Why You Should Create Your Own Currency, according to meTokens creator Chris Robison

* 1. Introduction
* 2. Personal currencies – plausible?
* 3. Examples
* 3.1. Dance Teacher
* 3.2. Photographer
* 3.3. Software developer
* 3.4. Models
* 3.5. Doctors
* 3.6. Journalists/historians
* 3.7. Film directors
* 4. Final Thoughts

1. Introduction

In this pilot installment of Chiwbaka’s Chainterviews, Chris Robison, the founder of meTokens, discusses a truly out-there concept – making your own personal currency. He also gives several examples of how dancers, teachers, musicians, film directors and artists of all kinds can benefit from this strange new invention.

Fittingly he now has his own token, $CBOB! Each CBOB is worth 0.0038EUR as of the time of publication. I wonder what this means…

2. Personal currencies – plausible?

Andrew Chiw:

meTokens – what are they really? Please ELI5.

Chris Robison:

meTokens are a way to invest in the productivity or popularity of other people.

Andrew Chiw:

but why?

Chris Robison:

There are so many reasons! But the biggest reason is there are individuals out there who are capable of independently generating more value on their own than if they were part of a company.

The problem is: to date, there has never been a business model to invest in the success of those types of people directly. As a result, most of these brilliant people either suffer as “starving artists” or they get pigeonholed into crummy business deals (eg. income sharing agreements, record label contracts, platform advertising algorithms, etc).

Andrew Chiw’s thoughts:

This makes sense because by definition, if you helped a company make 100,000 Euros per year, the company can’t pay you 100,000 Euros. It has to keep some for itself to grow – or pay the CEO in bonuses.

Andrew Chiw:

How would you compare the effects/benefits of this to just having a local regional currency/token?

Chris Robison:

Self-issued money was first proposed by alternative monetary theorist, EC Riegel (The New Approach to Freedom), in response to his experience of living through the Great Depression. It was his assertion that any type of “collective money” is fundamentally socialist in nature, as it benefits the issuers more than the masses. Even Karl Marx declared state money to be the fifth plank of communism.

So Riegel’s proposal was: if you could issue your own currency, then you would effectively create a protective layer around yourself from the global economy. He believed that if there was a way for everybody to do this, then events like the Great Depression wouldn’t be able to happen again. Each person’s currency would effectively act as a distributed failsafe.

That said, all of this is a spectrum: on one side there are federally issued fiat and on the other, personal tokens. Regional currencies fall somewhere in the middle.

Andrew Chiw’s thoughts:

There is some precedence for this. First and most obviously, there’s the fact that most countries have their own currency. Then there’s the recent example of the Ducati, a regional currency issued by the small Italian town of Castellino del Biferno to keep business going during the coronavirus lockdown, at least within its borders.

There are so many regional currencies I hadn’t heard about until recently:
Community currencies by Grassroots Economics
Canadian Tire Money
A whole Wikipedia list of them

How well this would work though on a personal level remains to be seen.

Andrew Chiw:

Money as a medium of exchange is abstract. Won’t the overhead of keeping which token can be redeemed for which value be too troublesome?

Chris Robison:

It’s all about UX. The same could be said for social media. Won’t it be hard to keep track of everyone you follow or subscribe to? If your favorite social media platforms included a wallet which reminded you of how much money you have staked on which people, it could be a pretty empowering experience. Imagine Amazon meets Instagram.

Andrew Chiw’s thoughts:

This answer reminds me of a quotation from the Internet of Money Vol. 1, Andreas Antonopoulos:

Then it dawned on me: To ask the question, “How many currencies will exist?” is equivalent to asking the question, “How many bloggers will there be on the internet?” The answer is simple: all of us.

It is true – today we trust/follow whomever we decide. We subscribe to email newsletters, bookmark certain websites, listen to podcasts, the Facebook news feed, private Whatsapp groups, follow people on Instagram/Snapchat/TikTok. We can be our own publishers now – we have our own Youtube channels, Facebook profiles, Twitter profiles, Instagram accounts – even if the message of your Instagram is merely “look how hot I am”.

The current blockchain ecosystem however is definitely not at that level of user friendliness.

Andrew Chiw:

You face 2 huge problems, one of which hasn’t been solved yet: getting people to setup an Ethereum account, and transacting with personal tokens. What’s your plan?

Chris Robison:

Problem 1: Using Ethereum

Fortunately, there are some pretty solid solutions out there already. Fortmatic recently came out with a new product, called Magic, which allows people to generate wallets from an email address or telephone number and password. At meTokens, we work with another project, called Abridged using their latest tool, called 3Frame.

Together we’re creating an experimental user experience for musicians to be able to tokenize themselves using a telegram chatbot. Stay tuned with more information to come soon (this is actually the first time we’re announcing this!)

Problem 2: Using Personal Tokens

Changing consumer behavior is the hardest challenge. Our plan is to nurture our community to generate really compelling use cases. If one person succeeds in a really big way, then it will compel other people to give it a try. In effect, we want people to go viral with their meTokens.

Andrew Chiw:

I know a lot of dancer friends, so my audience is mostly people who are “hmm? crypto? why do I need it” and “hmm? personal coins? that’s a joke right??” (I actually got this response twice already)

Chris Robison:

That reaction makes perfect sense. So first of all, I’ll say this: If you’re going to have a meToken and you expect it to succeed, you need to be willing to contribute work to “the commons.” Meaning, meTokens are a way for a person to be hired by “the market” instead of a single company or employer.

If you plan on keeping your full-time job without openly sharing your skills with the world, then it might not make sense for you to have your own meToken quite yet. Your time and skill are already monopolized. Instead, you might be more well suited to be an investor or consumer of other people’s meTokens.

3. Examples

Andrew Chiw:

Could you name some concrete examples of how the following people could use this?

Chris Robison:

Sure thing. But first, I’ll describe how meTokens are designed to help people in general. This will help paint a picture for all the examples below. Once we have the generalized template for success, then we can describe how that might looks for each occupation. At a high-level, meTokens are really good for closing the gap between when a person’s potential is first discovered and the point at which their full potential is actually realized. For example, a fine arts major in college may have a strong knack for painting. If he or she continues his or her pursuits organically, the student may be bound to find acclaimed success in 20 years.

With meTokens, it is now possible for the fine arts student to acquire financial stakeholders who are aligned to his or her success. This means investors can now stake money on the student if they believe he or she shows a serious knack or talent. When a pool of family, friends, supporters, mentors, fans, casual patrons, or industry professionals have an opportunity to have “skin in the game” in another person’s future success, it increases the potential and speed at which a person’s true value may actually be realized by the world. Instead of waiting 20 years for their career to manifest, that student may now have the opportunity to become recognized in a much faster time frame – say, 5 years. In a way, meTokens offer a similar opportunity to talent scouts. Except now everyone you know can participate; not just professional scouts.

An investor could, for example, stake $5,000 on a young artist and commission them to paint a work for $2,500. The investor knows that if the young artist follows through with the piece, then the investor can leverage their network of industry exhibitors to feature the artist’s piece in an upcoming showroom. After the piece is commissioned, the investor may spend $2,500 of the total $5,000 stake to pay the artist for the commission, while keeping the remaining $2,500 staked as an investment. When the artist’s work is showcased to the investor’s network, patrons of the exhibit may also then have an opportunity to stake money on the artist.

If the investor is wise in understanding his or her network, then their remaining investment of $2,500 may appreciate to $6,000 after the exhibit. The investor makes money, and the artist gets paid $2,500 while also increasing the base of stakeholders who may now repeat the process of “stake & share,” providing him or her with more opportunities to get paid, generate more value for themselves, and reach their career pursuits in a quicker time frame.

3.1. Dance Teacher

Andrew Chiw:

OK. What about a dance teacher?

Chris Robison:

Admittedly, this is probably the most difficult example from this list to create a case study for. The reason being is dance teachers are highly localized; their talent doesn’t scale very well because their work typically needs to be consumed in person. My experience with dance instructors is that unless they are in, say, LA it can be incredibly difficult to create a personal brand that can be shared publicly.

My recommendation for a dance instructor to make good use of meTokens would be to first identify how they could make use of social media. Do they record session for YouTube? Do they post moments on Instagram? Manage a blog? If so, they may be able to create instructional videos online and generate demand for their talents there. This might come in handy during the current COVID crisis.

Many people are stuck at home for the first time in a big way and they may be interested in spending their spare time picking up a new hobby. They might choose dancing. Providing remote lessons and creating content based on that may be a way for dance instructors to become a remote instructor with higher demand than in-person classes and private lessons.

3.2. Photographer

Andrew Chiw:

A photographer?

Chris Robison:

Photographers are interesting because they can be highly dependent upon their network for income. This is especially true when they make their money on social media and are dependent upon having a compelling subject matter. They might regularly photograph and support influencers with their brands, for example. A highly business savvy photographer might keep a large network of influencers around them to collaborate with on a regular basis.

Influencers make their money selling products, services, and ideas. They are professional marketers. Allowing influencers to take stake in their photographers and begin marketing their work to their followers is a strong way to reinforce working relationships and align incentives.

You could imagine a wedding planning influencer might use a skilled photographer to capture moments from all the wedding they plan. A follower of the account might recognize the skills of the photographer, admire the influencer, and wish to have the same style of photographs for their own wedding. If the follower’s wedding is still 8 months away, the follower might begin staking money on the photographer now, similar to a savings account. If the photographer and influencer become more popular between now and the followers’ wedding, the follower’s stake in the photographer might appreciate to the point that they can afford to hire the now highly in demand photographer for the same rate as what they staked 8 months ago.

3.3. Software developer

Andrew Chiw:

A software developer?

Chris Robison:

Software developers are one of the most robust use cases for meTokens. Developers – especially those in Open Source – are often plagued with the problem of have the skillset to build incredible systems, but they lack the vehicle to bring them to life. They are usually bounded to work for particular companies with strict agendas rather than building things that people would obviously find cool or interesting – even if they don’t have a precise business model.

meTokens are a fantastic way for people to invest in software developers directly. If a software developer wants to remix some cool piece of open source software – say in the Ethereum community – then users of that remix can check the repo, see who the developer was, and begin staking on them. Investors could follow the same behavior pattern and could even hire developers temporarily to work on projects in their own investment portfolio.

A Venture Capitalist could begin acquiring a portfolio of software developer meTokens. As they pick up new developers, they might hire them to build a sweet new specialized component for one of their startups. After the component is finished, the VC might then keep some money staked on the developer and begin promoting them using their platform to other startups, to the open source community, or to their network of other investors.

3.4. Models

Andrew Chiw:

A model?

Chris Robison:

Models have notoriously viral fanbases and are well suited for something like meTokens. Generally, models develop their personal brands on platforms like Instagram, where they often spend a great deal of time engaging with other users – especially fans and more successful, well-recognized models, who have become influencers.

When fans and influencers can stake money on a model, it provides models with new opportunities to:

(1) monetize all those fanbase engagements, and

(2) increase the weight and impact of influencer endorsements.

With meTokens, an influencer might browse Instagram with a whole new lens, thinking to themselves “which models would I like to invest in?” This increases the engagements of fans, who might be interested in staking on successful models or monetizing their comments in some way, such as making paid photoshoot requests.

3.5. Doctors

Andrew Chiw:

A doctor?

Chris Robison:

I’ll be honest, I’m hesitant to provide a concrete example for a doctor because I’m not entirely familiar with the laws and regulations around medicine. So any idea I share may come across as ignorant if I recommending something that can’t actually be done. That said, an individual like Dr. Drew Pinsky might be a good example of how a doctor can create a personal brand for themselves and get hired by “the commons” – even if a person doesn’t exactly follow his lead and pursue more of a career in entertainment.

Medical information is more accessible now more than ever. It’s a common and trending – yet dangerous – practice that people are actively self-diagnosing themselves from home. While doctors may not be able to independently diagnose individuals remotely, they may be able to virtually assist individuals as they begin to research their own health. This may be especially useful if a doctor maintains a specific medical opinion that may differ from the mainstream – particularly around lifestyle vs prescription treatment.

Imagine a patient has already received a confirmed diagnosis from his or her primary medical provider of a rare autoimmune disease. The individual may live in a rural area where a specialist cannot be found for a few hundred miles. The individual may decide to see what they can find online, and in the process, stumble upon some interesting studies still in pre-print describing the positive effects of meditation on reducing inflammation.

The individual may then the hire the doctor to read the pre-print study to decipher how to best replicate the study personally and to screen it for any red flags. If the doctor is able to provide useful insights that lead the individual to better treat themselves or to avoid harmful pseudo-scientific recommendations, then the self-researcher may be able to stake on the doctor and recommend him or her to other folks in the forums where they are communicating with other self-researchers. In effect, perhaps it is possible for a patient to make money off their diagnosis if they are able to become part of a distributed effort to heal themselves.

3.6. Journalists/historians

Andrew Chiw:

A journalist or historian?

Chris Robison:

Journalist and historians are particularly interesting vocations for meTokens because both careers have the opportunity to be highly investigative. In either case, a journalist or historian’s job is effectively to research information and produce a cohesive narrative that is novel in some way. Journalists and historians are, therefore, interesting in pursuing a career path of accumulating a large base of knowledge. In investment terms, this is optimistically viewed as having “information asymmetry.”

Having information asymmetry means that journalists or historians have the opportunity to quickly become a subject matter expert on niche fields or topics. This can be an expensive skillset or experience to acquire. And the product of which, can be scarce to consume. The problem for journalists and historians currently, however, is that quickly become pigeonholed in their area of expertise. This is usually due to the cost of switching to or a lack of awareness of tangential fields of study where more value could be generated.

Allowing an opportunity to invest in a journalist or historian can provide consumers of their content to incentivize them with opportunities to “cross pollinate” with other fields of research. For example, Dr Robert Schoch is originally a geologist who was pulled into studying Egypt. His analysis of water erosion at the Great Sphinx is now part of the bleeding edge of Egyptology for re-dating the monuments of Giza. This cross pollination of geological expertise with the topic of Egyptology has now proven to be far more valuable than when his work was strictly contained to geology. meTokens would allow for communities to share the risk and costs of re- appropriating a journalist’s or historian’s expertise to new subject matters to generate more value for the commons.

3.7. Film directors

Andrew Chiw:

A film director?

Chris Robison:

Entertainment is an incredibly fickle industry. It may tout itself as being based in relationships, but at the end of the day, everyone’s time is limited, and everyone needs to focus on the opportunities in front of them. A film director may, early on in their career, work with a handful of talented actors and actresses who go on to become big movie stars. Even though the film director worked with them early on, it may later become seemingly impossible to land any of his or hers former cast for an upcoming indie passion project.

If a film director were able to stake on his or her talented actors and actresses early on in their careers, he may be able to both generate a large profit off the growth of their popularity. He or she would be rewarded for discovering them early on and could then afford to hire them years later for his or her indie movie.

4. Final Thoughts

Phew… I did not expect him to give such good answers for so many varied industries. We’ll leave it here for now; stay tuned for Part 2, where I try to create a meToken and end up with many conceptual questions and musings about the nature of making money with it.