In this interview, I speak with the Tezos Southeast Foundation president Caleb Kow about security token offerings in Thailand, the various blockchain opportunities in Southeast Asia, and TZ Ventures, a new global accelerator just launched by Tezos Southeast Asia.
New York-based financial firm Elevated Returns recently selected the Tezos platform to tokenize $100mn worth of Thailand’s real-estate offering. In our conversation, Caleb and I discuss the implications of this opportunity and the openness to cryptocurrency trading and exchanges in many of the Southeast Asia countries.
We also learn more about Tezos Southeast Asia, and the various blockchain happenings across Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.
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Highlighted Quotes from our Conversation with Caleb Kow, president of Tezos Southeast Asia on Local Happenings in Southeast Asia
On Thailand’s STO opportunity
Elevated Returns announced that they’re going to tokenize up to a billion dollars worth of STOs on the Tezos platform. So Thailand is the first initiative that they’re working on with a leading property developer and they are targeting to actually tokenize up to 100 million USD worth of properties here. And this is going to be luxury properties that are very valuable from an investment point of view as well as from a demand point of view. So this is the first step that they are working on, and today happens to be the press release between the 3 parties.
I’ve just sat through a press conference whereby the local media was asking a lot of questions you know, pretty much around what’s the opportunity is, how do people perceive it, and what’s really the factor that’s driving this whole interest. So it’s pretty new, but a lot of people are paying attention to it.
How would Thai people react to STOs and blockchain technology?
There was an interesting question that one of the press reporters asked earlier on in the media interview; they were asking about you know, how would Thai people react to this potential of learning Tezos and how would they tangibly be able to implement that in their daily living? So my simple answer to them was that Thailand is a country that has huge mobile phone penetration rates. That is the new future and that’s what everyone is embracing right now. Connectivity is expected, even high-speed connectivity is kind of the default already.
Because of that, you see such a huge population of people not just getting online, but they’re actively consuming day-to-day service as part of their daily living. What it means for Tezos in essence is that there is a higher chance that they will be open to adopting newer technologies because the population is already very savvy, it’s not a mobile-first generation anymore, it’s a mobile-native generation that grew up with it, they clamor for the newest smartphones, they are so updated on global news because of communication channels and news being so readily available. It’s really pushing the population to want to consume new things and try out what’s new, what’s coming next.
So in terms of mass-market potential, just because of the sheer population size, there’s a lot of opportunities for blockchain to help in terms of efficiencies, helping to mitigate very mundane administrative processes for a huge population, and perhaps automating them in smart contracts. That’s where I kind of see Thailand having their own unique approach. And then perhaps in a few more years time as more are being trained through the University programs we mentioned earlier, they would be able to go to traditional industries and say “Hey, share with me your problems, perhaps I can think of a good way to build something to help you operate more efficiently.” So that’s the goal.
[…] Thailand is interesting from the point that the Thai Securities Exchange…. At least throughout our discussions with them, we took back the impression that they are very knowledgeable. They know a lot, they’ve done a lot of research, they always want to come up with policies that will help people to be able to be protected in the event of securities not working out as well as they thought it would. So they are really thinking a lot on behalf of the people, which is good you know, we don’t want investors to be exposed to unnecessary risks. The Thai authorities are really investing a lot in finding out, in having discussions, in being very open, sharing their thought processes and things like that.
On Singapore’s approach to crypto
For Singapore, it’s a little bit different because Singapore is a country that’s smaller in population; in fact, significantly smaller.
The population has to focus on kind of the services industry; financial services, things that are very quick to move I would say. So the nature of it is going to be less dependent on manpower driven initiatives, but more on automation. How can you get more efficiency? How can maybe even the intersection of robotics and blockchain and IoT, help to lend more relevancy in what we know in the public sector, in private businesses? So the nature of it is different, and Singapore by virtue of being in between so many Southeast Asian countries, is also kind of a cultural exchange point whereby we can facilitate a lot of communication, we can facilitate things like global events being held there, and everyone likes to come together in a nice way to network. So it takes on a different approach I would say.
On Blockchain Opportunities in Indonesia
The country I feel is very interesting in the longer run would probably be Indonesia. Indonesia is a country that most people maybe even including myself, love to go for vacations in — when you think of Bali and you think of different very nice tropical islands. But Indonesia is representative of so many islands joined together, the population is increasingly mobile; very very tech savvy as well, and they consume services so quickly; online services. I have a customer in Indonesia whom I did some consulting with, and they’re the largest web hosting company in Indonesia. They will make comments and feedback to me about the types of customers they have, and, that was a few years ago, they would say that we accept payment from customers obviously through credit cards, Visa, MasterCard, but a significantly huge portion of the customers still prefer to pay by bank transfer. And why? We ask ourselves, is it because of convenience? Is it because it’s cheaper? You know, and obviously, there’s a business case from the merchants not to use credit cards because they have to pay huge service fees, but on the other hand, we kind of realized that it was also a market perception issue.
Just because everyone pays by bank transfers, so it is an accepted way. And that was many years ago. I believe now the adoption rate for payments not just by credit cards, but even online wallets are increasing. So it’s very ripe for blockchain to help in payment settlement, even cross-boundary payment settlements, remittances, so many areas that could be better optimized in terms of costs. So I would think that the country is ready for a huge wave of change where payments are concerned.
On Tezo’s recently launched accelerator- TZ Ventures
The thing that’s personally exciting, to me at least, is I would say, finally seeing so many applications that have been in the process of being built on Tezos finally making it to the public. Because, at least here in Tezos Southeast Asia, we talk a lot to startups, we talk a lot to people who will ping us privately and ask questions about “oh, I need to build this, can you help me along with it? Can you refer me to this and that?” And we know that these are very very good ideas.
These are solid ideas that require an entrepreneurial mindset to pioneer and to push the boundaries of how we look at things today. So I’m personally very excited to see some of these ideas mature and start getting traction and even be there to help them to amplify that. If you think of the various community organizations in Asia as launch pads for each other, a startup in Singapore could tap on us and, to our relationship with Tezos Korea for example, and gain an immediate market access point, gain localization, and gain very unique business knowledge, even helping them gain publicity. And that’s very valuable for a startup who wants to build an application. We see that as something that’s very exciting. And increasingly, as we communicate more with our counterparts throughout Asia and even to a large extent throughout the whole world, I’m very excited to see how we can help these startups or ideas flourish just pretty much anywhere.
TZ Ventures is going to be our very first foray into an incubation program. We’re putting together a team that’s going to help these companies answer the very basic question of how can I build something on Tezos in the right way. And what I mean by that is that there are so many incubators out there, there are so many startup accelerator programs, just do a Google search and you’ll find so many. But we see ourselves in a very unique niche because implementing ideas or contracts on Tezos requires a healthy understanding of why do you even choose the platform. And we’re hoping that we can help these companies build in the right way at the beginning, saving them a lot of unnecessary time going in circles, helping them to gain an immediate understanding of what should and should not be done, and what are some pitfalls to avoid? At the end of the day, time is money as well. So we choose to say that the time that we invest in is worth a lot because you’re getting the intangibles that have a very strategic value. At the end of the whole incubation process, we would take these startups and present them to VC partners, very famous investors within our network, or maybe even investors that had participated in the fundraisers. There are so many potential possibilities that we could work on, but we also want to be a little bit selective because we’re working on the first rollout of this program, and we have to make sure that whoever we work with, we can commit to them, and likewise they are also committed to us. Then it means a lot in terms of helping them grow in the long term.
On Caleb’s background and Tezos Southeast Asia Team’s Recent progress
I come from the IT infrastructure data center background. I build the boring stuff that people end up building cool applications upon. It’s a very critical part of powering the internet that sometimes gets overlooked you know, like, you need to have reliable data centers, you need to have networking systems that don’t fail because that is the backbone of the internet. That really helped me get a better understanding of blockchain because if you think of blockchain and even crypto to a certain extent (in light of their development stages), these are really in their infancy stage right now.
It’s just like the internet back in the late 90s; when everyone was still figuring out what does it mean, do they really need to get on the internet, do they even need to get a dial-up account you know? And people were pushing the boundaries to say that this is the future, this is the way people are going to communicate, but you couldn’t really see the actual applications. I think we’re at that stage right now and if we can help users to unlock the potential of blockchain, not in a hyped up manner, not to be over-marketed, but rather looking at day to day applications and asking hard questions about how we can use this technology meaningfully in very simple applications, then that’s good enough as a first step, because then we’ll be able to show the layman or someone who’s not really too into blockchain how it could tangibly impact their daily living.
That would be the first step. And that’s what we are doing at Tezos Southeast Asia, because we’ve been building training curriculum, we’ve been talking to universities. Just this month in fact, we sponsored the National University of Singapore for their high school holiday computer science training programs. We want to be able to equip the next generation with the right knowledge and the right tools to be able to understand these technologies that will probably be a very common part of their lives in the future.
And by getting them started early, the hope is that they will develop a healthy interest, build their own knowledge, explore, figure things out and eventually come to a point whereby they can say “okay, I would like to contribute back to either Tezos or the blockchain community as a whole.” That’s what we are really seeing ourselves taking a lead in, especially for this year. We’ve also been working on a partnership with Chulalongkorn University [top university in Thailand]. They are looking at the curriculum for incorporating Tezos related content into existing programs. That’s going to be a big thing if it does go through because then you’re going to be able to enable students to undergo a disciplined training program, know the basics, know what it means and have a healthy understanding of how blockchain technology such as Tezos could help them in future.
Checkout the full transcript here, courtesy of the Tezos team.
For those who are not familiar, Tezos has 5 independent foundations around the world, of which 4 are based in Asia: Hong Kong-China, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia. Check out my post about Tezos Korea and how they try to build a developer community locally.
From my time working with Tezos teams in Asia and observing the various foundation and members, I found these individuals to be way more disciplined than what the public perceives. For example, when they travel, the Southeast Asia team only flies economy class, regardless of seniority or flight length. This type of discipline is something I admire and very much missing in many large projects.
But that is not all. What I hope to uncover with this series of interviews with Tezos in Asia is to show the crypto community that these teams in Asia are making serious inroads by identifying real use cases on the ground and addressing the localization problem that many projects have yet to be able to resolve.
Disclosure: Joyce Yang is a consultant to Tocqueville Group, a Tezos company.