From Siberia to Crypto Seer: A Web3 Odyssey with Anastasia Nizhegorodtceva | Curiosity Code 002
09 Jan, 2024
In this episode of the Curiosity Code podcast, Alex, CEO of productera, delves into the dynamic world of fintech and web three with his guest, Anastasia, who brings a deep understanding of the Asian market from her base in Hong Kong. Anastasia shares her journey from Siberia to becoming a prominent figure in the tech and fintech spaces in Asia, emphasizing her work in sustainable technology, her venture into the financial technology space, and her fascination with cryptocurrency that began in Taiwan. She discusses the vibrant ecosystem in Hong Kong, the shift in crypto regulation, and her current role in tokenizing real-world assets with de factor. The conversation also touches on the challenges and opportunities in the US market, the future of web three, and the potential for digital asset tokenization to revolutionize traditional industries. Anastasia's insights provide a comprehensive overview of the current state and exciting future of fintech and web three, particularly in the Asian market.

Alex: Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Curiosity Code podcast where we're diving deep into the dynamic world of fintech today. I'm your host, Alex, CEO of productera, and I'm having. Did I get it right?

Guest: Almost. Yes.

Alex: Thanks for trying. She's coming to the show with deep understanding of web three and particularly what's happening in asian market. Welcome to the show, Anastasia. How are you doing?

Guest: Thanks, Alex. Thanks for reaching out and, yeah, happy to be here out of Hong Kong, hoping the audience comes to visit sometime and let me know when they're around. It's a vibrant ecosystem here. It's been quite active since post Covid, pretty much. So lots of events, lots of stuff happening. Yeah. So happy to join.

Alex: So tell us a bit about your background. How did you get into web three? What are you working on at the moment? Let's start conversation with that.

Guest: Yeah, so I've always worked in tech. I'm originally from Siberia, which is the asian part of Russia. I moved down to Hong Kong for a year before, and then I've realized I really wanted to stay in Asia and work here, and for that, I needed to speak Chinese. So I quickly decided to move to Taiwan and improve my mandarin. At that time, it was pretty bad. So I moved and started working in tech because tech happened to be pretty much the most developed industry in Taiwan. The most successful, I would say, and the most interesting to work in. So I've spent time doing business development and marketing in pretty much consumer tech first, and then got a little bit into sustainable technology. Had my own startup while I was doing my MBA in Taiwan. We got into an accelerator program in 2018, went to London for that, did a fundraise, and so quickly decided to go work. And I wanted to really work in the financial technology space. And if you know anything about Asia, it's like Singapore or Hong Kong, because essentially these two are the major financial centers, and therefore fintech is really just developed here. So it was an easy choice because, as a know, I couldn't live in Singapore. It's too hot and it's very small. So I decided to move back to Hong Kong. And my first job was actually similar to your space, Alex. It was trading technology for hedge fund. And Hong Kong is a great space for hedge funds, by the way. It's from small long short equity funds to arbitrage event trading funds that are like, managing hundreds of millions of AUM. So it's a really diverse space. There's also lots of players from the industry. Like, I'm on the fintech side. So there are data providers, there are trading technology, execution, oems systems, et cetera. I later worked for a company that provided ESG data to also asset managers, hedge funds to their analysts, mainly not traders. But, yeah, that was a huge space as well, booming here back in 2020, 2021. I think ESu was like the word on the street in Hong Kong. And then I've always been keeping my interest in the crypto space pretty much since 2017, because back in the days when I was based in Taiwan, Taiwan happened to produce a lot of graphic cards due to its very much developed gaming industry. And so my friends from Eastern Europe started to reach out to me asking, hey, Anastasia, can you go get us some gpus at your local producers? And I was like, what do you need it for? And turns out they needed it for mining. And obviously, I researched what bitcoin is and how it works, and it just fascinated me. And so ever since then, I started going to different conferences. When I moved to Hong Kong, I also started to engage with the local fintech space and blockchain providers. And in the beginning, I think like, 20 18, 20, 19, 20 20. Hong Kong was kind of cold towards crypto, especially retail. And then the whole ban in China happened on mining. And then when they banned mining, I think a lot of players moved out of here to different countries, and Hong Kong being very much related to the chinese policies. Everybody was kind of like, oh, we don't know what's going to happen. But then slowly it became clear that Hong Kong is actually the test ground, the sandbox for mainly in China, to basically go into crypto in a regulated and low risk manner. So they started to develop lots of regulations around it. And we now have a lot of players from the crypto industry based in Hong Kong, lots of companies established here, their exchanges, the custodians. So lots of different providers in this space. And we are having more and more platforms regulated here. So they've issued, licensed for, or they issued a license regime for players that are dealing with professional investors and institutional investors. So from hedge funds and family offices that trade crypto to high net worth individuals who qualify as a professional investor in Hong Kong, and then now I think they're starting to regulate the retail space as well. So that's getting very exciting. So that's how I got into crypto full time about two years ago. I worked previously for Hextrust, which is a digital asset custodian, and now I work with de factor. This team is based in Ireland mostly, but they have some co founders here in Hong Kong, and we just met at one of those exciting events and just clicked. And they're in the real world asset tokenization space. So that got my interest way long ago. I remember being in, I think it was New York Fintech Week, 2017. And I don't know if you remember this project called La Token. La token with the russian guy who used to run, I think, spare bank in Russia, so very senior positions in one of the major russian banks. And then he came out and started doing liquid asset token. And when he pitched that platform, it was about making every asset liquid. So basically tradable real estate or tradable tokenized art. Eventually, I think La Token became an exchange and they didn't really quite tokenize any real world assets, but back in the day, so this conversation started to happen like six, seven years ago, and then people started being interested in stos like security token offerings, and so the space has actually evolved a lot. And now the new name for it is RWA. I'm not a big fan of the whole hype, to be honest. I really like when people actually stay focused on what they do instead of renaming all the things. But I'm really hoping that this industry will actually kick off in 2024 and build more useful stuff for the users. So yeah, that's why I'm in the space. Pretty excited about it.

Alex: Thanks. That's quite a journey. So you're currently ahead of growth, and can you shim some light on the position itself in terms of what are your main responsibilities and main focus, and what kind of professional qualifications you need to have to drive the company on this position and maybe some challenges that you face on a day to day basis?

Guest: Sure. Well ahead of growth kind of combines marketing, business development, and partly sales in itself, I would say that's kind of just like from my previous experience working with companies, I've always been in the b two b space. On the one hand dealing with the technology itself, and the other hand is like the users, whom usually would be other companies. So like institutional investors, be it like traders, analysts, or for de factor, specifically the users. On the kind of like institutional side, there are two. There are players that come to us to look at structured products that we've created in a regulated manner, that kind of like feature tokenized assets and offer tokenized assets to institutional investors. And then on the other hand, there are also other companies that come to us to build with our toolkit. So like a recent project for example, called Auris, they build tokenization of precious metals, particularly gold, silver, and platinum. And then for their platform, we provided a lending pool toolkit so their users can borrow and lend each other tokenized version of precious metals. So in that case, we are just a technology provider. They are dealing with essentially the actual platform that deals with users. And on that side, that is kind of business development, marketing, and basically talking constantly to this kind of audience, essentially. And then the broader sort of marketing and growth space. As a company that has a token, I would say there is like two things in terms of community building. There's a community building around the product itself. So educating our users, making sure that we go to events, we are represented at different conferences, we look for partners that come to us, for the toolkit, that come to us to use our technology for their projects. And at the same time, we stay aware of the major trends as well. Like interact with everyone and see what kind of assets are popular, what kind of needs they have in that market of digital asset tokenization space. And the real world assets are, they're a big range. They could be real estate, it could be wine, it could be chinese tea. It's a huge space and the industries are very traditional. So it's a lot of back and forth with traditional people from the industries where they didn't have to deal with blockchain. So growth is kind of related to that user base and talking to them. But at the same time, it's also related to kind of like the traditional, I don't know, social media marketing, where you talk about the token itself with a very much crypto native audience, like basically people that actually have very much kind of nothing to do with those traditional industries that will utilize our technology. But they pretty much just sit on day on Twitter and they want to know all the hot stuff coming out of different projects and what kind of staking they have, what are the yield products they have. How can they best pick and choose a basket of different tokens for themselves? So this crypto native audience is also part of the people that I interact with. And it's challenging sometimes to balance, especially my background is not really b to c, like it's mostly b, two b, and institutional investors in the fintech space. But I think crypto is like a very unique industry in a way that, yes, institutional capital and institutional players will essentially move the industry forward, because without them, it's just staying really small, small scale, especially if you compare it to tradfi, it's still a fraction of the tradfi business globally. But even though institutional players are very much important for the industry, to develop forward. The industry itself is so retail. It's just like everyone's interest in the industry started with people just researching bitcoin or researching tokens and just going on binance and buying yourself some matic or ETH and just figuring out what is cold storage and how do I do self custody. All these things are so retail. And even if you have your day job at a bank, your first journey with crypto probably started on a very retail basis. So it's challenging to balance both. But it's very interesting and it's very relatable, very easy to relate in the sense that I think we're all here trying to build the future of money in a broader sense. Right?

Alex: Sure. And I'm trying to understand, since you're located in Hong Kong, are you primarily focused on asian market? Or it just happened to be that you were in Hong Kong and you got this position in this company for de factor.

Guest: I mean, de factor is pretty global. So essentially, the beginning of the journey for the company started in Ireland, because the co founders are from there, some of them are from Latin America. So quite deep background in freight forwarding and logistics. That's where they came from. Which is why factoring is a traditional finance term where companies can borrow for their operational capital, essentially. So it started because the founders basically had that exposure to SMEs needing the working capital and basically doing factoring, and they wanted to bring that to Defi. And it happened so that they worked mainly in Europe and Latin America with shipment and that industry, essentially. So that started there. But as a infrastructure and toolkit provider for tokenizing real world assets, is a very global company in the sense that here in Asia, we speak to companies that want to tokenize wine or villas in Bali. At the same time, Middle East, Dubai, like that area, is very much into tokenization of real estate, tokenization of precious metals, as I mentioned, Latin America, Central America, basically, they have a lot of kind of passion for alternative financial solutions. And I think emerging markets in general, they are quite keen on crypto because they oftentimes didn't have any exposure or any possibility to access traditional financial solutions, like actual borrowing from a bank, loans, like that kind of stuff. So I would say crypto is, in general, pushing a lot faster in developing markets than developed. So for de factor, Asia is definitely a big market also because Asia quite rapidly developed their digital asset regulation, I think in Hong Kong, I heard it from many people on stage in various conferences this year that our regulator here, the securities and Futures Commission, the SFC, is one of the most aware and knowledgeable regulator in the world for digital assets, and they're not the fastest and the know friendly, and hey, let's welcome all the kind of crypto stuff and make them go wild. But they are very carefully considering all the feedback from the industry, and they're basically taking pretty firm steps towards helping institutions adopt digital assets. So I think the regulation, especially around real world assets, is very important, which is why I think Asia is quite a good market for this, and Europe as well. Europe is quite advanced in that regulatory space as well.

Alex: Got it. So Asia is your primary market, which tends to be leading the regulation side of things, and that probably explains why you need to be there to focus on the growth of the company. What do you think about the US market in terms of web three and tokenization of assets? I know that that market is heavily regulated and there have been few cases when several big players actually been burned by regulations. How de factories positioned there?

Guest: We aren't doing much in the US, to be honest. Last time I went to the US was in May for bitcoin Miami, just to check out the space and see what's going on. I've never been to bitcoin Miami before, or a bitcoin conference. I don't remember if they hosted it somewhere else before Miami, but they're very much bitcoin maxi style people there. Lots of mining companies were there, lots of people like Michael Lewis, talking about the future of bitcoin, the future of crypto in general. But it was very political. It was very much like everybody was almost paranoid about any other defi stuff or any other tokens. They were like, don't want to hear about any tokens. And just bitcoin is the future. And there were quite a lot of people coming out of a political background, speaking on stage like former congresswoman and people like that. And they were saying things like, in order for the US to stay ahead of the world, we need to push for the adoption of blockchain and bitcoin, and we need to fight all of those restrictions, because otherwise we're going to be behind. And unlike boom that made America great, we will miss out on the opportunity to basically let our companies or other companies in the US prosper and everybody will go abroad. And what they were talking about in May, I pretty much see happening, to be honest, in the past five, six months, because everybody I meet here in Asia, even if they are from the US, they just try to position themselves as a global company. And here in Asia, like anybody you meet that provide solutions or platforms for crypto natives, they just say we're a global ex uS. So I really am not too hopeful for that market, to be honest, just because it's been really difficult to deal with their regulation. And I think people, as you mentioned, they have been burned and I don't think people would be willing to take risks while they can actually access really vibrant markets. Really keen on crypto kind of markets abroad. I think it's unfortunate because the US has a really great infrastructure and environment for tech talent, for developing startups, actually building and growing companies. But unfortunately, I don't think crypto is having that much support from that ecosystem at the moment. Although I think it is a very big market still in terms of volumes, in terms of how many platforms they have that are licensed and are delivering their services to us citizens like Swan, these kind of companies, I think they're quite successful and the US consumers are quite keen on crypto. So maybe there is some future, but I think it will be very much domestic. So for us, we aren't quite looking for any opportunities there at the moment.

Alex: Makes sense. Well, let's then talk a bit more about the future of web three. And how do you see defector being part of it? I don't know. Let's imagine one year from now, what are we looking at potentially?

Guest: So, as I mentioned, we started with tokenizing trade finance assets, and instead of sort of diversifying into tokenizing all sorts of assets from different industries, which I'm thankful for, because I don't think that's quite wise or not too realistic, I would say to be so hopeful to become an expert in all sorts of real estate and wine at the same time and tokenizing invoices, I think you really need to be focused on one industry. That's just my personal opinion. So when the founders decided to kind of keep the trade finance side, but actually take everything that we've gained in terms of knowledge and toolkit infrastructure development and take it to other industries by providing the toolkit to other platforms that deal with their industry, I was quite glad because I personally think that's a good move. Because having been to many conferences this past year, I've seen a lot of RWA products and I've seen a lot of companies that are trying to tokenize different assets in different markets. And I think you always have to be familiar with your jurisdiction, with your asset class. If you're tokenizing real estate, there are so many nuances and so many rules you have to follow to actually treat the traditional asset side of it, dealing with all the registries and the deed and so on. And I think you really have to be focused on that knowledge. And if you're not from the blockchain domain, you come to us, you basically come to de factor for the tools, for the tokenization part, for the token economics, which we call tokenomics right in the space. So basically, if you don't have your own token, you can use factor token in your ecosystem. So your users will be able to essentially access everything that a crypto native person can access through the de factor infrastructure. And in that sense we are empowering the traditional people from traditional companies and traditional industries. And if they already have something tokenized, just like I mentioned, Auris, they already tokenized gold. It's their own technology, but they just wanted that one part which is enabling borrow lending, so that in that case we also can support those kind of platforms. So in one year from now, I really see lots of different projects coming to de factor for that kind of collaboration with the toolkit that we have with token, that we have for our token holders. I really believe that they can leverage that bull run that's coming hopefully to our industry and do staking and lots of services and voting. Also, we really listen to our community. They're able to vote on the roadmap of the project with the token. So really listening to our community, not being afraid to pick up new directions and pivoting where it's needed and really just trying to empower other real world asset projects because it's really fast developing industry and it's very much relatable. That's what I love the most about it, is because it's helping the real guy, the real estate developer who just wants to sell five buildings in Hong Kong, in the new territories, they just built them, they want to sell them, they want to get them to the market of people that are crypto natives, that are impatient with all the bureaucracy in the world and they just want to click click and boom. I own an apartment, right? And then tomorrow I want to sell it. I can also put it on the platform. I think that's the future. But the traditional industries really need help, right? They can't just do it overnight. So I think that's the most value that we can bring in the just general ecosystem in the world.

Alex: That's a very beautiful picture of the future. Thank you for painting that and being part of it. And I think on that note, we can wrap it up. That was quite interesting conversation about web three about tokenization of real life assets. We will definitely talk more about web three. Maybe we will bring Anastasia back to talk more about web three in the future episodes. But so far, that's it for today. Thank you very much for listening and thank Anastasia for joining and having this conversation.

Guest: Thanks, Alex. Thanks and thank you to your community for listening.