(May 9, 2019)
This is one of a series of interviews that Nehemiah is having with up and coming business leaders, transcript below.
(I) Interviewer : Thank you for joining me today.
(A) Anthony : It’s my pleasure
I : Please tell us your name, about yourself and your journey in the blockchain space.
A: Well I’m Anthony Johnson CEO of Vilnius Capital, a boutique executive search firm specialising in executive search & senior blockchain/crypto related positions. My journey in the blockchain space has been quite thrilling. As we all know that the crypto revolution is still in its infancy, I don’t claim to be an expert, in this space I’m a perpetual student, I learn something new every day.
I: You sound truly hyped up
A: (laughs) I really am. The possibilities in this space are truly endless. Every day you see new projects that further expand the realm of possibilities to showcase other use cases for blockchain tech.
I: I’m aware you’ve been part of some of these projects.
A: True. I’ve had the opportunity of working with some awesome projects. I’m the Cofounder and former CEO of Dice Money. I also served as advisor for a number of ICOs including WinWinCoin, Empire Hotels, Karma Games and Nauticus. The importance of teamwork cannot be overemphasized. As they say, ‘Team work makes the dream work’. We all need to work together synergistically to break new frontiers in this space. I’ve been building partnerships with leading crypto exchanges, family offices, and start-up incubators. As well as the work I do fro Vilnius Capital, I’m also Business Development Director at Andriotto Financial Services.
I: Wow! I see you’ve been very busy in the crypto/blockchain community. I’ll like to know more about Andriotto Financial Services but before we get to that, first I’ll like to ask about your background. The crypto/blockchain space is relatively new. Yet more and more are leaving their careers for blockchain technology. So my question is — what’s your professional background and how has it helped your smooth transition into the blockchain space?
A: First let me say the notion that you need any kind of specialized knowledge or background to enter the crypto space is false. Having a background in some professions can help jump-start your career in blockchain, correct, but it’s not mandatory. You want to know what you need? Passion, that’s all. blockchain/cryptocurrency is an emerging technology and as a newbie in the space all you really need is a basic understanding of the technology and when you finally decide what role you want to play in the space, you can gear your crypto education in that direction and opportunities abound. Everyone is welcome. Technical roles- blockchain engineers, full-stack developers, front end developers, or even non-technical roles, sales/marketing, content, management, traders and many more.
I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but it’s necessary. Now to answer your question, I’ve spent 20+ years working for well-known Merchant banks including CSFB, Lehman Bros, ING Barings, Coutts. My banking expertise encompasses financial markets data services, trading floor support and technology operations. My background has really enabled a smooth transition into roles involving the business and technology side of things as it concerns crypto/blockchain based startup and organizations. A very important role because both the business and technology need to come together and reach a harmonious understanding before we can see real innovations. I advise startups on how to strike that balance.
I: Now let’s talk about one of the companies that you are working with — Andriotto Financial Services. I believe they help fund start-ups & SMEs. Can you shed light on this?
A: Yes, Andriotto Financial Services is a financial boutique located in Switzerland. Its founder and chairman is Mauro Andriotto.
I: The Mauro Andriotto?
A: Yes he’s quite well known in the finance & banking world. As well as being a Professor of Corporate Finance and Enterprise Risk Management at SDA Bocconi, University of Pisa and University of Genève — UBIS, He is also internationally recognized as one of the leaders in blockchain and STO financing. Mauro is an independent expert at the European Commission for Horizon 2020 where he approves public grants up to €2.5 million for innovative and disruptive European projects.
A: Yes he is. A consummate expert, who is on several advisory boards all over the world and has been published multiple times.
With his company AFS, he his proving himself to be an industry juggernaut in the financial services sector offering a wide range of services that include: investment banking, private equity, artificial intelligence, financial consulting, predictive modelling and risk analysis to mention just a few. Although Mauro is very busy, he is generous with sharing his knowledge, I’m learning a lot from him.
I: So what’s your role with AFS?
A: I’m the official representative of AFS in the United Kingdom. As you know funding is to start-ups what fuel is to fire (laughs). I’m responsible for introducing AFS professional services to well established SME’s that seek to raise substantial funding via Security Token Offerings (STO)
I: That’s a very important role. Also I observed you keep mentioning STO. Is that another term for ICO. Are the two interchangeable?
A: ICO and STO are different. But they are similar in the sense that they are both vehicles to raise capital for bootstrapping new projects. But that’s where the similarities end. ICOs gradually became vehicles for scam investments. It’s remarkable when you think that in 2017 it was reported that more than 70% of ICOs were scams. Any Tom, Dick or Harry could issue ‘utility tokens’ to investors that do not fall within any regulatory parameters. Because of these regulatory weaknesses, it didn’t matter whether you actually had a product/team/roadmap. Even if you did, you could not be held responsible for promising to develop a product that didn’t exist. Equity was not guaranteed. It was the wild wild west and many investors were burnt, as vast amounts of their capital were lost. It was only a matter of time before the market transitioned into a better alternative/replacement with stricter regulations and The “Security Token Offering” (STO) was born.
So what are STOs?
An STO offers investors security tokens in exchange for their investments. Security tokens, unlike the digital tokens used by ICOs, are backed by real financial securities. What this means is that a security token allows an investor to have a fraction of equity ownership in the issuing company; additionally, its links with the digital ledger, the blockchain that is the key to the power of cryptocurrencies and digital tokens, is what differentiates it from traditional securities
STO’s are asset-backed digital tokens issued over the blockchain which must abide by the securities regulations of the country where they were launched.
STO combines the reliability of traditional finance with the versatility of crypto. Security token holders can have voting rights, dividends etc
I: Very interesting. STOs really plug all the holes eliminating any risks of scams. Plus you have full legal protection. One would think ICOs would be obsolete by now but surprisingly some investors still go that route? What in your opinion is the reason for this?
A: (Laughs) It all comes down to the investor’s appetite for risk really. Do you want a highly speculative investment that leaves you unprotected but has a potential for astronomical returns OR do you want to protect your investment every step of the way?
For us at AFS, it’s a no-brainer.
I: So it’s really a choice between greed and prudence?
A: (Laughs) You have spoken.
I: Thank you so much for your time Anthony. This has been fun and a real eye opener.
A: You’re welcome, Nehemiah
N.B — Transcript edited for clarity.