Breakfast with: Federico Tenga (alumnus MiM ESCP), Bitcoin Entrepreneur and Co-Founder at Chainside.
Federico is an early bitcoin adopter, co-founder at Chainside and consultant for blockchain implementations. In December 2014, he founded the Italian branch of the BEN (Blockchain Education Network) with the aim of spreading the network in the Italian Universities.
Q: First of all, I would like to thank you for taking part in this episode of the ESCP Finance Society’s “Breakfast with” agenda. How did it come to your mind to deepen your knowledge about Bitcoin in 2015? What did your classmates think about it at the time?
Actually the first time I learned about Bitcoin was in 2011, when I was still in high school, but even if I found the concept very interesting at the time I didn’t get passionate about it. Later, in 2013, I finally started studying it, trying to trade it and start with my first projects around Bitcoin. While at university I had many classmates that showed some interest in the topic, but just few decided to try to learn more about it or buy some coins.
Q: What is Chainside and what is your long-term plan?
Chainside’s goal is to make easier the interaction with the blockchain for enterprises, reducing technical barriers with a simple interface that abstracts the complexities of Bitcoin. Right now we are focused on bitcoin payment solutions for merchants, but since differently from some other competitors we built our own technology from scratch, we are able to enable new blockchain use cases according the customers demand. In the long-term, we aim to establish ourself as a leading company in the industry and facilitate the transition to a crypto-based economy.
Q: Why should a firm choose Bitcoin over fiat money? What are the advantages of the former over the latter?
Bitcoin presents multiple advantages, both for people using it as a medium of exchange and for those using it as store of value. A firm accepting Bitcoin payments can benefits from the absence of charge-back related frauds as the settlements of a Bitcoin transaction is some order of magnitude faster than any traditional payment system (just about 10 minutes). Moreover, thanks to its permission-less nature, Bitcoin makes possible financial interaction also with people who do not have access to traditional financial infrastructure, or people who care about their financial privacy and prefer to use a tool not controlled by any centralised entity, increasing the potential customers of a company. Bitcoin has also the advantage to be programmable money, making innovation and automation more effective.
On the other hand, enterprises looking for a superior store of value for them or for their customers will find in Bitcoin an asset with limited and deterministic supply backed by frozen energy, somewhat similar to gold but technically more advanced.
Q: Do you actually believe that Bitcoin is an expression of financial world’s democratization (given that 97% of Bitcoins is held by 4% of the addresses)?
I don’t think that the distribution of wealth is really related to financial democratization. Bitcoin is an expression of permission-less finance, meaning that anybody in the world can have access to advance financial tools without having to deal with the limitations imposed by local regulation. This means that under a financial perspective, people in developed countries won’t be as advantaged as they are today over people in developing countries with poor banking infrastructure.
Q: As of 4 February 2018, the number of existing cryptocurrencies is over 1,512 and still growing. Who will thrive in such a market in the long term and what is the competitive advantage of Bitcoin over the other cryptocurrencies?
Most of those cryptocurrencies out there are already to be considered dead, only few of them actually have a decent transaction volume. In general, I am expecting a consolidation in the coming years, if you think about that the purpose of money is to be the single intermediate good that everybody uses for trading, so with the exception of transition phases when better money substitutes inferior money, people will always converge on using a single currency. This means that there is no space for multiple cryptocurrency in the long term, and the market will converge on the best one, which at the moment seems to be Bitcoin as it has the more stable and battle tested technology and a stronger network effect. Some cryptos claim that their purpose is not to be a currency but something else (e.g. a world computer), so they are not in competition with Bitcoin, but the truth is that they still need a native currency to secure their blockchain, so they will suffer competition anyway.
Q: Do you think it is possible to apply financial theoretical concepts to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general? For example, is it possible to identify the fundamentals of a crypto? If yes, please explain how.
There are fundamentals in crypto, as there is an utility that people consume while using cryptos. When you want to evaluate a cryptocurrency you have to ask yourself “do people have any benefit in using it” and “is it long term sustainable”, which also implies how scalability concerns are being addressed. Bitcoin has already proved to be a good store of value and a useful medium of exchange for a least some niches, and current protocol upgrade proposals create optimism about the future, while most other cryptos are in a phase where they still have to prove themselves to provide some kind of real value to the users and have long term sustainability.
Q: Different investors use different methods to analyse an asset before investing in it. Which method should an investor in Bitcoin use? And if you have ever invested in it, which one did you use?
I studied the technology and tried to see the potential and the limitations. I know it can be hard for people without a technical background to really understand how the technology works, but if you don’t make some effort to study it as much as you can, it becomes very easy to make very expensive mistakes when it comes to investment. Understanding the tech helps you to see what the long term trend can be, while for the short term I consider any kind of trading mostly gambling, so it can be fun but there is no much you can do to systematically outperform the market.
Q: Warren Buffett in an interview to CNBC said: ”I can say almost with certainty that cryptocurrencies will come to a bad end.” In your opinion, are we witnessing the burst of the bubble or a healthy correction?
I believe that corrections are a natural part of a price discovery process, so as an asset gains popularity it is to be expected to have both bull market and bear market phases. The fundamental value of the technology is growing with new protocol upgrades being proposed every week, so I consider the daily price fluctuation just a distraction.
Q: Last question, what is the most important piece of advice you can give to the ESCP students that would like to pursue a career in Fintech industry? What are the most important qualities to succeed?
You need to be willing to go out of your comfort zone and start studying stuff you know nothing about on your own, you can’t be successful in Fintech if you don’t know how the technology works under the woods. You also have to deal with the fact that the university cannot help you in any relevant way to be prepared for the industry, it is a fast changing environment and few people are knowledgeable about these topics, and they usually don’t teach in universities. The good news is that nowadays there is so much information freely available on the Internet, so you can easily learn a lot alone, but it requires commitment and genuine interest.
It has been a pleasure to host you at our “Coffee Break”. Thanks again for your time and patience, Mr. Tenga!