Estimated reading time: 12 minutes, 5 seconds
We sat down with Hannah Rosenberg of Velas Commerce to talk about all things crypto, running the BoB Chicago blockchain meetup, and based e-commerce.
Hannah has been a fixture of the Chicago blockchain community since its inception. Her expertise has led her to co-found Velas Commerce, specializing in blockchain and cryptocurrency consulting. Check out the interview video above or the script from it below for Hannah’s unique take on cryptocurrency and how we can achieve mass adoption of blockchain technology.
“It will entirely transform how we use money. I think it’s just a matter of time.”
Who are you and what is your role in the blockchain/cryptocurrency community?
I’m Hannah Rosenberg, and I do a lot of stuff in Chicago. I try to go to all the events. That was possible until like last year. Now I have no idea what kind of events there are in Chicago. I try to go to a lot of them. I’m also the organizer for the Bitcoin and Open Blockchain (BoB) meetup here in Chicago. So I actually organize a lot of events via that community.
When did you first hear about crypto/blockchain technology?
I first heard about cryptocurrency in 2011. I was very into monetary theory and alternative currencies. One of my favorite podcasts EconTalk had something up. I just read the titles like, “Oh, this has something to do with money. Okay, I’ll listen to it.” It was a 2011, and it was a podcast about Bitcoin. But at the time, my head was in commodity-backed alternative currencies.
So I put it on, and I listened to it for about 10-15 minutes. Then I was like, “Eh. Magic internet money backed by nothing? That’s rubbish. Turn it off.” But it wouldn’t go away. So about a year later in mid-2012, I just finally sat down and said, “Alright, so I’m gonna read about this thing.” And then it just hit me that, holy crap! This might actually work. And then I just fell in love, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.
What have your experiences been like in the blockchain/crypto space?
Dramatically, it’s been pretty overwhelmingly positive. You know, it’s been a lot of really awesome experiences. Things have changed so much lately, but it was really awesome. When I first got back to Chicago in 2014, I just instantly tried to go to every meetup I could find. And you know, in 2014 a meetup was the back room at someone’s office with me and five other people. You’d walk in there, and three of those people are crazy, and the other two people are still my best friends. So that was really awesome! Now it’s changed a lot, and who’s in the space has just expanded dramatically. But I’d say, overwhelmingly, I just love being in the room at a Bitcoin or event because that’s where coolest people are. You know, it’s really awesome people in general.
Can you describe a typical meetup nowadays?
Well it’s changing so much. Like since mid-2017, it’s just changed dramatically. I think when I first started running the meetup, or just being at meetups, or anytime I would talk to anyone about Bitcoin, I would always ask them, “How did you get into this?” You’d have your tech nerd person, your hardcore libertarian, or you’d have your investor dude. They’ll be those three people.
Then since about mid-2017, that’s changed dramatically. So now it’s business people, lawyers, accountants. It’s just all kinds of business professionals. So the scene has changed dramatically. Overall, you get a lot of intelligent, interested, curious people that are good to have conversations with. So it’s awesome.
What is the Bitcoin and Open Blockchain (BoB) Meetup group? What is your role?
So we call it BoB for short – Bitcoin and Open Blockchain. It’s BoB community of Chicago, and I am the organizer. But I organize it with Ben and Ian, who do most of the actual work. You know, calling a place, booking it, and ordering pizza. All that good event planning stuff that we do.
We have three major goals for the meetup. So one is just to establish a thriving community in Chicago. Second, we are really focusing a lot on educational stuff this year. We want to be a resource for people – especially new people coming into this world – to find educational resources and provide quality education. Third, we just aim to connect Chicago to the broader Bitcoin and Open Blockchain community. So by bringing people in and just putting on really awesome event here in Chicago!
Tell us about some of the events you put on.
We do workshops which are sort of bigger general interest events, usually. Like on a Saturday afternoon, we might have like a speaker come in and talk about a particular project that they’re working on, and that’s a sort of broad, general interest event.
We’re also doing a developer series which is aimed specifically at developers. So we expect people to have some sort of technical skills before they come in. And then we do sort of a smaller event, like on a weekday evening, where we’ll do a deep dive into a specific technical topic.
Then hopefully soon, we’re also going to be doing some Blockchain 101 kind of events. I think we’re gonna time that for the next time we hit a new all-time high and everyone goes nuts. There’s lots of new people with the meetup, then we’ll do a Bitcoin 101 type of event.
What are some advantages cryptocurrency has over fiat?
Well I do a lot of e-commerce stuff. So that sort of where my head is at the moment. I was actually at a client’s office yesterday, and they’re dealing with some credit-card fraud stuff. So I bit my tongue for about a minute and a half before I was like, “Bitcoin! Bitcoin will solve all these problems!” But not right now because there’s all these other things you have to deal with before you can accept it on your websites… There’s a lot of hurdles there.
But just things like credit cards are incredibly outdated, crappy technology for e-commerce websites. So crypto is just dramatically better there. I mean it’s a very different sort of thing. Then there are other problems you have to worry about. But it’s like credit card fraud would just be gone if we were all using crypto. So there are a lot of advantages.
And then there’s just the obvious monetary theory stuff, where we’re fairly spoiled here in the States. I don’t think any of us have – if we grew up here – has ever lived through a currency crisis. But in most parts of the world people have. So I think that’s it’s a very good reason to like crypto, because especially with an open blockchain, you can’t just inflate it away and destroy the currency. So that’s a huge advantage.
How did Velas Commerce start?
Velas Commerce actually started in 2014 when I first got back to Chicago. I spent five years in Australia, and that’s where I was when I fell in love with Bitcoin. I then came back to Chicago for family reasons, and it’s when I got back I was like instantly, I’m going to set up a Bitcoin consultancy. What I’m gonna do is help people accept Bitcoin on their website. That’s what I wanted to do. So as soon as we got back I set it up straight away.
But I just found that the market wasn’t quite there yet, and it’s still not quite there yet. Primarily, at this point, because of tax concerns. I think the technology is good enough at this point. Especially I’m really excited about the Lightning Network; so that could be really awesome. But the tax situation in the States is still pretty crappy for e-commerce uses.
So I get more and more interest in people taking crypto on a website, which is really awesome. But I mean who’s gonna pay capital gains taxes on the t-shirt they bought on their website, you know? That’s so hard. It’s just that paperwork and that tracking is prohibitive to that happening. But I’m hoping that’ll change.
Yeah, so I’ve been in love with e-commerce prior to Bitcoin. So as soon as the situation was right, I was like, “So I guess I’m doing Bitcoin e-commerce consultancy! Yeah!”
What service does Velas Commerce offer?
Well, we do e-commerce stuff obviously, and we help people integrate crypto payments into their websites. If someone wants to sell something on OpenBazaar, kind of thing, we’d help them with that. We also do consultancy. Really what that means is you tell me about your project, and I talk myself out of paid work by telling you why you don’t need a blockchain. Or sometimes it means connecting people to resources. That’s what I do a lot.
Then we do a lot of training stuff. So we do one-day courses. We have a course that’s just Bitcoin/Blockchain 101 designed for business professionals. That’s just like you walk in that morning, and you spend the whole day in the course. Then hopefully you walk out having a pretty solid foundation for understanding what the technology is and what the ecosystem is. We’re also working on a mining course which should be lots of fun. So, yeah, those three things: e-commerce, consulting, and training.
As a consultant, what are some of the frequently asked questions you get?
“Where do you find a developer?” That’s like the number one question! I do not have a secret stash of developers, so sometimes I cannot help people there. But they’re generally looking to connect with resources, and that’s often developers. Those are just hard to come by. That’s kind of how I wound up doing a lot of educational stuff as well, because you realize there’s just this huge need for these services that don’t quite exist at the moment.
There’s a lack of supply for developers. How do we solve for the demand?
That’s part of what we’re doing via the meetup. We’re trying to put on events for developers so people with some technical skills can come in and learn a bit more about crypto. And I hope that some of them will go, “Yeah, I want to do this!” We are also trying to bring more training resources into Chicago. So we’re working on some stuff there. There’s lots of things in the works. You know, creating educational resources specifically for developers in Chicago.
What are some of the challenges Velas has faced?
Tax laws is the number one thing. If only, if only the tax laws were a little bit different.
Center’s working on trying to get an exception. I think it’s like for transactions under $600, then capital gains wouldn’t apply. And I’ve just been pestering the poor people at like, “How is it going? How’s it going? Can I help? What can I do?” I’m just so hoping that would change.
I’ve also looked around and said, “Okay. Maybe the tax situation is not so great in the States. What about other parts of North America?” And you find that in a lot of places, there’s incredible uncertainty because there’s just no idea what the tax situation is going to be. Learn more about the tax laws surrounding crypto in the United States here!
So I think that – as far as Velas Commerce – what I would love to see happen is there to be a better tax situation and some more clarity around that. That would be really great for my business! And I think for e-commerce stuff, in general in the States.
What makes the Chicago blockchain and cryptocurrency community unique?
Well I spent a lot of time in Chicago for family and all that, so I haven’t explored a lot of other communities. But I think we have a lot of really awesome people here. A lot of, at this point called, sort of old-school Bitcoin people who really care a lot about having a quality community. That means not just people pitching ICOs or investment opportunities, but just a really solid community with really quality discussions. It’s not all about the price and get-rich-quick, and that sort of stuff. So I think we just have a lot of people with really solid intentions, working hard to put on awesome stuff here in Chicago. It’s really awesome to be a part of that because in some places, I’ve seen some things…
What do you see for the future of blockchain technology?
I see all kinds of things for the future of crypto. It was probably like early 2013 – I can’t remember exactly, it might have been 2012 – when wordpress.org started accepting bitcoin donations. I don’t know why for me that was the moment when I’m just like, “This is gonna happen!” I was just thrilled. It was that moment when I was just sure. I knew it.
But it’s been strange. In some ways it happened very slowly, and in some ways happened very quickly. In some ways it’s just absolutely blown my mind what already has happened and how well things have gone so far so.
I am just hugely optimistic for how it will go. It’s hard to say. Like, will we all be paying our rent and buying cups of coffee with crypto in ten years maybe? Maybe twenty; maybe thirty? I don’t know! But I really think it’s going to be everywhere sooner or later. It will entirely transform how we use money I think. So it’s just a matter of time. I’m very optimistic there!
Where can people learn more about Velas Commerce?
Check out Velas Commerce here!
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