🎙 Behind the Scenes of The Defiant with Robin and Camila
Welcome back to The Defiant podcast! After a brief break at the end of last year, we’re back stronger and better than ever to continue chatting with the greatest and brightest minds in DeFi and web3. At The Defiant we believe 2022 is going to be another ex...
Welcome back to The Defiant podcast! After a brief break at the end of last year, we’re back stronger and better than ever to continue chatting with the greatest and brightest minds in DeFi and web3. At The Defiant we believe 2022 is going to be another explosive year for crypto and we have a stellar lineup of guests coming up. I personally think that bull or bear market, there is simply nothing stopping builders in decentralized finance from taking this space forward and we’ll be covering each twist and turn with objective, quality journalism as always.
Our first guest is our very own Robin Schmidt, aka SuperMassive. Robin leads multimedia at the Defiant and produces our video content, which has become known for raising the bar way beyond what’s expected not just from crypto videos, but from all of YouTube. If you haven’t already, check out and subscribe to our channel. I wanted to do the first video of the year with Robin to get the chance to talk about The Defiant itself – what moves us, what sets us apart and what we’re expecting for this year. After over a year working together, I also wanted to finally shine the spotlight on the man behind the video host, and hear the story of how he got here.
The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov. Transcript was edited by Samuel Haig.
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🚨 Before we get into it, a quick shoutout to The Infinite Machine Collection:
The 2nd public sale for The Infinite Machine NFT collection is now live! Help take the Ethereum story to Hollywood, become a producer in the film via a DAO, get a backstage pass to the movie, and support emerging artists.
We’re All Gonna Make a Movie! #WAGMAM
Proceeds From Mint:
- Fund the movie based on The Infinite Machine, the most read book on Ethereum
- 22.5% is distributed among 36 contributing artists
- 10% seed a DAO which becomes an executive producer in the movie
- Beautiful unique art; colorful explosion of ETH logos with varying degrees of rarity
- Backstage pass to production: After the 3rd and final mint, movie traits are revealed. NFTs will be randomly assigned the chance for the holder to be an extra in the movie, get an invite to movie shooting, receive a VIP pass to the movie premiere, and appear on credits
- DAO membership: NFT holders are members of a DAO which is an executive producer in the movie itself and has a direct say on how the movie is made. The DAO will support other creative projects. The Infinite Machine movie is only the beginning
🎙Listen to the interview in this week’s podcast episode here:
👀 Only paid subscribers have access to the full interview transcript below.
CAMILA RUSSO: Here we are at The Defiant Podcast starting the new year. This is a very special podcast. It's the first of a new season and for the first time I'm interviewing someone at The Defiant itself, who you should all already know hopefully. Robin Schmidt, head of multimedia of Defiant media. Welcome Robin, to The Defiant podcast.
ROBIN SCHMIDT: I feel deeply under pressure being interviewed by the boss here. It's terrifying. Actually when you said that you wanted to do this, I thought this makes total sense but it's also it's a little bit like hey look at us. But actually when we were talking about what we wanted to talk about this episode it does feel appropriate that we should say how we got here and who we are.
I think for me personally the journey of getting to where we are now, which is 100,000 subscribers on Youtube, was a moment to take stock and go, actually you know what, people really like us. They actually like us enough to subscribe and stay subscribed. And one of the things you were saying was you would like people to get to know us better.
I think I've been so obsessed with being really professional and really on point that I've sort of left a little bit of who we are and what we are about out of the equation deliberately because it can feel a little bit cringe at times.
But when we started posting stuff that was more personal people really responded well to it. They liked knowing more, the feeling that they're a bit more connected with this because we're not on a pedestal. We're people that are just exploring this space professionally and do it every day and sharing our journey as we go. So it feels kind of appropriate to do that.
CR: I thought it was about time. We've been doing the podcast for over a year. You've been heading The Defiant video for over a year as well. And like you said, we're both focused on being extremely professional, unbiased, objective in covering defi and web3 in shining a light on all the different developments and all the different personalities that shape the space. But we have neglected to talk about ourselves and explain and share what we're about, what's driving us and where we come from.
So you are also an excellent interviewer and anchor. This is going to be a special podcast where we interview each other so we can both share our stories. But let's start with you. I actually don’t know much about you since pre-Defiant and Harmony times. What happened? What’s the story?
RS: Originally I was supposed to be a musician, that was where I was destined to go. And when I say musician, I mean classical musician. So from the age of 5, 6 I was singing and then I started playing the violin and the piano pretty much at the same time. So I was a band camp geek. I had a bowl haircut. I sang in one of the best choirs in the world, Westminster Cathedral Choir and I did a lot of professional choir music at a very early age and that was where I was supposed to go. It kind of arrived to me when I was around 16, 17 that there was more to life than music. But between the ages of seven and ten I’d pretty much done it. I sang for the Pope, done multiple recordings. Done a ton of stuff. But what it had done, it sort of set up my brain creatively to be receptive to stuff.
Really what I wanted to do was make films and I never thought that was gonna be an avenue that was available to me. But I managed to set up a company when I was 21, just coincidentally when Mac OS was moving from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS 10 and we were starting to see desktop computers that you could edit video on so it was an iMac I had a blue Dalmatian iMac. All of this stuff was just like, start up out of your parents' bedroom, just make it work somehow by hook or by crook.
This was the first kind of big evolution of the film industry from being a place where if you couldn't afford 35mm film or you couldn't go to film school, you were not relevant and you couldn't compete to a place where people had TV cameras and they could compete. So that was my first taste of taking something scrappy that shouldn't have a place in the world and then fighting to make it valid and have a place and be important enough for people who would normally have ignored you to take notice of you and if that sounds like something familiar to crypto, it's because that has been where I've been since I started my professional life. Just not being respected, being ignored, and having to work three times as hard to gain that respect and be in a position to do something about it.
What was also interesting about that time was that we were forced to learn a number of different skills simultaneously that would have been normally taken by other people. So film is not just one discipline. It's film, sound, production design. It's acting. It's the ability to choreograph stuff. It’s directing things. It's like the decathlon. All of those skills demand that you learn them to a degree that is good enough to stand scrutiny from people like you, like me, that watch stuff every day. We're very very very good at understanding when something is good and when it's bad. We just know. That's because we're exposed to it all the time and it's worse than it's ever been because we just watch so much amazing stuff and when something doesn't feel like that then we know.
So over the course of the last twenty years that's where I've been at. But in your head you think movies are the goal. I want to be a filmmaker. I want to be in Hollywood and that's wonderful. Unfortunately the film industry is very toxic, but it's also in the US. in the UK, it's not quite the same deal. And it's very difficult to get films funded and it's very very difficult to find good writers. And writing is the thing that makes everything possible despite all the technological advances in the world, somebody who can write who could put a word after another word and make you feel something. It's still the most kind of rare and special, but also undervalued skill anywhere in the world and yet it's also the easiest to access. Anyone could pick up a pen and write something but it's also so undervalued and ignored as a skill. But when you go anywhere into creative arts, you realize that that ability to craft something in words is incredibly important.
So from a filmmaking perspective just finding people who can write for the screen, if you can find that, and then most people sort of teach themselves how to do that, it's a thing. I failed in all of these things. And I failed for lots of different reasons. I got really good at being good at giving people what they want but I sort of failed at being good at giving people what I wanted. And I just got to a point where I was ready to make a film and I made a film and it didn't do that well and then I had a family. And I was just sitting there at this weird point in my life going, what do I do now?
CR But like, what kind of films were you making?
RS That's a good question. I started out making extreme sports films. So I was on a mountain somewhere and a snowboarder was jumping off a cliff or a skiier was jumping off a cliff. We were making exciting extreme sports films. I still love extreme sports. I think people pushing themselves to the absolute limit on camera and taking those massive risks, that's an adrenaline buzz like no other. A when you're there and you're filming it, you just have this very special connection with the athletes that you work with.
And I still love that and then moved into TV, music videos, and then moved into corporate because you have to, you have to go into brand films and all this other stuff. You have to remember that things are very very limited. There were no camera phones when we started.
So now anyone could pick up a phone and just be a content creator. Back then that wasn't the case you had to have a camera. You had to know how to edit and you had to know how to take your crappy footage and turn it into something that was vaguely passable. And so I just gradually got better. But I just got to a point where I just needed to do something differently and I thought that was to go somewhere else and start shooting TV commercials. Because TV commercials are where you make the most money, you have the most support and you have a budget for lighting, everything else.
What you don't realize when you move into TV commercials is that you literally claw your own eyeballs out because every creative idea that you have is just rounded down to the bare minimum. Because you have campaigns that need to work in Poland, that need to work in Germany, they need to work in Japan and so every single stakeholder in that arrangement just says I'm not sure our audience would like this.I think she should be wearing ballet shoes and everyone goes you know what? You're right. Nobody says no, you're wrong. They will say oh, yeah, I think you're right. Because they're terrified of what happens if they say no, you're wrong and then they're wrong. So they will say no you're right. And then everything gets kind of rounded down and rounded down.
I mean I've had conversations with people where it’s like there's no trees in China. You're making a product film that's about air quality and then what you can show is only urban buildings with no trees because there's no trees in the environment in which people who buy these products would ever find themselves or ever live. Like where's the humanity in that? And once you get into that feedback loop, it's very very hard to get up in the morning and look yourself in the eye. Go yeah, I'm doing it.
And so I just came to this realization that I needed to make a change and I thought the change was to refresh my reel, make a new statement as a filmmaker and put together a body of work that would say here I am I'm different, this is me. And of course making films is really expensive. It's genuinely mind boggling and stupidly expensive if you want to make them at a level where you have complete control and you can express your true vision. It just is.
So that's when I got to the point, there's a long winded crazy story where I went, you know what? My problem isn't me or creativity or anything else. My problem is money. So how do I solve money? So I thought, I'm smart enough to figure this out. Why don't I just figure out how to trade the market because I could probably learn that. I just got interested in it and then two things happened. My brother-in-law said I'm training to be an architect but maybe I should just be a Bitcoin miner, I was like a Bitcoin miner, that's a thing?
And then my boss, in 2017, on a drive down to Belgium for a job, just says wow this cryptocurrency I bought, it's just really going up. Like wow, I made a lot of money here. I was almost enough for the mortgage on my house. It turns out he bought 400 ETH pretty much at the ICO without any knowledge of anything. He'd just been South by Southwest and seen probably Joe Lubin pitch Ethereum at South by Southwest and then bought it because that's the kind of guy he was. Those two things coincided and I went I should take a look at this. Rabbit hole. Light bulb.
It took me a while to figure out what was going on here, but firstly I saw a route to being able to fund my own creative projects. But I also saw a route to maybe creating a paradigm or a route or something that was going to satisfy the problems that I have with the place that I was in, which is I just thought everything in my industry was bullshit, because it is.
And so many amazing talents just get crushed down to zero because they're in the service of these agencies and these brands that just are so disconnected from the real world and from humanity. Everything is delivered by robots and by focus groups and everything else and I hate that.
Fast forward from that 2017, trading shitcoins, ICOs, I went through an entire cycle of just doing everything you're not supposed to do and came out of it going okay, okay. And the one thing that happened out of that that was really wild, was I ended up being a seed investor in Harmony. And with Harmony, I was a real skeptic about Harmony, I had this opportunity I was like great, let's do it. But I was like why do we need another Layer 1? So I reached out to Harmony and said listen I think you guys are really interesting and I think there's a story here that needs telling but I don't know what your story is but I'm someone that tells stories. So why don't we have a chat about how maybe I could tell your story? Because I would love to know.
And then that began a kind of almost a ten-month conversation with them on and off. I then went out to San Francisco and it's a short hop from there to Palo Alto and I just went and met them. And then after spending a day and a half with them I just went, I’d much rather work with these guys than anything else I’m doing right now. I just did this massive right turn. I just went this is probably the stupidest thing I could ever do, but it might end up being the smartest thing I could ever do.
From there I ended up being appointed Harmony's creative director and we tried to figure out what that meant and then we realized that maybe making videos would be the right way to go. And then from there I ended up contacting you to do an interview with you because I realized that Harmony had no footprint in DeFi and that we needed to because that's where the industry was going and I wanted Harmony to be relevant in that space I contacted you. And then out of the blue, I just said listen I make videos and I think you're cool, maybe I could make videos for you and that's how this happened.
It was so random. So random.
CR: Wow amazing. So you started out as a musician, as a choir boy and that was your starting point and your initial passion. Then that developed into storytelling and filmmaking. Were you a self-taught filmmaker or did you go to school for it?
RS: Self-taught. There's basically been a pattern of behavior in my life which was I don't trust people and I also think that people are not going to want to work with me because I feel like I don't fit in.
I feel like there's always this, this is what it's supposed to be and I'm coming from over here and you're not going to want to work with me. So instead of me suffering the pain of rejection, I just go, you know what? I'm going to switch on my brain. I'm going to learn it for myself and I'm going to prove you wrong even though I never even gave you the opportunity to say yes or no. That was where I was at and I and I don't know where that came from and I don't know why I was at that place. But basically, from when I was 20 years old, I applied for tons of intern positions at production companies in the UK to work in film or television. And I got rejected by all of them. I could not understand why. It's just pure arrogance or whatever, but I just couldn't understand why and I just said you know what fuck you. I'm going to just do it by myself.
CR: Ah, that's where that's from.
RS: Yeah that’s been my attitude ever since. I will learn it myself and I will do it better and then I have complete control and you don't own me. And that's it and it's just been this rebellious need to prove myself, need to be better despite nobody ever expressing anything that was remotely critical but somehow feeling that that was there and needing to front up to it.
So that one of the hardest things I find is just asking for help. I just don't do it.
Rebelling With Crypto
CR: I think that kind of rebellious attitude of I'm my own boss or you don't own me, that sort of take on life, I feel like that would have prepared you to get crypto. The fact that okay, this is the system that allows that sort of ownership that you don't need acceptance from all the established parties. This is its own individual system and you were already in that mindset through your own career.
So maybe when it came the time to take a look at crypto you just got it on top of the fact that you thought, okay this might be a tool that enables me to produce the kind of content that you wanted to produce.
RS: Yeah and valuing the art of storytelling. I think that when you say storytelling it seems to polarize people. They either think it's bullshit and that they’re being spun a yarn and it's just fluff and fairy dust. Or there's, you're shilling me something and so I can't trust it.
But then there's genuine storytelling where you lean in and you need to have more of it. And that's fundamentally human. And I think half of us mistrust it and the other half of us need it like a drug. And for me the mechanics of that, understanding how people lean into an idea or lean into something, is really seductive. The problem is that it gets co-opted by marketing teams and used to sell things.
But I think what I'm old enough now to realize is that you can use it in a very effective way to simply unclog some pipes in critical thinking. And I think that's what crypto needs more than anything else. It's just this tiny little bit of deprogramming or decloggging of the pathways that allow you to think about things in a certain way. That's when crypto is at its best. When it's at its worst people are just sending you stuff left, right and center.
“I think that's what crypto needs more than anything else. It's just this tiny little bit of deprogramming or decloggging of the pathways that allow you to think about things in a certain way. That's when crypto is at its best.”
But that little moment where you trigger something in somebody rather than tell somebody this is what you should buy or tell someone that this is a place that you should look. You just help them see it and that sounds so culty and everything else, but I'm really aware of the responsibility we bear at this place to not just give it to people.
I want there to be a gap. I'll take you this far but then the rest of it's on you. I think if you can do that, allow gaps and leave moments of intuition for people, then you've redone the job of great storytelling.
The great storymaster Robert Mckee does this workshop. It’s three days and he'll just talk at you for eight hours a day for three days solid. It's amazing. And he'll explain to you how different films work. But he always makes this example. At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker discovers that Darth Vader is his dad. And you reach all the way back to the beginning of film one when you know Darth Vader is bad. And you go oh my god. It's his dad? That's the moment you want for people. You want them to understand it for themselves.
I think what most people come to crypto content for is they want to be told what to do and they want to be told where to park their money and they want to be told everything, but they don't. They don't want that at all. What they want is to be empowered to make that decision for themselves. They don't know that's what they want.
I always use this example when we talk about the metaverse for instance. The greatest gift we can give people is agency. It's the power to control your own destiny and yet everyone acts as if they want to be spoon-fed. But deep down the subtext of all of that is, I don't want to be powerless and I don't want to be spoon-fed. I want to be in a position where I don't need you anymore because I'm aware enough to make the decisions for myself. And I hope that that's what we're able to do, is to create fertile ground for people to plant their own seeds and be able to make those decisions for themselves. Because then people are actually acting independently and individually and in a way that's much more productive for them.
In It For The Long Term
CR: Yeah, the kind of people that want to be spoon-fed and that want to be told exactly what to do with their money, I mean there are people who just want that and are not interested in learning for themselves or having agency or any of that. But those are the people who are not here for the long term.
They just want to make a quick buck and come and go. But I think why we do our content in a different way is we're not here to tell you what to do and how to make money quickly. We're here more to educate our audience and tell them the story of what we're seeing in the space and what's important and just tell them what is happening objectively and have them make up their minds.
Because the kind of people who are interested in that are in it for the long term. They're in it, because they're interested in this new paradigm. They want to work in the space. They want to invest their money but with a more long term horizon and that's the kind of audience that we are seeking. We're not interested in someone who's in to just make a quick buck.
So I don't think that everyone is here to have that light bulb moment of, oh wow, this is a new internet with value attached and where users are owners. All of that is really interesting but it's not for everyone and I think I'm fine with that. Our content is for a specific kind of person and I'm very proud to be catering to that group.
RS: Well last year was weird in that respect because everything was blowing up and I see now a lot of people whose profiles are enormous and I question why, maybe it's on Twitter or Instagram. I forget that there was this huge moment particularly on Clubhouse back in the spring when NFTs blew up, that people really grew massive presences for themselves and when I go and listen to them I'm like who are you? You don't know anything. How is this possible? How has this worked out this way?
If you were looking at the statistics on Youtube in our space and we were. The temptation is to go well, this is what gets big numbers. This is what gets you know, big attention, big numbers. This is what goes viral and we never did that. Because I just can't do it. I can't be that person that's going to just straight face go into a subject that I don't find interesting personally, but I know I will just do big numbers. It just doesn't feel right.
And what the Youtube gurus will tell you to do is to lean into that, to go there. Because that's what's going to help you grow and growth is everything and I think one of the things that we stopped doing very very early last year was we stopped running ads. Because we knew ads were just pissing people off. So we stopped doing it. Once you start running ads you're not making money from ads. So therefore you don't care how many views you get and that whole paradigm where your success is directly linked to how many views you get goes away.
So I think I'm much happier to say that the quality of the output that we put out, the way we do it, the weirdness of the way we do it, is our signature, and if that's for you stick around, if it's not for you then go away. I'm fine with that. I don't need you and I don't think anybody needs you. And if it's not for you, that's totally fine because ultimately we're not about maximum numbers and everything else. We’re about, this will take a bit of time but the people who stick around are going to really stick around and I'm good with that. I'm really good with that. But it took me a while to be good with that.
I'll be honest because we judge our success, you judge our success by the pure numbers. But I don't think those numbers particularly, in the niche industry that we're in, tell the whole story.
Reaching Our Audience
CR: No for sure. I think there's a balance because the content that we do that we make is great. The videos that you guys are putting out every day, they're better than most content out there on Youtube, not just on crypto but on Youtube. So for me it's a matter of how we make sure that the people who need to see this are seeing this. So. That's where we need to have that balance between going into the clickbait headlines, making sure our thumbnails are catchy, making sure we are paying attention to search and what that's doing.
Because I want everyone who wants to see our content to see it and when they search for the latest DeFi term that The Defiant comes up, because we're covering it probably the best or among the best. So that's where that balance is and where the numbers I'm looking at. Because I'm seeing, okay there's, like 10,000,000 DeFi users right now? I think we can have 1% of that. 1% of the total DeFi user universe should be subscribed to The Defiant’s Youtube channel because what are you doing if you're in DeFi and not watching our channel? Basically.
So that's where my mindframe is. It's not like big numbers for big numbers sake. It's because I want us to reach our full potential audience. I want our content to be delivered to the people that it needs to to reach.
RS: It's funny because I read the comments and I think back a year ago or year and a half ago we were making one video a week. Imagine that. One video a week and we were putting so much love into those videos and I see people going this is the best video you've ever made. This is my favorite video of you, on a video we made last week. Like, you guys haven't seen our old stuff. We put so much care and attention and love and scripting and weird stuff and our old stuff was amazing. We just can't do that anymore we’re putting out five, six videos a week. It's impossible.
I miss that and I'm working hard to try and figure out a way to reinject some of that. One of the ways we have to do is make our videos shorter and therefore there's more time to put into things. And then some of the things we can do is we can, because we have the power, just be very very very different to anything else that's out there.
We've talked about this a lot about where does The Defiant go to be a web3 media company? Because I made a film last week about web3, what it actually means, where it comes from and everything else. But I think it'd be interesting to hear your take on what a web3 media company could be. Because it's always been your vision, the most trusted source in DeFi but also web3 media company. Where do you see this? What is The Defiant as a Web3 media proposition?
The Defiant Background
CR: I just love this vision. And to get into it, I'll just give a brief background on The Defiant itself because people listen to the podcast and I'm not sure if they know the background of The Defiant.
So I started The Defiant in 2019 about six months after leaving Bloomberg where I was working as a reporter for 8 years in New York, Buenos Aires, Madrid and then back in New York where I still am. So I left Bloomberg to finish The Infinite Machine, the book on Ethereum I published in 2020. And as I was researching for The Infinite Machine, I saw DeFi emerge. This was 2018, 2019. A I was just like there's this entire new financial system being created from scratch on top of Ethereum and nobody's covering it, not even crypto media was covering it.
To me it was amazing because crypto was finally delivering on its promise of being a viable alternative to traditional finance and nobody was paying attention. So I was like there's an opportunity here to cover this space. I am a financial journalist. I also know about Ethereum. I was writing the book so I should be the one to write this newsletter. So I started The Defiant as a newsletter on Substack. The initial idea was that it would be a side thing, that I would become an independent writer, a freelance journalist and I would have this DeFi newsletter on the side and that's it.
But The Defiant quickly grew and started taking up all of my time. So I was writing the book and writing the newsletter and then when I finally finished the book I was like I'm going all in on The Defiant. I saw huge potential there to be so early in the space covering it and becoming the trusted source.
So I said okay I'm going for it and that's how it grew. So I was doing the newsletter by myself in 2019 then I started bringing on contributoring writers. I started doing this podcast. We started collaborating first with Harmony. And you and Alp started the Youtube channel in 2020. And then I raised some money in a seed round and with a view that this has to be the most trusted information platform for DeFi and web3. From my training at Bloomberg, I view information as both content and data, especially when you're dealing with financial information.
So to me it was clear I needed to make something like a Bloomberg Terminal like a data platform for DeFi. I don't think anyone is actually delivering on a very good DeFi-focused data platform. There's great crypto data platforms, like Messari does a great job. Token Terminal does a great job. But DeFi-focused data in one place and that's not fragmented, that's standardized, where you can get all the data you want, that's comparable and so on, you don't have that. So I raised money to bring on a full-time team to build this data platform.
For me, like you said, besides becoming the most trusted source in DeFi, it's important that The Defiant covers DeFi and web3 from inside DeFi and web3. We're not like Bloomberg Crypto, which does a good job, but covers the space from a distance. So when you read a story about crypto on Bloomberg you always get this very detached tone, kind of looking down on the space like oh look at these crazy kids look at what they're doing with their funny money. And you get this kind of tone in all of financial media.
“So when you read a story about crypto on Bloomberg you always get this very detached tone, kind of looking down on the space like oh look at these crazy kids look at what they're doing with their funny money. And you get this kind of tone in all of financial media.”
We're not like that. We’re space. We're part of these communities. And as much as The Defiant is objective and professional about covering DeFi, we are bullish on the space. We do have a position and we do have a view on DeFi and web3. We believe this space will continue to grow. We believe that it's the future of finance. It's why we're here. So because we're in the space, I want to push The Defiant, as a media organization, to adopt all of the tools that web3 is developing to improve how we organize ourselves. So that's where I come from. That’s the reason behind why The Defiant will become increasingly decentralized. It's because we're in it. We believe in this. So if we believe that this space is the future, why wouldn't we apply all the developments and tools that this space is delivering to The Defiant itself?
“So if we believe that this space is the future, why wouldn't we apply all the developments and tools that this space is delivering to The Defiant itself?”
So that's what's driving this. Then the how, that's very much in an experimental stage. I don't think anybody has the right answer to what a web3 media company looks like. Everyone is starting to experiment with this. But I think at the core, it's this idea of leveraging our community and leveraging our audience in the same way that users of financial protocols in DeFi become participants. Like you're a user of Uniswap but you're also an owner and you also have the power to vote on governance decisions and so on. That’s the same principle that I think will be behind how The Defiant decentralizes.
At the core it will be about giving our audience and our community more ownership and more agency and incentivizing participation in The Defiant itself. But there is also a balance there because, like I said, we always will keep our mission which is to be the most trusted information source in DeFi and web3. So to me there will always have to be a centralized editorial body controlling the information and making sure that all the standards that we've set are kept. So I think that's the delicate balance that we have to play as we move forward with this plan.
Robin’s Defiant Origin Story
RS It's so funny because you're talking about stuff that I remember so clearly, 2019 and working with Harmony and digging through real difficult problems around just basic things like consensus and running nodes and sharding and these things which seemed to be sort of taked for granted by now. But back then there were no bridges, having a bridge was a big deal. And DeFi was this weird, ultra niche. It was so far beyond anyone’s radar.
Like MakerDAO. It was just weird. Why would you use ETH as collateral to take a loan? Like who does that? It was just this strange bunch of people. You knew them all. I knew them all. There were probably like a hundred people who were active in talking about DeFi. And it just felt like if you were in that circle the conversations were so ludicrously highbrow and technical. It just felt this giant circle jerk, but it was also kind of nice and kind of fun because you just had this feeling that there was this thing.
I kept it at arm's reach because I didn't get it. I was like well this is cool and it's interesting and everything else, but I thought really? Because it was so turned in on itself. And then suddenly Compound, YFI, and all of these things exploded. And out of nowhere Andre Cronje is a rock star, like Andre Cronje is not a rock star. He was this weird South African nerd. And suddenly like oh out of nowhere he's this Jesus figure. It was so so weird but it was cool as well.
I remember first talking to you. I reached out to you because I was following Twitter and someone said what are the most important podcasts or or news to follow? There was you and Bankless. And Bankless was just a one-man band at that point. It was Ryan and it was you. That was the whole show in DeFi. There was nobody else. So I was like okay well I'm gonna reach out to this Camila Russo person. I think I reached out to you on LinkedIn and for some reason you responded and then we did an interview.
CR: On LinkedIn? That's so weird. I don't even look at LinkedIn anymore. That's so random. I'm so glad I answered that message.
RS: I know. Who answers messages on LinkedIn? That’s how I reached you. We did this interview on a rooftop in New York. It rained and then we had to run inside and then we were in your apartment and it was a bit weird and then I just reached out to you again. Because it felt like from a Harmony perspective, we were so tied up with all this stuff trying to get the protocol up and running, but this DeFi thing was taking flight.
Weirdly enough, one of the team members at Harmony was Korean. Every single week he said you guys need to look at Terra. This is 2019. Imagine where Terra was in 2019. He was like you guys need to look at Terra. This is amazing. I was like whatever, Harmony is the thing. And six months, ten months later I was like yeah Terra is awesome.
But it was because of him. I just remember his voice going, you guys really need to look at this. And we were like it’s South Korea, who cares? It just tells you, it can come from anywhere. It can come from anywhere. And that's what we need to be aware of.
So I think it's good that we have a moderately non-US-centric view on things as well as obviously having a US-centric thing. But it's very easy sometimes to be seduced by the idea that US regulators rule the roost and what they say goes. But there is another world out there and there's a perfect example of it.
Do Kwon, Terra, whether they succeed or not. It’s been a big story, a really big story.
CR: That's another thing that I like about how we've approached content, is not so US-centric. I think we could be better at that for sure. I mean I'm in the US but I'm Chilean. I've lived in Europe. I've obviously lived in South America besides Chile, in Argentina. You are from the UK, based in the Netherlands. Alp is Turkish slash Azerbajani. You're all there in Europe. We have a pretty diverse team. So I think that gives us a different view on things, that you know I think is not always the case for the most popular crypto content producers.
Not only that, not only diversity in terms of where we're all at and our view on the world, but also I think we're very careful about not adopting any sort of maximalism which is very hard to do. I mean for me, to be honest, it’s hard to not lean towards ETH maximalism because it's just what I know. I wrote a book on Ethereum. It's my network. It's the people I know. It's honestly what I use the most and it's where most of DeFi is.
But I know that I shouldn't be blinded and we as a news organization shouldn't be blinded to other developing Layer 1s, to other applications and I think our audience have really thanked us for that. Because there's a lot going on outside of Ethereum. Like sure Ethereum is drawing most of the activity. But there's so many interesting things going on outside of it. Like you mentioned Terra, the whole Cosmos ecosystem. There's so much. Ah. We covered Binance Smart Chain and people criticized us for it. But it was a relevant story to tell at the time you know the same way that Avalanche was, Polkadot now, and so on. It's important for our audience to know that there are other things happening.
I think that's something else like that's our brand, just objectively looking at the DeFi space, wherever it is.
RS: And it may not even necessarily be objective, but it's also just being in a position where you challenge your own biases. I came from Harmony and Harmony is not perfect, but at Harmony I worked with a bunch of really hardworking people who were trying to solve a problem from a really good place. They weren't trying to be an Ethereum killer. They were just trying to solve a set of problems that they thought they could solve and they set out to try and solve them in a way that was best fitting for them. And they're continuing to do so.
And weirdly Harmony, out of all the alternative Layer 1s that have taken flight, is one of the ones that I now find myself most excited by because they're actually doing a lot of things really well but nobody knows about them.
But also I know them really intimately from the time that I spent with them and I'm excited to go back and look where I was when I left them and where they are now to see how relevant they are and whether they've fulfilled their promise.
But it's given me an insight into what it's like to be on the other side, to not be Ethereum, but to be trying to solve those problems but also trying to have conversations with developers who have, let's be honest, anywhere they want to work, they can find a grant. There are not enough developers. So if I want to go and work for Avalanche, Avalanche will give you a grant because they need stuff to be made.
But that's a really tough battle to fight if you are a Layer 1, just getting a good enough roster of talent to come and build on you. So it seems that when you look at Avalanche, you look at Terra Polkadot obviously, Kusama and Harmony is up there now. And under the radar Near protocol is another one that springs to mind. Algorand. I understand the Layer 1 battle and I'm also excited by the Layer 2 battle.
I was using Metis today. Metis is epic. It's epic. It's fast and cheap. But there's nothing on there. I mean it's like going and doing a test drive of a Ferrari. You go, well that's amazing, but I'm never going to buy it. But it gives you a glimpse of what's possible.
So many times we do tutorials on the channel. And I go out of my way to find the weirdest stuff that we can go and highligh. Because what DeFi is amazing at is creating these incredibly exotic recipes of different financial legos that you can plug together. I love all that stuff. Nobody's ever going to use it. But it's still interesting. First thing that happens is someone goes yeah but this is too expensive on Ethereum, but man the gas is too much. I’m like, yeah, but if we showcase it, someone then goes and forks it on a chain that you can use. That's why we do it. So you're just hoping that that exposure kind of stimulates someone to go and make a version of it that people can actually use.
And yeah I feel the need to go and shine a light on how easy bridges are now. I hadn't properly looked at bridges for like three months, four months. But bridges are easy now.
There are so many good bridges. So many good bridging stations like Celer. Amazing. PolyBridge probably will be amazing. But Celer, wow you could just plug in anything, go anywhere. This is a very long standing project that’s properly audited. I love it.
CR: It'll be so key for bridges to work, for just blockchain and like web3 to work we need them for all these things to connect. Because I don't know what you think but I don't think there will be a single chain to rule them all. I think we will need these connectors. I was investigating the makeup of the internet the other day because somebody had told me in passing that the internet was a mesh of different protocols and I always thought the internet was just this standalone thing. It’s like this one network that we all use. But in fact, it's not. The internet is made up of many different protocols. So we know that and you don't care, and you just use it and you have no idea what actual protocol you're using. And they are bridges connecting these protocols.
So you can make an analogy of like okay this is how the internet was made, now we’re making an additional layer on top of this infrastructure. We're adding the value layer to the internet and I think it's likely that it'll be made up in the same way, connecting different pieces together because there's not one single piece that will be optimized to take care of absolutely everything.
So for me it makes sense, like okay maybe Ethereum becomes the most secure financial chain for huge transactions where you don't mind maybe paying a hundred bucks for millions of dollars or billions of dollars of value transacted. And Layer 2s will help and take off with that.
But maybe there's other layer 1s that will be used for other use cases. Maybe there's a gaming layer 1 and so on. Maybe there's an NFT one. And so I think for that future to happen, if this develops in the same way that the internet did, then these connectors, like these bridges are going to be key.
RS: Yeah and we have the looming specter of CBDCs and the value that's going to be transported across those and the interoperability between crypto and CBDCs. I don't know what that's going to be, but what I'm pretty sure about is that wallets will take on superpowers in ways that we can't possibly imagine, and particularly when the metaverse starts to really take shape.
Your wallet. Your avatar. These things will be weaponized in ways that we can't possibly imagine. So probably wallet providers are going to be the big winners. Ultimately. Those ones that can float above everything and when I see things like Celer that is a Swiss Army Knife you can plug in any network and get to anywhere else and it's decentralized. You can go that same route. You can use ShapShift or Changelly or whatever, you can still do that. But with Celer, it's there. It’s trustless.
Like doing a trustless bridge, that's really hard. It's really really hard. I don't think anyone really appreciates and they don't care anyway and they shouldn't care because it shouldn’t be a thing. It should be just done. But we don't know how good we've got it in some ways.
CR: What do you think will be the big story this year? Or a couple big stories.
RS: Big story this year, Defiant going to 1,000,000 subscribers. That's gonna be the big story of this year. Obviously.
No, the big story of this year is going to be the roaring return of blue chip DeFi. It’s going to be a major narrative this year. DeFi was in a bear last year and it will emerge in that bear and it'll become a real force of good. I think that goes hand in hand with a vehemently mainstream anti-DeFi narrative posed by stablecoins.
And so I can see you know the likes of Stani, the likes of Andre becoming kind of folk heroes once again in opposition to that. So the bigger the CBDC and stablecoins are bad debate on one side, the bigger DeFi strength will become on the other side. The two necessarily go hand-in-hand. And so I think that's what we're going to see this year. That there’s going to be a return to Curve, Compound, Maker, Yearn, these big names really standing for something much bigger than simply this niche weird DeFi space but actually standing as a kind of totem for crypto in general.
And that's purely because of the massive exposure in the broader mind space of regulators and that kind of thing. I think that's a necessary component of that, which is great. I think that's going to be exciting to see.
CR: That's interesting. So you think the spotlight will come back to DeFi after it was on NFTs and the Metaverse for most of last year. And also that the focus will come back to the DeFi OGs and not this new wave of DeFi 2.0 protocols. But like the Compounds, Aaves, Curves, which started this movement. Why do you think it'll be them and not the new generation of DeFi?
RS: Because they have track records. They've just got a lot more skin in the game now. When you start to see the way, in particular the boosted Curve bribes, that very sophisticated kind of direction of yield and liquidity towards where you want it. It's very political now and I think that there's a lot of power and influence there and that power influence needs to be directed towards the big bad in the picture and unless you have a big bad, it won't be. But if there is a big bad, and there is, I mean this is literally trend, anti-trend.
Forces of evil, one thing against another and you've got the perfect opponent being built up right now very visibly and very actively and very quickly on one side and you will see these other forces mass and group together. And you know these heads of these protocols. They all know each other and they all know what the big game is here and they will all work together to make that happen.
I think that it's not going to be brand new protocols that have earned the right to be there. It's going to be other ones. Like Olympus is still so new. We forget. That's the figurehead of the DeFi 2.0 movement, Vadar, all these things. They're very untested and very new but this sense of blue chip, DeFi, where a lot of people have got a lot of tokens and they've been gradually deflating in value. They will return this year. That's my bet and like I said it'll be precisely because there will be renewed aggression and antagonism towards DeFi from the very highest levels of government. That's a good thing.
CR: Why I think that’s exciting is because these antagonists to DeFi are pushing DeFi to be better. The threat of regulation pushes DeFi to actually be decentralized and to actually be permissionless and censorship resistant. It just makes the sector a lot more indestructible.
RS: Or in the case of Aave, to play nice, to offer this middle ground. That's fascinating, that one.
CR: It's true. I think, having the option, we'll have to get there someday. This fully decentralized, permissionless DeFi, but at some point, talking about bridges, there will be bridges to traditional finance, institutions will want to play in this field at some point. It looks like there already are.
RS: Oh they totally are. They're not idiots. The whole CBDC thing and everytime you look at it you go, central banks issuing currency, getting rid of physical cash. On the con side, erosion of privacy. It's just a short hop.
My web3 film I made last week, I came to some really weird conclusions about it, but the web3 as Gavin Wood proposed it, is about tyranny of you know those in power who don't have our best interest at heart. And if you really really really break it down, the moment you introduce financial incentives into a system, because that's what we need to have in order to make blockchain work in order to gain consensus, then you are inviting the scrutiny of regulators inevitably, once you scale up and you get to a point where you can't be ignored.
Regulators come in and you have to play nice with regulators. But if regulators can't be trusted, web3 cannot genuinely happen. So you get to this place where you go well, the kind of squishy meat-filled sacks called human beings are the problem. So maybe robots, data, and self-executing contracts are in fact, what we need because they cannot be bribed and they don't care about how rich. They just care about executing code. That's a very profound kind of philosophical argument to start having with yourself. The purest form of web3 has no human component and that's wild. We just benefit from it but web3 itself is humanless and then it will work as it was intended.
CR: I think there will always be humans though. I mean behind these smart contracts behind these tokens. There's humans holding them. And you can try to disintermeddiate and remove third parties and agencies as much as possible. But at some point it's, there's a human there and you can't change human nature. So I think idealism goes so far, but it’s worth shooting for that new world in any case.
RS: Well it sounds like me being a web3 maximalist and saying well without, this cannot happen. But I'm also a realist, like we are actually fundamentally a pain in the ass and we should not be allowed to get in the way of actually what's really good about this. Because we constantly abuse our privileges.
So actually if you turn all this into an AI controlled or AI driven, robot driven, software driven, or smart contract driven entity, if you say that's web3 and we just really get to enjoy the fruits of that. But that's a very different thing to be in but we're all just like let's make money. And as soon as there are incentives at stake to do that then the regulators are coming and once they are in you the web3 that we want is then compromised.
It might not be compromised a lot but it's still compromised and therefore it's not web3.
CR: I think there will probably need to be some sort of compromise from regulators. I think hopefully the space will have developed in such a way that there's so much regulators can do and change. I think what would be the best outcome is if regulators start using this technology to their advantage in the sense that KYC and AML are the big issues right?
Instead of asking platforms and protocols to provide user information, regulators can just use the data that's out there publicly on the blockchain and if they want to see where the illegal activity is they can use chain analysis to do that instead of requiring something from DeFi protocols and applications that they weren't made to do, which is provide user information. So I think that's a way that regulation can move with this technology instead of against it.
“...regulators can just use the data that's out there publicly on the blockchain and if they want to see where the illegal activity is they can use chain analysis to do that instead of requiring something from DeFi protocols and applications that they weren't made to do.”
Related to your previous point I think what's interesting is, the difference now is that you know like the saying in web2 was don't be evil, that was Google's saying, and the motto of web3 should be can't be evil. So if everything is ruled through code and is transparent and is programmed, the ideal situation is that you can't have people manipulating and gaming the system. So I think that's what we're all shooting for.
RS: And at the very least we're debating it and that's not a place we were in even just a few years ago. What are you seeing as the big story for this year? I've said my piece. What's yours?
Black Swan Moment
CR: There's like a couple of like developing narratives which I think will continue. Last year I think was the moment where Layer 2 scaling solutions actually started to work. So I think this year will see that story picking up steam. All of these different solutions have actually been shipped now. There's like different zero-knowledge solutions. There's Arbitrum, of course Polygon, Metis like you were testing, all these different solutions launched last year.
Some are already getting traction. I think this year we'll see a continuation of that. More applications coming live on Layer 2s, more users coming to Layer 2s, bridges improving usability there. I think we'll continue to see the growth of the Layer 1 story as well. So those two stories as a contination to last year.
I think DAOs will be bigger this year than they were last year. I think we're already kind of started seeing that at the end of last year. The potential that there is to think big. Constitution DAO didn't work out but it sparked people's imagination that you can do really big and wild things when you can coordinate humans and capital globally. So I'm really interested to see the different experiments around DAOs this year.
And then together with this potential bear market, I said the word, that we're maybe seeing the beginning of right now. I'm wondering if DeFi will get its big test because I think that's been missing. I think so far DeFi hasn't really been tested. We had that big MakerDAO crash in 2020 March, Black Thursday.
MakerDAO was tested, the system crashed. It had 3,000,000 or so of bad debt and then it recovered and it's fine now. I think that was the biggest test for DeFi so far, but it was still limited and it was at a time when we didn't have all the complexity of applications and protocols that we have now.
I think now we have a much taller stack of money legos that can crash down if something goes wrong. So I think DeFi needs that test like it needs that moment when the market crashes 50% in 1 minute and stablecoins destabilize, to prove itself that it can get through a very extreme situation and come out of it hopefully unscathed. I think if DeFi can prove that then people will be a lot more confident in using it.
Something that happened with Ethereum and The DAO and then the Shanghai attacks. When I was researching for The Infinite Machine, Ethereum was an interesting novelty between 2013 and 2015. People were building on it, but who knew, it was still a pretty new thing. Maybe it's not here to stay. But then it got through The DAO, through this like very dramatic hard fork and then it got through the Shanghai attacks where Ethereum was attacked for two or three straight months and Geth was down but Parity kept the network running and Ethereum was never down. And after that we saw 2017 ICOs happen and people felt confident enough to go to Ethereum, raise billions of dollars in capital.
So I don’t think we've had kind of a down moment for DeFi yet and I think this space needs it. It's like scary but I think it really needs it for it to actually grow.
RS: Yeah it’s classic, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. But I think we did have that spring of last year after that insane runup you know UST depegged and it was catastrophic in the short term and it was actually great in the long term because they had all this data to work from in order to understand that there's this continuing existential threat which is what happens if USDT fails.
If you're going to say stablecoins are DeFi then USDT is unnecessarily large and plays an outsized position in the entire market and until that ceases to be the case then we are under threat. And it's still up in the air right? When is that big FBI raid coming because you know it's coming at some point.
CR: I mean the good news is that we have UST and DAI and like other stablecoins that are chipping away at USDT marketcap and therefore USDT risk so at least there’s an improvement there.
RS: With all of those US dollar-denominated stablecoins and of course there are other flavors of stablecoin other flavors of fiat denominated currencies that can be had now, I would like to see stable Euro for instance because the Euro is a massive currency that doesn't really have a proper stable version of itself. I think from a European’s perspective that would be interesting to see a Euro stablecoin that actually picks up traction.
I think the central banks over here are going to move extremely fast and I think that's mainly because the Bank of England is extremely bullish on CBDCs. Did you know that, worldwide, there's only one fully launched CBDC which is in Nigeria of all places. No, everything else is in a pilot phase. I think China's obviously going to roll one out pretty soon. But the nearest right now is in France they've gotten pretty close to having a CBDC rolled out.
So if France does it then I think you can expect that it's going to happen pretty fast across the whole eurozone. So that's something I'm keeping a close eye on. Because I think CBDCs will completely change the narrative around digital as you know as it relates to money.
CR: That's another big story to watch for this year for sure. It's scary. I'm a bit scared of CBDCs. It's too much control for a centralized party to have. We'll see how it plays out.
Okay to wrap up so we talked about big stories in DeFi for this year. How about for The Defiant? You said a million subscribers but what are you most excited about for us?
The Defiant in 2022
RS: What I think we did really well the last 18 months was set ourselves apart as a place where you would find something you wouldn't find anywhere else. The way we do it is distinct and lovable, I hope. Something that people come back to time and time again because it doesn't feel like everything else that you find out there.
What I'm keen to do this year for The Defiant is we've always said like we taught the talk but let's walk the walk. So discovering what it means to be a web3 company. I have a pretty good idea in my head about how I want to push the technology in terms of how we capture stories and that means using the best technology available to us and that necessarily leads into a discussion about the metaverse and gaming technology and Unreal engine and all these other things that's very exciting for me and it's going to allow us to tell all deeper and richer stories that are more programmatic and feel really of the space.
So I think the biggest thing for me is, as you mentioned with Bloomberg, instead of being on the outside be, on the inside. And tell stories in a way that could only be told from within this space by people who are in this space and have that track record. I don't know any other way to do it than to just go, it’s over there, let's go and have a look. Because there are no rules yet.
“...the biggest thing for me is, as you mentioned with Bloomberg, instead of being on the outside be, on the inside. And tell stories in a way that could only be told from within this space by people who are in this space and have that track record.”
There's nothing to say, this is how you do it because that's how that's how Bloomberg does it and that's how we should do it. We're going to just copy them. We were looking at a project this week that said we're going to make the best trusted source for explaining crypto to people. You’re like, but how? What gives you the right to say that you know how to do that? Nobody tells you that they're going to do that. They just start doing it and then people follow and then it becomes the thing. That's organic. I think for me, it's a little bit difficult to understand where we're going to be at the end of this year but I do know what we're interested in and where we want to go with it.
I know now that we have the backing of a decent size audience that I hope will go with us on that journey. So that's I think validation more than anything else that what we do and the way we do it, is worth continuing doing that way. Don’t make massive changes just keep iterating on that. So that's what I'm excited about, just exploring new technology from that side of things.
CR: Awesome. Super excited about that too. Okay I think for me, it's pretty similar. It's exploring where we can go from a web3 perspective, exploring what a web3 media company looks like, bringing our audience into the content creation process, bringing them into how we operate, giving our audience more ownership and agency so very excited to do that.
Last year was just incredible growth for us. Our Youtube channel did 20x. The website did 30x. We’ve connected a lot deeper with our community. We've launched ah like The Defiant data Terminal alpha. We have this new referral program. We've completely redesigned the website.
At the start of last year I would have been extremely surprised to see what we actually were able to achieve. So like you say it's hard to know exactly where we'll be at the end of this year, but the main thing is that we have a very clear direction which is to deliver content that people can rely on and that people people can trust to navigate the most interesting sector in tech and finance.
I just want to keep being that beacon for this new audience that's coming into the space. So I'm excited to grow our audience and also grow our team. I think we need a lot of extra hands. We'll need them. I think that'll come also with our hopefully more decentralized model as well.
So thanks everyone for joining us on this journey, everyone listening or watching. Thanks Robin for joining me on the podcast. It was about time that I had you on. It was a pleasure chatting.
RS: It was about time. One last thing I wanted to say was that I remember acutely a documentary about the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams said you can always hear when it's a Neptune's beat and I would just love people to just know when it's a Defiant piece of work, that we have this thing and it could only be us that made that or wrote it that way. And that signature should come from entirely within this space and so rather than shaping ourselves to be what people want, just shaping how we listen to ourselves and stay consistent and true to that.
“Pharrell Williams said you can always hear when it's a Neptune's beat and I would just love people to just know when it's a Defiant piece of work, that we have this thing and it could only be us that made that or wrote it that way.”
And I think we're getting really close to that now.
CR: We're getting there. Everyone listening, feedback is always welcome if you think we're getting there, let us know if you have ideas on what we can do to get there. Let us know as well. And thank you all for joining and thanks again, Robin.
RS: Thank you. 100,000 subscribers we did it! Whoo! That was a big moment. Thanks everyone. Goodbye.
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