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How does cryptocurrency empower the individual to choose? By giving the individual decentralized systems. In this episode, Monika Proffitt’s guest is Laura Wallendal, the General Manager at Thesis. Thesis is a cryptocurrency venture production studio that builds and launches projects in the crypto space. Join in the conversation and discover how cryptocurrency gives you immense power in your life. But with great power comes great responsibility. So how can you make crypto work for you? Tune in!

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I’m here with Laura Wallendal, who’s the General Manager of Thesis, which you might start to realize is maybe a little more like being a COO without the title. Welcome, Laura. It’s so nice to have you on. Thank you.

Thanks for having me on. I’m excited to be here.

I’m excited that you’re here. It’s weird because maybe if we had known this, you could be sitting on the couch next to me and we could be talking to each other like this or something. The format might not be as good. Thesis is who you work with. You’ve been with them for a while now. There are some cool developments that we have to cover because that’s usually how people when they come to me, they’re like, “We have a new announcement. That’s why we have all this PR.” I’ll be like, “Sweet.”

You fall in that category, which is awesome but you also fall in the category of a fellow San Juan resident, which is wonderful because next time when we do a follow-up on this, you have your next lunch. We can have drinks or something like that and make this much more of a fun thing. I want to start with what is Thesis, to begin with.

Thesis is a venture production studio in crypto.

Venture production is like, there’s new money and you are producing videos or a TV show about crypto.

We’re a venture studio. It’s the cross between a venture fund, accelerator program and startup people.

Is there a Venn diagram?

There is a Venn diagram that I’m describing here. We’re right in the middle of that and what we do is build and launch projects in the crypto space. All of the different projects that we have and the first one started in 2014 and now we’re launching our fifth project. Everything has started in-house. We build everything and start everything in-house. The ideas come from in-house. We don’t look externally for founders, existing ideas or companies like an accelerator program like a Y Combinator might but instead, we come up with the ideas ourselves what we want to see exist in the world and we build it.

You’re not going, “How can we take part of the equity in your company and bring you in and build you up?” It’s more like, “It’s an interesting idea. It’s already been done. We’ll do our own.” It’s nothing else.

There are a couple of venture studios out there. Consensus is an example of one. They are a big venture studio. We see a lot of similarities but a lot of differences. One of the differences is we’re small and have high leverage. We’ve only got about ten people at the studio and we’re not planning on growing that to too many more.

We only launched 1 to 2 projects a year. Two projects in a year is a stretch for us because we’re a few people. We’re small and high leverage and startup operators at our core. We think about, “What is the next project that we want to launch? What do we want to do? Who’s the team? How do we get this started?” Everyone at the studio jumps in and there is a cofounder of that startup. We hire ourselves out, spin it up and spin it out.

That sounds like a very interesting way to work. A thing to me meets like an execution. You get to all the way to the iteration and that sounds incredible. If I scrap what I’m doing, I want to check out what you’re doing.

We’re always looking for oddly shaped puzzle pieces, like these foundries, startup types who have deep industry expertise or deep domain expertise, whether it’s marketing, biz dev, design or engineering and we think about, “How do you work with a team and help them scale? How do you start, get your hands dirty at first, replace yourself, do it again and also continue to support the projects that we’ve already launched long-term.” It’s a lot of juggling between projects at very different stages but we always love that early baby stage, that 0 to 1.

That sounds like being a startup founder on steroids. The opera mom, I started pondering. It’s like, “We’re going to have 8 instead of 1.”

That’s what general manager means.

You said that’s because you have a flat organization. You got to have to be pretty flat if you’re going to get anything done with that much agility in a replicated startup environment.

At the studio level, we work with high-level folks who are both strategic and incredibly adept operators. Somebody who can jump in and be like, “This is what this new company needs. This is how I can get it done. This is 0 to 1 and now I’m going to hire myself out of that job so I can do 0 to 1 somewhere else.”

You said one of the projects that you launched was Fold, one of the earlier ones. Tell me about that.

That is the early baby days of the company. This was in 2014 before I joined the company. In 2014, Fold was launched. I’m very good friends with the founders of Fold, Thesis and all of the above. We were friends from a previous company accelerator program. We went through one together and they left their startups. We started Fold and they tried to get me to join them in 2014. They both stayed on my couch and they were like, “Leave your startup, come join us in Fold in this crazy Bitcoin startup.”

I was like, “No, I’m not into Bitcoin. This is not my thing. My company is going to the moon. This is what I need to do.” I was 100% wrong. I am still giving myself for not having joined them in 2014. I waited until 2016. Fold is a Bitcoin reward debit card. It’s going to be a credit card soon, but it’s a Bitcoin reward debit card. You can spend normally. Instead of airline points or credit card points, you get Bitcoin.

It sounds way better because my airline points never go up in value at all.

The mission behind Thesis and everything that we build and back and support long-term is the freedom and autonomy for individuals. Airline points, it’s not empowering an individual. It’s empowering you to spend your airline points with your airline credit card points. You can spend these points at these specific places and vendors. Bitcoin, you can do whatever you want with it, take it out, move it to cash, keep it in Bitcoin, earn interest on It. Whatever you want to do, it’s yours.

Decentralized System: We build and launch projects in the crypto space.

It’s also this nice on-ramp into crypto in a fun way. There are a lot of games and gamification for Fold. It has a daily spin wheel and a spend spin wheel where you can earn more Bitcoin on your purchases, not just your certain regular percent. That creates some interesting spending habits, a lot of interesting daily active use and that sort of thing. They also launched the beta version of their metaverse on the Fold out. With an AR interface on your app, earn stats by finding them around the room.

Is it like Pokemon Go of credit cards apping?

They partnered with Niantic, who launched Pokemon Go to launch this portion of their app. I used it three times now. It is fun. That was the very first project that was launched.

I want to know more about Niantic and all of those things, but I don’t want to get off-topic. We’re going to have to do a version two of this. We’re going to have a series, both women in blockchain talking to each other. It’s the only time you’ll see this many in one place, almost like a snuffle up against like, “If you see one, you’ll never see another.” You’re saying Thesis is accessibility and the need to always be thinking through getting more people into crypto, but also increasing diversity in crypto. That ties in a bit, right?

Yes. When we think about what we’re going to launch next and we’re on our fifth project now, which was launching in December 2021. We think a lot about who this is serving and how do we help serve the early crypto audience but also extend that. There is a lot of tribalism in crypto. One of the projects that we launched in 2020 was Keep.

It’s a privacy protocol for Ethereum. We built on top of Keep, TBTC, a way to bridge that coin from the Bitcoin blockchain to Ethereum and do it in a decentralized way. Not like a WTTC where there’s like an LLC score in Canada. Not like some of the other competitors that aren’t decentralized. This is like a truly centralized way to move your Bitcoin from one chain to another.

We thought a lot about, “We’ve got a couple of different audiences here.” One is our Bitcoin and the Ethereum audience as well. We’re thinking about this multi-chain world and we wanted to build it so that we could move it to lots of different chains as well and unlock the liquidity of Bitcoin. One of the things that you need to do and think about when you’re building these things is how do you attract those longstanding Bitcoin holders and those Bitcoiners to this new world of lots of different chains and coins, and there are strong sentiments on either side. We wanted to build it in a way that captured this ethos of the Bitcoin building like decentralized, no control, no keys into the backend of it so that you could access, no multisig wallet where we could have your keys, thinking about that not your keys and coin concept.

There’s one way that we look at it. The other way is as we’re building these different projects, we need to expand our user base beyond that early tribalistic group of people who are going to be our first adopters. They need to use and love it, but we need to extend beyond that. How do we do that? The user experience of crypto sucks. It’s hard and confusing.

It’s almost like, “Are you trying to keep me from doing it because you’re making it hard to do it?” Even sometimes, I’ll run into a certain protocol, an app or a trade I want to make. I’m like, “This isn’t new to me and I still can’t do it. You must not want to take my money, come on.”

It makes it intimidating and creates the barrier to entry this big moat where if you’ve been in it forever and you feel confident using these tools, language, lingo and all of this stuff, you’re free to enter, but not anybody else, thinking about democratizing finance. We throw that term around a lot. We throw around empowering the individual, democratizing finance, how you have freedom of your data, choice, information, all of this stuff, but the user experience of that does not lend to expanding that user base very well. It’s intimidating.

I’m so glad you guys are making that something on the forefront of what you’re trying to address with all of your inventions and all of your innovations because I’ve been beating the drum of user interface, experience. User experience in general for years now because the first person to make crypto as easy as Apple made the phone is going to own crypto.

They’re going to clean it because if you can’t do that, you’re losing everybody. The minute that somebody doesn’t need a user’s manual or any instructions to get something going, it’s going to be incredible. Until that, it’s like, “Is that your private key or is that your public key? We don’t even know. Is that a seed phrase? Can you make up the seed phrase? Is it like a password?”

It’s like, “Where can I store it? Can I store it on my computer? I should have to store it on my computer. Can I store it on my phone? I shouldn’t store it on my phone. I’ve only got half the store at night. I have to write it down on a piece of paper and put it somewhere.”

It was the whole thing because they still seem to have the think, “What do I do? How can I get it ever again?”

I wear my tinfoil hat proudly, get my security down, understand the landscape, know where I’m going to be because with great freedom comes great responsibility like, “You have your own bank, congratulations.”

“Welcome to your bank. You can’t call anyone for support.”

Those are problems that we look to solve with design, user experience and thinking through this stuff but we’re still early days with that. I can’t promise that all of our next projects that we launch are going to be the most welcoming and understood by the widest audience, but that’s where we’re inching towards and where we need to continue to push that boulder up that hill.

Speaking of pushing the boulder up the hill, can you talk a little bit about Tally?

Tally is our newest project at Thesis. It is a community-owned and operated Web3 wallet.

It’s a wallet that’s operated by everyone. Does that mean that your money is pooled or does that mean that it’s kept separate and there is something else about the community aspect?

There’s something else about the community aspect. It’s like a browser extension wallet similar to a bunch of others out there in the space.

It’s owned by everyone.

The big difference is here between what exists now and what we’re building is we are open source. We are going to have a DAO that makes decisions on the future of the protocol.

Decentralized System: We’re small and high leverage, and we are startup operators at our core.

The DAO is the Decentralized Autonomous Organization. It means that if you are a member of this community, if you have downloaded it and put your money into it, you now have voting rights to help guide it.

We’re saying there are a lot of issues and problems that these browser extensions wallet face, and we don’t want to solve them alone. We want to solve them with the users and say, “You’re looking at the future of crypto, governance and decision-making.” It flips the user and the company itself on its head quite a bit. Imagine you can have a vote to say, “What features need to be built next? What do we need to focus on? What is most important for you as a user of this wallet to see in terms of features, security or chains? What change do you want it to be on next? How do you want it to function? What do you want us to focus on?”

We’re launching a beta of this app like an early community version, where you can download it from the Chrome Store and participate in the community. We’ve got over 6,000, probably more than that, members on our Discord. We have community calls every week and it’s mind-blowing how many people show up to our community calls, participate, have great conversations and we’re saying, “This isn’t our wallet that we’re deciding what happens next, how to build this roadmap, structure these next things or figure out every single integration. This is the community’s roadmap to make those decisions. We’re developing it and giving it to the community.”

Is there going to be a coin associated with this wallet? How does that get worked out?

With the wallet, DAO and the voting and the governance, all of that stuff will come together.

What’s the coin going to be? Do you know what it is or is it not out yet?

There is not anything out. It’s thinking about building this community and delegates and thinking about how we can gain a lot of traction within our community and a lot of protocol politicians and thinking about people who are using lots of different protocols and participating in that governance. We also want to make it easy within the wallet to participate in governance. If you’re holding a token in your wallet that there’s a vote coming up, we’re thinking a lot about, like, “How do you get notified of that vote? How do you notify that you’re holding a token that gives you the ability to make a decision on behalf of one of these protocols?”

Are you going to be able to track the level of engagement from your users in terms of like, “This is our voter turnout?” Wouldn’t it be amazing if you can have an innovation that has a better voter turnout than a country and see how you form an upgrade on the country?

That’s one of those ideas that we want to hear about, like “What info, tracking, all of this stuff?” We, as Thesis, who’s building this and launching it, we’re not going to own and track that.

What if they want to know about themselves? What does the community even take an interest in or whatever?

How do you build that momentum towards what people want to know and share? Privacy is important and now you’re sharing that with a DAO. Not accompany, we’re not going to be collecting that info. We’re building this stuff, putting it out there and saying, “It’s yours.” We’ll continue to build on it and be the team behind it but we’re not going to own it like a centralized company owned some of these things.

That’s the biggest difference with all of the other projects that are out there nowadays, that are wallets like this that there’s a centralized company behind it, that’s owning all of these decisions and stuff. They’re making the decisions and it’s their bottom line that they’re most worried about. We’re saying, “If you’re a user of this wallet, you should get paid to use the product.”

I’m excited to see what you might think of Visa, the two articles that I’ve written on an economic model that helps to codify how profits and revenues of any company can be redistributed in an automated standard way. As you reach the level of what it costs to run the organization, you take the profits and redistribute it to everybody who’s participated.

If there’s a cost, but outside of that, it’s not like, “The coppers have a few take it all because capitalism seems to break at scale.” It works great up to a point, but when someone takes all of the money, it stops benefiting even the person. There’s no way that person could even benefit from what they’ve amassed and they’ll never get through it.

They’ll never be able to contribute to the world. It’s like a coagulated clot in a body that needs better circulation. Being able to codify how and at what point, we start to redistribute on purpose. Not through a taxation system and a charity, but if there’s an engagement level there, and then if you’ve engaged it, you’d completely make it a circle between the creator and the consumer. They’re no longer working in silos. They’re the same.

That’s exactly how we think about Tally.

A simple logarithmic spreadsheets so we can figure out exactly at what point you start redistributing, you’re going to go like wildfire. If a model like that was implemented, every single price would be driven down to its cost, making it the most competitive mark one on the market. If there’s any price whatsoever, everybody else is going to have to jump on board and keep lowering their prices to continue to compete. If I had Monika’s Amazon Prime and I said, “I’m not going to do Amazon Prime unless our costs are $100 million a year.”

Everybody pays me Amazon Prime. After I reached my $100 million a year, it all comes back and it starts coming back into your wallet because the more people that pay and more redistribute until suddenly it’s not $100 million, it’s $90 million, $80 million, $70 million, $60 million. Amazon is going to have to change their Prime pricing because I can do it for less. I gave up the profits and I gave it back to the users. If you implement that consistently, you can end up being the most competitive price on the market, based only and solely by community engagement. With 6,000 people, you’re off to a great start.

The community engagement has been wild. Our last community call had over 600 people who joined, which for community calls, that’s enormous. In our first one, we had over 100 people join and we didn’t pay for marketing. We didn’t do any of this stuff. We put out a blog post about our ethos, what we believe. That’s what started to drive this, bring people in and get people excited because they’re like, “No, I believe this too.”

Speaking of bringing people in, you mentioned to me before we started this, you guys are hiring. You’re going from ten to apparently enormously more. You’re looking to hire tons of people. Who and what are you hiring for? Let’s know, what do you need?

At the studio, we are planning on staying pretty small. The studio itself, the projects that we launch are a different story. In the studio itself, we look for oddly shaped founder-type puzzle pieces. I’m looking for people with deep domain expertise, amazing marketers, design, biz dev and a strange startup founder ethos. Thinking at the studio where we want to expand, we’re not going to grow super huge. We’re looking for a couple of key roles and positions. One in marketing and others in security research but it’s also looking for folks who don’t necessarily fit one of those categories. I’m an example of that.

I’m a startup Founder. I did growth for a while. I do operations. I’m a COO type. I helped start and fund these different companies, think about our funding models. They do a lot of defy stuff. I’m a very oddly shaped puzzle piece. We’re looking for folks like that who want to push the boundaries of their creative edges and also look at our projects.

Our projects are growing fast. What we do is at the studio, we swarm around a new idea and we’re all cofounders of this new idea. We spin it up and we replace ourselves with the team that is going to take it to the next level to launch it and build it. We’ve got open positions at Fold, TBDC, Saddle, and Tally. We’re looking to hire talented people and we’re looking adjacent to the crypto space. The crypto space is small. If we keep hiring each other, we’re not going to grow, learn or change our mindset at all.

You have the same party every week and expect to be a new person.

Decentralized System: If you’re the user of the wallet, you should get paid to use the product.

We have to go to different parties. We’re like, “What’s adjacent to this crypto space and find these crypto-curious people.” Bring them in and say like, “We’re launching something cool. We’re not going to teach you how to do your job, but we’re going to ramp you up on crypto.” That’s what we look for.

That’s a great place to end because we can include some links to all of the all the companies that you mentioned. People can check out the websites themselves, see what you’ve got, see where your careers are, what you’re hiring for, what career opportunities are there. If you end up with a job at one of these companies, please say that you found out from The New Trust Economy because that would be amazing.

I have interviewed a lot of people that are focused on one project or a few projects. Sometimes they’re those crazy Steve Jobs types that are like, “I do this and I do that.” I’m like, “Are you asking for pancreatic cancer? What are you doing?” It seems like you’ve found a sustainable way of having your fingers in multiple different balls, which is cool. I love this. I’m like, “Why didn’t I think of that? That’s so great.”

We’re still working out the kinks. There is a lot of stuff that we’re learning and trying to do well. There are a bunch of opportunities.

People have got plenty of rabbit holes to fall in, run down into and find out what you guys are up to. This has been awesome and great to learn, not only about Thesis, but all the projects you guys are doing and the way you fit these weird puzzle pieces together, which sounds like it could be an HR nightmare. It could also be an HR dream.

It’s a dream. I love everybody that we work with. We’re very lucky.

You don’t always hear that from people. They’re usually like, “Let me tell you how much I like my team.” I’m like, “Let me tell you about why I like the company.”

The team is number one in my book. The company and the projects that we do are also pretty cool and amazing, but it’s mostly the team that I get to do this with. It’s the best part.

I appreciate you coming on and telling us about this stuff. Laura Wallendal, I know that you’re the only one on the internet. If you find one of them, it’s only her. Thank you so much. Do you have anything else that you want to add? I don’t know. We covered everything.

We’ve covered a ton. I want to do this again. This has been amazing. I’m loving this. I’m excited about all the things.

Thank you so much for coming on. I was here with Laura Wallendal, the General Manager of Thesis, also known as the COO, but in a flat way. We will catch you on the next episode. Thank you so much for reading.

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About Laura Wallendal

With a background in sales and as a graduate of three Accelerator programs (MassChallenge, Techstars and Betaspring), she has learned what companies need to focus on in order to determine growth and potential. She is a former founder of EdTrips, former growth consultant for over 20 high-growth potential companies, teacher of sales and business development for General Assembly, frequent speaker, and board member of Wallendal Farms in central sands WI. Currently, she is the General Manager at Thesis, a cryptocurrency and blockchain venture production studio leading companies to market.