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119: Why WAX is HOT!

Buck: Welcome back to the show everyone. Today my guest on Wealth Formula Podcast is Malcolm Cassell. Malcolm is an entrepreneur. And he’s the CIO of OPSkins, which will get into, and the president of Worldwide Asset Exchange or WAX. Prior to his current position he served in numerous roles internationally as an entrepreneur. He’s held multiple seat level positions at startups and highly successful companies in the technology space and he’s also been an active early stage investor in companies like Facebook, Zynga and most recently, bitcoin-related companies which will be appropriate to what we’re talking about today. Malcolm, welcome to wealth formula podcast.

Malcolm: Thanks for having me, Buck.

Buck: So this is that this is gonna be sort of, you know, unusual and different for the audience so we certainly have had people in the cryptocurrency space. We had Teeka Tiwari, and we’ve had Mance Harmon from Hashgraph. And so what I wanted to do a little bit is sort of back up and talk about OPSkins and what that is and how you got involved, and then kind of ease into that and then discussing some of the challenges with that business and go into kind of what you guys are doing right now. So why don’t you get started just telling us a little bit, I mean you’re obviously a guy that’s been in the tech space for a while you know you’re an MIT Stanford guy, you’ve got tech written all over you. How did you get into…what is OPSkins and how did you get into it?

Malcolm: Sure. So OPSkins is the largest marketplace in the world for people who want to buy and sell virtual items from video games. So for those of you who are not video game players, just to give some context, the video game industry is about a hundred and thirty billion dollar industry so thirteen times bigger than the film industry. It’s huge. And about eighty percent of the revenue generated in the video game industry selling virtual items. So when people acquire those items, it has some value, residual value. Sometimes that value increases over time, like any collectible. And they want to buy and sell them. And we are the Amazon of that ecosystem, so when people want to buy and sell those items for cash they come to us and they use OPSkins. So that’s what we do. My background really started in commerce and you know online businesses starting back in the first dot com. I got involved in the video game ecosystem in 2011 and I worked on a project called Xfire, which was a social platforms for the hardcore video games similar to the audience we have today. The PC gamers they are the ones who spend a lot on these rigs they have like really expensive, you know, monitors, and chairs, and headphones that look kind of like the kind you know that, you know, they’re not just your casual gamer these are the ones who are really really passionate about it. And so I started working with some of the team members here at that time I also got involved in crypto so I started investing in crypto businesses back in 2011, 2012, 2013. And so I started really seeing how this ecosystem was evolving, and it was clear even years ago that a peer-to-peer, decentralized platform is gonna win over a centralized one.

Buck: Before we get start to get into that, I want to back up a little bit because one of the things, I think keys to understanding, why this is such a big deal potentially for investors to look at as a space is understanding this world that I think is foreign to most of us forty something professional guys which is the idea that their virtual items have a real value to them. Give us some examples of that and…because I think a lot of people…and of course I know a little bit about it, but give us some examples that show that people really believe that these things that they’re buying in the internet have great value in that they’re willing to pay a lot of money for them.

Malcolm: Yeah so earlier this year we sold a skin, and and just to clarify skin is a virtual item that has no function. It just changes the look so we call them cosmetic. And so imagine you know if you had a Snapchat filter, right? So maybe it’s your listeners are familiar, and use a Snapchat filter to change your face, right? And that’s called the skin, or changes the environment, right? Put sparkles and rainbows. So that’s what’s called a cosmetic item, it doesn’t change your voice, well it could, but in most cases, it doesn’t change your voice, doesn’t change the content other than the look. And so cosmetic items are what we specialize in and we sold a cosmetic item for sixty one thousand dollars recently.

Buck: So all that does in effect is like, so you know, it might be the the way the, you know, a player’s character looks on the screen. So, that’s a different reality than most of us live in, Right? That’s why it’s important.

Malcolm: Yeah it’s like you have an avatar in an environment and you want the avatar to look a certain way, well then of course, you know, you you would buy a skin, right? For that avatar.

Buck: Right. And the reason I emphasize that so much is to get your arms around this you have to understand I think that this generation particularly that is growing up in this gaming world that, did the line between virtual and real is, you know, is not the same line that we think of. Like of a lot of us forty something you know professionals, et cetera.

Malcolm: Yeah so let me let me just speak to your point. The line between real and virtual and why that’s so important today. So think of it this way: today, the youth are spending the majority of their time looking at the screen. And on that screen is their identity. It’s their social profile, it’s their avatar, it’s the character they have in the game. And so for that character to be are elevated or diminished, it’s like the world to them. It’s just like you know we talk about cyber bullying and so somebody posts something negative on your profile kids will have you know really really a tough time. It turns out if you sit back and you really think about it, actually it has nothing to do with that it has to do with their identity inside of a virtual environment, which they call a Facebook page. So the reality is that most of us have already made that leap, where we were we actually attach our identity to the thing we have online, our Facebook page online. So somebody says something about it or what comments on it we take personally. So now if you’re spending all your time looking at the screen you’re spending a lot of your time in a virtual environment, whatever happens or occurs for that identity in that virtual environment occurs to the person.

Buck: Right.

Malcolm: So this is the brain chemicals, this is oxytocin, this is hormones, this is serotonin. So you feel excited when good things happen, you feel really happy when it’s welcomed, when your identity is welcomed, you feel maybe demoralized when your identity lose a competition or people are saying things that are, you know, not very good or you lost and so forth. So people think they’re very personal. So these identities are very important to them. And so they will spend whatever resources they have at their disposal to elevate those identities to feel better. Just like, if you live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and you carry a forty thousand dollar Birkin bag or forty thousand dollar diamond ring neither of which have little value at that level they don’t do anything. Abag is just, you can use a shopping bag or the ring, you don’t even need the ring, it doesn’t do anything. Yet you’ll spend massive amounts of money for those things because it affects your identity, affects how you feel, affects your relationships, your peer group, et cetera. That’s exactly what’s happening in virtual environments. And that transition has already started to occur for the vast majority of us, if you have even a Facebook profile, let alone play video games.

Buck: So these skins that you’re talking about, virtual items or I think you can also put in some of these things people know a little bit about crypto kitties if you’ve heard of things like that. They are unique items right? They’re not…there’s something about them that you can’t just like photocopy them and, you know, and scan them back in. They’re truly unique items and that’s what gives them a certain value. And how do you make sure those things are unique? How do these people do that?

Malcolm: So traditionally the uniqueness of an item art comes from let’s say the collective belief by a group. So let’s say you wanna collect baseball cards and you come across a Babe Ruth’s that’s like vintage mint condition, right? We believe because we’ve been trading baseball cards, we know about baseball cards for a long time, that item is very rare and hence the values are high. In the virtual environment, the uniqueness is traditionally being determined by the game company. Game company says okay we have this many items were issuing only so many of this particular item and we deem that this particular item is highly sought after. Just because something is rare doesn’t mean it’s valuable. It also has to be desirable.

Buck: Right.

Malcolm: Right? So you need rarity and you need desirability. When those two things come together, that’s when you get something collectible and worth a whole lot.

Buck: Right.

Malcolm: So this is the same thing as if it was like Star Wars collectibles that we were holding onto from the 80’s, right? Same thing in terms of rarity and desirability. There may only be like a couple of Chewbaccas, but if nobody wants it or Jar Jar Binks, if nobody wants it, nobody cares.

Buck: Right. exactly. So now we have this, now that I think that’s an important place to continue this conversation where OPSkins fits in. Because now, we know that okay well listen, virtual items to people in this world have the same value as you know me buying a car that I covet, you know, something like that. So where do you buy them from each other, and that’s where options comes in and effectively it’s a trading platform and then inherently…

Malcolm: Let’s let’s make a distinction. Trading and a marketplace are different. So trading is, hey I’m gonna swap, we’re gonna swap something back and forth and that could be cashless, right? I can gift something to you. So we offer trading and and it is a free offer. But then we also have a marketplace where you can sell it for cash. And that’s a very different thing when you can sell it for US dollars or euros you can cash out and it’s pretty exciting, right? You have something of value and I can exchange it for money that I can use for anything else.

Buck: And you have a global marketplace where you know you have somebody in Russia who is trying to sell something to somebody in Korea. And that’s where I there’s a pain point with the currencies etc. How has that been up to now? Up to the point of cryptocurrency? How is that been addressed? And if you could talk a little bit about the, you know, potential inefficiencies that have been, that you guys have seen in that area.

Malcolm: Sure.So when two people trading who don’t know each other, which is the case ninety nine percent of the time, there’s no trust, right? So you have this Mexican standoff. You have an item I want, I am willing to pay for it, who does what first? If I give it to you, you could run off with the money. If you give me the item, I could run off with the item. Right? So you need an intermediate, first. The second thing is that you know items could be stolen, items could be fake or something. I can talk about, fake is not a huge issue because the game companies determine how those things get authenticated. And we’ve moved that to the blockchain, but we act as the authenticator in the middle, just to make sure we double check everything so you know it’s a real offer. And then the third thing is that you know that currency, its use, is really important. So let’s say we’re trading items worth fifty cents. You know, good luck taking items fifty cents and transferring it from Korea to Russia I mean by the time you do all the currency conversion and back and forth let’s say it’s priced in dollars, I mean you got to convert from Koren dollars, Korean Won, to US dollars. There’s gonna be nothing left. So that means that there’s no way to transfer something worth 50 cents between these two. So that’s where you need an intermediary and that’s where crypto plays a role. It means that I can come into the platform, I can trade back and forth instantaneously, I can trade back and forth without this conversion costs and, of course,it becomes possible to trade items worth two cents or two thousand dollars.

Buck: Right so before before crypto, there is just sort of this inefficient broker-broker system right? Can you talk about how that was done? Because it sounds like a…

Malcolm: Yeah that’s why OPSkins became so successful. We were the first ones to kind of solve that problem. We were using US dollars is a standard, but we allow people to upload money from their local currencies and then be allowed them to cash out in their local currency, but they would do that after they had conducted many, many transactions. So the fee would say be amortized across a lot of transactions and it was reasonable, right? If you’re trying to do it item by item it’s not even possible. What we had done is we’ve built a centralized system, that means everyone one had to come to OPSkins. Apparently that limits the growth of the business because you know people are hanging out watching a particular streamer or they’re hanging out watching a particular blog, to force them to come to our site to either list their inventory for sale or buy inventory is just not the way people are used to doing things. People like to be able to buy right where they are consuming things. So if you think about on Facebook what happens? You can now you know do so many things within Facebook that you couldn’t do before. You can message right from Facebook, right? And before you’d go to a different program to do that, right? But now people expect it to be embedded. So what WAX is simply the ability to converse wherever gamers are consuming their gaming content.

Buck: Right to let’s just back up real quick. So WAX is Worldwide Asset Exchange and it’s a cryptocurrency right?

Malcolm: Yeah it’s it’s more than that

Buck: Right when you talk, sort of back up on that. Because I know there’s actually multiple implementations of this. So you guys decided instead of saying, well hey why don’t we just have a marketplace with, you know, Bitcoin or Ethereum or whatever, you know, in just use cryptocurrencies to actually create another token? And tell me why you decided to do that and I think you were alluding into a little bit people having their own stores and that sort of thing. But talk about the evolution of, you know, where WAX token comes in and in the context of other cryptocurrencies and the larger vision of what you were thinking about in terms of this project.

Malcolm: Sure. Well I think first we all have to admit that Bitcoin had failed as a payment method. And so is Ethereum. We understand they’re too expensive, they’re slow, I and the fees are variable. So several weeks ago, the fees for transacting in Ethereum went from fifty cents to fifty dollars and nobody noticed. We did, right? Because if you’re running a real business, you’d be screaming if suddenly your toll went from fifty cents to fifty dollars trying to get to work. Right? People would get out of their cars and riot. Yet nobody did that several weeks ago. Why is that? Because nobody’s using Ethereum for anything truly commercial. Nobody cares. Because these are still experiments in the kitchen somewhere. So my point is simply that running a real business, it was clear to us that if we don’t have our own blockchain to enable these kinds of transactions that we can control and keep those costs low transactions and make those transactions really fast, there was no hope of creating a truly enterprise business. And what we’ve been doing is essentially building the peer-to-peer trading mechanism. So in other words, rather than having to come to OPSkins, WAX allows you, say, you and I to trade between the two of us, with just this piece of software running in the middle. So when I say decentralized, it really means that people can trade between each other rather than having to go to a centralized authority. And that’s the magic of it. Now it’s a token as well, because a token is how you actually pay to do the transactions on that chain, and that’s, I think people probably understand that, familiarity with blockchain, that a token is often used to power the platform itself. And so our chain is in alpha, we’re already running. We’ve launched a distibuted application, called a DAP, and a collectible, and that collectible is called VGO. and that DAP has become the most transacted DAP in the world virtually overnight. It’s way bigger than all the other collectibles…

Buck: Back up and tell us about that because that’s probably going to be, I think that’s an incredibly impressive thing and something that’s really important for people to understand. First of all, tell us a little bit more about VGO. What it is, what people are doing and how it’s making money.

Malcolm: Sure. So think about collectibles like we were talking about like cryptokitties, think of them like playing cards and each one’s unique. There’s couple of thousands and thousands of them. And they have a cat on it. And the cat has a particular characteristic, it has a mustache, maybe it’s tall, maybe it’s short, etc. And people start to collect these items. Now there’s mostly speculators was in the preexisting ecosystem people who care about cryptokitties. When we launched a partnership with this collectible called VGO, it was targeted specifically to a market of people who really liked CSGO. CSGO is a very popular game called Counter Strike: Global Offensive. It’s got a global audience. It’s been one of our biggest tradeable traded items on OPSkins for a very long time. And so what they decided to do in support of what I think is also our vision was this idea of an item-centric world. When we say item-centric, most game publishers think, or app developers think everything revolves around the app. And an item-centric view is everything revolves around the user and the ownership of their items. So if you acquire an item we believe you should own it. And like let’s say you bought a car, a BMW, and BMW said sorry you can’t sell that car to anyone else, or you can only drive it on Tuesdays, you can’t drive it on Wednesdays. I mean, that would be absurd, right? So that’s why the game developers are sort of disconnected from the way consumers typically think of things. They’ve been placing restrictions upon users’ ability to do things with the virtual items that they paid for or earned in the games. And so we believe in a world where there are no restrictions and that’s part of the reason we designed WAX, to enable customers to have the power to trade and do things as they wish. And that’s why peer-to-peer is so important. We take ourselves out of the picture as centralized trader, that means that others can trade and no one can interfere.

Buck: Let’s talk a little bit about the other side of this which is, you know, we’re talking the other day and you mentioned something that was interesting and I thought maybe this audience would resonate with that. We have, we’ve drawn this line between this world that we’re used to which is the real world and then we have this virtual world. But there’s also an intersection and where an online pizza could represent a real pizza. And so having that ability to exchange those kinds of things online in a peer-to-peer fashion too. Could you talk a little bit about that? Because I think that’s pretty interesting from a…it sounds like it could maybe be a phase 2 in terms of what you guys are doing which is a really interesting and exciting way of looking at the world as the technology continues.

Malcolm: Yeah. I think it is really interesting. Because right now when you buy something, you sort of have to consume it when you buy, right? If I buy a pizza, I gotta get the pizza right now. What if I could buy a pizza but consume it later whenever I want it? Or I could give it to you and you could consume it whenever you wanted?

Buck: Like a gift certificate?

Malcolm: Yeah, but it’s instantaneously fungible. And gift certificates are a pain in the butt, right? Or even a gift card. But imagine that i could buy a pizza and I could send it to you instantly. Say hey, Buck, thanks for what you did, I really appreciate that. Or we could trade it, I could trade a pizza for say a bouquet of flowers, right? Then you can consume that pizza when you want, how you want, or you could give it to your son and your son could go consume it or give it to your neighbor, right? So this would totally change the dynamics of how we think about consumption. In other words, we’d be able to trade the value of something and consume it later. We would actually uncouple the idea of having to consume it now and owning. Now this is, to some, maybe an abstract concept that seems very, very weird. However, think about what human behavior is like. Think about how they love to collect things. Think about how we love to own things. Think about how we love to trade things. Look in your garage, how many things do you have there? A lot of stuff probably, right? I know I do. So if I send, you know what, I’d like to have 10 pizzas just here, just in case, you never know. Or you know, I want to have 14 battery packs that I can consume later. And I can use those anytime I want, they are there. Or I can trade them. This is gonna unlock, I think, a completely new industry. And our goal is to be the masters of trading virtual items that are actually real.

Buck: And that would be sort of gifting industry is sort of what we’re talking about, right? Let’s talk a little bit about, because I know in gifting there’s GIFTO, there’s…what are the competitors, if there are any competitors to WAX? Virtually what I’ve seen is, so far as synergistic relationships with other distributed ledger projects, but I haven’t, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody who’s doing really anything kind of like you. Is there competition, direct competition?

Malcolm: Well so there are lots of sites creating virtual items, so that’s the first thing. So we created VGO in partnership with a group that came up with it, and we’ve pushed it through the WAX ecosystem to demonstrate the WAX ecosystem. And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s become the most successful collectible in the world. It’s generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually and it’s basically brand new and it’s resting upon this idea of skins. That’s a fantastic business. But we’re not in the item creation business, we’re in the marketplace business. And so everyone who’s creating an item, we want to be the place for that buying and selling. So that’s, anyone who’s tokenizing other assets that’s compatible with this ecosystem, all the guys creating assets mainly competing with each other, but for us it’s not about who wins, we just want to be the place where whoever’s winning gets to transact. In terms of other people building marketplaces, we see some people talking about building marketplaces, but we haven’t seen any that have already you know user bases, scale, and have the depth of understanding of how this ecosystem works. But there are some folks who try to deal in collectibles, crypto-collectibles, but I think the crypto-collectibles are very much a challenged category because most of them rest upon Ethereum and as we mentioned earlier, Ethereum is I think a failed proposition when it comes to running a commercial business on.

Buck: Right. There was a, this happened with cryptokitties, there was like a big problem with the Ethereum network getting clogged up and all that. It’s just terribly inefficient in that regard. One of the things I think is really neat about this whole project and why I’m, I’m a big holder of WAX token myself because I really, in many ways it makes so much sense to me, is that you are also the biggest, I mean this goes back to OPSkins, you are already sort of the market maker already. And what you’re doing is you’re creating a currency and making it just easier to transact. The customers are already there so it’s not a theoretical project. I mean, do you feel like, to me that seems like one of the biggest advantages that you have.

Malcolm: Yeah I think having millions and millions of customers is a huge advantage. I won’t discount that at all. But also having a brand, right? We have like a maybe 80% trustpilot score so that means it’s like a very, very trusted value brand. All those things are great, they’re fantastic. But I think the one thing that is the most important out of all these things, is our understanding of how the customers work. I don’t know any other group that can launch a collectible and go to hundreds of millions of dollars overnight. It’s just, I’ve never seen anyone do that and it’s one thing that our group is really good at because we understand how to work with third parties. We have hundreds and hundreds of third parties coordinated in making that effort a success and they’re all continuing to grow. Because we’re really a B2B play. We understand how to empower other marketplaces, or other sellers, or other buyers. So if you go on youtube and you see thousands and thousands of videos about the things that we do, because we work with influences, they’re very effective. The items are designed in a way that collectors really understand. There’s appraisers involved. There’s other games that are using those items, their games now. So it you think about how we coordinated all these pieces to make all these things successful, it’s something that’s a rare combination and it comes more from, one of the folks on our team invented item trade, 1997, okay. And built the first successful company, became a multi-billion dollar company and so our experience in this goes back to the core of this. And I think that that’s really one of our strategic advantages.

Buck: What do you think, in terms of timeline, you know, right now, you mentioned, as you mentioned you’re almost there, you’ve almost, you got the token right now but that’s launched the new blockchain. People who own the current WAX token are going to get an equivalent amount to that. How do you see this evolve? In your eyes, how does this sort of catch, it’s already caught on, but really start penetrating through that however big market you said, how big is this market?

Malcolm: So item trading is a 50 billion dollar market. The secondary market for trading.

Buck: Right. So 50 billion dollar market trading. The goal here is presumably to make this really the central currency. The central ledger for all of that. How far along are you in that journey, and how do you see this all rolling out?

Malcolm: So I think they way to think about what we’re doing is, our blockchain is designed to create an open platform. So if you can think back to AOL, remember America Online. And there was a battle between America Online versus the Internet. Okay if you go back even further, it was a battle between proprietary interactive television networks, that Microsoft was trying to support, and the Internet. And both gave up. Microsoft gave up and said, you know what, forget these two way cable networks, too expensive and it would take forever to roll-out. We’re just gonna embrace the Internet. What did AOL do? They embraced the Internet also. So we believe that open wins over closed. The momentum is just over time too strong and just gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. So what we’re really building is an open platform for items and virtual items. And if you believe virtual items are huge and getting bigger, you say whoever builds that open platform for virtual items is gonna be a huge winner. It’s a very, very simple proposition.

Buck: If you’re an investor and I know you don’t want to talk too much about this, but some people are probably thinking, well how does WAX, what would make WAX go up in price? If you had a token, is that token supposed to stay constant? Is that supposed to go up? What forces create price changes in that token?

Malcolm: So I can’t talk about our own token and I can’t talk about price of our token, but I can talk about token economics in general. So I think one of the powerful drivers is you want to have increased demand, so you want an ecosystem that’s continually driving greater demand from token, and then you also want a mechanism completely continually reduce supply. So you want increased demand and you want decreased supply. You want both of those things happening simultaneously. Now some token economics I’ve seen support just one idea, right? Either decrease supply or increase demand. I believe the ideal ones do both. So we’ve designed our ecosystem to address both of those. We’ve talked about it in the white paper. I don’t need to get into detail about that. But basically, the more the platform gets used, right? Basically the less tokens are available. And basically the more it gets used, those tokens taken out of circulation by the folks benefitting from the ecosystem. And so for us, we know how to drive demand, we’ve grown our platform from zero to a multi billion dollar revenue stream and so we know how to build demand, and we’ve designed token economics to continually constrain supply. And that’s basically how we’ve designed the business.

Buck: Got it. So if people want to learn more about, everything here. Is it WAX.io?

Malcolm: Yeah. if you go to WAX.io you can link to our blog there. We have new postings every week what we’re up to, partnerships and how the business is evolving. We’ve launched WAX express trade, which has been really successful. We’ve worked with this collectible called VGO which is really successful. We have lots of other things. We even talked about trading “In Real Life” Items, IRL items like sneakers and things like that which are coming. In other words, the way it would work is, I would buy a token, that token would represent a particular pair of sneakers sitting in a factory. I can then trade that token, sell that token, or consume that token, right? So let’s say I traded it with you, and you decide to consume that token, you then use it and that entitles you to a pair of sneakers from that factory, get it sent to you directly. So this trading of IRL, of In Real Life items is coming. And our blockchain as I mentioned is in alpha and so it’s running all the transactions for VGO as I mentioned. It’s now the largest tradeable item in the world by an order of magnitude. So it’s really starting to show the pieces and start to come into focus. You can start to see the success of collectibles. You can see the success of the chain even in it’s early phase. So Q4 is really when you’ll start to see all these pieces come together: WAX, Express Trade, the trading platform, see more games that will be announced that are on the platform. You’ll see more collectibles. All these things come together. So I think towards the end of the year we’ll really start, the picture will become clear for a lot of people who, you know, we have fans who have been with us since day one, observing and watching carefully. But then there’s a lot of newcomers who are taking a look, and we can see the full picture as we get towards the end of the year.

Buck: This has been absolutely fascinating. And what we’re going to do is at some point, Malcolm and I and another colleague of ours, we’ve been talking about having a little more in-depth webinar for people who are interested in the project. So we’ll announce when we’re gonna do that. But in the meantime, Malcolm, thanks a ton for being on the show. This has been really great.

Malcolm: Yeah thanks for having me Buck. it’s been a real pleasure.

Buck: We’ll be right back.