AMA with Micah Winkelspecht of Gem, 6/19/18

posted on June 07, 2018

Dmitriy Perelstein, White Rabbit (DP): All right. Let's do this! @winkelspecht How about we start by you introducing yourself and your project. Thanks!

Micah Winkelspecht, Gem (Micah): Well, I started Gem back in 2013 as a one man band in the jungles of Costa Rica. I spent my career as a software developer building mostly startups here in LA. But started to read about Bitcoin in 2010 and thought, "hey, this is kinda cool". Then forgot about it for a few years. One of my coworkers in 2013 was trading it on the side, and so I took a second look. Read the whitepaper, and fell deep into the rabbit hole. I have yet to emerge.

DP: oh wow, you go way back, almost to the roots!

Micah: Yeah, in 2013 I quit my work. Quit everything. Took a trip to Costa Rica and just locked myself away in a house in the jungle...had monkeys in the tree in my backyard. And started coding. And I wrote this library. Which ended up powering Coinbase wallets for their first year or so. At that time, Mt Gox had not yet collapsed, but for many of us, the writing was on the wall. And I felt like security and wallet infrastructure was a problem that needed to be solved. Especially for businesses that were just getting started. So we built a B2B wallet API for all of the bitcoin startups entering the space. And launched it on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt

DP: Amazing. So was that a predecessor of modern day's Gem?

Micah: So in a way, yes, our roots have always been wallets. But now we're going direct to consumer. Yeah, a lot has changed since then. Back then, there was no other coin than bitcoin. So we've built an entirely new stack with our new product. But the learnings still apply.

DP: Let's talk about the current product. What exactly is it for those not familiar? Is it just a secure wallet? or a tracking app?

Micah: Gem is an all-in-one crypto platform for everyone...not just the crypto bros. We're combining a universal token wallet with a portfolio tracker all in one. But that's just the starting point. We'll be rolling out a lot of cool features over the next several months...things like digital collectibles and dapps.

DP: By "unversal" do you mean that it will be able to hold ALL types of tokens?

Micah: Eventually. =) It will take time to add every network, but we're launching with the majors, Bitcoin/Litecoin/Ethereum, etc. Plus all ERC20 tokens. We're looking at EOS and tokens on EOS as well.

DP: I just had a convo with a friend today who was asking me what wallet to use to store her tokens. My answer was "it depends" on what kind of tokens she holds as not all of them can be stored in 1 wallet. And I feel like that's a big issue in the industry these days. Investors' holdings are spread around across multiple wallets and exchanges. Really hard to keep track. I am sure it leads to a bunch of funds being "forgotten about".

Micah: Our main goal is to appeal to a much larger audience than the existing market. We're targeting the next billion people entering crypto. Yes, that was a large impetus for us. We are all traders of crypto here at Gem. And our funds are spread out across many exchanges, wallets, HW wallets, paper wallets, etc. We wanted a tool that would give us a view of all of our tokens, no matter where they were, and would give a way to hold any kind of token in one easy to use app. So we're combining a universal token wallet with a Mint-style tracker.

DP: So what differentiates you from other products? One product in particular which must be the most popoular crypto app in the world right now - Blockfolio (which btw for those who don't know was designed by our own @kurtybot !)

Micah: Yes, Blockfolio was the first to market with a good product, and is now the most heavily used tracker...aside from Excel. Blockfolio is great, but it requires all manual data entry to keep track of my transactions. We wanted to create a more Mint-like experience for crypto...so we integrated with 23 exchanges via their APIs so we can automate your portfolio and keep your accounts in sync. So you can set up your API credentials one time, and then never have to enter a trade again for that exchange.

DP: Is security a concern here? Do the users need to give you access rights?

Micah: Yes, security is always a concern when you're dealing with sensitive information. Our app allows users to track their own assets manually without ever creating an account (similar to Blockfolio), but in order to use the exchange integrations, they will need to create a Gem account. We store the API credentials in a secure vault, which has been audited by the same security firm that audits Coinbase. You can read more about the security features of the vault here

DP: I do LOVE your design btw!

Micah: Thanks! This is something we really take seriously. We felt strongly that the products on the market today are very dark and scary...they are futuristic. We wanted to create something light and colorful, that would be approachable and inviting, and would make crypto feel current, rather than futuristic. We want to take this highly intangible concept and turn it into something very tangible for average people. We call it Tangible Design. So we use a lot of 3D objects and interactions that make our objects feel like they have weight and take up space in the real world.

DP: You said you are building this for the next billion consumers. Who are they and how will this help them enter the crypto ecosystem?

Micah: The next billion consumers are your friends and family at the Thanksgiving dinner table. They've heard you gush about crypto, but have yet to take action. They find the whole thing confusing and scary. We want to address that. We probably won't be the tool for the advanced day trader. But when his best friend calls him and asks what he should use to get into crypto, we want him to say "just use Gem".

DP: Yes! Make it as simple as signing up for an email and they will join!

Micah: Also, we find that our design approach really speaks to women. Which is a completely underrepresented audience in crypto. And a huge opportunity for growth. Our goal is to get Gem installed on a billion phones.

DP: Are you planning to charge for the app? How are you going to monetize this? And also, how are you funding it now without an ICO?

Micah: So we are much more growth minded than short term profit focused. So all of our features, including premium features (like exchange integration) will be free to use. That said, we have built in business models through partnerships. We want to be the top of the funnel for the industry...acquiring new customers. Then as they use the app, we introduce them to new products and services in the space. And we jointly benefit. We are venture backed so did not need to do an ICO to fund the company. I know...that's unheard of in this space. 😃 We've got great investors who have believed in our vision since 2013.

DP: A part of your offering is ICO Discovery which, if you look at the name of this group, is exactly what we do at White Rabbit 🐰! Tell us about what you mean by that and what do you guys do on that front?

Micah: Our discovery feature allows people to track over 1500 different tokens and projects, and each project has its own profile page. Right now, it's pretty basic info and historical prices which we get from sources like CoinMarketCap, but we're looking to partner with folks to aggregate more info for each project. So maybe we would see White Rabbit as more of a partner than a competitor. We view ourselves as an impartial companion to the user, a distribution platform for other products and services. We aren't trying to create a walled garden.

DP: 🔥🔥🔥 Absolutely. We'd love to explore options with you on that!

Clinton: Not sure if this was explored but I am curious about the graphical look of your app. Was there an inspiration? Things you definitely wanted, wanted to avoid and/or couldn't accomplish?

Micah: I mentioned briefly that our inspiration is to take something that is completely intangible to most people and to make it tangible. We use 3D objects...we wanted our tokens to look like something you wanted to reach out and grab, to play with. And we didn't want it to look like money. Money is too serious. We've been told it looks more like candy 😃 We also want to make the space more fun and inviting. Not scary. So we take a more fun, irreverant approach. For god sakes, we have a unicorn floatie as our mascot, lol!

DP: So what is next in the pipeline for you guys? When will the world see the beta of your app?

Micah: We're nearing our first release. We're rolling out the product in phases, starting with the portfolio tracker, and then the universal token wallet a couple months after. We are only a couple of weeks away from the first release, which we'll roll out to our waiting list at gem.co

Nathan: Apologies if asked already, but what do you see as biggest internal or external challenges you’ll face in reaching that goal?

Micah: Hmmm....challenges...software is hard. Blockchain is hard. Luckily, we have curated a great team over the last four and a half years, and we've been working together for a long time. So that helps a lot. I think the biggest hurdle was shifting the company from a B2B service company to a B2C product company. It takes a different mindset, and we did it in a pretty short timeframe. Externally, the boom and bust cycles of this market are always tough to deal with. I've now been through at least four major peaks and troughs. The price of bitcoin doesn't just affect individual's holdings, but it also affects investor sentiment and the projects that rely on investors to continue building. But I feel like at this point we've reached escape velocity, and there is a general understanding that this market is not going away.

DP: please tell us that "it ALWAYS comes back!" 🤣

Micah: History doesn't repeat, but it often rhymes. It has ALWAYS come back so far!

DP: How big is your team and where are you guys located?

Micah: We're 18 people located in sunny Venice, CA. Pretty much the whole team is under one roof...sitting next to me as I type. I think that helps a lot in creating a cohesive vision and moving fast.

DP: Do you have any subscribers goals? Short term vs. Long term? I guess 1B subs long term - you mentioned that before.

Micah: I tend to set BHAG (big hairy audacious goals). We set a goal to reach 500k users by the end of the year. So the race is on! I would like to be on a billion phones in the next 7 years. That's a lot of phones. But the stampede is coming.

DP: I hear that your Telegram community is somehow different than others. What's so special about it?

Micah: Well, White Rabbit has a great community so I think you guys have done a great job.

DP: Thank you. We are definitely very selective and certainly don't rush to add another "user"

Micah: I think we just decided as a company that we were going to approach this market from the point of view of having fun and spreading love. And not take everything so seriously. So we spread a lot of unicorn memes and it's very positive. And it's almost like a breath of fresh air in what often feels like a very serious industry.

DP: Do you have a large size toy unicorn in the office?

Micah: We have many. Actually, one of our telegram members from Germany just visited the office yesterday and gave us a cool unicorn paper model. We're going to glue it together and put it up on the wall. IMAGER

DP: What are other crypto-related projects (both tokens and supplemental) that you LOVE?

Micah: Well, the Parachute group most recently has just supercharged our community (PAR token)...they are the most active, engaged and positive group of crypto folks I've met. I'm also really excited about the EOS project and am a large holder. I think EOS is not perfect, but it provides a scaling option at a time when it's most needed, and it has an enthusiastic group of people building around it. We will most definitely integrate with EOS...if for no other reason than that I want a decent EOS wallet for myself. But I'll make it available to everyone else too. 😃 I know EOS is a hot topic in this channel.

DP: It is!. We are a BP Candidate (BPAC) and a bunch of people here are involved in EOS-related projects one way or another

Micah: Yeah, I will have to vote for you guys. I haven't voted yet with my tokens.

DP: It's a convoluted and scary process. Well, maybe not for a developer like you are!

Micah: Well that's just it...it's WAY too scary. Even for a developer like me. I forgot to help my girlfriend register her tokens. (I don't recommend doing that, by the way).

Micah: I also love the idea of shEOS! More women, please.

DP: We are doing an AMA with Brit Morgan tomorrow! So what are the things that keep you up at night these days pertaining to Gem?

Micah: The thing that keeps me up is speed to market. We are working like crazy to get product out the door, but when you are investing really heavily in design and user experience, everything is just a little more complicated. But we decided that we could either be a company that focuses on dates or we could be a company that focuses on delivering a great experience, and we've chosen the latter. We're getting really close though, and since we started sharing what we're doing, the feedback has been tremendous. Everyone seems to universally agree that crypto needs an easier entry point. So I feel confident that we're scratching an itch.

DP: I completely agree. If we want this technology to go mainstream, it needs to be dumbed down A LOT! One of the first things I came across when I started digging deeper into crypto was MyEtherWallet and boy, how horrible this thing is! It reminded me of using MS DOS when Windows was already released.

Micah: Coinbase became the giant that it is because it made things relatively simple. But there is a need for something that serves the longer tail of crypto, with a similar experience. MEW for what it's worth is extremely impressive in just the sheer volume of features it supports. But like, the first experience is 10 pages warning me about every single thing that can go wrong. And I'd say the average user will use 25% of the available features.

DP: @workcoinfred recently made a FB post about how horrible MEW designer is and it's just hillarious how bad it is!

Micah: I've always been a big fan of the 37signals approach (big in the Ruby on Rails world)...build 80% of the features and say no to everything else. And yet we did a survey, and MEW is the most used wallet on the market...by FAR. Maybe @linda_souza has the actual numbers.

DP: All right, @winkelspecht thank you very much for joining us today. I will transcribe this and post it to our blog from where you will be able to share with your community. Thanks a lot! It's been fun!

Micah: Awesome, thanks for having me! And if you want to learn more, we're really active in our channel at t.me/gemhq



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