The BitIRA Innovators in Crypto and Blockchain series has been full of incredible individuals doing powerful work to leverage this new technology to solve major real-world issues in real time. Each interview blows us away with some new angle, insights, or approach; right when we think that we’ve (generally) seen it all, we meet another industry leader forging a new path forward.
This week, we sat down and spoke with Cristina Dolan, a veritable powerhouse of technological know-how and entrepreneurial savvy. She’s a go-getter who digs deep into business problems and their solutions, eager to learn and unafraid of challenges. Cristina’s career thus far has been rich with tech and business launches and problem-solving, which has sharpened her into an ideal thought leader to help drive progress via cryptocurrency and blockchain. Here, Cristina shares some of the experience that has got here to where she is today, some of what she’d like to set into motion next, and speaks directly to the importance of security towards making “financial inclusion” a reality.
BitIRA: How did you come to enter the world of crypto and blockchain? What drew you in, and what made you trust in it?
Cristina: As an engineer and entrepreneur that has been at the crossroads of technology and industry disruption before, it quickly became clear that Bitcoin, blockchain and crypto had the opportunity to disrupt. My exposure to crypto during its hyper-innovation stage gave me direct insights into how its use cases are being developed and explored, and how much potential it has to tackle real-world problems.
My professional background had given me a lot of experience with disruption. I was the head of technology at two big media companies, Hearst and Disney, and launched some of the first consumer websites and people would think of it as the ‘little screen.’ There was a lot of assumption at the time that it would just be a side channel; hardly anyone believed it had the opportunity to disrupt. Obviously, despite the skepticism they did disrupt, and entire new channels and industries formed and flourished as a result.
I worked for one of the leading ecommerce companies, Oracle, and companies would say, “e-commerce won’t disrupt retail because people want that retail experience.” Even though some e-commerce merchants are experimenting with select brick-and-mortar offerings, clearly e-commerce is surviving and thriving.
I also gained firsthand experience in technology evolution, which helped me understand the healthy growing pains and course of growth. I was a cofounder in a very successful Internet Service Provider that we took public and then had a successful exit. I became experienced firsthand in the evolution of network technologies and the creation of network effects, which are a big part of the value behind crypto.
I was later working at an Institutional Financial Trading software company when I first got interested in Bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. My interest was piqued because I believed these technologies had the ability to disrupt. Of course, some of my co-workers laughed at crypto and blockchain as if it was just a cyberpunk movement.
I went on to be a cofounder in a blockchain enabled insurtech company before cofounding Additum.es that is using blockchain for value based medicine. The company is actually. leading a consortium in Spain where we are using blockchain for COVID19.
Taking a step back, I first started thinking creatively about bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain after visiting the MIT Media Lab and hearing some students debate some creative ideas outside of just payments. I then mentored some startups and was invited to speak at conferences. It was really exciting to be part of that hyper innovation stage where so many aspects of the technology were being tested and explored.
More recently, I have come to realize that financial inclusion, which is always one of the missions of crypto, has been evolving through data fueled open banking solutions. I now think that there will be a combination of these technologies that will evolve. As financial institutions invest more in compliance solutions, they are focusing less on innovation and the evolving needs of customers and businesses.
The early days of crypto were a hyper innovation phase where there was tremendous experimentation with the technology. The approach that is evolving now to offer ‘financial inclusion’ through crypto, blockchain and data fueled platforms are focusing on the business problems and solutions.
BitIRA: What have been the biggest challenges that InsideChains has had to overcome?
Cristina: The space has evolved so quickly that it is almost impossible to keep track and stay on top of all the technologies and innovations; that’s been a huge challenge to work through. Now I like to focus more on the business opportunities like financial inclusion and enabling value based medicine.
We’re fully mobilized toward helping others overcome challenges.
One direction is in providing critical financial solutions to those who need it. If you look at the economic drivers, 99% of business are SMB and they hire 2/3 of the workforce, which has a huge influence on the economy. There are a lot of unmet financial service needs, and their solutions could potentially have a positive impact on economies. These innovations aren’t going to be met by traditional financial institutions, take a look at the success of niche open banking solutions.
The hyperinnovation phase in crypto was really all about the technology and it was amazing to be a part of all the experimentation and ideation that came out of that time frame. The reality is that you have to approach it from the business needs, and there are now so many interesting components and ideas to pull from to create innovative solutions utilizing all the building blocks from open banking, crypto and blockchain.
BitIRA: What direction would you like to see regulation take in treating crypto and/or blockchain?
Cristina: Regulators need to look at these new technologies as tools to support to new business models and market needs. By moving quickly to retrofit crypto assets onto existing financial regulatory structures, they might be limiting the potential and economic growth.
The cost of working through a regulatory maze filled with uncertainty will be prohibitive for entrepreneurs and limiting for economic growth. For example, some regulations like the NY BitLicense have cost entrepreneurs valuable time and hundreds of thousands of dollars to pursue. As of today, only about a couple dozen companies have been granted the BitLicense.
Sandboxes are a great way for all entities involved in the process to come together to better understand how they could work and the value that can be provided. Countries like Switzerland that have found a regulatory-friendly middle ground, as a result they have been able to attract entrepreneurs and investment. In addition, they created jobs and economic growth.
BitIRA: What problems would you like to see the industry tackle next?
Cristina: Security is a major and evolving problem that we need to stay on top of. Because of this, I’ve been actively involved in projects that could have a major, positive impact in mitigating security issues.
One of the biggest concerns with crypto is cybersecurity for end-user access, which is why I joined Crayonic as an senior advisor because of their unique approach to authentication which utilizes the FIDO2 standard solution. [The Fast ID Online standard adopted by the W3C, large financial institutions and recognized technology companies like Microsoft] Crayonic’s FIDO2 solution uses standard public key cryptography techniques to provide stronger authentication, which is absolutely critical right now.
For example, the biggest crypto loses that were reported in the news have involved security vulnerabilities in the exchanges. Hackers gain access to the exchanges through the access points like mobile phone SIM swaps, brute force methods or even social engineering.
The need for this security is rapidly escalating. Just take the increased use of virtual banking over the past few weeks, most users have week passwords and are vulnerable to social engineering scams. The new Coronavirus Legislation has introduced a digital dollar and wallet maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank. Passwords alone will not be enough to protect the average end user’s accounts.
Insurance company Aon reported that the S&P 500 value is now 84% intangible and digital. This motivates hackers to steal this value. It is much easier to hack into a system and move value or steal data.
End users are the most vulnerable part of any enterprise or system and the Crayonic approach towards enabling easy yet secure access couldn’t be more critical to businesses.