When you hear the word blockchain, what is your reaction? Do you think it’s a fad that has been over-hyped, or do you have a vague understanding of how the tech works, but you’re not really sure how it will impact your life?
Neither reaction is wrong. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, are still in their infancy. But they will soon fuel a worldwide cultural and technological shift that is going to disrupt every single industry, whether it’s finance, film, automotive, social media, data security, or real estate.
Samantha Radocchia, the author of Bitcoin Pizza: The No-Bullshit Guide to Blockchain, is an early blockchain pioneer. She has led corporate trainings at Fortune 100 companies, governments, and the United Nations. She has educated leaders all over the world on these emerging technologies and how they are going to shape our daily lives in the decades to come. She was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in 2017.
She is a three-time entrepreneur who holds several patents and is the co-founder of Chronicled, an enterprise blockchain company that’s focused on supply chain.
Whether you’re an executive who is looking to prepare your business for this decentralized future or you’re somebody who is curious about trying to learn as much as possible about the blockchain hype, this is the episode for you. Samantha will be your guide and give you the confidence to explore this technology, by first showing you the big picture.
Samantha Radocchia: I grew up around technology, gaming, and coding, and teaching myself. When I was in college, I started my first company and it was a technology company. It was a totally random thing. I was studying anthropology–I come more from a social science background–I really am that weird kid who was sitting in the back of the class, observing people and seeing what they do. I noticed that a lot of people were spending time on computers.
I built a company around that. Something I noticed that was a struggle for me, even though I had this self-taught engineering sort of hacker background, was that when I built the business, it was a completely female-founded business. When we went out to raise money, there was such feedback in the market in terms of these assumptions, because our team looked the way they did, or because they didn’t study computer science in college, I couldn’t possibly be a technical co-founder.
Everyone said, “You need a CTO, or how do you understand what you’re doing?” The thing with that first company is we ended up building software that was more advanced than Netflix at the time. They were recommendation algorithms. We built software that to this day, people say it’s not possible to do.
I went through this period of time as a 19-year-old girl where I had a lot of self-doubt. It was largely around the fact that, on one hand, I loved tech, whether it’s deep tech or new tech or thinking about how technology is impacting society and people and their behavior, and I ultimately went on to study it through advanced degrees. But, I still had this sort of gap or insecurity around the idea that, “Hey, if you don’t have this sort of qualification or if you’re not an engineer or an economist, you can’t possibly grasp or understand or build businesses around this.”
That frustrated me, and it carried on for two more businesses after that. Ultimately, the desire to write this book came when in 2014, I co-founded my most recent business, and Bitcoin and the underlying technology blockchain were certainly not something that was part of the common discourse. Many people had never heard of it–they hadn’t heard of Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. For the first few years, I spent a lot of time educating people.
I did a lot of public speaking, a lot of one-on-one meetings, or board presentations, or sitting with the leaders of governments. Say you were a leader of a country and you’re not confident enough, or you’re afraid to admit that you might not understand this, or if you’re a person whose kid has come home and says, “You have got to buy Bitcoin.” And you say, “I don’t know what it is.”
All you read about is what’s in the mass media, or that terrorist and drug dealers use this stuff. What I found was this kind of broader challenge that I had faced where I was learning to find confidence and understanding around something that can be very scary and villainized, like technology.
I would sit in the audience at events where I was speaking, and no offense to people who are coming from the perspective of a tech-minded presentation, but they would jump straight into this super boring rant about mining and get into the nitty gritty details of the wallets. They would just lose the whole audience.
They’re thinking, “Hey, you know, I really don’t understand how this works.” And more importantly than how it works, “Why is it important to me, what’s happening right now that everyone is talking about it? Will the nature of my company in business change such that I won’t have a business anymore or will automation take my job away?” There is all this fear.
I really think we’re actually at a beautiful moment in history where things are changing and they’re changing very rapidly. But it doesn’t have to be in a way that is scary or reminiscent of a Black Mirror episode. We all have the capability to make decisions that influence where we’re going, which I think is incredible. I think giving access and confidence to people–that’s what I try to do and hope to do with this book. It’s not a deep technical guide. It’s more about why it’s important. Why our culture and our global economy and our society and the way we do things, why that’s changing right now and why you’re all a part of it.
The Importance of a Good Origin Story
Charlie Hoehn: Give me a quick rundown of why you chose Bitcoin Pizza as the title?
Samantha Radocchia: My background again is from the social science perspective, and when I think about blockchain, or distributive ledgers, or the broader technologies that enables automation or AI or machine learning, I really don’t think about it in terms of technology.
I could care less if we’re using a blockchain five years from now or some sort of quantum ledger. The way that I see it, or the lens by which I view things, is from a socio-cultural perspective. For me, the shifts were going on as we were laying the ground work, before the release of the Bitcoin white paper in 2009. The 2008 financial crisis precipitating this and really showed people, “Hey, we need to think differently about the way our global economy, and by extension, global supply chains and world, is structured.”
I think of it as this broader socio-cultural paradigm shift. To basically pay homage to that, I thought, “Well, there are these culturally relevant moments in the history of this particular technology, including the origin story.”
We have this one origin story where an anonymous person or a group of people propose the Bitcoin white paper, and that’s Satoshi Nakamoto. That’s the most prevalent origin story, but what Bitcoin Pizza represents is there is another origin story, which supposedly is one of the first transactions on the Bitcoin network, which is again, not true. It’s just a story about a young programmer named Lazlo buying two Papa John’s pizzas for 10,000 Bitcoin.
The story rose to mainstream recognition when the price of Bitcoin was very high and those pizzas, all of a sudden, were many millions of dollars. I think for me, it’s a name that represents the origin story, and the myths, and the cultural aspect of the changes that are taking place. I think as you read the book, you’ll see that a lot of the framing narratives of each theme or chapter are largely around how the technology is shaping our daily lives. And I just like pizza.
Why Blockchain Matters
Charlie Hoehn: Why does blockchain really matter to people?
Samantha Radocchia: I welcome these questions and there’s a chapter in the book about the naysayers. Look, I’m not here to convince you, certainly not here to give investment advice, ever. I’m not here to convince anyone, one way or another. That’s why it’s TheNo Bullshit Guide to Blockchain. I’m so personally sick of hearing people pontificate about the uses of this technology or thinking of it as a ledger.
What I’ll say to these people, the analogy I like to use and that I actually refer to in the book, is if you think about something as simple as a map. In the mid-90s, we remember companies like MapQuest and what they were making were better navigation tools. A better map–moving a map to a digital direction.
But that’s not really what they were doing. When you look at Google Maps–they took a totally different approach around 2005. In the early 2000s, they didn’t look at it and say, “Hey, we’re not just going to build a better map that gives you better directions. We’re going to view this more as an open system for location data.” What we saw then shortly thereafter was Uber and the rise of ride sharing. We saw Airbnb, we saw Yelp, we saw all the food delivery apps, and they were running on top of Google Maps or started off running on Google Maps, and so we basically created a system by which other people can build other systems. That created an entirely new business model, called the demand economy.
We’re now seeing all of these IPO’s after the past decade of development on this business model. We’re still in the phase of looking at blockchain and Bitcoin and thinking of it very literally. We’re thinking of it in the same way that if we were to look at a map and say, “Let’s digitize it,” and now we have a map that shows us data points on a computer.
Versus looking at it and saying, “This isn’t a map at all, this is just a set of information where we can build products and services and companies that we can never imagine.” Now expand that. We’re not just talking about location information–we’re talking about opening up all of the information. Imagine what business models will be invented that people have not even begun to think about.
Charlie Hoehn: The changes that are to come with blockchain are almost impossible to imagine now.
Samantha Radocchia: I’m not a fortune teller and that’s a very risky business to get into, but throughout the book, I give examples of days in the life in the not too distant future of things that we could reasonably expect to happen shortly or are already happening now.
Day in the Life
Charlie Hoehn: Give us some of those days in the life of blockchain?
Samantha Radocchia: This is maybe not so day in the life, but it does get into retail. I was talking to the entire manufacturing industry of a country in southeast Asia. The way things are made today in our daily life with Amazon, it is super easy. You order, it’s produced in some sort of factory, and then it goes to a distribution center. Then you click on your button, you order it, and it is delivered to your home in a package. That’s changing.
There’s a chapter in the book where I talk about supply chains, which is the area where my most recent company focused, shifting to what I call demand change.
We have this combination of a technology like additive manufacturing–3D printing or 3D knitting of objects, and then a combination of that in a blockchain where it would hold the design files of a lot of different brands. Let us say instead of going into a shopping mall, which don’t even really exist anymore, but let us say a clothing retailer on the street on New York City. Instead of having clothing racks with a bunch of clothes, you might have a screen, browse through the screen, see the samples of these clothes, click on it, and the machine is there that just knits or creates the sweater–right there on demand.
The way it works is that we’re connected to a blockchain network. So, the design file for that sweater is on the blockchain. A payment is then released back to the brand, and a payment goes to the store, and then you get your sweater. When you think about that, it is definitely a change in the way that you shop as a consumer.
Amazon is already moving in this direction with patents that have been filed to create knit clothing in the delivery truck. To go back to the pizza analogy, and you could joke about pizza all you want, but companies like Dominos Pizza have consistently been on the forefront, not just in terms of market cap, but as tech innovators, in terms of the way that they automate and create the pizzas themselves.
For example, making the pizza on demand in transit in an autonomous vehicle or a drone, that is just one example of how, from the consumer’s perspective in your daily life, it may or may not change. Things might be more efficient. The food or the clothes might get to you more quickly or it might be more personalized. It might taste better. It might be catered to your preferences. From the business side is where people and business owners and companies and employees get a little nervous and they say, “What does this mean? I own a factory, what does this mean for me?”
When I work with them and speak to them, I say we are going through this process of needing to unlearn and recognize that the assumptions we’ve made are now changing. We have to base them off of new assumptions. As a factory owner, you now own a physical space and you have assembly lines or however it is that you are producing. In the future, you might own a fleet of 3D printers or 3D knitters that are decentralized and distributed all over the world.
As we think of these simple macro trends leading into different behaviors, the behaviors are still the same for the people. You are still buying and consuming something, but the way it’s produced is totally different.
The Basis of Communication
Charlie Hoehn: A lot of explanations around blockchain say to think of it is as a ledger and right there is where you lost me.
Samantha Radocchia: I hate accounting as well and ledgers are not sexy. I went to a wedding last summer and it was between a lawyer and an actuary. They were so buttoned up. They got onto the dance floor, and one guy was break dancing, and I said, “Wow, this could be fun– accounting could be fun.”
When I think about what my academic background was and has been–studying linguistics and anthropology–ledgers are the basis of written human communication.
The first things that were written down were part of the agrarian revolution in recording how many crops there were and when they would be ready for harvest. When you think of ledgers, and we can use a different word, it could just be communication, it is a normal part of our everyday life–it is in everything. It is your grocery list to meeting someone new and sizing them up.
You are constantly giving a yes-no in your head. There is this mathematical way that people interact, or view things, or record, or process things, and then it becomes more exciting to think about, because it is the basis or foundation for everything. It might not be that exciting to think about it or think in terms of excel spreadsheets, but I think it is very powerful to think about it that way. That is a foundational backbone.
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, so let us talk a little bit more about what a typical business looks like running on blockchain.
Samantha Radocchia: So again, I am not going to get into the specifics. For example, what a blockchain technology stack or the software and tools that would be used in lieu of traditional databases. I think frankly, that is a very literal way of approaching the problem. This is where I think a lot of businesses see frustration because they think, “I haven’t even done my whole digital transformation. I am still using PDF and emails, let alone a database. I haven’t even moved to the cloud–I am still doing everything on prem servers.”
That is where I see there are many approaches to seeking to understand what this technology represents. My approach is from what I call the operating system perspective, and this isn’t necessarily your tech operating system. It’s more of a social operating system–the ways that we interact. The way that you think of your finances, or where your food comes from, or how you build a business.
Those are the shifts that are taking place. They are largely, first and foremost, from centralized systems to decentralized or distributed, which in turn shifts things from more opaque to transparent. Then more siloed to open systems, and ultimately from reactive systems to proactive, where we see automation and more efficient systems. When you think from a business perspective of how you would build a blockchain enabled business, I would urge you to think beyond it and think in terms of the broader paradigm shift from centralized to decentralized and what that means.
We are seeing a lot of this. I am very passionate about the future of work–the shift from companies being fully centralized–traditionally one office and one location. Employees that work there for 30 or 40 years and they buy their home in one location and have their mortgage and that is kind of it. In our systems we’re built around that one model. Then we see retail and grocery stores in physical locations.
Things have shifted in the way that people not only work but build businesses. These changes were ushered in by the advances in other technologies like networking and communications. Businesses are being built now that are fully remote. Hundreds and hundreds and thousands of employees that are completely distributed without a central headquarters. The systems, both technology as well as cultural, to support that shift are changing.
Again, I would urge people to learn from blockchain in a way that expands your mind. So instead of thinking of it as simply a technology or a ledger or some other system or tool, I would just throw that away. A lot of people ask me, “Do you think we’ll actually be using blockchains for these things?” And I think for some implementations, yes, and for others it might be a new technology that we haven’t even given a name to. We might not even use the name blockchain in 10 years. It might be so prevalent a way of doing things that we don’t need to use the term.
If you start to unpack it and really understand where it came from and the sorts of shifts that are taking place, it is largely fueled by growing distrust that happened, because, for a number of reasons, our technologies, and communications systems, and people in general, have evolved very quickly.
We went from localized trust in having face to face interactions in a town or a village, to these vast global networks and supply chains where it is not your local farmer necessarily growing something. It is coming from another country across the world, and changing hands through a distributor, and moving to a retailer. All of this was ushered in with the evolving technologies of production, or global supply chains, or global communications networks.
Then somewhere along the way, we started adding more and more parties and we just stopped trusting. We stopped trusting each other about where our food comes from, or the news that we receive. It is at a point now where instead of choosing ambivalence and throwing our hands up, we’ve said, “Okay, maybe there are ways to evolve to a new way of organization, a new way of thinking about governance, a new way of creating business models or companies or governments. And seeing where that goes.”
Ironically, you call it a trustless system because it is relying on trust in the computer system and programmable logic, as opposed to trust in the individual relationships, but I think it is very telling to see these shifts.
The Future of Work
Charlie Hoehn: What kind of transformations have you seen by helping people with the ideas in your book?
Samantha Radocchia: I have seen quite the range of transformations. It is with people that I have worked with, because I talk a lot about this stuff. Because for a large part of my career now, I have been in a space where you inevitably are confronted. For example, I am at the hair salon getting my hair cut they say, “What do you do for work?” And I go in the standard sort of process, “Do you know what Bitcoin is?”
It opens this whole conversation. I get into asking, “Do you accept Bitcoin for your business? Why or why not?” What I found again, people who wouldn’t otherwise have any sort of relationship with technology, they start to understand things. For example, they have been using Venmo for tips, but now, it is hard to manage all of the digital payments and they have considered Bitcoin for this reason, or they travel for work a lot and are getting paid in all of these different currencies.
The feedback I have gotten is just amazing–people feeling like they really didn’t understand it at all, but they hear about it, they see it in the news, and they now feel more empowered and more confident to talk about it, or not listen to or listen to their crazy cousin who is telling them to buy cryptocurrencies. They are feeling more empowered and not seeing it as totally unrelatable.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’re looking at a lot of businesses, and there are the groups of people who are the naysayers, who say, “This is just a buzz word. It is part of buzz word soup and all the digital transformation consultants come in and tell us we need a blockchain strategy.”
What I have learned from them is that if they can start to see it beyond just a ledger and beyond just this sort of enterprise tool, or another tool in the toolbox that will go away in five years, but really start to see the massive shifts that are taking place on a level that is far beyond this single technology. We’re talking about the future of work and the future of community, the future of how food is produced, the future of health. All of these things are changing very rapidly.
When they see that and when they feel more confident about that, then they actually have made efforts to completely change or restructure some of their thinking around their strategies, and understanding that even if they can’t radically change their business because it is too big, that they are taking active steps to think through new strategies, to grow new businesses or to get involved in the technology. Again, either blockchain, or the combination of other technologies that are also part of this transformation to a new way of doing business.
Charlie Hoehn:What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you and follow you?
Samantha Radocchia: I am on all of the social media, but mostly on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @SamRadOfficial and you can also go to my website at samradofficial.com. You can find me everywhere in the internet.
The Challenge to Unlearn
Charlie Hoehn: Give our listeners a challenge. What is the one thing that they can apply to their life this week from Bitcoin Pizza that will have a positive impact?
Samantha Radocchia: This is a great question. The biggest goal that I have in this book is to challenge people to unlearn and to challenge their assumptions. Of course, that is a very broad concept. And so, in terms of an actionable item, it would be to do something you have never done before or look at something in a way you have never seen it before.
I always loved doing this back in my academic days, this exercise of pretending that you have arrived on this planet. You are an alien and it’s the first time that you have walked into, let’s say, a pizza shop. Just watch it from a perspective of you don’t have any of the language or tools or assumptions that you have now. How would you describe bread, and how would you describe bread being made to create this thing, or how would you describe the culture of eating a slice on a paper plate?
Then, from that framework of totally having a clean slate and understanding where all of these assumptions come from, redesign that space or that experience. It might be a fun thing to do while you are travelling, or at an airport, or you’re in a waiting room.
I would challenge you to understand that our perception is grounded in assumptions and those assumptions can change. That is what is happening right now on a much broader level. That’s what this technology represents is rebuilding things, things as big as the internet, from a new set of assumptions. Then imagine what that world can be.
Then, I would push it one step farther, to challenge you to then build things in a different or more empowering or a better way, because we all have the power to make a positive impact, both on ourselves and our communities and our planet. There is hope in empowering people with education.
With knowledge of this new technology or a new historical moment, this is the moment to jump in. This is the moment to change how you do your business, or what your career is, or if you are just starting out and you’re younger, getting involved in new businesses. I would challenge you to unlearn.