In trying to find a way to make cryptocurrencies more accessible to the masses, Electroneum CEO Richard Ells founded a new easy-to-use payment crypto. But having built the platform, he realized: "Mass adoption takes more than that".
So came in-app phone airtime and data topups in Tanzania, Nigeria, Brazil and Turkey, among others, which provided "immediate value" to users. The numbers were there, but mass adoption proved elusive.
Then the freelancing platform was next, a Fiverr-inspired ecosystem launched to help the gig economy in developing countries reach out globally without a bank account, especially to the global North where gig payments could be worth a day's wages in these developing economies.
Today, Richard looks to working with NGOs to run their blockchain, focusing on non-profit e-learning projects to help deliver skills in these developing countries with only a basic smartphone and video camera. He believes that it is precisely these populations with the need to join the global economy, who will skip technologies directly to emergent tech like cryptocurrency. Therefore, for Electroneum, the unbanked are the key to unlocking mass adoption:
"I think mass adoption will happen. It will happen in this sector because this is the sector that wants to be part of the global financial economy."
For him, it's a strong case for corporate social responsibility as well, and a chance for SMEs globally to choose to purchase services from people in emerging economies at competitive prices, while contributing to increasing their income.
When asked on the huge undertaking where partnerships seem indispensable, Richard talks about his experience of 20 years managing successful digital businesses:
"I've learnt so many things over 20 years of running those . The first part is treasury management, to me was second nature - I haven't gone - we've been extremely prudent on what we've spent. So we don't just go off and spend fortunes on things. We didn't move to a huge jazzy office that we could have done. We could have been patting ourselves on the back and got some glitz and glamour."
It wasn't always a straight path for Electroneum to focusing on the unbanked (it was only mentioned once in the whitepaper!). After initial flirtations with gambling and gaming, the project gave way to other single-purpose gambling and gaming coins, Richard tells of the passion the team witnessed during the ICO.
"The passion that came from the developing communities about what we were doing came out... to enable someone to gamble, it doesn't have the same passions enabling someone to feed themselves."
Richard singles out Electroneum's community for credit. From 25,000 people signing up to test the beta platform, the 7500-odd who completed detailed demographic datasets, and to the volunteers keeping the forums clean and helpful, the community has been a key driving factor for growth.
Crypto as a wealth creation tool, getting boots on the ground, and CSR use cases. Listen to how a blockchain project journeyed with its community in the Global South on Episode 13 of the Talkonomics Podcast!