Vignesh Sundaresan is a serial entrepreneur and software architect with over 10 years of experience in product development. He’s the Co-Founder of BitAccess, a YCombinator alumni company that has grown into a large network of Bitcoin ATMs. Sundaresan has also helped fund projects such as Ethereum, Polkadot, Dfinity, Omisego, and Decentraland.
Sundaresan has his eye on open protocols, back-end programming, and more specifically, facilitating a paradigm shift towards a more decentralized finance world. Recently, he founded and conducted a successful token sale for the Lendroid Foundation, a Singapore-based non-profit organization developing a non-rent seeking open protocol for decentralized lending and allied financial applications.
Your Twitter bio is “Software eats everything.” – Can you explain this quote?
This is a paraphrasing of something Marc Andreessen Horowitz said – Software is eating the world. On the surface, this seems like a catchphrase for disintermediation or ‘Uberization’. Of technology making conventional businesses obsolete.
Uber ate the taxi medallion system, Amazon ate bookstores, DeFi will eat banks, and so on.
But to me, this represents a very optimistic belief. Software is power, accessible power. If software eats the world, and anyone can access software – anyone can eat the world. That story of truly equal opportunity – that’s what this quote is about.
How did you get into the cryptocurrency and blockchain world? What was your first experience with digital assets?
I had no crypto, to begin with, and no money to buy crypto. I got on bitcointalk and built an escrow service for people to be able to swap crypto. The transaction fee I earned was my first crypto.
Could you describe your BitAcces experience? What was it like setting up 100 Bitcoin ATMs in 18 countries?
It was a heady, extremely optimistic time for me. There was this naïveté that’s rare today, that what we were building would spread all over the world. There was also the gratification that comes from introducing something new to the world. In many of these locations, this was the first bitcoin ATM – Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg.
We were the coolest kids in town. I got to travel a lot, meet a lot of crypto OGs. They were the ones who bought ATMs, with the excitement of buying an arcade machine. In fact, that’s how I met Anthony di lorio, the co-founder of Ethereum. He was my first customer. He bought the first ATM in Toronto, around a BTC meetup.
What were the trials and tribulations you had to overcome?
BitAccess was a YC Alumnus, it was characterized by fast growth. Beyond a point, the hardest thing was the shift in focus from pure tech to tech that had to orient itself around compliance. Compliance related tools began to eat into more than half our time.
The other hard part was the culture shock of moving from India to Canada. I was embraced by the crypto community, but I was figuring out entrepreneurship, how the world works…the culture shock never fully wore off until later.
What’s the next big thing for cryptocurrency?
I believe virtual worlds and NFTs are in a very interesting zone, on the threshold of something incredible. Check out Cryptovoxels. They’re pushing the boundaries of how creatively a human can live.
In your opinion, what does the cryptocurrency space need to make its next evolution?
The obvious answer is scaling. The day we figure that out, transaction costs will come down to a few cents and will trigger a profound change across the board. The other change this space needs, now more than ever, are strong stories around the blockchain.
Stories that hearken back to the optimism of 2014. The past two years have forced much of this community into a shell. There’s a lot of undirected aggression, skepticism. We need to mainstream big stories that bring back the ability to trust one another.
According to your site, your investment secret is “not invest expecting it to boom, but to invest because you simply love the idea”
What are some companies (or industries) with ideas you love (not limited to cryptocurrency)?
If not crypto, then space exploration. It’s inspiring, another frontier.
In crypto, I have always loved Decentraland – the core philosophy that your land, once it’s yours, can never be taken away. In an increasingly authoritarian world, this reality is an anchor. A galaxy on Urbit is another example. Digital art – say in makersplace or opensea. The truly original application of AI in Numerai.
What do you view as the key growing moments for you as an entrepreneur in your life? What key lessons can you dispense for the entrepreneurs in the audience?
Entrepreneurship can work only if two things come together.
The first is that you need to define your antithesis to an existing thesis.
And the second is to understand and be at peace with the fact that you will at most achieve synthesis, a sort of a meeting point between the existing thesis and your antithesis.
There’s a philosophy at the heart of this – an understanding that when you begin with an aspiration to reach somewhere, you recognize the transits in the middle, planned and unplanned, as things that augment your journey, not as burdensome wastes of time.
This is inspired by the works of Deleuse, a French philosopher. In fact, we have named the current version of our protocol after Deleuze, if anything to remember that how we got here was not in a straight line, and where we go from here won’t be either.
What are the most important things to follow in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space (ie. DeFi, international regulation, Libra, etc)? Why?
The three major issues that will impact layer 1 of the blockchain – Regulation (know your jurisdiction!), scalability, and governance. Everything that happens in these three arrowheads is relevant, and important.
In your opinion, who are some of the brightest minds in cryptocurrency today?
Off the cuff, I follow Gavin Wood, Fred Ehrsam. And one off-kilter entry – @CryptoDonAlt. His viewpoint and take on this space is fascinating.
If there was one single takeaway you can impart on our audience, what advice would you leave them with?
Well, I can’t give advice, really, but I do have a suggestion – that we practice optimism, to attempt to reach back to the mindset of the crypto world before it became rich. To be more open, to give people a chance, maybe even a second chance. And to not confuse optimism with gullibility. Life is community, a multi-player game. We shouldn’t forget this when we’re playing crypto.