🎙 "Blockchains are Adding Property Rights to the Internet:" Kayvon Tehranian
In this week’s episode I interview Kayvon Tehranian, founder & CEO of Foundation, a platform for minting, buying and selling non-fungible tokens. We talked about how he got into crypto by way of Google, building iOS software, and skepticism with traditional finance after graduating in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis. He started his work in the space at Dharma, the web3 wallet.
He felt like Ethereum was something much bigger than another financial system and started thinking about how to push this innovation into the hands of creators. That’s how Foundation was created at the start of 2020, way before this recent mania around non-fungible tokens.
We talked about why Kayvon thinks Covid has a lot to do with why NFTs gained so much popularity this year. He thinks the pandemic forced people to challenge existing institutions and businesses, and realized many didn’t have online-native business models that allowed artists and creators to support themselves in this kind of setting.
We also talked about the future of the internet —Kayvon believes blockchains are adding property rights to the internet. He also thinks that instead of having to wait for old institutions to come online, new ones in the form of decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOS, will be built. He foresees a future when a lot of people will start saying, ‘why aren't you asking me to connect my wallet? Why do I have to log in this other way, that I don't have control over what I'm doing?’ I also believe that future is not so far away.
The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov. Transcript was edited by Owen Fernau and Dan Kahan.
You’re a free signup, which means you get only part of the transcript below. Subscribe to never miss out on any content ($150/yr, $15/mo). Click here to pay with DAI.
🙌 Together with:
Kraken, consistently rated the best and most secure cryptocurrency exchange, which can get you from fiat to DeFi
Aave, an open-source and non-custodial liquidity protocol where users can earn interest on deposits and borrow assets.
The DeFi Pulse Index, a capitalization-weighted index that tracks the performance of selected DeFi assets across the market.
Kayvon Tehranian: Wonderful. I'll start way back, graduating from college, but I'll try to accelerate quickly into getting into where we are right now, which is I graduated actually during the financial crisis. I graduated in 2008, and that landed me basically on Wall Street in the midst of unprecedented carnage. And it was, in retrospect, such an unbelievable education, because it forced me to challenge my own thinking of all these institutions and systems that we had, and how they actually worked.
And that led me very quickly to become very skeptical of the existing financial system. And then as a young ambitious 20 year old, I set my sights on Silicon Valley, which felt a lot more optimistic, future focused, and offered a lot more opportunity. And so I moved to California shortly thereafter, moved to Silicon Valley, worked at Google, and spent five years there during a really golden age at Google, where the company was scaling, it was doubling, the internet was just growing enormously, businesses were forming online. And it was really, really, really just an unbelievable education in scaling and bringing impact to the world through the internet.
And then eventually by the end of my five year time there, I really felt excited about startups and wanting to move to a smaller context. And Y Combinator was front and center and Silicon Valley culture and wanting to be part of a small team building something we were passionate about, and ended up joining a team called Universe, we built iOS software. And the big insight that I developed there was, I love startups, but I realized I wanted to be on the frontier of something really new to the internet.
“...the big insight that I developed there was, I love startups, but I realized I wanted to be on the frontier of something really new to the internet.”
And if I think about my time at Google, the web was very established by that time. By the time I was working at Universe, app stores, and mobile phones were actually very well established. And so during my time at Universe, I caught wind of Ethereum, and once I started to understand what this was and what was possible, and then also realizing how nascent it was, and how much unexplored territory there was.
And then also this connected to my previous skepticism around the existing financial system. It really clicked. And once I started falling down the rabbit hole, as they say, I really never stopped, and ended up connecting with Nadav at Dharma and spent two years there, really working on the smart contracts and the product that powered Dharma before starting Foundation at the beginning of 2020 with the thesis that DeFi was an incredible invention that was really birthed out of the previous run in Ethereum. But I felt like Ethereum was more than just another financial system. It was something much, much, much bigger. And I wanted to think about how to put this in the hands of creators.
“...once I started falling down the rabbit hole, as they say, I really never stopped...”
And I think you and I connected, Camila, this is not our first time touching base. We've been working with artists for over a year now to figure out how they can use Ethereum to reinvent their ability to sell their work to re-shift a lot of the economic arrangements in the cultural sphere. And that's what we've been focused on at Foundation. That's both the abbreviated, but maybe slightly long-winded version of how I got here.
Camila Russo: Just a couple of questions on your background, what were you doing at Google? Is your education more technical, or what side of things were you handling?
KT: I refer to my Google days as like a Master’s degree. It really felt like going to grad school, where I was able to work in the sales department. I worked on engineering teams. I worked with Marissa Mayer on product teams. This was definitely a phase in Google where you were still getting your hands dirty in a variety of areas. And so I really had that opportunity to be interdisciplinary and I loved it.
I submitted code to many of the code bases as an engineer. I also managed products, and I also got exposure to the sales and marketing teams. And so it really gave me a very well rounded view of how products and tech companies work from all angles, which I think is really important. Because I think often people get pigeonholed, and they're like only engineering matters, only marketing matters, only sales matters, right? And in reality, you need all of those pieces to come together to make an organization or a product or a company work.
“...often people get pigeonholed, and they're like only engineering matters, only marketing matters, only sales matters, right? And in reality, you need all of those pieces to come together to make an organization or a product or a company work.”
Betting Early on NFTs
CR: Really interesting. And then maybe that's why you come with this more global view of what matters. So coming into crypto, most people, at least before 2021, I would say, when they came into crypto, they came into it looking at the financial aspect first, especially with Bitcoin, with the hard money and digital gold narratives. Ethereum’s main use case has been mostly financial applications. So it's interesting that you came to Ethereum from a completely different angle. And also starting Foundation in 2020 when NFTs weren't as trendy or making headlines like they are today. I'd love to get your perspective on that.
KT: And Ethereum was around $70 when I started the company…
CR: True. Yeah.
KT: It was not the cool thing to do.
CR: So what inspired you to do that, to go for NFTs, to build on Ethereum? What made you believe this was the place to be?
KT: So I think this comes back to the point I was making earlier, which is, I started to connect certain dots. When I was at Google, I saw the success of a company that really was early to the web. And with Universe, I was exposed to Apple building the App Store. And these were post some sort of breakthrough innovation. What I realized is I wanted to be on the frontier of something new, and that inherently entails going against the grain or being alone or being seemingly weird, and often in a different corner.
“What I realized is I wanted to be on the frontier of something new, and that inherently entails going against the grain or being alone or being seemingly weird, and often in a different corner.”
So these moments that happened helped to connect certain dots that other people don't see. And I think people were like, Ethereum is just for finance. Or Ethereum can't exist, you can only have Bitcoin. And there are all these narratives, and I was very aware that these things are very malleable. And it often takes people with an ability to see things differently, or see things from different perspectives to try things and experiment.
And that's what we did in 2020 to put us in a position where there'sthis enormous moment happening right now. And it's not that Foundation is joining in on the party. It's like we were already here and now it's amazing to be able to support all the people that are really excited about participating in this new economy. And I think that's the nature of being on the frontier is you don't know exactly when you're going to strike gold. But you're out there looking for it and looking to dig and build and settle.
“...there’s this enormous moment happening right now. And it's not that Foundation is joining in on the party. It's like we were already here and now it's amazing to be able to support all the people that are really excited about participating in this new economy.”
Catalysts for NFT Momentum
CR: I love that. So I'm really interested to get your thoughts on how this NFT craze, if you want to call it that, or excitement, developed. Since you've been in the space for a while in crypto terms, what do you think happened that made this thing blow up this year?
[ … ]
Paid subscribers have access to the full transcript.
Subscribe now so you don’t miss any of The Defiant content. Subscribers reading this post: Head to posts marked with the little lock to see the full content.
The Defiant is a daily newsletter focusing on decentralized finance, a new financial system that’s being built on top of open blockchains. The space is evolving at breakneck speed and revolutionizing tech and money. Sign up to learn more and keep up on the latest, most interesting developments. Subscribers get full access at $15/month or $150/year, while free signups get only part of the content. Click here to pay with DAI.