But people just choose what they like. They choose which crypto company they want to invest in or where to put their money, even as it involves they're staying with that one bank, with that one company, and there's a reason for that.
Sydney: Yeah, and one thing I cover a lot is the creator economy, and there's becoming a much more pivot to community members understanding that they are part of that economy.
How have you adjusted to customers and people who follow you to realize that they are part of your company, they are part of your vision? And community kind of becomes blurred in that way.
John: So you're talking about natural progression or the growth of internal influencers within the company or within the brand?
Sydney: Yeah, and obviously, anyone who follows your company, who uses your services, that interaction is much more transparent today.
John: There are people who are more vocal than others. So someone, who I will never say their name (who?), there are other people within the SafeMoon Army who are a little bit more vocal. Whether they put YouTube videos out, whether they are really into hoodies, they're a little bit more vocal, and they have more of a defined personality.
And then, you have other people in the community that hop in and out casually. But just like with a family, you get to learn everyone's personality types. Some of them are bigger than others. And then, it's learning how to listen to the more quiet people as well as the loud people at the same time.
And that's an ever-evolving process as well because people come and go, people evolve, people leave. And so, it's being able to adapt and pivot with the communication style that you're using.
Alexa: I don't know if you guys ever saw in the news a few months ago, there were two girls – I'm gonna use their names because they were on the news – Brittany Dawn and this Caroline Calloway girl. And they had built these massive platforms.
And the one fitness girl, hundreds of thousands of followers and like, “She's so hot and everyone wants to be her.” People were giving her $100 a month to make these custom fitness plans. And it broke on the news that they weren't custom.
And I think that was a really interesting thing because it reminded people that, as much as she emailed you back or she replied to your DM, that's not authenticity, right? That just showed you right there, this is all kind of fake, and that sucks.
So something that I've certainly noticed that I do quite often is if someone replies to a story, like if I put up a poll, right, and I think Instagram is really great for that kind of connection, I'll DM someone if they follow me, “Why did you say this?” or “What interests you about that?”
And then from there, I'll be like, “I launched this other program called Mentor Match. So can I offer you a call with a mentor?” And I think that a lot of people are like, “Wow! Why is this girl replying to that?”
Just because you have the following doesn't mean that you stop engaging with people all the time. Like, why would I not reply to that? But I certainly wouldn't send out a fake custom fitness plan, because people are gonna find out. It's the internet. You can't do that stuff.
Sydney: Yeah, and I think, too, right now we're seeing a big reimagining of what community means, whether that's talking about metaverse ideas or Web3.
How are you preparing to “future-proof” your communities and have them transition into these new spaces and new concepts of interacting in these internet worlds?
John: So we started off as Web3, so we're not really transitioning into Web3. But I'm gonna go back to it; it's continuous communication with the community and getting their feedback when you release a product. That'll allow that community to evolve not only by themselves, but also with the company and the brand and the vision.
Alexa: Okay, so I can't really answer that directly because I'm not really in crypto. But that being said, I would certainly say, based on how fast these things are moving and how interested people are in NFT's in that space, something I do is certainly, on my podcast, I'm interested in the crypto space. I don't really understand it, so I want to learn about it.
So I take my platforms and say, “Okay, I want to learn,” which means someone else out there wants to learn about what an NFT is or how to build this kind of a company or what is Web3?
So then, I’ll post a podcast episode with an expert in that space or a video to talk about whatever it is, especially in that crypto space so that people kind of understand and learn that way.
So I wouldn't necessarily say evolving it fully, going into Web3, in my sense, because that doesn't really apply to my company, but talking about it does because everyone's interested in it.
Sydney: Yeah, and I think, no matter what, when you are the person running a community, building that community, there are fears. What are you afraid of? If you are, or maybe you're not.
John: I don't let fear go into my decision-making process. So, I usually just bury that away and filter it out, so hope that answers the question.
Alexa: My whole thing is being fearless. I didn't think about this years ago when I was starting, but this whole cancel culture, I think, is bullsh*t. But it does go through my mind. Now I do way more consciously think about what I'm posting because I think it would be really easy to be canceled.
So it's a weird thing to think about. But you really just have to think a lot harder about what you post on the internet because of that.
Sydney: Yeah, and just to wrap it up, too, what do you think are the most important lessons for someone who wants to build a community right now? What would be the first step to take?
John: Learn how to communicate effectively to a wide audience and learn how to listen to a wide audience.
Alexa: I think the one piece of advice I would have is to just start small, instead of getting frustrated if you post a video or Instagram, whatever, and you don't get a lot of views. It's because you haven't really done the outreach. People don't necessarily just come to you.
You really have to seek out a customer and find that market and try things out.
So, I would certainly say start small. When I did the first summit, it was with Drexel, right? I didn't go to Vanderbilt. We got that afterwards. I don't think they would have said yes initially.
So, certainly, starting small like that, and then trying to have case studies from everything that you do.
Sydney: And, in my reporting, I always ask this question to anyone I'm interviewing: Is there anything I didn't ask you that you want to say?
John: I can talk about community all day long. So, we got other panels to do, but I'm good on my end.
Alexa: I think I'm good.
Sydney: All right. I don't know how to end this officially, but here we go.
Part Three: How to Engage the 'Crypto Curious'
Video Source Credit: Crypto Control
Interviewer: Robin Raskin
- 1990 Executive Editor of Pc Magazine
- 1995 Editor in Chief of FamilyPC Magazine
- at its height, the magazine grew to a circulation of more than 700,000 readers and was supplemented with exhibits at Disney World’s Innovations
- She appeared regularly on CBS Up to the Minute, CBS This Morning, MSNBC, Fox TV
- Has been one of the featured "CoolHotNot Tech Xperts,"
- Was a columnist for USA Today Online
- One of the founding contributors of Yahoo Tech. - Author of six books, magazine publisher, blogger, TV and radio personality
- She serves on the board of the CTA Foundation
- Founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations to look at the intersection of lifestyle and technology https://www.techtarget.com/contributor/Robin-Raskin
Robin Raskin: Okay, awesome. How weird Austin really is. My son is in the glamping business. So I stayed outdoors in Wimberley last night. Do you know how cold it was in Wimberley last night? Yeah, my phone wouldn't even charge it was so cold the water froze. So it was weird and beautiful. But that's about enough about me.
I just I'm gonna give you my cred for this panel. I was the original editor of PC Magazine when it was a magazine and it came in your mail. And then I launched a bunch of conferences and events, particularly for you at CES. I launched the digital money conference and worked very hard to make the folks at CES understand the importance of crypto.
So really great to be here with John. John Karony is, first of all, an amazing human and he will tell you about it, but the first thing you have to do is give him a round of applause because he was just this week, right? Nominated Utah, Business Leader of the Year, right?
John Karony: Yep.
Robin: And, yeah, then Utah is on its way to being Wyoming and Texas in terms of adoption of crypto. That's right. That's exactly right. So John, how many people know about SafeMoon? Okay, but let's zero them back to what you envision and what you're building just for people that don't know about SafeMoon.
John: Well, I can start with the core which is, SafeMoon is a human-focused innovation company. So ROI - Return On Impact. So, the more impact that we have, the more technology we release the greater our ecosystem can grow, which then feeds back into the Return On Impact. So, increasing the impact of the world doing good.
Robin: Yep. Humans and crypto. Yeah, human impact is a noble cause. So let's start with a little bit about you. How many people know that John was actually in the US military?
John: Yeah, so I was a nerd. I was an intel analyst. I got to do some cool things. I was supposed to be a reserve but most of my time was spent on active duty status. I would, I would probably sum up my career as getting roped into things that are not intended to get roped into. So like, hey, go do this cool. Okay, now they know the school. You're gonna go to this other thing.
Robin: And you went to Afghanistan, right?
John: Yeah. So I spent six months in Afghanistan back in 2018. It was a good experience. We'll do it again. But it was a good experience. I learned a lot and was able to really test my character and my skill set, took a lot of lessons learned from there on, you know, different aspects of what causes like what, what was the crux of the issue in this in this arena.
Robin: So yeah, and you also got to see how many moved there and yeah, right. Not especially efficiently I assume.
John: No, no, they use cash for the most part, which you know, when you have something that isn't transparent, it can create a lot of issues to the point where, you know, more corruption that happens, the more conflict that's created, and just this ever ending cycle, the other aspect I learned was kind of like entropy, you know, first, third, fourth-order effects. What happened in Afghanistan would have a ripple effect across the globe. You know, there's an example where they would go and burn a poppy field to get rid of you know, the heroin trade, but then that increases the demand for other narcotics, which then affects what happens at the US border, which then affects legislation, you know, in Washington, DC, which then affects Afghanistan, which that affects shipping lanes, everything's kind of tied into each other. And so that's one of the things that I identified while I was there was just the ripple on and follow on effects of one single action can create a title way that the other side so becoming aware of that, and also being able to utilize that where you can not only monetize your, your, your first initial product, but you can also take advantage of the second third fourth-order effects on that.
Robin: Right, so yeah, I think we're seeing it in Ukraine right now. The same kind of things. And actually, we're seeing crypto playing a major part in what's going on in Ukraine on both sides, when to raise money and when to hide money. So
John: Crypto is like the worst place to hide money because it's on a transparent immutable blockchain. Like just use cash, but like no, don't use crypto for that stuff. It's completely visible.
Robin: Yeah, some people do pretty well. But yeah, so anyhow, so Afghanistan, you're in the military, you get trained and special Intel and ops.
John: So my whole job was just to know things. And so I became really good at learning things really quickly and rapidly, which is very beneficial when you're trying to pivot in business or learn a new concept. So it's really really helped me how to learn and then retain knowledge.
Robin: So you also have this incredible, sweet spot in your heart for all things Africa, don't you tell us a little bit about what you're doing there?
John: Yeah, I spent most of my younger years I lived in Kenya and Ethiopia and then moved back to the States. I actually grew up overseas so got exposed to a lot of different cultures, but there's a lot of resources not in terms of like, you know, natural resources, but knowledge as well, untapped potential that exists in Africa where there's a different school of thought or methodology where if you're able to provide access to opportunity in that region, the innovations that can come from there are stuff that we can't even fathom. We're able to connect communities and connect different minds together, you get a different perspective. And that perspective is value-added in the world.
Robin: Do you think it's because we have the dollar and a very traditional banking system here? It's sort of like we had a landline telephone system. When mobiles came in, the African subcontinent was faster to adopt it than we were in many ways. Do you think you're seeing that with crypto also?
John: Yeah, it's really easy to innovate there because they want the technology and they understand why go through all the steps that the West had to go through when they can just skip to 5g or skip to renewable energy?
Robin: Tell us about I know you're working on a project in Africa.
John: Yes. Yeah. I can't really discuss the details of that right now. But I can say that I was there last week.
Robin: Things went well?
John: Yes, things went well. I'll be going back there soon.
Robin: This is what happens when you talk to a Special Ops guy
John: I was a nerd, just a nerd.
Robin: So what is your definition of venture philanthropy? What does that mean and how does crypto tie into it?
John: Well, first off in crypto, using Blockchain technology, you're able to reduce the friction points in a system. You're able to create an efficiency, that you can't really get with the traditional systems in place. I mean, for example, when you're doing wire transfers, why does it take two days to go through? When in reality I can just shoot USDT, right here on stage, to someone on the other side of the planet. And at that point, it's just how fast can the Ethereum blockchain go? Or the amount of transactions per second?
So, when you're able to decrease that wait time, those two days that were wasted doing that wire transfer, you can just get straight to work. Because we're able to create efficiency in our systems, we're actually able to get a lot of savings. This is where philanthropy comes in, rather than take those savings and increase our profits, we take those savings and we pass that on to our customers. And then we target areas, that are target product lines that increase the quality of life in areas that traditionally don't have the same standards that we have here in Austin. So it's targeting those industries with a very efficient ecosystem to create good. Yes, we still have to make money, we still have to bring in revenue so that we can continue that innovation. That's where the venture philanthropy model comes in, where there is going to be an ROI. But because our metric of success is how much of an impact we have? It's more about the impact than how long it takes, for example, a wind turbine to pay itself off.
Robin: Right. I know you love wind turbines, renewable energy.
Robin: So the way that works, is the efficiencies that you save with SafeMoon, a portion of that goes towards this...
John: Well, it reduces our overhead cost to where we can actually implement more. So, for example, if you have $10 and $5 of that is what it actually costs for the product. Rather than take that full other $5 and just pocket that, what we do is we put that back in and now we're actually spending the full $10 to get two products for the price of one.
Robin: And will your community benefit from that as well?
John: Yes, as the ecosystem grows and as the adoption of SafeMoon grows, the community does benefit.
Robin: So, let's talk about what SafeMoon has now. There's a token, correct?
John: Yeah. So our first product or the first piece of software was the SafeMoon token. We then released the decentralized exchange, Swap by SafeMoon. And that supports both the Binance Smart chain and the Ethereum chain. We'll be adding more chains as time goes on. And then we released our wallet. We have over a million users between Android and iOS. So, we've seen a lot of success with that. And we have SafeMoon Connect coming out here shortly. We have a lot of products but they all kind of feed into each other, into one ecosystem that then ties into some of the stuff we're doing in the infrastructure development space.
Robin: So the wallet is here, that's good.
John: The wallet is here! You can find it on the App Store or Google Play Store, just search SafeMoon.
Robin: And you have a huge community...
John: We do.
Robin: How'd you do that? Come on, give us the secrets of the trade because they seem to be a very active, vocal community.
John: Yeah. So they were extremely active to the point wherein the beginning, we were just trying to get our feet underneath us and figure out what was going on. In terms of how do you manage just this massive, very passionate family that we have - the SafeMoon army. So, in all reality, I don't really remember the first few months it was a lot of sleep deprivation. But as I said in the previous panel, what we focused on was being able to clear or to communicate clear messaging to a wide dichotomy, whether it's a college student, or a board-certified physician, being able to say one statement, but actually resonate with both demographics.
Robin: Yeah, that's not (easy) and to keep in touch with them what you seem to do a really good job in your community. So now, I'm gonna have to ask you about the elephant in the room.
How many of you have read about SafeMoon lately? You have been in and out of the news a fair amount. There's a class-action suit that I doubt you can tell us much about, but I think you can tell us something about it and what it's like to be in charge of the company that's facing some tumult?
John: SafeMoon won't comment on an ongoing case. However, that's a business model that we don't support. It's about venture philanthropy. And we're looking forward to clearing things up.
Robin: And the clearing things up, I'm gonna just read my notes, there were a group of people who accused SafeMoon of false and misleading statements and not having the liquidity behind the currency. Are you talking to your community? Are you just hoping they all go away? And I guess the lesson for everybody here is what's the strategy in a crisis? Because I think you've done kind of well, you had some staff changes as well.
John: Yeah, my brother went back to college, there's nothing super complicated about that. Somebody asked "Well, what's the timing? And I'm like "Classes start in two weeks, you got to get back meet, meet up with his friends. He's a younger individual and so he's got a year and a half left on his degree. So, it's just something that he wants to do, he's like "I might as well go and do it now".
But again, we won't comment on an ongoing case, but SafeMoon will continue its mission, will continue moving forward because we have a broader and greater goal, which is to do good in the world. And we'll continue to do that.
Robin: Okay, trivia question. How did you get SafeMoon as your name? Does anybody know how they got SafeMoon as the name?
So it's a play on words. So there's a common phrase used in, I think, it started on Reddit. It's called "To The Moon". It was popularized during the whole game stonks meme era. Well meme era, that was last year. It's been a very, very fast-paced year. But yeah, so it means "To The Moon". So SafeMoon is "Safely To The Moon". It's just a nice little metaphor.
Robin: What other lessons do you have for this audience? You have stood your ground, you're articulate, you have a vision and you stick to it every day. That's not easy for an older person or a younger person to do. How do you compete in a really crowded, quick-moving space?
Well, first off, we're not competing with other people. We're competing with a version of ourselves ten years from now. Again, business is an infinite game, not a finite game and so it's about continuing the evolution, continuing to push forward and improving the company. We're not perfect and we never will be, because perfection is a journey, not a destination. Nice little paradox there. So for us, it's how do we be better tomorrow, the next day, five years, ten years down the line? So with that NorthStar that we follow, we put that into our products. We put that into our team, just like when our products evolve, we upgrade, whether it's the new cross-chain swap that we're putting in. The team also has to evolve as well. So people will come and go from SafeMoon over the next ten years. However, the vision and the mission is what remains.
Robin: And so how much of a hands-on kind of guy are you and when it comes to coding all of this or are your coders somewhere else?