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Thessy Mehrain had a front row seat for the financial meltdown of 2008. As a senior product manager at JP Morgan's Investment division, the experience sent her on a journey into alternative financial solutions, which inevitably lead Mehrain to blockchain. Since then she has founded Liquality, a protocol and exchange implementation that enables trustless value exchange across blockchains through Atomic Swaps, as well as Women in Blockchain a global community for women working in the industry. In this interview, Mehrain explains why the role of early founders in the space must be to keep testing your assumptions and be willing to be educated by your participants.
How did you first get into blockchain and the decentralized web?
I got into blockchain in 2015 via my interest in decentralization and the belief that power re-distribution from the center to the edges will result in more equality, allowing more people to live fulfilled lives and society as a whole to be smarter.
Prior to that, I was already part of communities experimenting with alternative governance structures, such as Burning Man and the Occupy movement, and was familiar with Bitcoin. I joined because I wanted to actualize a global, self-organizing community, which was only partially achieved in the first few waves of the Internet. I wanted to contribute my experience working on internet 1.0 to help avoid perpetuating the biases that already existed from migrating into Web 3.0.
When did you set up your company?
Simon Lapscher, Alex Griessel, a couple of others and I initially started a research project, investigating global money/fiat on-off ramps and the ability to pay with anything for everything. We eventually zoomed in on trading any form of value with anyone else. Liquality, as we know it now, formally started as a ConsenSys incubated spoke in early 2018.
What need does it serve?
Our long-term vision is to enable a more open and equitable future, where anyone can access the global digital economy in a free, secure, and efficient way. At this point, the open-source Liquality protocol enables trustless value exchange across blockchains through Atomic Swaps, enabling shared liquidity networks.
Liquality's alpha product is the gold standard for security when swapping digital assets. Counterparty risk, custodial risk, and exchange fees are eliminated while liquidity across blockchains becomes accessible.
Have you launched other companies before? What were they?
One of my favorite projects ever was being a co-creator of Reviews, a scientific peer-review system, and gateway to all computer science data. I came to appreciate librarians and realized how easy it is to extend access and include new audiences. I worked with the University of Addis Ababa on a model to provide licenses and include these knowledgable scientists to inspire global collaborations.
I have also pursued other business concepts: one was for a communal living project with its own currency (pre-bitcoin) and another one for an app that recommends products and investments based on users' values. Some of these are easier build now having crypto and blockchain.
Can you give us a summary of your career thus far, how did you get here?
I have a background in visual and functional design, design thinking and innovation and always worked between art, design, and science. I created interactive video installations about societal standards and experiences of identity that were shown in the European Media Arts Festival, International Film festival, Venice Biennale, and others.
I remain intrigued with art, but solving specific pain points is how I apply my skills. My first start-up experience, the scientific peer reviews system was all of that. Later I was a VP Product Manager at JP Morgan's Corporate and Investment Bank, building a collateral optimization engine and trading products for 6 years. My front seat to the financial crisis got me more interested in finding solutions. I joined Occupy's Alternative Banking group, and met Joe (Lubin) at a FinTec conference in September 2015, just two weeks after I had heard about blockchain.
Blockchain brought all my interests together. When I joined ConsenSys I first worked on a provenance tracking solution, then joined the uPort team to work on self-sovereign digital identity, and eventually co-founded Liquality.
I also started Women in Blockchain in 2016, a community that has since grown globally.
Did you know?
I have a daily practice. Before I leave the house I make sure I have 1$ bills in my pocket. It is my ritual of acknowledgment and gratefulness for being privileged ( I don’t pray…so this is it ) and it sharpens my focus and makes it easy to give to the many disadvantaged people on the streets.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building a business in this space?
In a young space, product-market fit can be difficult, resulting in slow adoption and lack of funding. The gap must be closed between creators and those who benefit most from what can be enabled, like peer-2-peer transactions and censorship resistance.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given when it comes to being an entrepreneur in this space?
Keep testing your assumptions, build open source, educate and be educated by the participants. Remember we are creating enabling tools. They have to be delightful to use and might require a shift in participants' mindset to capture these new opportunities. We are creating enabling tools that require the participants to change, become responsible, take part. Only if the tools are delightful to use will they seduce the users to capture these new opportunities.
What advice would you give to someone setting up a business in the decentralized web?
Ensure that your team is aligned and moves well together. The Liquality team is very aligned, we have 'use cases on the team, including members from Venezuela, Iran, South Africa, India, Europe and the US. There is a deep respect for one another and a commitment to empowering peers.
What project or projects are you most excited about (that aren’t yours!)
Currently, I am excited about some of the smart wallet solutions such as Wasabi, which can help restore fungibility. Gitcoin is exciting because it provides a collective funding mechanism. Sobol deserves a mention as it supports tools to self-organize. These dApps are future forward. Of the legacy world, I like CryptoKitties, they are cute and my 2 Gen0 Kitties, BTC, and ETH, are eager to mate.
What is (or what will be) blockchain’s ‘killer app’?
Right now, Bitcoin is the 'Queen of dApps'; offering simple, intrinsic value. Ethereum is the 'killer ecosystem for dApps', a collaborative, active community providing a multitude of solutions and network effects.