At Consensus 2022 in Austin, I had an opportunity to meet some influential personalities who have been in the blockchain and crypto space for a long time. Interviews with these early adopters give the readers a unique insight into the early days of this industry and help them understand and make sense of the hype.
Sean Bennett is an early adopter of crypto. He believed in the technology so much that he dropped out of medical school to pursue a career in digital currencies and blockchain in 2014. Before this, Sean built stablecoin technology on Ripple to streamline remittance processes. He has made Ripple and Stellar’s first stablecoins. Today, Bennet is involved in developing payments and financial infrastructure through his company, Stronghold. This interview allows us to pick Sean’s brain about the current state of blockchain, crypto, and, more specifically, stablecoins.
However, before I got into those questions, I started my interview by asking about Stronghold and how Sean got involved.
“Stronghold is a FinTech company, that is streamlining payments and financial services. I got into this because my mother’s family is in the Philippines and blockchain remittance seemed like a logical solution. It was really hard seeing how much money was being taken the FX rates and fees from some of the poorest people. That really does not seem to be right.”
“2011 is when I first touched Bitcoin. 2013 is when I first started building on it. My Co-Founder, Tammy worked at Stellar. I was building several products on top of Ripple and Stellar. So very early, we both had the shared vision of increasing access of payments for everyone on top of these sorts of technologies was 2017.
“A lot of funding started moving into the space. Tammy and I thought, well, let’s actually give this a real go and start our own company. So that’s sort of what started off Stronghold originally.”
It was interesting to learn about Sean’s background and his origins. He had learned about 2011 and was already building on it in 2013. Bennet was a very early believer in this technology. Thus, I proceeded to ask for his advice to someone looking to get into this space in 2022 but worried about the risks.
“I certainly couldn’t recommend to everyone, Hey, go and leave you degrees. But for me, it wasn’t so much about any of the currencies. The speculative market really wasn’t relevant for me. It was just a belief about the underlying technology that drove my decision.”
“So just seeing blockchains and other distributed ledger technologies come along, it was just before Ethereum, and that would have made the decision even easier. But it was clear that something of this technology is going to be the next future. That’s why I bet on; not the cryptocurrency piece itself.”
It is interesting to meet people who were involved in blockchain even before Ethereum and identify the impact blockchain technology would make. Sean expanded on his early days in crypto.
“It was it was Ripple originally. And I remember the Ethereum pre-sale around the time that I was I was starting to build, and then Stellar launched in 2014.”
Sean continued to talk about his journey into crypto as he focused on payments.
“It’s been payments for both Tammy and I. That’s what we’re most passionate about. Because they’re so fundamental to almost everything we do. There’s movement of value behind the scenes and everything that affects our lives.”
Next, I inquired about Stronghold’s native token and why it’s vital for an organization like Stronghold to have a native token.
“We originally released the stronghold token in 2018. It was a loyalty token for the users on our platform at the time. It sort of laid dormant for some time, while we just focused 100% on revenue which has put us in a good position.
“Now, thankfully, what’s really been exciting those in the last 18 months, we’ve reintroduced the token back into our ecosystem. And it now plays a part in our Merchant rewards program for both to our business customers, and our technology partners that have integrated to us. So, we’re starting to introduce DeFi concepts to them and the value of DeFi to very traditional customers.”
Next, I asked Sean about Stronghold’s ecosystem fund and its purpose.
“It really is just putting our money where our mouth is. We believe very, very strongly in that ecosystem.
“We faced some challenges along the way. Woman-lead organization, with my co-founder, Tammy, we both come from non-prestigious backgrounds. So, it’s great to be able to give back and invest in companies that you know, sort of underrepresented discriminated against.”
“It is great to see Sean and his Co-Founder Tammy interested in helping underrepresented communities to get involved in this space.”
“Stronghold is a reputed Fintech business with an excellent eCommerce presence. So my next question to Sean was when crypto would become the norm in eCommerce.”
“So for Stronghold, specifically we focus on giving our customers access to a breadth of payment methods, right? So not just your traditional, hey, here’s your debit and credit card. But Then we also add the ability for our customers to access virtual payment networks and things like blockchain.
“So it’s really about that breadth of payment options for us because our customers come for that traditional payment, and we’re able to add the extra value to them over time.”
“I think that how long will it be before the end consumers are totally paying with crypto, I still keep saying it’s 10 to 20 years away before we see proper adoption.”
I suppose there’s still time until we start paying with our cryptocurrencies. But what about other use cases of blockchain technology like remittance?
“I think in that space, we are seeing a lot of innovation that it will make it sooner rather than later. But a lot of that’s going to be behind the scenes. I think I still think most people are going to be using traditional currencies on either side. So, you know, I think five to 10 years, we’ll actually see a lot of penetration of crypto movement of value for remittance.”
Next, I asked Sean’s opinion on stablecoins. I know he has an extensive background with stablecoins, but these pegs have had some negative coverage recently. So I wanted to get his opinion on the algorithmic stablecoins.
They’re incredibly useful. We’re going to need some sort of stable coin. I don’t think it’s just going to be CDBC. I don’t think that’s, that’s a world that people want. And that’s not going to be the most useful thing.”
“I think the main thing to just be careful of in the traditional world with banks, there’s certain controls, they need to have treatment of the way they hold their reserves, the capital requirements. I think we’re going to see some regulation coming, at least in the US and the EU that will strengthen and give more people confidence in regulated stable coins.”
I was pleased to learn about Sean calling for more regulation with stablecoins. But why are they so important?
“People today still love and use fiat currency? Right? Our customers today, that’s how that’s what they deal in. I don’t think we’re going to see them swapping out currencies anytime soon. We need to be able to support the ability to have that value represented on chain to do all the things we need. And then interact with the regular banking systems at each end. I don’t think we can not have that.”
I understand the advantages of a stablecoin. But is it hard to maintain a peg?
No, I don’t think it is. Companies like Circle are doing a good job. Regulation will come in. I think there are some companies that are doing a good job today – a really good job at it.”
I had to get Sean’s opinion about the bear market. Sean has been in the cryptocurrency space for a long time; thus, it is interesting to hear his opinion on this crypto market situation.
“It’s happened a couple of times. Like the rest of the market outside of crypto, it won’t last forever. I’m sure of that! It doesn’t change anything necessarily for a lot of the companies in the space who aren’t linked to the value of crypto like Stronghold. We’re all about payments transaction volume, that that’s where we live, that’s the value we give our customers, it doesn’t actually matter what the prices of crypto are to be able to keep doing that.”
So, how can people identify a winning project in crypto and blockchain?
“I think that’s a really, really hard question. And you know, not something that I think I know more about than anyone else!”
It was great to hear Sean’s honest response. We are still early in this market, and it is hard to predict the future. Sean has given some insightful answers about the early days of crypto, use cases of stablecoins, and the current state of the crypto market.
Metaverse Insider would like to thank Sean for taking the time out for this interview. We wish him and the rest of the team at Stronghold the best of luck.