Yuri Cataldo (School of Drama ’08), Host of The Coin Chat and Author of Be Left Behind
During the day, Mr. Cataldo works as Innovation Engagement Manager at Autodesk. Among other responsibilities, he leads strategic research on topics such as blockchain, AI, micro-factories, and corporate innovation for the Technology Centers. He co-hosts the YouTube show, The Coin Chat, and previously founded the highly-publicized bottled water company, IndigoH2O. Mr. Cataldo graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 2008, serves on Events Committee for The Yale Club of Boston, and recently began serving as a board member for The Yale Club of Boston. He plans to release a new book about Bitcoin adoption, Be Left Behind, in November 2019.
The Politic: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got involved in cryptocurrencies/blockchain!
Yuri Cataldo: I was in the School of Drama at Yale. After I graduated, I worked for a little, but the economy fell apart. So, I started a bottled water company (IndigoH2O) after all of that. I originally got involved in Bitcoin in 2014. Honestly, my involvement was a marketing/publicity stunt for my bottled water company. I was paying attention to Bitcoin popping up in certain places, particularly around the Winklevoss twins. I didn’t quite understand what Bitcoin was, but I knew it would be an interesting idea to get involved in if possible.
I launched a little PR campaign, which advertised IndigoH2O as the first bottled water company in the world to accept Bitcoin. I started a wallet and set up a way to accept payments— and I got zero sales through Bitcoin. Still, I thought the technology was interesting. I didn’t get heavily involved in the space after that moment, but I was aware of it and continued to pay attention, though I was unsure about the exact details. Especially back in 2014, I was not technically savvy, and a lot of the writing in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space was highly technical. I didn’t understand much of it, but I did what I could at the time and just kept going.
I really didn’t do much with the technology until 2016, when I was at a conference in San Diego where Ned Scott, one of the founders of Steemit, gave a presentation on what was happening with Steemit, with cryptocurrency, with blockchain, and so on. I became really interested in what Steemit was doing—basically providing a way to do Reddit but get paid for your time.
Is Steemit a publisher? Like Medium?
Steemit’s kind of like Medium, but what you do is you publish articles and then people vote with STEEM dollars. That was my first real live introduction into the space, into what people were working on, and I found it absolutely fascinating and exciting. I then jumped in with Steemit as a way to understand the space and its potential in more detail. I started posting articles and reading other people’s writing, and from that, I met a lot more people in the community. That’s really when I started learning more, mostly by asking people questions. Basically, I became slightly involved with the cryptocurrency space in 2014 and more heavily involved in 2016.
Back in 2014, how did you find out about crypto? How did you think of using crypto as a way to attract publicity for your bottled water company?
I was reading articles about what the Winklevoss twins were up to. Honestly, at the same time, I was following a writer named James Altucher; he released a book and only accepted Bitcoin for a period of time. I thought that was awesome— I got the idea from him. I thought to myself, “Great, if he’s releasing the first book accepting Bitcoin, then…” I was interested in the idea enough to go, “Well, why not? What’s the worst that’s going to happen?” Again, I didn’t fully understand much of anything about Bitcoin. But I understood marketing, and in order to get press, you need a reason. At that point, it was starting to become mainstream; I think the Winklevoss’ article was in The New York Times. I thought, “If cryptocurrency has already been written about now in some of these media outlets, then more people should know about it!” It was a great way to piggyback on its notoriety.
What kind of work are you doing now? What’s your day-to-day?
A couple different things. My day job is working for a large tech company. The company that I work for is not necessarily involved in the cryptocurrency or blockchain space at all, but I’m actually part of the research wing and have spent a lot of time with other people looking at ways that blockchain could influence the construction space. That’s not a main part of my job at all— just something I do on the side while I’m working here.
Other than that, I’ve co-written a book that’s coming out in November. It’s all about cryptocurrency adoption. In fact, the focus of it is much like the same pains I went through back in 2016-2017, trying to understand what was going on with cryptocurrencies. It’s a zero-to-get-started type of book, where it’s broken down for the average person, on all the topics ranging from cryptocurrency to blockchain to forks to minors— the nuts and bolts of everything. If you want to understand what’s going on, this is a really good book for figuring out how to buy, sell, spend, and trade cryptocurrency.
I’m also part of a larger YouTube channel called “The Coin Chat,” where we interview guests in the cryptocurrency space. We’re interviewed Andrew Yang, John McAfee, Roger Ver, and others. We talk about cryptocurrency projects like the Worldwide Asset eXchange (WAX), mines, and a lot more. We focus on what’s actually happening in the space from the founders of these companies and products themselves. My co-host and I are also working on another couple of projects that are coming out of what we’ve noticed about the space. We’re heavily focused on adoption. We think that adoption will really come about when the average person understands what’s going on with cryptocurrencies. We’re writing a book about that right now.
What’s your baseline for the “average” person? Is it a random person on the street? Is it your mom?
A little bit of both. Actually, there were times when we would ask the average person on the street and record their reaction, or we would go into shops— we did a lot of that. We would go into random shops while travelling and say, “Hey, can we buy something with Bitcoin? Most placed had no idea what we were talking, but some people would say, “Oh, I understand what you’re asking, but we don’t have that capability yet.” Our baseline really is the average person on the street. In fact, the book is actually written for my mom and my co-author’s mom. We want our parents to understand. My mom isn’t the most technologically savvy person, so if I can get her to understand, then I will have succeeded.
Who’s been most fun to have on The Coin Chat?
Andrew Yang is my favorite person so far. We spoke with him in January, right before he started getting more popular. Why I say that is because it was a real conversation; he had very strong ideas about how to implement blockchain within the government, as well as how to implement blockchain with voting. If I get him back on the show, there’ll be a few more talking points, but it was more like a real conversation with an up-and-coming politicians who knew the space. Other people who are more famous have their own agenda and hijack the conversation.
You’re the expert, so I’ll turn it over to you. Anything you’d like to say to our readers? Maybe about adoption?
Part of it is just using the technology in everyday life, and that involves Yale solving the adoption problem. I know that Yale’s endowment owns a large pot of crypto. Part of this effort should include Yale making it part of the curriculum. I don’t know if Yale has started teaching classes about blockchain or cryptocurrency; I know MIT and a few other schools have done so. The education part of it is just letting students and faculty know more about how it works, its potential, and why it’s interesting. Maybe they should have the local shops start accepting cryptocurrency. Obviously, there are credit cards that you can load up and use as normal debit cards. It’s kind of like that, but more like saying, “Litecoin is accepted here.” Allowing students to pay for more things with cryptocurrency is all part of that as well; increasing adoption means letting students just embrace it more.
One of the biggest problems people have with the adoption side of cryptocurrencies is just that, apart from Coinbase and Circle, there aren’t a lot of easy-to-use wallets. There aren’t a lot of easy ways to go from your fiat currency directly into some kind of Bitcoin. I think Coinbase has done a good job, because they’re the easiest to use, but they also charge a lot of fees. If Yale really wanted to get involved, they would find an easy way for students to transfer dollars to Bitcoin and then spend their money that way.
Instead of meal swipes, we would have Bitcoin swipes?
Sure! Paying for lunch swipes with Bitcoin—they need to embrace the technology and be ambitious with how they do that. There’s still not that one–single university that’s planted themselves as “the most digital-currency savvy.” That title’s still open, and Yale could be that.
You mentioned that you live near MIT. Have you seen them doing any adoption efforts like that?
I attend some of the Bitcoin meetups in the area. I know MIT has more events focused on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency than Yale. I know they have a couple of student-run Bitcoin clubs, and that one of them runs a couple of events per year that attract fairly well-known people, on top of the fact that MIT, in general, has their own cryptocurrency event. I think that event is run by the Media Lab. I haven’t looked into all of that, how much of the campus is digital currency savvy or the degree of adoption. But I know they’re pushing out more content and events focused on cryptocurrency; that’s something else that Yale could do. I think I’ve seen one event on Yale’s end, but to do bigger and bolder events is going to be really exciting.
Any final thoughts, particularly for humanities students?
I’ve been setting up some lectures and working on some side projects now about how artists can get involved with cryptocurrencies. What I find most exciting for artists, beyond the fact that it’s a way for creatives to get involved in a new space early on, is the implementation of Smart Contracts. Especially in the arts, when I was a designer, beyond the issue of, let’s say, getting hired, the second problem I had was just being paid and knowing that I wasn’t going to be working for free. When I was a designer, my art was my livelihood, and I needed to know that I would be paid on time; implementing Smart Contracts is really exciting because you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Once the conditions of the contracts are met, the payments will happen automatically. Smart Contracts will make the lives of artists so much easier, because they won’t have to chase down payments anymore.