An Interview With DLTx and The Future of Capital
This week I had the chance to explore an emerging category of investing as applied to distributed ledger technologies (DLT) with the co-founders of DLTx, James Haft and David A. Johnston. In short, DLTx works to provide potential investors unique, liquid access to the distributed ledger economy by building and investing in best-in-class platforms, protocols, mining operations, and infrastructure projects.
While it may sound futuristic, the company is positioned in the right place at the right time. Over the course of 2021, we’ve seen more than $15 billion of venture capital flow into blockchain and corresponding distributed technologies or industries, greater than 2.25x seen in the boom of 2018. Furthermore, this year we’ve witnessed significant upgrades and maturity from core infrastructure including that of Ethereum (EIP-1559) and soon Bitcoin (est. November) to scalable protocols with flourishing ecosystem turning out new platforms and applications, not to mention a shifting global mining industry and much more.
Exciting times for an industry that’s redefining our digital lives and yet only slightly over a decade into its life-cycle. Thanks to leading voices like those of James and David, the future is looking bright. Here’s our conversation on where we are and where we’re going.
James: I’m the Executive Chairman of DLTx, a public company trading in Norway, which is a unique set of assets in a distributed ledger technology space, which we believe is really the leading and only pure-play, if you want to get involved in the platforms, protocols, exchanges, and wallets, that are apart of the new decentralized economy. The company has been a part of the vision that I’ve had for the last ten years to use public market liquidity to create liquidity and opportunity inside the distributed ledger space. Because this is a space that has significant barriers to entry for technology, education, and knowledge. A single keystroke could represent a significant loss if done incorrectly by people who don’t yet understand the technology and the technology hasn’t yet evolved to the point where there isn’t that type of risk for the individuals. So we formed the company in order to give access to these assets and opportunities to the general investor so that family offices and institutions could invest in opportunities, which otherwise they probably wouldn’t have access to.
The reason that we live on the public markets is due to my background where I’ve focused on emerging markets for the last 30 years. Originally, I was an investment banker running corporate finance for Bear Stearns in Hong Kong. There I was lucky enough to take public, the first company in China to list on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In 2015/2016, when I joined the crypto world, I realized that I had historically always been tokenizing opportunities, and changing their nature to fit through the filters put together by the regulators. There’s a big advantage because people want the asset, but they don’t know how to reach it. So I’ve built a career out of taking those new opportunities and shaping them in a way where they’re acceptable to the regulatory system so that we could access liquidity and opportunity to a broader market.
David: I’ve been a lifelong entrepreneur. Back in the early days of the internet, I was that kid building websites and putting stuff online. Later, I got into renewables, I got into artificial intelligence, I was always nerding out on economics. I was lucky to find Bitcoin in 2012 and sort of already believe in honest money and all of these principles. From there I ended up converting my money into bitcoin and going headlong into the blockchain space.
In 2013, I started BitAngels, the first Bitcoin-focused angel group, and then one of the first venture firms to do all tokens back in 2014. We took all the money from LPs (limited partners) in the form of crypto, we only bought tokens and we return those tokens to the LPs — pioneering that model really early on. While a lot of fun I ended up starting a family office Yeoman’s Capital, investing in 20+ protocols all over the industry. I sit on the board of Polymath, Silicon Valley Blockchain Society, and all these great groups. I just sort of love pushing forward.
This idea of everything that can be decentralized will be decentralized core concept that this technology sort of unleashed something that’s continuing to move forward and progress. So I ended up investing with James, a few years ago and we hit it off. I loved his vision for having a public company and all the advantages that come with it, from liquidity to a public market multiple, access to capital, and there’s an opportunity to marry that with all these recurring revenue opportunities in mining. Once we unlocked that formula things really took off. It’s been a pretty awesome pleasure to share this journey together the last few years.
What is DLTx?
DLTx is a single investment that family offices and institutions can make, to have exposure to the most exciting opportunities coming up in the new digital distributed economy. We focus on distributed ledger technology (DLT), which is bigger than just blockchain and bigger than Bitcoin. We’re built in a way that is very comprehensible and digestible by ordinary investors. We’re structured away similar to Berkshire Hathaway or Alphabet (Google), and that have reliable sources of recurring revenue. Then we take those robot reliable sources, and we reinvest them into higher beta, longer-term opportunities. So we’re able to build a large, scalable, really private equity portfolio, while not being diluted raising capital because we have the recurring income. What’s happened is that the general public doesn’t understand the protocols. We treat the protocols as if they’re corporations or clients. We look at the dynamics of how the tokens are created, or how they’re compensated for being staked in their system. We create arbitrage, where we understand at a fixed cost, how many tokens we can generate. Then we realize what the market value of those tokens is, we get involved in those situations where we can get 7,8,9,10 times the return on investment, and then use the capital markets to fund those operations, and take the excess cash flow that comes from between the cost of production, including our financing costs, cost, and what we know we can sell the tokens for and we create our pool of capital to make further investments.
Kyle: David, I want to follow up on something you mentioned earlier, you have a very infamous quote, “everything that can be decentralized, will be decentralized.” Reflecting on that statement, what does that mean for the world of technology today? Have we begun to move into a truly decentralized world? Or is this something that’s so far off?
David: Well, I think it’s a process. When I said that, it was early 2014 at the CoinSummit conference, held in San Francisco. I was up on stage with Vitalik (Buterin) and a few other folks, and I said, you know, if I were to have one law, to my name, it would be “everything that can be decentralized will be decentralized” (Johnston’s Law). Somebody tweeted that out, and it became popular. But I think after a trillion dollars, I’m feeling fairly validated that things have moved beyond just Bitcoin, right?
At first, that was 99% of all value today: that’s a minority of value on blockchains. You’ve had the rise of Ethereum and all these other protocols that have added different use cases. Bitcoin brought us digital gold, a way to save wealth, incredibly valuable. Let’s say it displaces gold over the next ten or twenty years; that’s a $10 trillion use case. Other protocols are going after being digital cash. There’s $70 or $80 trillion of global cash. You can go through these use cases, distributed cloud, distributed bandwidth, there’s all these new protocols, they’re opening up all these different use cases. I, for one, have always felt that these can be incredibly complimentary.
It’s not a zero-sum game. There doesn’t have to be one that loses and the other wins; these are each different use cases, they’re going to go through their own adoption cycle. Protocols are going to specialize over time to serve the needs of their users. That’s okay. That’s something to be celebrated as long as it’s open-source, peer-to-peer, based on a blockchain, and uses tokens to incentivize everyday people to participate in that work. That’s the vision. Right? That’s what we want to really accelerate with DLTx.
Kyle: James, what are you excited about looking towards the future of distributed technology?
James: I’m excited about the self-sovereignty of data, self-sovereignty of value, and self-sovereignty of identity. We’re focused on the long term. When I look at what’s happening around me, I think that is the most valuable asset that we’re digitizing, and that will bring self-sovereignty to identity. Because without identity, you can’t do any of these other transactions. You can’t really participate with your identity and how your identity is defined, how it’s owned, how it’s controlled, really defines your ability to participate in almost every type of activity that you want to do of value for yourself and your family. I’m very excited about all the developments that are coming in now, where the digitization of information value and identity is enabling us to fundamentally trade assets and ideas in ways that are secure and private.
Write’s note: The above interview has been edited and reduced in summary for this article.