🎙 Making Magic - A Defiant Love Story with Robin Schmidt & Alp Gasimov
We have a special podcast episode this week — a live conversation between Defiant founder Camila, our head of video Robin, and our editor Alp, recorded directly from The Defiant’s video studio in the Netherlands. Robin and Alp were one of the very first te...
We have a special podcast episode this week — a live conversation between Defiant founder Camila, our head of video Robin, and our editor Alp, recorded directly from The Defiant’s video studio in the Netherlands. Robin and Alp were one of the very first team members working with Camila in making the best DeFi and web3 content out there. They’re the dynamic duo responsible for the launch of The Defiant’s video content. They started the YouTube channel back in July 2020, when they were still working at Harmony, and then came on board full time in January 2021.
In this episode we hear their story, how they came to work together and what moves them. We also go behind the scenes on their intense production process and schedule. Together with Camila, they also try to make sense of the latest drivers behind the crypto market, including the war in Ukraine, last year’s massive bull run and the recent volatility.
Podcast audio and video was edited by Daniel Flynn and Gary Leuci. Transcript was edited by Samuel Haig.
🎙Listen to the interview in this week’s podcast episode here:
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👀 Only paid subscribers have access to the full interview transcript below.
Camila Russo: Okay, here we are. This is amazing. So welcome, Robin and Alp to The Defiant podcast.
Robin Schmid: No, welcome, Camila, to HQ, ‘D-20’. D-20 is the home of The Defiant video production. Welcome, Camila Russo.
CR:It's amazing to be here, my mind was blown. Like I told you guys, I already had really high expectations. Thank you for building such an amazing space. For you guys listening, this is the first time that I've been to The Defiant video studio, [and] it's been over a year that we've been making videos together.
RS: I think it's been a year and a half since we were doing it with Harmony, and we were already here [then]. So Alp and I carved this from bedrock, basically with our bare hands, just me, a pickaxe, a loincloth, just hammering away, lots of tools. And then we carved out enough space to shoot YouTube videos in.
Alp Gasimov: Yeah, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We're really out there in Holland, in an industrial area basically.
CR:It's an amazing space, and such a treat to be able to shoot the podcast with all this gear. As you guys who follow the podcast know, it's basically just me and one tiny camera, like my Yeti mic and that's it. And now, it's like the pros do it. Really excited to be here with you guys.
RS: Well, we might be pros, but I forgot to switch the video to us. We've got a little video switcher here, and we never use it, but we're using it today and I completely forgot to switch the video. So there is going to be a bunch of stuff where it's just you nodding at us as we talk.
CR: Work in progress.
RS: Something like that anyway.
CR: So, I'd love to start by hearing the Robin and Alp, Alp and Robin story. How did you guys come to work together? You were mentioning before [that] this partnership predates The Defiant, so how did that happen?
AG: Okay. So yeah, I received an email. I forgot the content of it, but he was trying to do something with crypto and stuff like that. And I said ‘okay, I'm down, I'd like to hear more.’ And then we met in the Hague in a cafe and he asked me about how much I know about blockchain. And I said, ‘there's something to do with mining, coins, hard math problems, and stuff like that.’
CR: Robin, why did you decide to email Alp?
RS: I was working for Harmony at the time, and what I had pitched to harmony was a YouTube channel, making videos, because I believed that crypto in general had very bad videos across the board. No one was really able to tell the story of this space. Particularly when you had a brand like Harmony’s that was attempting to disrupt the Ethereum audience or the Ethereum model — what they said needed to be really clear and it needed to be done in a way that was distinctive and bingeable...
So I started making videos for Harmony, I bought a camera, and I very quickly realized that I needed someone to do it with because doing it on your own sucks. My background is film and having larger production, so there was a bit of a culture shock — firstly, putting myself in front of the camera, but also just having to do everything by yourself.
So I realized it would be much easier if I had someone to work with, someone I could edit with, and I needed to find someone who was interested in YouTube, but also it couldn't just be someone who already worked in the space. There was a very specific set of criteria, I knew I needed to train someone up, and they needed to be kind of fresh to this, and come with their own ideas. So I went and had a coffee with Alp, and we got on, and we nerded out over this lens — oddly enough I had brought it with me… So we nerded out over that, and then we realized that we kind of had a similar kind of crazy sense of humor. And I basically said ‘come and work with me’, and he said ‘yes’. And that was how that began.
CR: How did you know to email him? Did you just look in like a database of Amsterdam video editors?
AG: A random name generator and then @gmail.com, and then I just received that.
RS: It was a referral by a friend, someone who'd been working with us on a piece of communications for Harmony. I had just happened to mention that I was looking for someone, and he said ‘my flatmate is up for doing stuff like this’. And that's how that happened…
CR:Alp, did you have any previous experience with crypto before? What was your initial experience walking into making videos for Harmony? Did you have to learn everything from scratch?
AG: Yeah, basically. Coming into Harmony Protocol, I only maybe had heard about Bitcoin a couple of times. I had to learn everything from the beginning, Proof of Stake, Proof of Work, all that sort of stuff. And my approach was, from a creative perspective, my end goal was to make videos and learn in the process. I didn't invest for the first six months of working in the space, I was very risk-averse to begin with.
CR: What about now, after two years making crypto videos, how has your take on crypto evolved in that time? Are you a believer now? Or are you still in it for the creative aspect?
AG: I think I got skin in the game after like six months. I briefly left Harmony and Harmony paid me in Harmony tokens, they paid me a severance payment, and that was basically my first cryptocurrency, and I started playing around with that. During that time, it started blowing up. Overnight, I made a couple of hundred dollars and I was like, ‘whoa, what's going on here, how is this possible so fast’? The profits were insane at the time.
And since then, I got really involved with the money-making side of it. I thought this would be a good way to make some extra cash to buy a new computer for myself. So it started like that. It has evolved, I started playing around with DeFi protocols, then I started staking SUSHI, and started learning more about the financial side of it.
CR: Okay. Is it still about how you can use DeFi, and invest in different cryptocurrencies — is that still attractive to you? Or have you also ventured into NFTs? Have you looked into any other aspects of crypto that might be interesting to you?
AG: Yeah, what I really like about crypto is the aspect [of] being able to transact freely without any borders, and remaining anonymous without having a third-party having [and] accessing all of your information. I find that aspect attractive.
Besides that, I did get into NFTs, but I was always really skeptical because I thought you could get really trapped in them, most of them become illiquid and I'm still somewhat risk-averse. I'm not taking too many risks, but I take risks more alternative coins for some reason, but not in NFTs, I'm not really sure why I'm doing that.
CR: So Robin hasn't influenced you in that way?
AG: He gave out free NFTs which were pretty profitable. So I said ‘I guess I don't have to play the NFT game that much’.
CR: Robin’s already doing enough of that for the whole office.
RS: We say nothing about that. It's strictly black ops.
Has crypto already achieved mainstream adoption?
CR: Robin, how has your take or approach to crypto changed since you started making videos?
RS: Well, I was active in crypto from early 2017, so I saw the last big bull run and I traded all manner of garbage, really. It was shitcoins, and I was just having fun with it. But also, I was just learning the space and learning the technology…
I think it wasn't so much since making videos, it was working at Harmony. [That] just taught me how little I'd actually known to that point. It was so many things, it was the real ‘nuts and bolts’ of protocols, particularly Layer 1s, like what's actually required to support and sustain a Layer 1. Even down to how many validators you need, the specifics of slashing — really deep in the weeds.
And then also the management of teams and putting a team together. The Harmony office was very much ‘go and work in the same hacker house [together]’. Once COVID hit, they had to separate, and I think… having to work remotely… really disturbed the way that they had been functioning. It took them a while to figure out how to put that together. Seeing my old boss there do stand-up meetings — 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, everyone comes in and he would spend an hour talking, bringing people up, explaining where they were at. That culture, he brought over from Silicon valley from working at Google and Apple, and you could see how he wanted to run the company. What I know now is that is not web3, that's not how this space works. When it moves at the speed that [web3] really can move at, you can't do that. So there were just so many things that I learned about. Also, when a community hates you, what that's actually like. So I have an enormous amount of sympathy for any developers who fall on the wrong side of that and start to see that coming their way because I don't think anything could prepare you for just how bad it actually is when you're in the weeds.
So all of these things inform how I look at protocols and communities now. And I think the change that has happened is that I have a stronger conviction [in] the base layer, which is where… the strong conviction lies in the market. And it's a much broader base and it's a much bigger base. Now, obviously, Michael Saylor is the name that jumps to mind, but you can see institutions, you can see larger players, larger names, publicly supporting this space. Mostly it's Bitcoin, but it all trickles down. And it means that that huge… jaw-dropping bear market position that we found ourselves in 2018 starts to look less and less remote. And then we move to how regulation is accelerating, or the debate around regulation is accelerating.
And you have this picture in your mind: actually, everything that we thought was the promise, the future, the mainstream adoption, it's here. That takes some kind of adjusting to because you always feel like crypto is battling for survival, battling for recognition. It's happened. And I don't think anyone stood up and said ‘we’ve made it’ because they don't believe it. But for me, it's already happened, and now we're in this next really bizarre phase where we have to figure out what kind of compromises we're willing to make.
CR:I think that is true. I felt like last year was crypto's mainstream moment. It was like nobody is doubting that crypto is here to stay, or at least most people know that crypto is. Most big institutional investors, funds, and hedge funds have crypto in their portfolios. Most banks are offering some sort of crypto product, either futures or exchange-traded products, and so on. And then NFTs completely blew people away, and I think that brought in a whole new set of people to the space.
But at the same time, if you look at the numbers, only [about] 10% of the global population own crypto in centralized exchanges. We're not even talking about DeFi and web3, that's a much smaller percentage. So I agree with you, but with the caveat that even while crypto is known by everyone, and I think everyone accepts crypto to be a fact of life right now and not going away, there's still a lot of room to grow and a long path before actual mainstream adoption [where] people actually own, hold, and use crypto in kind of their data to day lives. So I think that was the story last year, crypto arriving at this moment.
This year, so far it feels like there's a lot of major underlying forces rising. On the macro side, you have this backdrop where interest rates are increasing, inflation is rising in the U.S., the pandemic is kind of ending — there's all these macro changes. The crypto market has been super volatile, it crashed at the start of the year, now it's stabilized [and is] kind of bouncing back. All of these regulatory moves and announcements — from the U.S. with the executive order, to the EU and their move on non-custodial wallets, to the U.K. and stablecoins recently, to central banks considering CBDC — really big moves. And of course, with the added and important component of the conflict or the war in Ukraine.
So I’d love to know your takes on this. You are making videos almost every day on all the latest breaking news, tutorials and, and big stories with The Defiant weekly, so you really have gotten in the weeds of all these major stories. To you, what are the most interesting drivers so far?
How NFTs are capturing the imagination of mainstream society
RS: Wow, that's a big question. The most interesting drivers are resilience. First of all, I think a lot of people predicted there would be a much bigger drop from the highs that has happened. And that's sort of what I mentioned before, that there seems to be a greater conviction overall.
I think that probably one of the biggest surprising things has been the way in which the NFT story has evolved and refused to go away. We were comparing it to ICOs, and rightly so because there was a huge frenzy around mints and drops, and it felt a lot like the ICO crazy. But where a lot of ICO projects then needed 18 months to two years to even deliver a piece of their roadmap, these NFT projects are much more agile and they're much faster to get things moving.
So we've seen just a very rapid — I don't wanna call it innovation because a lot of it isn’t innovation — but it's growth led by obviously the Bored Ape Yacht Club, but also interesting partnerships like Artifact partnering with Nike, the way Adidas has moved into this space. There's just been this rapid insertion into pop culture. And for me, pop culture was always going to be the frontline for the mainstream. I just never saw NFTs being that. I thought it would be much more about straight-up money, ‘money is bad money doesn't work for you’ — it isn't that. It's actually entertainment. People want to be entertained. So as people that make videos, it's been really interesting to see that, and see how different people have taken a piece of that. In many ways, I'd almost welcome a return to more of a focus on the money side of things. I think it's one of the biggest sticks that we get beaten with, and it's all about greed.
And yet I want to show people like a simple fixed interest rate product that will just allow their savings to travel further and create some kind of stability. That will be fascinating, to see just normal people exposed to that choice. You have your banking app, and you have the choice of depositing it with us, or we'll give you access to this product and it's 10%. Like, people would bite your arm off for 10% on just savings with no downside. So I think we're going to see some really interesting conversations around stablecoins [and] how to regulate them. The U.K. has shown its hand now in terms of wanting to reposition London as a kind of major financial center around crypto assets — whether it can do that, I don't know. And obviously, all eyes are on Janet Hellen in the states. Those conversations, for me, are where the rubber hits the road. It's NFTs and their unstoppable drive into pop culture.
And then this raging debate around stablecoins. What is also really interesting is that Russia's invasion of the Ukraine… has completely shaken Europe to the core, shaken NATO to the core, and forced it to rethink everything. And so we are going to see an awful lot of things be reconfigured. Where do we get our energy from? How do we manage money across borders? How do we keep Russia out of the financial system? I don't know. And so, so obviously the war has to have a place to play in all of this, and you can just feel it. [You can] feel money being undermined, like the money that we are used to, fiat currency, being undermined by everything in the world. And it's really strange to see that happen in front of you, what money is going to be in the next 10 years. I don't know, but I know it's not going to look like what it looks like now at all.
CR: Alp, to you. Which have been the most interesting stories this year?
AG: I just wanted to add to that idea [that] we're going to have a big drop in Bitcoin’s price. We've been talking about this for over a year now. Last year, we said ‘okay, the bear market is going to begin in August’. And then people started saying [it would happen in] Q1 202.2 We've kept expecting a big drop in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, and a proper, heavy bear market. But it's not really coming, or we've entered a stage where it's the super-cycle where the Supercycle… So percentage drops are going to be lower with established coins, I guess. [Robin], why are you wearing your glasses by the way?
RS: Uh, because it makes me look cool.
CR: Let it be known that those glasses are absolutely useless.
RS: Fake news, doesn't need them. I'll tell you why I'm wearing the glasses. It's because we went out for drinks with Camila Russo last night and she's a fiend, and I'm hungover today.
CR: That's a good enough reason. Alp, so why do you think that we might be in this so-called super-cycle? Or at least that the bear market won't be as deep as it was in 2018 and 2019?
AG: Well, a few factors. First of all, last year we saw a huge boom in the mainstream adoption of crypto… getting more people involved in it, and having more people starting to believe in it, [that] plays a key role in it. And besides that, having large companies and well-established brands getting into it and including it in their balance sheets — stuff like that also helps, [and] establishes even bigger trust and belief in the technology. I think that's the main one.
How people are leveraging crypto on the ground amid the Ukrainian crisis
CR: I want to go back to the topic of Ukraine and Russia. I think it poses such interesting questions about money, about the financial system being weaponized, and what role crypto plays in all this. So on one hand, on the Fiat side, the U.S. and Western Europe are using sanctions to kind of coerce or force Russia out of the Ukraine or into a [difficult] position. So taking Russian banks out of the SWIFT system, imposing sanctions on Russian oligarchs, prohibiting companies [from] transacting with Russian counterparties, and so on. This might not have an effect, and that's kind of that's debatable, but the fact is that the traditional financial system is being used as a weapon effectively. Instead of going in with their tanks and armies, the west is fighting Russia with money, with the financial system, and that's super interesting.
Of course, this time Russia are kind of the bad guys, at least in my eyes, but I wonder what happens when the good guys are being attacked with the financial system? So this time, maybe we can all stand behind sanctions and money being weaponized because it's against the bad guys, but to me, it's conflicting — the fact that countries can use the financial system as a weapon.
When I think of everyday people in Russia, I don't think they should be necessarily punished for this, they should be free to transact. And the same with Ukraine. We were just speaking with [someone] yesterday, and we were talking about how Ukraine is also placing this fence around its financial system to stop the local currency from falling, and stop people from taking money out of the country, and so on. So Ukrainians are also suffering with the weaponization of finance. And of course, in parallel, there's crypto providing an alternative to both Ukrainians and Russians. So I think that's such an interesting development this year that kind of proves why crypto is useful, unfortunately in this horrible scenario. But we'd love to hear your thoughts, how you're seeing this play out?
RS: The situation for Ukrainians is particularly complex. As you say, the government has set in motion restrictions which mean you can't take money out of the country. You can't pay into a foreign bank account. So they want to keep the money in the country, which is understandable. There's also a problem, which is you have to volunteer in the Ukraine and if you don't, then they impose a tax [of] around about 20%. So they heavily incentivize you to volunteer. Unfortunately, if you don't live in the Ukraine, you can't do this. So you have to go back to the Ukraine to volunteer in person. So if you are not resident in the Ukraine — so the four million or so people who've left, that would to include them — then you're in trouble. So there are a huge number of restrictions for Ukrainians.
And we are covering a story at the moment of someone who is Ukrainian, she's based in Amsterdam and is attempting to get crucial supplies to soldiers on the frontline, and she can't because she has a Ukrainian bank account and she has a Ukrainian identity. So she's having to perform all these financial gymnastics to get the money to where it's needed, which is, as it turns out, in Poland. And the way she's done it cross-border is using crypto, which is a very interesting example of how even though the final payment isn't in crypto, the ability to move money across borders rapidly and without restriction is what's enabling her to get bandages, tourniquets, and night vision helmets to people that need them. And that is not a story we hear very often. Normally we are hearing about apes and fugly JPEGs, and people aping into farms, and the gross greed that's on display. No, here is a story about someone who could not do this unless crypto was there. And that's a story that we need to tell.
So I think you're right, what's happening here is NATO is trying to de-platform Russia… from the financial system. And Russia planned for this, they knew it was coming. So they stockpiled cash, and it has been frozen. We don't really know what's going on in Russia because they paint these lovely, pretty pictures on national TV, and everyone eats it up. Their press office has said this morning that [they] find the loss of life troublesome. I forget what the exact wordage was, but there is a slow trickle of something like the truth from the Russian propaganda machine. But again, it's easy to paint Russia as the bad guys and we have done, and they are the aggressor here, but every government is a bad guy, in my opinion. And what web3 really is all about, is starting from a position where we cannot and should not automatically trust institutions, whether they be large VC-backed web 2.0 firms controlling our data, or governments, because we can't and they've proven repeatedly that we cannot trust them. And that's where web3 starts from. Where we arrive at and where the trust sits, I don't know.
But then we have Trump, with TRUTH Social, attempting to create a platform where anyone can speak. And then we have Twitter — should you be able to say whatever you want on Twitter? I don't know. And I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to any of these things, but we have to try and figure it out in some way. So when we say permissionless, is it? I don't know…. You can transact within crypto and you can operate in crypto through DeFi, but at a certain point, you want to be able to pay for milk. And it's at that point that it all falls down. And I dunno whether we're ever gonna be able to solve that. That's the problem.
AG: I agree with Robin's points… It's not just Ukrainian people that's being screwed over because of the situation. As you said, the Russian people are also in trouble because of basically one guy's decision that is their president. It's somewhat affecting me as well, because my dad has business in Russia. He's currently there at the moment, and it's making imports and exports more expensive, [and] more trouble involved in it. It's tough for everyone, this whole situation.
Overcoming institutionally entrenched opposition to web3
CR: Yeah. I think, as you were saying, that all governments are bad guys. That’s an interesting take, but I think it may be true, maybe not in the literal sense, but in the sense that all governments have the potential to really interfere with everyone's lives and money. Like right now, the government has the power to censor us, and that's clear across the board. I think people living in developed countries kind of forget that's the case, but it doesn't take much for the government to step out of line. And we started recently with Canada.
You would've never expected Canada, [among] the most quiet [and] the most stable countries in the Americas, to do something like that. But we saw how they blocked the truckers’ bank accounts when they were protesting the different COVID mandates. So it doesn't take much for governments to step over that line. As we are kind of seeing these things play out, I think it's important to remember that it's good that maybe these kinds of sanctions will have the desired effect on Russia, but it's not so great that governments actually have the power to do these things. Or, if you think it is, at the very least, I think it's good to have crypto as an alternative for people to actually be able to transact if [and] when that time comes. Although, as you rightly say, Robin, there's still a lot of infrastructure missing for that to be completely effective because the bridges to the real world aren't always there. So that’s probably the biggest story this year.
And speaking of institutions, I wanted to share with our podcast audience the experience I had this week at the CBDC conference because it was very enlightening.
I went to speak at a conference that was organized by the Bank for International Settlements and the National Bank of Switzerland, their central bank. And it was a conference about DeFi — how DeFi interacts with CBDC. So I went there expecting a group of people who were, within these institutions, probably open to DeFi and friendly to it since they had organized this conference. But it was really surprising to see how deeply skeptical they all were. I mean, I met tons of lovely people, and I say this with respect, but it was surprising to see how behind the times they were. Just like a quick anecdote, the BIS employees still use the Blackberry app, like the Blackberry software, on their phones. And to me, that's just a sign.. they are just so behind in all respects. And speaking about DeFi, like the main thing I got from them was just [a] deeply-rooted fear about this new system, it was all about the risk of DeFi.
They were talking about front-running and sandwich attacks as if those things didn't start in traditional finance, how money laundering and criminals can use crypto, and the tired takes of the space. [They were] very much focused on the risk and how to regulate it, instead of the opportunity. So I was pretty surprised by it.
I think the most shocking comment [that] actually bothered me, that I heard at least three times from people in the BIS, [was] this argument [against] crypto as an alternative for people living in repressive regimes, in corrupt governments, or with devalu[ed] currencies, and, and so on. Their argument to that was ‘well, instead of going outside of the system, why not try to improve the system’, and that, to me, it [is] very naive to say that — tell it to people in Cuba, ‘go and change your dictatorship’, or to Argentina, go and change decades and decades of chronic inflation — people just don't have a choice. I mean, just like Russians, and U.K. [citizens], don't have a choice on what's happening. So anyways, this just happened this week, and I've been ruminating on this… I think we are steeped in this crypto bubble, and we forget that a lot of people just think very differently.
RS: Did you, did you see any positive inquiring into what you were saying?
CR: I think there kind of was an interest in seeing how DeFi and crypto could bring financial services to a wider group of people [and] increase access to financial services — that was what they were most receptive to. But at the same time, the different CBDC projects that are being tested really have nothing to do with crypto. They are not planning to issue CBDCs on public blockchains, that's very, very far from what's being discussed. Its digital currencies run on private systems, on private ledgers, that sometimes won't even be used by the retail population even, it's called “wholesale CBDCs,” which will just be used by central banks and commercial banks to make the system more efficient. In one way, it's a relief because it reduces the risk of privacy infringement and of all this ‘big brother’ concern about CBDC — so in that way, I guess it's fine. But there's no real plan of integrating CBDCs into DeFi and web3, I didn't see that actually being discussed or taken seriously.
RS: I guess one of the biggest things about the money problem at the moment is how do you stop inflation? How do you stop the money printer going if there is an unlimited supply and you can just keep printing it? Then it's always that those who stand to lose the most are the ones that get hurt the most, and that's normal people. Andrew Yang always talks about the decline and the destruction of the middle classes. Well, he's right, it's happening. And it's happening extremely quickly.
There's a real need for us to communicate properly. I think there's a real need for us to get a message out that doesn't look like a message. I think that's the real trick here because there's a lot of pushback on crypto, DeFi, and NFTs. It's like ‘stop shouting at me, stop telling me I'm gonna die, broken alone, stop preaching to me because I don't want to hear it.’ Nobody wants to be told they're an idiot. They kind of have to arrive at the conclusion that they're an idiot by themselves because we're all idiots, we don't know anything, and we have the opportunity to know a little bit more.
So it's helping people realize that there's more that they could know and that it isn't scary. But that story, that message, you can't just go out there and say ‘our financial system is broken and web 2.0 is bad’ because it just falls on deaf ears. And we see that over and over again, everyone just entrenches and pulls back because they don't want to hear that. So the discussions that we're having at the moment are like ‘how do we get a different story out and allow the other story we want to kind of percolate and be received, even though that's not what we're saying?’ And that is some kind of magic trick. So it's kind of become an obsession of mine, I wanna talk about this stuff, but I don't want to. I don't want to shout about it, I need to be a lot more subtle. And it's the people at the BIS who you want to see something and [have] a question form.
CR: That's it. I think the question is forming. At least they heard the other side, and I think that was a huge step forward and pretty brave of them. They had me, they had the Curve founder, Michael Egorov, the Liquity founder, and Evan Van Ness — they had a good group of people who were able to give the other side. So I think that was positive, that was a good step for them.
But speaking of telling a message, I want to transition to what we're doing at The Defiant, and what's coming up in the coming weeks and months. You were talking about bringing this story to the world. So if you can bring the audience behind the scenes as to what's being planned here?
Shining a light on how crypto can make the world a better place
RS: We could actually talk about our week because it's crazy. So over the weekend, I will read stories and I will start to get an idea of what I want to cover for the next week. Monday, we sit down and we do the Quick Take, and usually, I have to write it in about an hour, and we shoot it in about 10 minutes. And then Gary, who is our assistant, takes me about two hours to write it.
That same day, we also look at First Look. So we try to discover an interesting protocol that might be interesting to cover. Then I try to look for stuff that is less well-known… because I think that there are some interesting projects out there that just won't get any coverage any other way because everyone else who's covering crypto goes for the numbers, and we don't do that. So we're probably the only place you're going to see interesting, less well-covered protocols in any detail or quality. And then we have a tutorial to do, and we also do that on Mondays.
And then the rest of the week, we're kind of doing the Real Vision show, which has to be prepped. We have the Friday weekly show, which is our big, kind of flagship show where we try to really take a story and do it in our own surprising and unique way — and that just kills us every week, trying to come up with something different and unique.
And then we're just doing live shows on Thursdays. Every day we're publishing something, and figuring out how to manage our time when we're delivering that much content is impossible. And what I realized was there are things slipping under the radar that we don't cover because they won't fit into our schedule.
And what happened this year was we saw a couple of pieces of content, particularly Line Goes Up by Dan Olson, where he singled you out for criticism [and] calls you a failed journalist, and it really pissed me off. It got to the point where I was just like ‘I hate this space, I don't like what is being reflected back here’ — and I think that was a good reaction to have. But I also kind of went back and said ‘well, why, why do they see this? And why is it so off-putting for them that they can't forgive a young space tripping over its own feet when what we see is the end goal and the beauty of this space [that] makes all of that worthwhile. And I realize that we just never show it. And that was a surprising revelation to come to because I feel like we're shining a light on this space all the time. But what I realized is what we're shining a light on is all the things that they hate. So how do we then raise up the things that really matter? We have to take more time, we have to raise money to do it, and we have to get a team in place to dedicate themselves to doing that. And then we have to work really hard to find those stories and put them together. So it's been a couple of conversations, particularly with Andrew Yang and his Lobby3 team about what materials they would like to present to Congress because they're going to be talking to Congress over, and over, and over. And what Congress will hear from the market, from their constituents, is ‘crypto is bad, crypto is for money launderers and pedophiles.’ And we have to present something else to balance that out.
So we're starting to look for stories like that. And we will be looking to raise money through crowdfunding to fund what will end up being about a year's worth of content hopefully. We were originally going to do a film, but I think it might end up being a series of films, and hopefully, we'll partner up with some other organizations to do that. But these stories do matter. And it's where you basically start from the position of ‘is there something here where it could only have happened because of crypto’? And it turns out that there are tons of these kinds of stories, it's just they're not ‘money go up’ stories, or ‘number go up’, or ‘look how much my ape sold for’. But they're still meaningful and important. And I think people will really rally behind those stories and be interested in them if we can do it in the right way. And that isn't something where we can just flippantly put me in front of a camera, they have to be real, raw, and honest. The furthest thing from propaganda that we can create — that's what it has to be.
So we're in the process of putting that together at the moment. We've been talking about it for so long, but really we didn't quite know what it was gonna be until a story landed in our lap last week, about a Ukrainian film producer who is effectively funneling supplies and a whole bunch of other stuff that she can't talk about to the Ukraine, and she can only do it with crypto.
And we felt that this was, from a visceral perspective — making it real — this is about as good as it gets. So we're gonna use that as part of the pilot to launch this campaign, and then we'll raise some money. We have to do it using crypto obviously, and there is no way to do that unless you give people tokens and NFTs. But the point is, that'll just say ‘you funded this thing’. We're not gonna be selling NFTs, we're not gonna be selling tokens that have any value, but literally, that's just what we have to do because we think that's important. And actually, I probably think it's one of the most important things we could be doing right now because when I look at the landscape of who makes content in this space, particularly video content, there's almost nobody that has the exposure that we have and the experience we have who will be able to navigate this very tricky line to make the story work in the right way on the people that it needs to work on. So that's the big challenge ahead of us, and I'm excited to get it going.
CR: Same here. Alp, what do you think about this project?
AG: I think what triggered it was the Dan Olson video… To see how it's evolving and shaping into its current state, I like it because it started off as ‘let's reply back to this guy and prove that he's wrong and we are right’... And then it turned into this, and now we have a better pilot, and a better spark of thought to carry on with. So I like it in that sense, and it has more ground in the real world, and people are actually benefiting from what crypto is doing in Ukraine. So yeah, I'm excited for it.
CR: Awesome. So I guess this is the first time we've talked about this publicly? I don't think we've said this before?
RS: Yeah, well we haven't really launched it properly yet, but that was because…
CR: It's still coming together?
RS: It wasn't so much that, it was that it's so easy to open yourself up to both criticism and ridicule if you go into it too quickly. And as I’ve said, the Dan Olson film triggered a response, and what I felt was ‘well, I hate this guy and I want to prove him wrong and I want to attack’. And I had to really pour a lot of cold water on that because it was the wrong way to approach this. And it was also the fact that a lot of what he said was correct, but those [are] also a lot of things that can be fixed. And again, what I realized was that we are just not presenting a workable and honest picture of the ultimate benefits of all of this. All we're talking about is the systems, the profits to be made from those systems, and how to exploit them.
So that was really the starting point for this — how do we do that the right way? And you just have to find an entry point, and this Ukrainian story is that entry point. And it is real. And I think people see our videos and they can see production value, lighting, and all the fun party tricks we put into the videos. And that's because that's how we make it fun for ourselves because a lot of what we cover is just code, it's numbers. So making these visual things helps make the story more memorable, and it also makes it fun for us to shoot. But when you're talking about being real, that all has to go away. So just allowing ourselves to put a story out there and for the story to be the only thing that matters, that's really crucial. I worked at Vice News on and off for a while, and that's what they do. That's what they used to do brilliantly. And I think that's a great starting point for us in terms of telling the stories, just realness.
CR: Yeah. I think that's exactly the approach to take with this. And I wouldn't want this to be a response to Dan Olson — that's not what this is. Maybe that is what sparked the idea, how can we showcase the true impact of crypto, but I'm glad that it's evolved beyond just a reply story. [It’s] about this actual side of the space that we're not covering. And as our mission is to be the trusted best source of information for web3 and DeFi, this is in our mandate to do. So yes, cover all of the latest news and development in DeFi and web3, do the tutorials on how to use this stuff, but we can't miss the big story — why this thing actually matters. And like you said, you look at most crypto content and videos, I think we are missing the forest from the trees. There's just so much going on that it's easy to like go very deep in the rabbit hole, but it's so necessary to take a step back because that's what the people who are not in it are missing. They're missing that big picture take. So I'm really excited that we can be the ones to provide it.
RS: Yeah. It's definitely a case that if I [ask] who would I want to make this story, it's us. I don't know who else could do it, that's the thing. And I wouldn't trust anybody who's not in crypto to get it and to understand it.
Having come from Harmony, the appeal of The Defiant was that we can float above everything and we can observe it from a distance, and we're not kind of infected or caught up in it. What's become very apparent is that we are in it, and we are part of it. And we are a web3 entity [and] data platform… So it really becomes clear that there's a burden on us to stand up and put ourselves in the firing line to a degree by doing this and having an opinion. [It] is a hard one because we try to be objective and try to give everyone a fair shot, but actually, we also need to have an opinion about this if we're going to utilize the tools and the primitives of this space to forward our own business. So yeah, it's time to get political.
CR: Yeah, I like it. To be clear, The Defiant has an editorial line, we are unbiased and objective in covering this space. But our position, our editorial line, is that we think the future will be increasingly decentralized, and that crypto will be used as an infrastructure layer for an increasing amount of industries. To me, it's clear that blockchains will start to form this value layer on top of the internet, and that's what we call web3 — that's happening. And I think that's the position reflected in our own content and our own productions.
So I think it's kind of [that there is] a line there to balance — we want to be objective, accuracy above all, unbiased when reporting this space — but that doesn't mean that we don't have a position here. We have a strong position and we are part of it also.
RS: We have a strong position in the hearts and minds of our subscribers.
CR: Yes, hopefully, you'll click that subscribe button.
Taking inspiration for film-making from fruit
RS: So I have a question for you, Camila. What is your favorite of the pieces of work that we've done?
CR: Oh my God, that's so hard. There's just so many.
I definitely have a soft spot for the earlier pieces, because I remember starting to work with you guys and just being blown away every week with the stuff that you were doing. So the SushiSwap ballad was amazing. The Aavegotchi [piece with] you kind of in this jungle. Those pieces were wild, and they are special to me because it was the start of our relationship together.
But recently, you’ve done some amazing work. I think the Arctic piece really stands out, it’s just beautifully shot and such an interesting topic — the permanence of NFTs is something that's not talked about in the space very much, and just how unique it is to have been able to shoot up there. I really like the recent ‘tomato-merge' piece, I think that was a really good example of our sweet spots.
RS: Tomatoes are a fruit. Alp, explain to the folks back home the creative process works.
AG: How the creative process works? Well, it changes every time. But basically, this time, what we did was we found some reference images. It actually started with inspiration [from] watch[ing] some tabletop photography [and] tabletop videos of other people shooting.
RS: But how did we get to tomatoes?
AG: How did we get to tomatoes? Well, you just said, ‘why not’? I mean, that was the trigger. But you also explained it by saying, ‘okay, tomatoes have seeds, [they are] juicy, and all covered in one skin, it’s red, it's tasty, it's a fruit’.
RS: You're not doing this very well.
AG: I'm horrible.
RS: I'm going to have to take you and instruct you in the art of explaining stuff to people. I think if you watched our videos, you would be like ‘how on earth did you come up with that’? Like, the Aavegotchi thing was just nuts. But I think with The Merge, everybody was covering The Merge and everyone was doing a story about it. And I just thought, how am I going to make this a Defiant film? So I started thinking about what we could do and how we could shoot it, and I was like ‘I know I want it to feel like a recipe or some kind of cooking’. And then I was like ‘tomatoes’ — it just kind of came to me. We’ve got lots of different versions of tomatoes, they're cheap to get, so we could get lots of them and smash them up. But then I realized that Ether is like this building block for everything. And a tomato was like one of the most versatile fruits in cooking, so it's like a perfect metaphor. And then we could just have so much fun shooting it, chopping [them], squashing [them], and blending [them]. Then the thing really was the idea of The Merge as a blender — just putting these two things together and making them one, that became the visual metaphor for it.
But coming up with ideas for these shows, I challenge myself to do something different every week, sometimes it's just an intro. I've been trying to push [into] more creative execution. But like with the Arctic film, I knew I wanted to give people the entire Arctic film in the first 30 seconds of the film because then I thought they would keep watching. So I just kind of smashed it all together with some sound effects and was like, ‘this is what you're gonna get’. And then, of course, we had Simon Wan come along. But some of the things we've done are just nuts, absolutely nuts, and I don't really know how we come up with them. Like the Sushi song, for some reason, I knew it was gonna be a song, and I knew it was gonna be like Tiger King, and then that was basically what it was. I was like ‘I just want to do the ballad of Chef Nomi as Tiger King.
CR:It was so good. What did you do that rap song for?
RS: The pickle hack. Basically, the inspiration for that was somebody wrote a tweet saying ‘we all serve at the altar of Dr. Dre’. So someone wrote a tweet and I was ‘well, what if we did the entire story in rap’? And that would've been really tough, I've never rapped in my life before. And we just went ‘we could do this’ and then had to shoot all the music videos for that in literally an hour, and then edit them to deliver that afternoon. I think that's what people don't understand, just how insane the editing process is for us. We'll sometimes have a half an hour film for The Defiant weekly and we won't finish shooting it till midday on the day we're publishing it. And then Alp will take half, I'll take half, and then we'll just edit it. And somehow, it gets published. I don't even know how, sometimes we look at it like ‘how are we gonna get this done’? And we always do it, it's nuts. It really is nuts.
CR: What was the insane one with the pineapple? Was that for Meme?
RS: That was Meme. So the Meme one, we called it ‘The Degenerator’. And then for me, I just kind of heard ‘Joker’, [and asked] what is this kind of wild, cackling thing? And then I basically took the trailer for The Joker and made it a pineapple. And then we had so much fun doing that. And the thing about pineapples is there's lots of different ways that they can be carved up, cut… it just ended up being a really perfect metaphor for everything that we were doing.
AG: Yeah. We tend to do that actually, like using food. Like last week was tomato, we did the pineapple [video], and also for the Curve video — which is one of the classics I think — we used a banana and that became a recurring thing throughout the film. You know, we have it in the intro, later on, Robin smashes [one] inside a basket… and then later I threw a banana at this head. And then, at the end, it's very wholesome… he opens his palms, a banana lands there, he eats it, and the video — just wrapping everything up and using it as a metaphor throughout the video, that sort of thing.
RS: Yeah, you riff on an idea, and that's fun. I used to shoot a lot of music videos, and in music videos, that's what you do, you take an idea, and you riff on it, and riff on it, and riff on it. And you try and challenge yourself to come up with lots of different executions of that idea. And that's a really fun way to do things.
We forget though, that DeFi was basically themed around food — Yam, Sushi, and that was where it came from. So there was just all of this ‘food-fi’, so that's what we did. We just leaned into that and said, ‘well, what can we do with food’? And it ended up with me having food thrown at me, and eating all sorts of weird stuff, but it's just trying to keep it entertaining. And then, at certain times last year, we were just so under the cosh trying to get stories out that we had to dial back.
But one of my favorites was the one where we did a Sin City intro, that was really fun. And then for one, I think it was structured and index products, I did this whole sequence with a green screen. I'm on a roof, I get struck by lightning, then I jump off the roof, and then I get stuck hanging in mid-air. And then we showed how I did it, and it just looks so dumb, flapping around on a box. But it is fun.
So now we’re moving into a really weird phase, which is virtual production. And Cami, you've seen some of the equipment that we have, But really just understanding that the metaverse is such a big story and that telling a story in the metaverse is quite challenging unless you build your own metaverse setup or your own holodeck. So we are using Unreal Engine and we're plugging into everything that world can offer us — game engines, PFPs, and how you might puppet one in real-time using optical motion capture — which just… kills us every time we try and do something in there, it is so complex, and nothing works. But we'll stick at it and make that a piece of our overall pipeline, and hopefully, be able to produce with that the same way we can with regular optical cameras. That's gonna take us a little while to get there, but that's really an exciting kind of new frontier that nobody else is doing. I mean… nobody's doing that… anywhere in the world… on a YouTube schedule. So yeah, that's gonna be exciting. It'll probably break us but.
CR:I don't want you to break, so take it easy. I can't wait to see how that goes though. I mean, the stuff you've been able to do in this small space with fruit and veggies, I can only imagine what you'll do with that crazy sci-fi equipment you have going on over there, that'll be exciting to see. But like I said, just step-by-step.
The Defiant on being defiant
I guess, just to startwrapping up,I want to ask you kind of the flagship or standard question of The Defiant podcast. How are you defiant?
AG: I guess working here makes me defiant, working at The Defiant makes me defiant. That's definitely one.
CR: In what way?
AG: Because we represent web3, we represent stuff that authorities don't like that much, and are questioning, and very skeptical about. So us reporting it and supporting it being one of our main values, I think that's what makes me defiant.
CR: I'm glad that we are helping you be defiant.
RS: So I have three essential values. I tried to kind of present them to Harmony back in the day, because I was inspired by their idea of ‘one’ — their token is called ONE.
But it's very simple. One is ‘keep it real’, and I think that is so hard to do in this space. It is so easy to get lost in the noise and the excitement, and lose track of reality, so keeping it real is one of them. And I think we're one of the very few voices in this space that does that consistently. And someone on Twitter actually pointed that out, they said that you’re actually self-aware that this is BS a lot of the time. So that's one.
Second is ‘challenge all assumptions’. Nothing should be taken as gospel or true unless you've gone and done the homework yourself. So it's very easy to go ‘oh, I heard, someone told me’, and then you accept that as truth — don't do that, we mustn't do that.
And then the third one was ‘be the one’. So that means where you might wait for somebody else to do something, be the one that does it. And that is an interesting way to live your life. If you say, ‘well, I'm just gonna wait for so-and-so to stand up and do that’, or ‘I'll wait and see what someone does first’ — we can't do that, we have to lead. So that means let's be the one, be the one that steps up, be the one that puts your hand up. Talking to this Ukrainian film producer, she's like ‘I don't want to hear that I'm in your prayers, I want to see you do something’. And that, that resonates with me so hard. So those three things are how I'm defiant.
CR: I love it. I guess I'll say how I'm defiant, I never get a chance to say it in the other episodes. So I think I'm defiant by setting what seem like crazy, unreachable goals, and just going for it. So very much tied to what you were saying of being the one. Like, ‘there’s no Bloomberg for web3, why don't we make it’? And I really do believe that we are the ones to make it, we're the ones to become the most trusted information source for DeFi and web3, the only ones providing trusted, credible, in-depth, financially-focused information about the space, and who are building the data platform to see what's going on on-chain first hand, and to do it in a web3-native way.
And then going back, ‘there's no book on Ethereum, okay, I'll write it’. I don't know why I think that I can do this stuff, but I guess I like to push myself to try. So I kind of defy my own expectations about myself. Like, I don't know if I can actually pull this off, but I'll give everything to try to do it. So I really love that you guys are kind of with me on this journey.
RS: Yeah, that fearlessness. That when we make a video and we come up with an idea, there isn't time to worry about whether we can actually pull it off or not, we just have to make it work. And I think there's been only one video where we didn't, and we didn't publish what we'd made. One.
CR: And you never published it?
RS: No, it was an intro that we made, it just didn't work. I think there was a website, and I was jumping from parts of the website to other parts of the website, and ducking and things were passing over my head, and it just didn't work.
CR:Well one in over a year, that’s a pretty good track record.
RS: It's pretty good. It's not too bad at all.
CR: Well, I love that this is what unites us, this fearlessness. This has been awesome, thank you guys for taking the time and shooting this with me. And again, it's been amazing seeing this all firsthand.
AG: And thanks for coming here, Camila, you should visit us more. We shoot more videos together here.
CR:I agree, looking forward to that, and doing it in the virtual with the matrix!