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GYES 2019 speaker Nicolas Cary on cryptocurrency, the benefits of technology and the future of entrepreneurship

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Can you tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and what’s been key to your success?

I started my first company with my best friend when I was 16, building websites for our friends’ parents. After university, I went to India and taught computer science and creative writing. I then came back to the US and worked with the founding team of a technology company focused on building customer relationship management software. In 2009, a network was created called the block chain, which used a cryptocurrency to create counterfeit-resistant digital goods. This new technology pioneered a way to build digital forms of money and use digital tokens that represent real-world goods. I saw a huge opportunity in the market so I co-founded the company Blockchain.com in the UK. Seven years later, we have offices all over the world and have raised millions from investors like Richard Branson and Google Ventures. The journey wasn’t always smooth but having a mentor was truly beneficial and helped me navigate the challenges, something I now give back to other people. 

What is Blockain’s big vision for the future?

The dream is to cradle the planet in an economic fabric that allows all people to easily and conveniently participate in the economy. We take for granted how easy it is to send messages around the world, but it’s difficult to move money because the system designed for the financial services space and the whole banking infrastructure is not about fluidity, it’s about command and control. In a digital age where information can move around quickly, we need our money to move around the world conveniently. We want to build an open, fair and accessible financial future for all people regardless of where they come from, their skin colour, gender or credit score. These are huge opportunities to build a more equitable world around how money operates.

You’re clearly very passionate about the positive opportunities of technology, can you talk about some of the risks?

Access to technology continues to be a challenge for many people. There are particular gender issues that are not discussed enough. The people designing technology are not always the same as the people using it. This is why human-centred design is so important - working with the communities where you’ll deliver the software. 

Centralisation of data is also risky. With social media, we’re now discovering the risks. Companies encourage addictive behaviour through social media and make money harvesting data from the information you’re trading to them for free. I think there’s going to be a transition back to people wanting control over their information. I’m really excited about using blockchain technology to allow individuals to passport their data on a peer-to-peer basis and trade it on an individual basis. 

There are also gaps in the conversation at a policy level and this is a big risk. I’ve had to explain the basics of the internet to a number of people in high-powered positions making decisions about how technology will impact people’s lives. Inspiring new generations and getting young people involved in earlier stages of policy and governance is critical to reduce these gaps. 

What are the key traits that young entrepreneurs need to thrive in this shifting environment?

Young adults from emerging markets or disadvantaged backgrounds are in some ways much better prepared to cope with the stresses of building businesses and the fear of failure. Resilience is the number one trait that I have seen that significantly advantages an entrepreneur. You also have to be willing to walk away if something is not working - adjust, change, keep going and never stop learning. The challenges we face today are macro and micro but they also present huge new opportunities. Climate change is a major opportunity for people to bring solutions forward that can be useful socially, economically and environmentally. Every challenge has a corresponding opportunity and so, in many ways, now is the best time to think about how to build businesses as opportunities for communities. 

What interested you about joining YBI’s Global Summit? 

When I heard that YBI was going to host a Global Youth Entrepreneurship Summit, I was excited because we have so much to learn from similarly minded communities around the world. We need to convene people and the convening power of a network like YBI is really important. I love thinking about the future. There are big challenges that we face but entrepreneurship is probably the single greatest tool set that we have to address them. Inspiring the next generation of young entrepreneurs and giving them the resources and confidence they need is crucial.  

What is your advice for YBI members around the world?

The digital world has become part of our DNA, from how we consume our entertainment to how we keep in touch with our loved ones. It’s shaped and changed industries. How we inspire and support business development is going to be impacted by technology too, especially to deliver wide scale impact. If there’s an inefficiency and technology can do it better, then it’s going to happen. You have to engage. Make the effort to understand and get better at using technology in your own organisation so that you can leverage it across your networks.

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