Trust is the Most Valuable Currency



When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.

– Ethiopian Proverb

On the last day of Marketing for the quarter, my professor asked the class what trends we anticipated would shape the industry’s future. I raised my hand and said I felt we were on the cusp of a third consumer revolution with blockchain, and companies would have to readjust to new customer expectations. The first standard of consumption was that in exchange for a centralized entity providing us content, we’d pay them in advance for access, e.g. cable tv. The second standard of consumption was the freemium and user-generated content economy. This scenario was made possible after the rise of the internet and smart phones. Centralized entities no longer had to provide us content, now they just curated the content users themselves would provide. In addition, consumers no longer had to pay for content in advance with the birth of the freemium model to reduce barriers to entry. Access to the basic service was free, but users were able to opt-into perks such ad-free options for an additional fee. This web revolution paved the way for companies such as Youtube, Facebook, etc. My argument, was that Blockchain was going to be just as impactful as the internet, as it’s already been universally labeled as the “internet of value.”

I affirmed that blockchain was going to shift consumer expectations in a world where companies are competing intensely to grab the attention of an already overwhelmed audience. The way they incentivize users, would be through tokenization. Now, users would expect to be compensated in tokens (that could be swapped for cash, or a gift card) for using products. This is already happening with the Brave project, where users are given BAT tokens for using the Brave internet browser for a certain amount of time daily and they’re given additional tokens if they opt out of the default ad-free browser experience. I’ve tried to simplify through the table visuals below, for the sake of my example I’m only focused on consumer behaviors within the entertainment industry.

General High-Level

State Fee structure (How does a user access the service? Product (What is the service offering?) Economic Feasibility (How does the company make money?) User benefit (What does the consumer gain?)
Past (1900s) Users pay in advance The direct item that is being sold The item that is being sold Gratification from product purchased
Present (2000s) Users only pay for premium services User-generated curated content provided by the centralized entity Users are the product and companies sell their data.


Upcharge for premium content

Free product that entertains and/or improves quality of life
Future (2019+) Users are paid in native tokens for accessing/contributing services User-generated curated content provided by a decentralized entity Users must pay, or hold, a certain amount of tokens to access premium services or rights (e.g. voting power) Free product that entertains and/or improves quality of life, with increased user autonomy and security around data ownership


Entertainment Case Walk-Through

State Fee structure (How does a user access the service? Product (What is the service offering?) Economic Feasibility (How does the company make money?) User benefit (What does the consumer gain?)
Past (1900s) I call Comcast to buy cable and pay an initiation fee. I get the cable box which gives me access to 60 channels. I pay the cable company directly for each month I have the service. I can watch 60 channels at my leisure.
Present (2000s) I go to for free, I am the product. I can opt into its premium version “Youtube Red” if I don’t want to experience ads. I can watch millions of videos created by different users all over the world. I pay Youtube a monthly subscription fee to watch videos ad-free. Or, Youtube sells my data to other companies that want to target their ads to specific Youtube viewers. I can watch a large selection of original content at my leisure.
Future (2019+) I go to for free, I am not the product. There are no ads on the platform that are targeting users. I may receive tokens via an airdrop based on my usage of the platform.



I can read blog posts created by different users all over the world without worrying about my data, or the specific agenda of a corporate or government entity (censorship or user-company conflict of interest). As a consumer I don’t directly bring economic value, even though I do provide viewership. Steemit makes money off of content producers, not viewers. If I was a content producer I would pay Steemit tokens by opting into “Steem Power” which allows my posts to be seen by a larger audience. In turn, I increase the likelihood that I’ll receive tokens as praise for my content by other Steemit users thus providing additional economic incentive for myself. I can read user generated content that isn’t censored or skewed ethically by corporate or political incentives.

When I first got into blockchain and cryptocurrency I fell in love immediately, it exemplified by greatest values of freedom, integrity, and equality. I was enamored by its fundamental ethos of taking out the middle man and providing full transparency. It was the meeting point of finance, technology and social justice. I was convinced that blockchain was web 3.0 and I didn’t want to miss out on anything, so I decided to take a front seat in the industry by working at a US based cryptocurrency exchange. I was concerned that not enough people of color were involved in the space, much like the early days of the .com era. Companies approached diversity recruitment efforts as an afterthought and techies became homogenous. I didn’t want to miss this train, and I didn’t want the people I cared about to be left behind either. After my 70x bull run returns within just a few months, I fervently believed that no other asset class in our generation would offer such significant returns on an initial investment. This was the play of our lifetime.

During the bull run, I lost track of the number of calls and texts I got from friends asking what they should invest in. Their lack of due diligence was a red flag for me, and the information gap made them susceptible to poor investment choices. I felt like without the proper knowledge or tools, they were essentially asking me the best way they could throw their money down the toilet. So, I decided to build something that would mitigate the risk of new investors. I wanted to create a small group where we could 1) Learn and educate each other about blockchain and 2) Invest responsibly and increase our collective buying power through pooling our money and making monthly contributions.

I self-constructed a document that laid out the terms and operations of the crypto group. I circulated it to about 50 people in my network to gage interest. Of those 50, about 25% didn’t have the means to participate, 50% didn’t trust group dynamics when it comes to money, and the remainder 25% decided to participate. I set up a group meeting with the 12 participants and pooled about $50,000 in funds. Although aware that all investments carry risk, with crypto being the riskiest asset class, the group was enamored by the possible returns they could get. I had my sights on something bigger. To me, I wasn’t as concerned about the end of year portfolio ROI because that was short-sighted. I was more interested in the group dynamics, more than anything this was an experiment on cooperative economics. In the first newsletter I sent out the group, I headlined the email with the quote “When spider webs unit they can tie up a lion.” We are stronger as collective.

Shortly after convening the group, the bull market morphed into a bear. When the market tanked, so did our portfolio, along with the group’s faith in me. My competence, strategy and integrity were all heavily scrutinized. I was accused of scamming, and theft. I blamed myself for not level setting expectations more clearly – that all money invested was to be viewed as money lost from day 1 to provide a mental cushion for the industry’s volatility. If you assume it’s gone, you won’t become hypersensitive to the movement of the market. I wasn’t fearful of the bear market, but the group wasn’t as open to taking on the additional risk so after 6 months we ceased operations. It had officially rained on my picnic.

The ultimate failure of the experiment wasn’t the market’s downturn, but the downturn in the group’s morale. Some individuals were missing their monthly committed payments and weren’t contributing anything to the group. I figured, worst case scenario if shit goes south we were all assed out a few thousand dollars. It was enough to have skin in the game but not too much where it’s too painful to lose. The most valuable asset in the group, and in life in general, isn’t inherently cash – it’s trust. I wanted us to build a community of trust amongst ourselves. I wanted us to see that even if the crypto portfolio tanked, we could still leverage each other, whether it was credit, clean records, cash, job history, etc. We all brought something unique to the table where collectively we become so powerful. Asian communities do it by living in compounds and taking turns buying homes, White communities do it and call it a “Trust,” even our African parents did it in monthly lending circles with their friends.  I wanted to break the narrative that as younger Africans we only convene during the best and worst moments of our lives, we’re either celebrating or mourning, seldom are we building. I wanted to prove to ourselves that we can come together to do something productive. I wanted to prove we could effectively manage ourselves in a group dynamic and build something that could be financially lucrative.

During this time, I was simultaneously working with the City of Seattle, Banks, and community members in trying to piece together an interest-alternative financial ecosystem. I was fascinated by the Islamic bank offerings of “joint ownership” which requires the lender to have skin in the game in business decisions. The way this operates is that the bank essentially owns “shares” in the company until they receive back their initial investment, then the entire equity of the company belongs to the entrepreneur at the end. If the business flops, the bank also takes the loss and the individual isn’t liable to pay back anything since it wasn’t constructed as a loan. When it comes to money, aligned incentives are essential to building anything sustainable. I was building relationships and drafting product offerings that were Washington state specific. My vision was that this crypto group would within a few years be positioned as a strong collective and we could approach the city officials and the banks with leverage in numbers and dollars to move onto the next project: property and independently operated businesses.

I started scouting property throughout greater Seattle, I wanted to gage what area I wanted to set up my operations in. I wanted a physical space for increased legitimacy when dealing my clients, whether it was building credit, loan brokering, professional development or debt settlements. I found an office space I loved in Rainier Beach, one block down from the Autozone and next to the 7-11. Unfortunately, it already had a contingent offer. Another entrepreneur had put in a request to turn the space into a kitchen for his take-out services and was waiting on permit approval before finalizing. So I kept searching and came across a strip of land in Skyway that was essentially, destitute and underutilized. I toured some of the available commercial spaces and interviewed local business owners. I learned that the owner of the lot recently passed away and his unskilled daughter was now managing it. The business owners complained there wasn’t enough foot traffic, their stores were filled with products but not customers.

I shared my vision with the local business owners and asked if they thought it was a good idea to plot my business on the same strip. They said no. They said people in the community don’t really care about finances, and that the region was too poor. They said it’d be more lucrative if I opened a payday lending business or offered international remittances instead, they said the people would come for that. In the first page of the book, “The Art of Possibility,” it shares an anecdote of how people assess opportunity:

“A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.

One sends back a telegram saying, SITUATION HOPELSS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.


I had it made up in my mind that Skyway was going to become the new local Babylon. I felt like l was looking at a gold mine. Lots of land, parking, brown people, cheap commercial buildings. People were too scared to take on the risk of the investment because there really isn’t a significant reason for people to travel to that area. But, all it takes is one thing to be built to reestablish investor trust and invigorate value. I wanted to build that with the crypto group. I began running the numbers of potential crypto gains, alternative means of financing, and the cost for the plot of land. I calculated the minimum level of returns we would need to secure a down payment to buy the land and the tentative timeline, taking into consideration varying degrees of potential profit/losses. I wanted us to own the land so we could begin filling it up with our own small businesses to keep the dollar circulating in our community longer. I wanted us to build our own little Ethiopia/Eritrea amongst the first generation, as our elders have been displaced from the Central District. I firmly believed that, figuratively, if we built a well the people would come.

This vision got redirected during a fall out I had with one of the banks – we had a disagreement on their loan structuring, I thought it was predatory and they didn’t know how else to construct it. I’ve never felt so isolated, to be holding onto a vision so tight when nothing was going according to plan. I couldn’t tell if it meant that I was resilient, or irrational. The crypto group was no longer operational, and I was pretty sure some individuals detested me. On the other end, the banks were looking to me for answers on what to do that I just didn’t have. I knew what I needed wasn’t in Seattle – so I leaped at the opportunity to move to DC once my job approved my relocation. I wanted to learn how Habeshas became so successful in DC and how they leveraged each other to establish their U-Street business dominance. I wanted to learn how Islamic finance leaders drafted their products from the AMJA headquarters, which reviews all Islamic banking standards in the US. I wanted to be immerse myself in strong communities of color that reaffirmed what I wanted to build was in fact possible. Then, once I got the tools I wanted to come back and build it.

I thought I didn’t fear failure, but to this day I still feel guilty and disappointed about the outcome of the crypto group. I feared letting them down and how that would impact their perception of me and my failure. It was an extremely humbling experience to me, and I’ve learned so many invaluable things about others, the process, and myself. I enjoy being in the shadows. I take great pride in building in silence and letting my work be independent of me, by speaking for itself. I realize now that a key element in execution is properly communication your vision – it keeps everyone in sync and motivated to push on. In its current state I oversee our tokens waiting for the market to recover so I can sell. In the meanwhile, I’ve been putting in thousands of my own funds trying to buy the dip and expedite the recovery period. Investing is essentially, white collar gambling. If there’s anything I’m willing to gamble on, it’s myself. For now, I’m just patiently planning and building. Waiting for the alignment of the right time, place, and resources to properly execute my vision. I already know the place, and I already have the right people. I’m just working on becoming a better (equipped) person.

In my Leadership class, the professor taught me about the Cash vs King phenomenon that a lot of entrepreneurs face that can make or break their companies. There are some entrepreneurs that want to be “king” and maintain control of all operations, this ultimately slows them down as their resource-strapped and therefore can’t scale. Then, there are entrepreneurs that don’t hesitate giving up control, whether that means delegating tasks or giving out equity. They know that in exchange they’ll be able to grow their company and get significant returns. Trying to do everything by yourself is another form of procrastination. I’m hoping with this experiment I can show that by not individually hoarding our money and resources, we can thrive as a community. That by not being “king,” we can focus on building a kingdom. Wish me luck!




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