Education, Podcasts

Money 3.0: Ethan Beard from Ripple talks about global payments

In this episode of Abra Money 3.0 Abra founder and CEO Bill Barhydt is in conversation with Ripple’s Ethan Beard.

Ethan is SVP of Xpring, a project within Ripple developing an ecosystem of companies around the use of Ripple’s XRP for quick and inexpensive global payments.

You can listen to the episode, or find a full transcript of the conversation below.

Bill Barhydt: All right. Bill Barhydt here. Welcome to another episode of Abra’s Money 3.0. I’m really excited about today’s episode. With me here in beautiful San Francisco is Ethan Beard, SVP of Xpring…

Ethan Beard: Xpring.

Bill Barhydt: … at Ripple, which we’ll get into in a minute. So thanks for coming on.

Ethan Beard: It’s great to be here. Good morning, Bill.

Bill Barhydt: Oh, good morning. So we’re going to talk about Xpring, which is Ripple’s initiative to create a developer platform, maybe, for money, and what that means and we’d love to first understand, how did you get into this crazy crypto world and what was your circuitous or direct line route to this crazy world?

Ethan Beard: Sure. Well, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on. So I’ve been at Ripple now for about a year-and-a-half. I’ve been working in tech my entire life. Previously, I was at Facebook, before that I was at Google, before that I was back on the east coast. I’ve been really interested in blockchain and crypto for a number of years. I actually did a stint at Greylock Partners back in 2014.

Bill Barhydt: Okay.

Ethan Beard: And kind of did the deep dive into crypto, and was really trying to understand the nuts and bolts of it.

Bill Barhydt: Had Greylock made any crypto investments at that point?

Ethan Beard: At that time, no. No. At that time Xapo was definitely around.

Bill Barhydt: I remember that.

Ethan Beard: And kind of knew a lot of the folks there, but they hadn’t made any investments at that point in time.

Bill Barhydt: And that turned into a huge investment, like one of the bigger Series A I’d ever seen.

Ethan Beard: I think so, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I think it was pretty big.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah. I don’t know that they’ve ever even gone out for more funding.

Ethan Beard: I don’t think so.

Bill Barhydt: Or at least if they did, they did it very quietly.

Ethan Beard: Yeah, I don’t think so. I think they raised enough to get them through to where they are now.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: And so I dug deep into blockchain and was really fascinated with it. I actually have a finance background, so years and years ago I used to structure fixed income derivatives, and so I’ve always been kind of a yield curve junkie and spent a lot of time digging into what debt looks like, what is the risk free rate look like, does such a thing exist in blockchain. And to be totally honest, I didn’t quite come to an answer that was satisfactory enough for me to do anything, but I continued to follow it. And then within a few years from that, I really was looking to dive into an operating role somewhere. I’d known a bunch of the executives here, I’ve known our CEO Brad for probably a decade or more.

In looking at blockchain, the one thing I’ve found was that it’s really hard to understand it from the outside. It’s really hard, as I’ve said, to minor in blockchain. It’s a pretty different technology than everything that’s kind of come before.

Ethan Beard: I’ve been around since it used to be floppy disks and then it was the internet, and then it was mobile, and a lot of these technologies to me look the same, right? It was either lots on the server or lots on the client, but generally, it was the same thing. Blockchain is really just a very different type of technology. It’s these distributed systems that kind of live out in the middle of nowhere, in the cloud, but no one really controls. And trying to really get my head wrapped around it from the outside was pretty challenging. But I knew there was something there that was really fascinating, and so I decided the best way to figure it out was just to jump in with both feet.

Bill Barhydt: Now you’ve worked for some pretty big, let’s call them centralized monoliths, right?

Ethan Beard: Yes.

Bill Barhydt: Google and Facebook, and the whole idea of blockchain is to basically create a decentralized world for finance. So what does that mean to you personally? What was exciting about that idea?

Ethan Beard: So what was exciting about it was — there were a couple of things. The scope and scale and the ability to truly be these global networks in the same way that what Facebook and Google had created, but in a way that was much more democratic and in a way that was really driven a lot by the open-source community, which I’ve always been really interested in. It just felt very, very powerful.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: And really exciting. And then I would say the “Aha” moment, I feel like everybody has an “Aha” moment in crypto and in blockchain. For me, it was really as I started to wrap my head around cryptocurrencies specifically, and you start to realize that the entire financial system is basically built on a series of IOUs. Outside of me handing you a $20 bill, every other thing that’s going on is us exchanging IOUs around in the world.

Bill Barhydt: After barter, of course.

Ethan Beard: Yes, exactly.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: And so we came to this world where what used to be just a cash world, which is pretty straightforward and simple, right? I give you the $20 and you have it. We then moved into the digital world where now it’s all just this series of IOUs that we pass around. So if I, for example, wanted to Venmo you $20, basically it’s me giving an IOU to my credit card company, who gives an IOU to Venmo, who gives an IOU to you, and you know have an IOU from Venmo for me to give you that same $20, and understanding the world of credit, that there’s a lot of complexities that kind of go on in that in terms of credit risk and identity, and you realize that you start to stack up all these IOUs and you end up with a really complicated system. You can understand why there are so many middlemen and why it’s so expensive.

Ethan Beard: The other side, if I was to send you some XRP or some bitcoin, I’d just send it to you. There are no middlemen, you have it. It looks a lot like cash. And for me, that was when the light bulb went off and said, “Well, this sort of technology fundamentally should change the way that money moves entirely.”

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: And it may not be at the top of the stack, it may not be like, “I’m going to send you some bitcoin,” because you actually want to pay your bills in fiat, because right now you have to pay them in fiat. But as a core technology, it seemed like something that could really transform all of these other systems.

Bill Barhydt: Yup, yup. Fascinating. So let’s get our… you started talking about IOUs. Let’s get our terminology down first-

Ethan Beard: Sure.

Bill Barhydt: … so that we can have a kind of framework for our listeners in these conversations. So we have Ripple, the company.

Ethan Beard: Yes.

Bill Barhydt: We have Xpring, which is, let’s call it Ripple’s initiative for now-

Ethan Beard: Sure.

Bill Barhydt: … and then you explain what that means. And then we have XRP as the protocol itself. So let’s separate each one and make sure we’re clear on what Ripple is, what Xpring is, and how XRP fits into all of that.

Ethan Beard: Yeah, absolutely. So maybe it’s helpful to go back a little bit in time, probably seven or eight years ago, and the founders of Ripple, there were three key founders. They saw Bitcoin come out and were really amazed by the power of what Bitcoin could be in terms of a vehicle for exchanging value, as money in essence. But at the same time looked around and said there are lots of challenges with the way the consensus mechanism works, the cost and time that it takes to actually move a transaction, and set out and said, “Hey, maybe we can build something better.” So they then went out and created the XRP Ledger, which has, we can get into the mechanics, but has a consensus mechanism that doesn’t require massive amounts of electricity and in essence built a blockchain made for payments, made for moving money at its very core principle. And so there are aspects of how the ledger works that take into account money. So it has things like accounts or escrow that don’t exist necessarily on something like the Bitcoin ledger.

Ethan Beard: One of the other things about this blockchain that they created was, in essence, they kind of pre-created all of the cryptocurrency, the native currency to the ledger, which is called XRP. So they created a hundred billion XRP upfront, so they didn’t have to go through the process of mining. People call it pre-mining. And so they set out and said, “Okay, we’ve got this ledger, what should we with this? We’ve got this cryptocurrency. It seems like it should be good for money.” If you look at the path that a lot of other crypto projects have, a lot of them have put a lot of the currency into a foundation.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: Right? To have that kind of drive it.

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: I think some of the early founders had hesitations around a foundation as a way to actually drive forward a project and as a way to really take ownership and execute against a strategy. They had much more faith in a corporation or in a business, where you can provide incentives. And so they in essence created what became Ripple Labs and put a large amount of the XRP into that company and said, “Okay, this company now, we’ve got this technology, we’ve got this blockchain, it’s out there, got a bunch of XRP inside of it, let’s have that go execute against what we call the internet of  value.” Really that’s looking, the way that we talk about it, our vision is really looking to have money move in the same way that information moves.

Ethan Beard: And so again, going back a little bit historically, because I think stories are an interesting way, if we look at the internet. I remember CD-ROMs, I remember fax machines. That was how information used to move.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And it was very slow and very painful. Along came the internet, it completely changed the way information moves everywhere. If you look at money today, there are a lot of the same aspects. There are proprietary systems, there are siloed networks, and it’s very, very slow and very expensive to move money. And so what this leads to is a really bad experience for customers. I think that’s there’s something on the order of $1.5 trillion a year spent on payments, in terms of fees.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: To move money.

Bill Barhydt: It’s crazy.

Ethan Beard: If you’re a merchant, it can take you up to a month to get paid.

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: From your merchant services provider. And it’s a bad experience for developers, which we can spend some more time talking about, but I think it’s over 250 payment networks around the globe. So if you want to operate a global business, you need to figure out how to work with 250 different payment providers.

Bill Barhydt: Yup, yup. So XRP is really trying to be this native digital asset and protocol/ledger for let’s call it the internet value and internet money, and so how does that relate to now Ripple the company, and Xpring initiative?

Ethan Beard: Sure. So we fast forward to most recently. We really, I’ve looked at XRP as this amazing settlement vehicle.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: So XRP is very, very fast. You can move a transaction on the order of two or three seconds. It’s very, very cheap. Close to free. Fractions of a penny to move any amount of value. And so we really looked out and said, “How can you take that and apply it to the world of payments broadly?”

Ethan Beard: We really have two strategies for this. The first is kind of the core Ripple strategy. So we have a product called RippleNet, it’s an enterprise software product. We sell it to financial institutions and it allows them to in essence focus on cross-border payments and easily tap into XRP to enable very fast international payments, cross-border payments.

Bill Barhydt: Yup, yup. So now, bring this full circle to your initiative called Xpring, spelled X-P-R-I-N-G.

Ethan Beard: Correct.

Bill Barhydt: But pronounced “spring”.

Ethan Beard: “Spring”.

Bill Barhydt: If I have it correctly. How does Xpring work, what is your goal with Xpring, where are you in the overall deployment of Xpring now?

Ethan Beard: So about a year ago, a little over a year ago, we started to look out and we’ve seen a lot of momentum with our core product, RippleNet. We now have over 200 banks. One of our flagship customers is a company called MoneyGram, which is really one of the leading global remittance providers and payment networks. So that business is growing great and we think cross-border is a huge business. The amount of activity there is massive. At the same time, we think that XRP can be applied to a lot of other use cases. And so we started this initiative last year when I joined the company called Xpring, which is really focused on building a community and an ecosystem of companies that are tapping into XRP to really power global payments outside of cross-border payments. I wouldn’t say necessarily exclusively, we’re interested in all payments, but really looking to not just have this single kind of focus on cross-border payments.

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: So we started a year ago and it was just two of us on the team. And so we really set out and we started, in essence, doing investments and strategic partnerships with a bunch of companies in this space. So over the course of a year or so we probably invested in over 20 companies. We’ve committed over $500 million in capital-

Bill Barhydt: Wow.

Ethan Beard: … to a variety of different companies.

Bill Barhydt: And how do you determine what’s a good fit, what are the kind of sizes of investments you’re making? And is that going to change over time?

Ethan Beard: So we’ve written checks that range from small six-digit checks to nine-digit checks.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: A lot of it actually, to be honest, we’ve been trying to really sort out, we spent the first year really just trying to get a lay of the land, trying to understand how can we work well with these companies, what’s going on out there. And so some of our investing was very specifically in companies that are directly using XRP, some of it was also just investing in amazing teams that are working in interesting areas that we find fascinating, and teams that we want to be able to work with in the future.

Ethan Beard: So that was kind of the process leading up into a month ago, when we announced a project that we started working on in the beginning of the year, and one of the things that we learned as we were meeting and investing in companies and doing partnerships is that while we believe that cryptocurrency and blockchain and in particular XRP are really powerful in terms of impacting the way money moves, they’re really hard to build on. And so if you’re a developer, well, you are a developer in the crypto space so you know how hard it is to build on-

Bill Barhydt: Absolutely.

Ethan Beard: … on cryptocurrency. It’s really hard to build with these technologies. In fact, even if you’re a user they’re actually hard to use. My parents, when I joined Ripple they probably spent a month pinging me every day, saying like, “Hey, I want to buy XRP. I’m stuck in this wallet, I don’t know how to do it, it’s taking me days and days to get my credit card through.” And they just want to buy it and hold it.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup.

Ethan Beard: And so what we set out to do is really make it much, much easier for developers to actually build on cryptocurrency.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: And so we announced a couple of weeks ago the next evolution of Xpring, and that’s as a developer platform. And so we call it an open platform for money. I can unpack a little of it. When we think about open, it’s really we’re building open-source software, built on open-source software and we contribute to open-source software. We’re building on open standards and we’re working with open networks. So that’s kind of a lot of our focus, it’s really making sure that this is open, which I think is at the core, as you mentioned, of the world of crypto and blockchain. We’re developing a platform, so we look to build tools to make it easy for developers, people who write code, to actually integrate money into their applications. We work on providing services for developers to make it easier for them to actually understand what’s going on and build on blockchain. And then we’ll also look to provide things like allotments of capital, as we’ve done in the past.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And then importantly, when we think about money, we think about all money and not just XRP and even not just cryptocurrency, but most of the world operates in fiat.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And so we think that figuring out how to address the world of all money is how crypto is going to be most broadly applied.

Bill Barhydt: Do you see the intersection of the banking customers of RippleNet coming to, with the intersection, or with the group of developers and platforms that you were funding and supporting here, into one big network over time? Meaning, if I’m a wallet company that you funded in Timbuktu and I basically am sending money to somebody in the US, would that ultimately flow through like B of A based customer, or a Wells Fargo customer that might be a RippleNet user in the future?

Ethan Beard: I think one way to think about what we’re building is we have almost a top-down strategy that is working directly with financial institutions, providing them enterprise software that’s already customized for their world, and lets them tap into the power of XRP. Then we have kind of a bottom’s up strategy where we’re looking just at starting with XRP and other cryptocurrency and then focusing on developers and letting them integrate XRP and integrate cryptocurrency into their applications. It seems to me that at some point they meet, how and where they meet is kind of unclear, but we think that… I think it’s not crazy to think that the vast majority of money should be in someway moving over cryptocurrency somewhere in the payment stack and where that meets will be interesting to see

Bill Barhydt: Yeah. So let’s talk about a couple of use cases. The one that everybody likes to talk about is cross-border money transfer. You mentioned you worked there with the banks. Remittances is something that I’ve spent a lot of time on personally, both before crypto and now at Abra. I think this MoneyGram deal could be actually transformative for our industry and I don’t think people really understand the commitment here that MoneyGram has made to XRP. Can you explain how that happened, how that came about? And what’s actually going to happen now going forward?

Ethan Beard: So I don’t work specifically on the MoneyGram side of the business. I can provide kind of a high-level aspect of it. We’ve been talking with MoneyGram, they’re obviously an important layer in the global payments business for a long time.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: One of the challenges that businesses like MoneyGram run into is that in today’s world, for you to complete a cross-border payment, if you’re a company like MoneyGram, for example, and you have US dollars and you want to send them into Mexico, into Mexican pesos, you, in essence, have to pre-fund the money into an account in Mexico. So you take a bunch of money, a bunch of capital, buy pesos, you leave it in a bank account sitting in Mexico, and then when you want to make a payment you do a swift transfer, which is slow and don’t have a whole lot of transparency, and then within a few days when it’s confirmed, you actually can send that money out for the local rails. And so the two challenges there are one, it’s very slow. In essence, swift looks like FTP.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: You kind of like send a text file off and hope that somebody gets it.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And then two, you tie up a lot of capital just sitting there in an account.

Bill Barhydt: Effectively somebody’s lending money to somebody else to make this process work, right?

Ethan Beard: Correct. In fact, a lot of… so there are three main banks in the cross-border industry and it’s Citi, it’s Deutsche, it’s HSBC.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: And a lot of their business, is essence, they’re like, “We’ll park the capital in some country, and if you want to borrow it, we’ll provide you liquidity so that you could make the payment.”

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: And so what you end up is just with tens of billions of dollars just parked in all these accounts all around the world, not doing anything except for trying to remove friction from the cross-border payments or to speed them up. And so what you can do using RippleNet, in essence, is tap into the liquidity of XRP. And so the way that an actual transaction works for an institution like MoneyGram, is they take US dollars, they go to a local exchange here in the United States, a crypto exchange. They exchange those dollars for XRP. Those XRP move across the ledger to a local exchange in Mexico where that exchange turns them into Mexican pesos and immediately sends them out over the local rails. And so it eliminates the need to actually tie up this capital that’s sitting there, which for a company like MoneyGram, who’s really big and quite successful, is actually quite capital constrained.

Bill Barhydt: Right. Now MoneyGram’s volumes would balloon to take over, or they could balloon and take over the volume of a lot of exchanges, especially in developing markets, right? So would they actually also have to act as like a market maker locally, to guarantee that there’s enough liquidity for that to work?

Ethan Beard: Yeah, so you are getting at the heart of one of the questions, which is what does liquidity look like between let’s say XRP and Mexican pesos, for example in this case.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And certainly I would say our business, Ripple’s business, changed when XRP liquidity increased. So if you go back six or seven years ago and XRP, in essence, was worth nothing, and the daily liquidity of XRP was close enough to nothing, you know $100,000 a day or something, if there’s only $100,000 liquidity, it’s quite hard to move a million dollars in and out of it. Now, on any given day there is $100 to $200 million worth of XRP and so it’s much more liquid, but obviously, with only $100 million in liquidity, you couldn’t really move $500 million to it. So we work closely with obviously our customers, MoneyGram, we work closely with our partners, the exchanges, and then we also work with market makers to make sure that there is adequate liquidity for the transactions that are coming through.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: We do believe that as these businesses grow market makers are naturally attracted to where… liquidity begets liquidity.

Bill Barhydt: Sure, sure.

Ethan Beard: And so I think one of the keys is just not spiking the system where you’re moving prices really quickly.

Bill Barhydt: Right. I the ROI to MoneyGram sounds like it could be so high that in a worst-case scenario they’d probably gladly pay market makers to make sure that the liquidity was there, right?

Ethan Beard: Yes.

Bill Barhydt: So if I understand you correctly, it sounds like there’s two things happening, right? So by not having to park all that money or use correspondent banks, right, so the return in equity for them is much, much higher because they can use that capital for other investing activities for the company. If I’m MoneyGram I’m not parking money, I’m using it for something else which has a higher return.

Ethan Beard: Correct.

Bill Barhydt: And as a result, I can also pass on cost-saving, potentially over time, cost savings to consumers who may not actually even know that some cryptocurrency was involved in the transaction in the first place.

Ethan Beard: Yeah.

Bill Barhydt: Which is a thing we’ve talked about at Abra for years, right?

Ethan Beard: There’s no need for someone to know that there’s cryptocurrency involved.

Bill Barhydt: Totally. And they probably don’t want to know or have to understand, just like you don’t know what SMTP is but you click “send” on your email.

Ethan Beard: Right. Exactly. And you don’t really know what protocols when you swipe a credit card, like what protocols they’re rolling over. I think they’re most proprietary, but it doesn’t really matter to you as the end-user.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah, yeah. Super cool. So do you think this is a five-year deployment cycle, or like an 18-month thing, or what do you think happens?

Ethan Beard: That’s a very good question. I’ll say one of the hard things on any of these businesses, both on the RippleNet side of the house and the Xpring side of the house, is building networks is quite challenging. They are very strong when you have them built, because they have strong network effects.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: But as I like to tell my team, the person who invented the fax machine found it pretty useless because there was only one of them, and then the second person that bought one didn’t find a whole lot of value out of it either. And so we tend to have seen historically that networks grow exponentially because the value accrues so much faster when there are more people on the network. So I do think we’re at the early stages but when we’re starting to see businesses like MoneyGram pouring on, it really starts to attract a lot more.

Bill Barhydt: Got you. Fascinating. Well, I can’t wait to see what happens there because that’s a use case that’s been near and dear to my heart for a long time.

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Bill Barhydt: So let’s jump into a different use case that I think could also be really interesting for Xpring. Let’s talk about gaming. What do you guys see in terms of cryptocurrencies, blockchain overlapping the gaming world? Is that a space you’re actively investing in? If I’m a gamer or a wanna-be gaming entrepreneur, should I be excited about this?

Ethan Beard: One of the things that I’ve witnessed and I think lots of others is that gaming companies are often the first ones to jump on a new platform.

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: We saw this on the web, we saw this on mobile. When I was at Facebook, managing the Facebook platform, we saw it on Facebook platform. A lot of the early adopters of the platform were gaming companies.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: And I think we’re starting to see the same thing in the crypto space, and I expect we will. The game developers are very, very good at understanding precisely how a platform works, dissecting it, and then figuring out how to drive growth out of it. And one of the things that I think is most applicable in the gaming space, well there’s a couple of aspects of it.

Ethan Beard: First, when we just look at straight forward payments, the experience that you have buying things inside of a game today. Games are all in-app purchases. Almost all virtual goods. And both of these actually, I think, play to crypto’s strengths. So you, when you buy an in-app purchase, oftentimes you’re trying to buy something pretty cheap. My son plays Fortnite, he wants to go buy a skin. Skins are not very expensive, right? It might be like $1 for a skin. But the way that the current financial system works over existing rails, is that it doesn’t work for Epic Games to charge my son $1 because it costs them probably $0.30 to swipe a credit card.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: So they, in essence, make him buy $25 worth of virtual currency.

Bill Barhydt: That’s right, yeah.

Ethan Beard: Or buy a whole basket.

Bill Barhydt: Sure.

Ethan Beard: And so we think that actually the same aspects of cryptocurrency, which is fast and cheap, and can enable micropayments, can really shift the way that people buy things within games. And so you can go in and buy something for $0.05, you know, you can buy something for $0.10 or $0.20. So I think that’s going to shift the way that people purchase things within games.

Ethan Beard: The other aspect that I think is really interesting is, this is outside of payments, but a lot of the… the way the gaming business works today, is developers are selling virtual goods to users.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: So going back to my son, he has spent a fair amount of money over the course of the past year buying things within Fortnite. A few months ago he came to me and said, “I’m done with Fortnite and I’m moving on to Overwatch.” And I was like, “What do you mean? You have all this… you have this character with all this stuff that you spent, that I’ve spent, over the course of the past year, you’re just going to abandon it?” He’s like, “No one plays Fortnite anymore.” I was like, “I think a couple of hundred million people do, but I get it.” And so now all this value is just locked up inside of his account. He did say to me, he’s like, “Can I go on eBay and sell my account?” And if you go on eBay you can find Fortnite accounts for sale.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup, yup.

Ethan Beard: It strictly violates the terms of service of the game of Fortnite.

Bill Barhydt: Sure.

Ethan Beard: But there’s obviously a demand for people who want to buy these virtual goods second hand, and there are people who want to sell them second hand. And what we’re starting to see are companies that are looking to leverage the power of a blockchain to actually put these virtual goods on to a blockchain. So to put them into a smart contract to potentially restrict the number of them that are there, and then enable people to buy and sell them.

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: And what’s really fascinating to me is that I think it will eventually shift the way the gaming developers monetize. It will change their business model in the same way that actual mobile phones shifted, it used to be pay to download, now it’s actually free to play, in-game, in-app purchases, because of the form factor and the device. I actually think when we start to see games that are built on blockchain the business model will shift from selling virtual goods to buying and selling virtual goods.

Bill Barhydt: So that brings up a really interesting question. People probably remember a year and a half ago, if you’ve been following crypto, the first really good example of any kind of digital asset that wasn’t considered money that really got any traction was on the Ethereum network with this whole Crypto Kitty craze, and the timing was actually horrible from a network perspective, because as Ethereum and bitcoin prices were streaming higher, the networks were saturated and people were spending insane amounts of money to move Crypto Kitties around, which were basically these digital collectibles. So there’s this Ethereum standard, I think it’s called ERC721, it’s like their digital collectible so that you define a certain number of Crypto Kitties and mine is guaranteed unique, view the contract, whatever. Is that something that you can easily do in XRP and then avoid all of the scalability issues around being able to do that with a network with Ethereum?

Ethan Beard: So XRP ledger today doesn’t have kind of the smart contracts aspect of the Ethereum public network, and so you can’t issue those, I would call those non-fungible tokens.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: You can’t issue the equivalent of a non-fungible token on an XRP ledger. You can issue fungible tokens, but not any kind of the non-fungible one.

Bill Barhydt: Got you.

Ethan Beard: I think you’re spot on in that in many ways Crypto Kitties demonstrated to the world what could be done but did have an unfortunate aspect of timing, and in many ways ran into the challenges I think many Ethereum developers are running into, which is when you’re all building on the same computer network and the costs go up as more people build on it, then it’s a pretty challenging platform to build on.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And so I think what we’re going to continue to see is gaming companies or game platform companies looking at that solution but customizing it and saying to a game developer, “Well you may want to have a public chain where you can actually issue these things. You may want your own chain.”

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: And depending on performance, depending on the size of your game, you may want one chain for your whole company, or maybe it’s per game specifically.

Bill Barhydt: Got you.

Ethan Beard: And so we actually partnered with a company called Forte which is some folks that actually came out of the social gaming world, and they’re building out a game platform to specifically do this, which is basically say to a game developer, “You shouldn’t have to think about blockchain.” Because gaming developers really don’t care about blockchain, they care about games. The good ones at least, because it’s pretty hard to make a good game.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And so trying to provide a platform where a game developer can come in and say like, “Yes, I just want to create these skins and I want there to only be 100 of them, and I want them to be badged by some celebrity, and I want to be able to sell them for X price and also buy them back and not have to worry about like what chain is it on, is it a 721 or is it on some other side chain, and just kind of ignore all of that.” And so I think when we start to see these sorts of platforms come into place, you’ll see a lot broader adoption from these game developers.

Bill Barhydt: So in that scenario, obviously you want XRP and are incentivized for XRP to be the kind of protocol for money for the micropayments and the ability to move value around in the gaming experience, and then also at the same time partnering with other blockchain projects that would allow us to create these in-game assets and other types of contract-based transactions that aren’t necessarily about money per se, right? So there could be scenarios where you’re literally partnering with companies that have investments in two different protocols at the same time. Is that fair?

Ethan Beard: Yeah, so we at Ripple and Xpring, while we think that XRP is really great as an exchange of value, we’re not XRP maximalists.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: We think there will be. If you look over the course of the past decade, there have been more and more tokens and coins coming out in the world.

Bill Barhydt: Sure.

Ethan Beard: And we think that’s going to continue. And so one of the technologies that we’re big supporters of is Interledger protocol, which is an open standard for basically moving any payment or moving any type of money and so what we’ve actually seen, we’ve been supporting this protocol for awhile. Some employees here developed it and opened it up, it took a number of years to get it to the current version, but we’ve been pushing hard to make it easier to actually operate that network and then you will actually see us, we released, for example, a settlement ending in Interledger that support Ethereum.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: So Xpring employees wrote support for Ethereum, open-sourced, for the Interledger protocol network. And so we actually think that being able to support lots of different currencies and lots of different tokens are really important for broad adoption of these technologies.

Bill Barhydt: Got you.

Ethan Beard: And ultimately when we look at XRP we think in the same way that if you look on RippleNet, when you’re moving dollars to Mexican pesos, you’re bridging through XRP because it’s fast and cheap for settlement, we think that in the world of crypto, if you’re moving from Ethereum into a Crypto Kitty, maybe that’s not a perfect example because they’re on the same chain, but if you’re moving from Ethereum into some virtual good that’s on the Forte platform, you should probably bridge through XRP as well.

Bill Barhydt: Very interesting. Okay. So as technologies like proof-of-stake prove to be scalable, that they work, then you basically provide the basis to have both an interoperable payment network as well as the ability to create digital gaming assets and do other types of transactions that aren’t necessarily financial in nature and have them interoperate in some way?

Ethan Beard: Yeah, I think so.

Bill Barhydt: That’s fantastic. Okay. So we’ve talked about remittances and money transfer, we’ve talked about gaming. If I’m a young entrepreneur and I’m super excited about crypto and blockchain, what are the other killer apps that you think have yet to really been proven in the crypto world that entrepreneurs should be thinking about?

Ethan Beard: There’s a couple of areas that we’re focused on. I would say generally when we think about Xpring platform, we’re trying, as I said, it’s a platform for money.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: Money turns out to be in almost every kind of app and experience out there, and ultimately we want to be able to enable those developers broadly. We are focused on gaming, that’s one area we think it’s going to be an early adoption. We’re definitely focused on kind of core wallets and exchanges because that today is where the primary use of XRP and of crypto is. And so one of the things we’re really interested in in the wallet space is enabling interoperability amongst wallets. And so if you actually look globally on consumer-facing digital wallets, basically there’s… I haven’t done the math, but there are dozens, and dozens, and dozens of them. They are completely siloed, so Venmo and PayPal, owned by the same company, if you’re on Venmo and I’m on PayPal we can’t send each other money. Crazy enough.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And then you look out there and you actually look at Alipay, which is now pushing a billion users, what they’ve basically, their value proposition to wallet providers is, “I will invest in you, so I’ll be on your cap table. You will adopt my proprietary standard, and then you’re part of the Alipay network.” So they’ve stitched together hundreds of millions of wallets throughout Asia using this model and creating now a massive proprietary standard for interoperability amongst wallets and the merchants that actually work with them. I think that if you’re a wallet provider you should feel pretty threatened by Alipay because they seem to be doing really, really well. We actually think that using technologies like Interledger protocol, you can actually have a single standard and you can actually stitch together all these different siloed networks into one single global payment network and one single… whether it’s for P to P or for merchant services, and really enable that to happen everywhere. And so that’s a big area that I think is pretty exciting, in essence, the next generation of digital wallets. I’m talking to you, I know you’re a believer in that.

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: And then probably the third area we’re focused on in the short term is around content creation. So we actually spun a team out of here, our ex-CTO started a company called Coil which we spun out, and we’ve partnered with. And they’re really looking to take advantage of the micropayments aspect, or the ability to do micropayments through XRP, to change the way that you consume content online. And so if you look at consuming content, the vast majority of content today is either sitting behind a subscription paywall or is supported by advertising.

Bill Barhydt: Yup.

Ethan Beard: Do you guys run ads on this podcast?

Bill Barhydt: We do not.

Ethan Beard: Okay.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: But your podcast provider may.

Bill Barhydt: That’s true.

Ethan Beard: Which you don’t have a whole lot of choice to.

Bill Barhydt: That’s true.

Ethan Beard: So you as a content creator, you basically either do it for free or some other business model, you try to make the subscription work, which is pretty hard as a block content provider, or you sell your user’s information to one of the big networks, primarily a Google, a Facebook, an Apple, which is not necessarily great for you as a content creator. We think that it should be very simple for a user to be to pay for this content. So the example I give, I have lots. I subscribe to lots of different subscriptions. I don’t subscribe to the Washington Post. I probably will at some point because I think their content’s awesome, and I hit their paywall all the time.

Bill Barhydt: Yup. Same.

Ethan Beard: But I just don’t want another subscription.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: Because I just forget about them and they show up on my credit card bill. If I could just drop a nickel or a dime or a quarter, or even a dollar when I see one of those, I would buy them all the time, because the stories look really, really great. I just don’t want them to sign up for endlessly recurring bills. And so we actually have been working with Coil on a technology, a standard of web monetization, which really just again, it’s like IOP in the sense that it is an open standard that basically allows a content provider to mark up a webpage and say, “Hey, I’d like to charge a small amount.” And I am able with a wallet provider to actually turn around and enable those payments.

Bill Barhydt: Yup. People have been talking about microtransactions for internet content since my Netscape days, right? It’s just never happened for a plethora of reasons that I’m sure we can both articulate. And so how much of that is just based upon things like credit card companies versus the content providers themselves?

Ethan Beard: I remember probably in 2005 or 2006, when I was at Google, we dug deep into micropayments.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: And trying to come up with another business model for content, and about the best we could come up with was a user pays, whatever, $10 a month-

Bill Barhydt: And then you debit from that.

Ethan Beard: … gets a bunch of credits, and you go against that.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: Mainly because of the credit card rails.

Bill Barhydt: Exactly.

Ethan Beard: They were so painful. So whether that is sufficient or not to launch the industry, I don’t know, but it was definitely… I’m sure you ran into the same thing when you were working at it.

Bill Barhydt: Sure. Absolutely.

Ethan Beard: The solution never went… the first problem we ran into is the economics just don’t make sense on the existing payment rails, and so one thing we hope is that by making the economics make sense, it will go somewhere else. It’s a good question. Content is a fickle industry. People like free content.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: But I think the world is starting to shift. You look at the power of these platforms and people’s feelings towards the platforms, like Facebook, and just a collection of data, and then I think there are lots of people who might consider not giving up their privacy or giving up their private information to these big platforms in exchange for being able to find content.

Bill Barhydt: Sure. I think that one of the keys to that working, of course, is that the consumer is just thinking dollars, right? I’m paying $0.05, I’m not thinking about 0.0001 XRP or 0.0001 bitcoin, or whatever that translates into. And so in our world today, that generally means some kind of stable coin model. How does that stable coin model relate to how XRP works and how developers should think about creating real dollar-based applications for using Xpring?

Ethan Beard: Stablecoins are fascinating. I’m sure you would agree. We’re spending a lot of time for a long time looking at them and really trying to wrap our head around where are they going, what do they mean. I would say one thing that I think is interesting about stable coins is when I look at a cryptocurrency, going back to our earlier example around IOUs versus cash, if I give you a bitcoin, that’s an asset. If I give you a USDC, that’s a liability, right?

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: I’m giving you an IOU of that. So in some ways, we’ve kind of backed ourselves into the old system which is like, “Let me give you an IOU.”

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: Or it even looks like the early days of fiat, where all the banks printed their own fiat, right? And eventually, you might be like, “I don’t want that fiat because I don’t trust that bank.” And so it doesn’t seem like the long term, the end state. It seems like a middle state or something. I’m not sure where the end state goes to. The one area where we look at… well this in essence trying to get a lot of users to understand price comparison. And it’s a good question, I mean Libra decided to try to come up with a single stable coin that looked more or less like a euro, a dollar, and a pound, which is not crazy, right? It’s roughly a dollar is a euro is a pound, and if you kind of get close people can get their head wrapped around it. I do think that eventually, users may not necessarily care, like it will just be like money, and you can hold XRP and denominate it in dollars.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: In fact, on my Coinbase account, I hold XRP and they just tell me the dollar amount on it. They don’t even tell me how many XRP there is. So you know, you can do the math and try to sort out where that looks like. So that’s one solution. I also think that regardless of whether it’s going into stable coins or going into really interesting stable coins like Dai. There are baskets of other cryptocurrencies. We still think that something like XRP is really important as the bridge currency and the liquidity provider amongst them. In essence, going back to the story I said before, it’s like we think there’s going to be more coins. Some think there’s going to be more stable coins, which is kind of crazy.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: How many stablecoins do you need?

Bill Barhydt: It’s incredible. I mean, we are approached every day, well I’m approached every day, by like some other startup that says, “Here’s my new dollar stable coin, developed in protocol X.”

Ethan Beard: Right.

Bill Barhydt: “It’s different.” And they explain to me how it’s different, and nine times out of 10 I don’t understand what they’re saying.

Ethan Beard: Right.

Bill Barhydt: I get this stuff, I think, to some degree. So that brings up another question, which is, you brought up Facebook’s Libra effort, and obviously it’s getting a tremendous amount of press, some negative and a little bit positive. I’d be curious, what’s your perspective on why they chose this approach and do you think it can work, and how does it differ from where you see Xpring and XRP going?

Ethan Beard: I think Facebook, they ran into the animosity that people feel towards Facebook, with Libra. I think a lot of the displeasure that, where there’s regulators or government officials, it’s more about Facebook than about Libra per se. And about the “power” of Facebook, which generally I think is making people feel uncomfortable, and this is them saying, “We’re so powerful, we can, in essence, become a bank that’s not regulated,” which again, people are just like, “Well, what are you going to do next, are you going to start an army?” Which people I think would be uncomfortable with as well.

Bill Barhydt: Sure.

Ethan Beard: Although I’m sure they’ve got a lot of security people working there.

Bill Barhydt: Sure.

Ethan Beard: So I think that’s one of the main challenges of Libra, is that it ran into not necessarily challenges around crypto but challenges around Facebook. I think we were surprised how negatively the reaction was to it.

Bill Barhydt: Well though the reaction, I mean, I agree, I felt the same way, but it’s really not from Joe Public, right? It’s more so from politicians.

Ethan Beard: Yeah.

Bill Barhydt: The average consumer probably has no clue what’s going on-

Ethan Beard: No idea.

Bill Barhydt: … and I’m not even sure they care, right?

Ethan Beard: Yeah.

Bill Barhydt: Would you agree with that?

Ethan Beard: I think you’re probably right.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: Yeah. Although I do think, it’s a good question. Do you think the average consumer has animosity towards Facebook, or is that just the politicians?

Bill Barhydt: I think if they have animosity towards Facebook it’s about the time suck that they’ve basically bought into inadvertently, basically it’s a crack for them now and many people who will blame Facebook as opposed to themselves, right or wrong.

Ethan Beard: Right.

Bill Barhydt: I think that’s a big part of what’s happening. And of course when you find out that you’re basically in this kind of confirmation via cycle, right? And you get away from it, you don’t know who to blame, and eventually, you can blame yourself.

Ethan Beard: Right.

 

Bill Barhydt: Don’t know. I mean, I guess one question is, once you get into payments and money transfer, adding incremental value is actually very hard, right? So if you think about it, going back to your MoneyGram question, I mean MoneyGram and Western Union work because they’re everywhere today. So if you’re a new player getting into money transfer, you have to be better in some way, right? And if you’re just sending money between the US and Mexico, and Mexico where there are 17 companies that can send and transfer between US and Mexico for less money than it costs to send money between California and New York, why are you doing it in the first place? And I think the advantage that Facebook would have is, is once it’s live everywhere, it’s interesting. But getting it live everywhere, regardless of whether it’s a stored value system or blockchain, could take 10 years.

Ethan Beard: Yeah. I think that the cost of the payment is going to the cost of moving a megabyte of information.

Bill Barhydt: Zero.

Ethan Beard: Zero. Right. Eventually, that’s where it’s going to get. And I want to think Facebook would agree and is happy to drive that to zero. They did it with data, right?

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: They went into developing countries and they said, “We’ll pay for your phone bill.”

Bill Barhydt: Yeah, we’ll put balloons up in the sky if we have to.

Ethan Beard: Right. We don’t care. We’ll give you free data because we just want to sell ads.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah. Right.

Ethan Beard: I would venture to say that they look at payments the same way, which is like if everyone has money our ads business will go through the roof. If I could just one-click buy something from one of the advertisers, the advertiser is going to have a higher conversion rate, if they have a higher conversion rate they’re happy to pay more for their ads, they’re paying more for their ads, Facebook makes a lot of money.

Bill Barhydt: Sure.

Ethan Beard: So I think that’s generally the way it looks like. To your point though, if you’re an entrepreneur getting into this space, you know, if the cost of payments is going to zero and you’re looking like a business like Western Union or MoneyGram, the value in those companies is actually at the edges, right? It’s where they actually have local on-ramps and local off-ramps, which are pretty hard to build. They take a lot of time, you have sort of the regulatory issues all over the world. And so those may not be the best kind of businesses to go towards.

Bill Barhydt: Well that’s interesting because when you think about the intersection of information and ads, I would say that Google is actually a more important company even than Facebook right now, right? Or arguably, anyway. But yet they’ve had… I’ve heard new that they have many people working on blockchain, I’m using air quotes, whatever that means. They have no idea. But publicly they’ve very much have had a wait and see approach to anything related to transformative technologies, of ways in the payment space or cryptocurrency or blockchain. Do you have any guess as to why that is, or do you think it’s strategic to them in some way?

Ethan Beard: It’s a good question. I don’t have any good guesses. I mean Google is interesting in that they, between especially on Android, but even on Chrome, they are like lower in the stack than a company like Facebook. Facebook is just an app in the Android world and just a website in the Chrome world. Not that those are the only worlds, but it’s kind of the only world. And so you could imagine Google enabling payments that are lower down in the stack. Are they payments built into Android? It seems like it would be pretty awesome. Can you get payments built into Chrome? Like they were talking about micropayments for content? Build that into Chrome? It seems like it would be pretty awesome. But I don’t have any insights as to why, whether they’re doing anything or not.

Bill Barhydt: I think their cash cow is in the short term less at risk than Facebook’s. I think that’s one thing, right? Where the laws of competitive advantage are a little bit more in their favor than in Facebook’s in the midterm.

Ethan Beard: Yeah. I mean, Facebook may have started network effects, because it’s a social network.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: But it also may be more likely to be like a fad, it may die faster.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: Facebook crushed My Space. Whereas Google’s business is much more of a core utility.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: And it does have network effects from the data.

Bill Barhydt: It has.

Ethan Beard: That they capture both on the search side and the ad side, where they can gather a lot of data to make your searches better. But I don’t think that’s as strong as the fact that my sister’s on Facebook, and if I want to see pictures of my niece, I have to go on Facebook to see it. So I think you’re probably right.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah. So last hypothetical question, so Ripple as a company is obviously sitting on billions of dollars worth of XRP, which I would say probably makes the company kind of unpurchasable by anybody but a behemoth today, right? Because they would effectively be purchasing I guess all the XRP right, in order to buy the company? So independent of that, let’s put the XRP aside. Let’s say you were just a really well-funded startup, right, and there was all this XRP out there but it wasn’t necessarily yours. Who would be the logical acquirer for Ripple if they actually could be? If you think they were like… in the money transfer world, if I’m Remitly, it sounds like a large logical acquirer might be MoneyGram, right? What would happen at scale to a company like Ripple if you had every large correspondent bank as a customer? Who would want to own Ripple at that point?

Ethan Beard: That’s a very good question. I haven’t thought too specifically about that. We’re trying to build a global payments network, so I guess the logical place to turn would be other global payments networks.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you mean like a Visa or MasterCard?

Ethan Beard: I guess.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah. Or even Swift, I guess, since you’re trying to I guess, kill them, right?

Ethan Beard: Yeah. Swift is a strange thing, that’s a consortium.

Bill Barhydt: Right.

Ethan Beard: I think it’s a non-profit maybe? But it’s a consortium for sure.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: It’s kind of owned by all the banks.

Bill Barhydt: Kind of what Visa used to be.

Ethan Beard: I was going to say, the same thing that Visa used to be.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah.

Ethan Beard: Maybe like an Alipay? I haven’t thought about that, right? Because we can’t really separate it… in our minds, we can’t separate the XRP from the business.

Bill Barhydt: Right. So you don’t have to.

Ethan Beard: Right.

Bill Barhydt: One, you can’t think about it.

Ethan Beard: Right.

Bill Barhydt: And financially you don’t have to.

Ethan Beard: It doesn’t… yeah, exactly.

Bill Barhydt: Yeah. Interesting. And so, I guess, last question, so what do you do when you’re not working at Ripple 15 hours a day?

Ethan Beard: Sure. Well, I have two young children, so I feel like my life at this moment is kind of work and kids. I do play a lot of music.

Bill Barhydt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ethan Beard: I’m in a couple of different bands. I play the guitar.

Bill Barhydt: Cool.

Ethan Beard: I play the bass. We’ve got a couple of gigs coming up here.

Bill Barhydt: Do you play at the Ripple Christmas parties?

Ethan Beard: I have not.

Bill Barhydt: Or holiday party, I guess.

Ethan Beard: I have not played at the Ripple holiday party. We played the Facebook seventh birthday party, I think? Which was pretty entertaining.

Bill Barhydt: Nice.

Ethan Beard: I’ve done a lot of other kinds of random tech and non-profit events around town.

Bill Barhydt: Uh-huh (affirmative). Good. So I’ll see you playing miscellaneous random bars in San Francisco?

Ethan Beard: You’ll find us, we’re called Coverflow. You can find us on Facebook and other places, it’s awesome.

Bill Barhydt: So after you looked up Coverflow I guess you can get more detail on Xpring at?

Ethan Beard: Xpring.io.

Bill Barhydt: So that’s X-P-R-I-N-G.I-O?

Ethan Beard: You’ve got it.

Bill Barhydt: Great. So thanks, Ethan. My guest was Ethan Beard from Ripple. That wraps it for another episode of Abra Money 3.0. Thanks so much for coming in, Ethan.

Ethan Beard: Thanks, Bill. It was great to be here.

Bill Barhydt: All right. Thank you. Take care.

Speaker 1: Thanks again for listening to the Abra Money 3.0 Show. We hope you liked this episode as much as we did. If so, please subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. And download the Abra app wherever you get your apps. Thanks again.

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