As we stand at the edge of a cryptotechnology revolution, both fear and optimism define the popular outlook on the emerging sphere. While some cite concerns of security and environmental impact as reasons to steer entirely away from crypto, others look with great enthusiasm towards the myriad potential that blockchain technology offers us for everything from finance, to law, and even to art.
While trepidation before cryptotechnology is certainly valid in many cases, particularly with regards to sustainability, many within the crypto space are seeking to not only to build solutions for said concerns, but also to empower individuals to seize the opportunities that the new technology brings.
One such person is Paulin Byusa, CEO and Co-Founder of Avenir, who believes that those historically excluded from traditional financial systems could reap potentially life-changing benefits with cryptocurrency. In a masterclass for Conscious Crypto Creator, Arts Help’s global movement to combat climate change by advocating for clean blockchain technology, Byusa delves into what cryptocurrency and decentralized finance means for people of colour, immigrants and other marginalized communities.
In an interview with Arts Help, Byusa expands on this idea while sharing his own insights and experiences with cryptocurrency.
Can you tell us a little bit about your personal journey with cryptocurrency? What made you decide to get involved in it?
I grew up in Rwanda and came to the US in 2007. I went through everything you can think of from an immigrant perspective trying to navigate the financial system in the US. Looking back, I had a deficit of information, and at the same time, a lack of economic anchors in my community. I realized that extended beyond me to many other immigrants and other Black and Brown folks in the country.
Early on it was very clear to me that I needed to start building assets in order to have a better financial journey in the country. In 2015, I stumbled into crypto just through a remittance need — I was sending money abroad, but it was super expensive, so I decided to look into better ways to send money. I even considered building an app myself to solve that problem, but then I ran into Bitcoin online.
Then, out of curiosity, I reached out to anyone I could find online who understood Bitcoin.I connected with a startup founder via LinkedIn, and he told me, "Go read ‘The White Paper’ by Satoshi [Nakamoto]." I read it, and the rest is history.
Quickly, I could see the revolution unfolding in how we interact with money, and personally it has changed my financial trajectory over the years — that’s been one of the benefits of crypto. While I was at Facebook, I was focused on building and operating consumer payment products. I gained exposure to the fundamental challenges of paying across borders, where many businesses, individuals and content creators didn’t get paid what they were owed on time.
It was very clear to me when I juxtaposed the rails we were using and the rails that were being built in parallel, for an alternative system of money and payments, that at some point we would have to upgrade.
You mentioned that back before you delved into crypto, you considered creating your own app to help overcome some of these financial hurdles. Now, you're the co-founder of an app called Avenir — can you tell me about the inspiration and mission behind Avenir?
During my early days in the US, the lack of economic anchors made it difficult for me to navigate the financial system, relative to my peers. From basic financial literacy to accessing loans or credit. One thing I realized was that to increase the number of economic anchors, we need to reduce the economic barriers to building wealth, and Web3 offers us the opportunity to do that.
My co-founder, Gaspar Montesa, who is also a first-generation immigrant who comes from a Filipino immigrant family, and I are very passionate about two things: one, crypto, and two, empowering our communities. So, we decided to build Avenir, which is an app that helps people save, earn high rewards and get out of debt, with minimal effort. Anyone can create, personalize, and automate their saving goals while earning high yield so that they can reach their financial goals faster by, for example, paying off their student loans while building wealth at the same time.
Today, millions of Americans struggle to reach their financial goals and are trapped by debt. Traditional savings isn't effective at generating wealth through yields. DeFi is complicated and hard to understand. We’re taking the best of traditional finance app-based mechanisms and the benefits of DeFi, and simplifying the experience for those new to Web3. We believe traditional finance is leaving $1T on the table over the next 5 to 10 years, so it's a massive opportunity.
Anyone can use the app, and we’re making this deliberate decision to target millenials and GenZ with first-gen or immigrant backgrounds because we’ve experienced and identified similar pain points when it comes to building wealth and securing value in that.
In your experience working with those who are new to the space, what would you say the biggest misconceptions are about cryptocurrency, and what can we do to dispel them?
The reality is that with anything new that we’re embarking upon, there’s always going to be a number of people who approach it through a lens of fear — and that's natural. Fear occurs because of a lack of information.
We believe that education alleviates fear, and once you have information, then you can take action.
I’d say there's a lot of misconceptions that crypto is a scam, and another misconception is that crypto is used by criminals. The reality is, just like with fiat money, you’ll see similar fraudulent types of cases in crypto. Let’s keep in mind that crypto is just a technology, and human behaviours are the ones that don’t change. It's not the technology that creates the scam.
I think there's an opportunity for us to view the technology as a tool to empower people to exchange value. Over the last few months, Avenir created a community space called Crypto and Chill, where the people in the Avenir community can come in every Friday for one hour and ask questions about crypto and its impact on future personal finance.
We’ve seen incredible progress in how people understand what crypto is from a base level, then going on and actually investing in crypto and really living a life in a decentralized world. That’s one way we’re trying to dispel misconceptions — through education.
What can we do better in terms of education and awareness so that we can ensure that everybody feels empowered to use crypto?
There's a ton of things that we can do. The common narrative is that crypto is just for tech and finance people just because they’re the ones who arrived there first, but the reality is that crypto is for everyone.
First, as with anything, you want to educate yourself about the space. It’s not all just wealth building — it’s an amazing way to change how business is done. I think it's educating ourselves about the technology.
I’d say the second thing is really trying to dip your toe into the water, so to speak. I find crypto almost like learning how to swim. It's hard to learn how to swim in theory, and so you almost have to get in the water and try. If you stay in the shallow end, meaning you're reducing the risk, you probably won’t drown. It’s also like learning how to ride a bike. You just have to do it.
Lastly, institutions like universities have to also push this. They should try and upgrade the curriculum to teach students about crypto, to teach developers how to use new technologies and applications, and to teach future lawyers how to think through blockchain policy in order to create new policies that allow technology to thrive, but also to protect consumers and users.
So there are many things that need to be done, but I think everything starts from a place of education, then application.
Why do you think it's so important to have Black voices such as yours represented in conversations around cryptocurrency and decentralized finance, especially as we're laying the foundations for its future?
It's important for people like me to speak out on these things because it paves the way for the next person of colour. Crypto is a permissionless technology, which goes against the gatekeeping nature of how the world has been run. What it means is that in the past, things like race or status required you to participate in a space. Today, you don’t need permission to do so.
Black representation is important. It's important that others see what you’re doing, so that they can be inspired to take the same leap. I would say history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. We’ve seen that in the past, whether it's the industrial revolution, the technology revolution, the computer revolution, etc., very many people of colour have been left behind.
Now that we’re in a crypto revolution, I think it's an opportunity for people of colour, people who have been marginalized before, to jump onto this train early on. I believe that if we are to do that, then we’re able to create and fund a better vision of the world that we want to live in in the future. That’s one of the many reasons why I think it's super important.
Where do you see the future of crypto taking us?
I think the future of crypto is really exciting. When I got into crypto in 2015, we weren’t able to fathom that there would be this thing called decentralized finance which essentially is an alternative to wall street where everyone else can participate. Today, for instance, someone can get a loan within seconds in a decentralized world, without having to provide a credit score or a financial set of information. That’s powerful.
But in the future, I’ll be honest with you, it's hard to tell. A good friend of mine explained it to me this way: When the phone revolution began, it was very hard to fathom a moment when we could use WhatsApp with billions of people. That's where we are today with crypto — it's really hard to fathom what could happen. What we’re trying to do with Avenir is to lay those ground seeds and help people get ready for the future world that we’re going to embark into.
What advice do you have for people who want to get started in cryptocurrency?
Once again, don’t be afraid. Crypto is a permissionless space at its core, which means you don’t need permission to get into the space. Start learning about it; there’s so many resources where you can start.
Avenir, for example, has a Discord channel where it's pretty much a safe space to ask questions. You want to find community spaces like that where you can ask questions and start to learn about crypto.
You want to act as well, and apply what you’re learning. Start reading about it, find communities where you can engage and ask questions, and then put it into application.
Learn more about how cryptocurrency can help build generational wealth for marginalized communities from Paulin Byusa by watching the free Conscious Crypto Creator masterclass series.