Episode #23: How Blockchain Could Disrupt Customer Experience, with Yoli Chisholm

When is a fad not a fad? We’re seeing many of the same attitudes around blockchain today as we saw around the Internet 30 years ago. Is blockchain the next big thing? Or an alluring mirage? In today’s episode, Yoli Chisholm and I talk about blockchain, digital currency, and how customer experience might benefit.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
The CXM Experience. I am Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr. And today is one of my favorite types of shows, which is we have a guest. Today’s guest is Yoli. And I’m going to introduce Yoli briefly in a moment. But what I’m going to talk about today should be super interesting.

Grad
So today we’re going to have a conversation about Bitcoin, digital currencies, blockchain and all the things that are happening in the world of virtual currencies. There’s some fascinating stuff going on out there. Yoli’s right at the forefront of it. So I thought it’d be really fun to have her on today and blow our minds a little bit as we think about the future.

Grad
So let me talk about Yoli for a sec. I first met Yoli in 2004, back in Toronto, at a company called Points.com where she got hired in. And we became fast friends and fast colleagues from there on in. And Yoli and I have worked together at Points, we worked together at Microsoft Research, we worked together in the US sub of Microsoft in the marketing group there. And more recently, we worked at Sprinklr together. So Yoli, welcome. I understand you’re now in Tulum Mexico, where you’re running a fry shack. And I think your title, if I understand correctly, is chief fryer. So congratulations.

Yoli
Thank you. Thank you, I have ascended into the peak of my career.

Grad
You always threatened to open a fry shack on the beach. And I always thought sure, sure, sure. And here you are, on a beach, very close to opening a fry shack. Plus you’re trading in Bitcoin. So let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing. And I’d love to let you talk for a few minutes around what you’re seeing happening and what’s going on in the marketplace right now. It’s been a bit of a journey back for Bitcoin. I think it’s finally back at what sort of value from a couple years ago, but  expand on that a little bit for us and give everyone a quick tour, because I think a lot of people stopped paying attention to Bitcoin a few years ago, and it’s kind of back so let’s hear more about that.

Yoli
Yeah, sure. So I got interested in the blockchain, I would say probably late at around 2016, 2017, just as Bitcoin was going on its run. But what interested me was that the fact that the blockchain and what was happening around it, and how the ecosystem was developing was very analogous to how the ecosystem developed around the internet. And, I was around in the 90s. And that’s when my career took off. And I recognize a lot of the similar patterns in terms of how the technology was being developed, how it’s being adopted, how the communities around different innovation sprung up. There’s very much a similar vibe around blockchain.

Grad
Yeah. And it’s all so associated, I know what you’re talking about, right? Like associated with that is a very common theme of: this is a fad. This is stupid. Yeah. Like whenever I when I hear people really starting to slag something like, hmmm interesting. That’s usually a sign, right?

Grad
You are spot on, and that’s exactly what made me say I should definitely dive into this because I remember trying to get people to adopt PayPal when I was at eBay, and I remember even things like before banners were clickable. That’s what I always talk about. But the tenor and people’s surety of things being a fad made me suspicious that perhaps it’s not a fad. Because I’ve heard these same themes, you know.

Yoli
And then also, what interested me about blockchain obviously, is the technology and where I see the potential disruptions. The same way the internet enabled a number of innovations in communication, in e-commerce, in healthcare, etc. You name it, smartphones, you name it. Our world has completely changed. I think we’re going to see a similar sea change when it comes to this whole notion of value and assets and tracking assets and the middlemen that have, to date, been the folks that have been the gatekeepers around assets. The reason why Bitcoin has garnered so much interest is because it’s the first use case that removes this middleman around payments and being able to send money or value without having to have a middleman.

Yoli
But we’re going to see that in a number of different areas. You think about intellectual property and musicians, tracking their intellectual property. They’re not going to need a record label, they don’t need that today. But blockchain is going to even exacerbate that further. You think about real estate, and contracts. The whole process of buying and selling a home, that on the blockchain is going to actually remove the middleman. You’re going to see a whole disruption. You think about, there are companies that are developing technology in the solar space and this ability for individuals to sell back energy to the ecosystem. Blockchain removes the need for the energy companies, I mean, there’s just so many, once you start to understand the technology, you see the use cases, it’s going to be an interesting time.

Grad
Well, the thing super fascinating to me is, it’s really hard to see the use cases, right. So, I think there’s a little bit of a leap that people have to make sometimes where you see certain characteristics. You can imagine some scenarios, but you also have to carry with you this intrinsic belief that we can’t fully imagine what’s going to happen. But it’s worthwhile embracing it. Because it’s disruptive. Right?

Grad
So the very first cars that came out, I think Mercedes Benz produced the first autonomous automobile, right, it’s actually in their Museum in Stuttgart. And I was looking at this car, and I’m thinking man at the time, could people have seen the cars we have today? It would have been pretty hard to imagine, right? It’s pretty hard to imagine. But you had to believe in it. One of the things that I think is funny is read the predictions of what the web is going to be like, from the 90s. And they’re not way off, but they’re off.

Grad
I once sat down, I had lunch with a very famous Canadian billionaire. And I was pitching him on OpenCola, which was one of my businesses I did before I met you. We ended up getting the money, we needed. But he was kind of cynical about the internet in general. A reasonably famous, very wealthy person. And I used Amazon as an example. And this would be late 90s… 98…99. Like he was getting there, right? Now, Amazon had been in business for about five years. And he looked at me like I was an idiot, and raised his eyebrows, scoffed at me, and he said, Amazon, he said, their business is selling books below cost. They’re never going to be anything. Yeah, okay. So that type of thing, right? That’s a tough thing. Because he was right. At the time, Amazon’s business was selling books below cost. That is exactly what they were doing. But oh boy, wouldn’t it have been nice to really load up on Amazon back then. Right? And so I think that’s a little bit of what it’s tough for people. So as you think about what this technology is going to do to customers and customer experience, how would you dangerously tread into the area of making a prediction on it?

Yoli
Well, I think back to the very first Palm Pilot I had. The mobile experience, and you think about how that has evolved. And then the smartphone, that completely changed everything. But when you have the Palm Pilot, the use cases were email, and maybe some crude games. But you have to believe that this notion of being able to have a communication device in your hand, and what data speeds were and the technology would evolve, that you would be able to do much more and look at where we are now. You know, I can run an entire business on my iPhone right now. You know, the number of businesses that have developed based on the App Store is remarkable. I think the case is the same with blockchain. I think once people really understand that you’re essentially building — I don’t want to use this corny term — but it’s Internet, what 4.0, 5.0 or on steroids, it’s like that you know?

Yoli
I think this idea this… early on, people were saying, trustless… trustless, and I couldn’t quite understand what they were talking about, you know. And they use this word immutable. And the way I, as a non technical person understand that it’s essentially this giant ledger, that can’t be messed with, right? And is fully transparent. So you think about all the activities that happen in general, just think about in business. Companies today… if you’re a public company, you have to report, your earnings report on a quarterly basis. You can envision a time when the audit process is all on the blockchain. And basically, how a company’s doing is going to be available on in real time. It’s going to be that transparent, think about how transformative that’s going to be.

Yoli
I think…and what I loved about the internet was the level playing field that it enabled for so many, small businesses or even segments of population that normally might not have had exposure to a particular business or sector. So whenever you have transparency, whenever you have greater connectivity, that’s what I love about technology. And I think the blockchain, I don’t know where it’s going to go. But I think, coming back to your question around experience, I think you’re going to have even more of a seamless experience, because of that transparency. Because you don’t need to trust the network. Then what does that mean? When you don’t have to think about trust, think about that. Think about how many things we don’t do today, because we’re worried about, being scammed. I think we’re going to deal with all of that. But I think there’s got to be for those brands today that start to think about enabling blockchain in their ecosystem in some way. I think they’re going to be… because they’re already trusted brands, and then now using this technology that’s trustless. And transparent. I think it’s going to transform some businesses. I don’t know how exactly but…

Grad
Well, it’s interesting, because I do think trust is a big part of that customer experience. I was going through a customer experience flow today. And it was a demo of technology. And they had this very interesting stat, which is, if you go into a shopping cart, and you start to checkout, and there’s a “add coupon” button, and you have a coupon, and you click the Add coupon button, and nothing appears because you see that all the time I happens to me a lot. just doesn’t work. Apparently, 98% of the time, that person won’t check out.

Grad
You have a coupon? You got it. And it’s like, something squirrelly going on here. I’m out. And then the other thing they said is equally problematic is when there’s an “add coupon” button that’s visible, and you click it and you don’t have a code. The abandon rate is really high as well, like 80 something percent. Partly because people are like, Well, wait a second, there’s a free coupon out there somewhere that I’m not getting. I’m going to go find it right? And they may not find it. And so there’s a lot of discussion about how does that get added? Versus can you automatically add coupons? Or can you do it in a way that people don’t feel like they’re paying more than they should be. I thought it was super interesting on something that’s pretty simple piece of functionality that almost everyone has on their site, but when it breaks, it causes all sorts of chaos.

Grad
So let’s talk a little bit about picking winners and losers. So you could be sitting there in 1990 say 7 or 1998 feeling pretty good about yourself with your investments in Webvan and Pets.com and Nortel. You know, Nortel felt really secure not going to be any problems there right. Feeling pretty solid, right? And that 100 grand could be poof — might be worth nothing today. Or, the exact same period of time, you could have been invested in Amazon and Google and say, Microsoft or Apple or and you’d be looking really nice right now. So how do you pick the winners and losers? And it’s so hard at the time, because it’s easy to look back and say, haha, Pets.com but actually, yeah, they were right. Like, the pet food business online is huge now. They were there, right? Just too early, didn’t have it quite right. Yeah, but boy, they were right. Right, that must be brutal for them. But so how do you do that? How do you pick that today? And then how are you thinking about your portfolio?

Yoli
Well, I am of actively trading certain crypto currencies, including Bitcoin and XRP. But when I think about those companies that are developing, beyond the whole monetary side of things and finance side and FinTech side. I do think there’s some folks that have been early enough and have invested enough and are also partnered up with companies like Microsoft, like the IBMs, and all the banks. So organizations like Ethereum rather, I should say, Ethereum I think is definitely going to be a player. They’re essentially I would say building one of the operating systems, for lack of a better word, that’s going to be leveraged by those who develop on the blockchain. So you can think of Ethereum the same way you might think of like OS. So I think Ethereum is a fairly safe bet. However, also in the same space, also building an operating system is Cardano. So ADA is their symbol, but Cardano their technology is actually… most folks believe that it’s more advanced than Ethereum. But Ethereum has been an early player and has had more developers, has a much more active developer community. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Right?

Grad
Right. And it’s actually funny how businesses will go from hot to not based on the developer community. And the thing I like about tech is it changes so quickly. There’s a conversation I was having the other day with someone about, a company in the developer space, which everyone thought was going to be everything. And no one even talks about it anymore. And so that switches so quick. So you know, I love underdogs. You know, I’m the I’m the world’s biggest fan of underdogs, which is why I never bet on sports because I’ve always bet for the team that’s most likely to lose, I can’t resist. So, I guess I can’t really talk about Bitcoin without talking about the Winklevoss twins. What a comeback. From your vantage point, tell me how you’re looking at that.

Yoli
Those guys. You know, I follow them on Twitter. And every day, they’re just, Ah, ha, told ya. And from my perspective, I posted the other day that I think of them as the turtle in that fable the turtle and the hare. Because it has been a long haul, trying to drive awareness around blockchain. And, they kind of didn’t get their just dues for the development of social networks, etc. And who knows what the real story is, but they’ve had another opportunity to be at the forefront of another big, big massive change that I think is going to change our world. I do.

Yoli
Because this is a customer experience podcast. I do want to give you one use case that I think is… just to think about? So think about e-commerce sites today. there’s like, one site and there are some levels of customization based on cookies, based on your past sales, what you bought before etc. But, there are some that are trying to develop technology that’s around having this single ID. The single ID on the blockchain that has all your preferences. And it knows everything about you knows your size, it knows your favorite colors. It knows your allergies. Just think about that, right? Think about a single ID that you carry across with you to every website. And so that means that the website, even how we develop websites might change. Because the website for me doesn’t need to look the same as it does for you. That’s what blockchain is, I believe, is going to ultimately end up. Think about that, right? It’s like…

Grad
A fully customized world based on a single ID that you carry with you. And we’ve been talking about a unified customer ID for a long time. Isn’t that interesting.

Yoli

Yeah. And the blockchain because it can’t be messed with. It may be the one technology that it brings that to life in a unique way that can be used across multiple sites. Anyway, I’m excited about that one. But the Winklevoss twins, watch out for those guys. You know, I think they’re going to be folks that we’re going to be talking about for a long time.

Grad
Well, it’s amazing. I mean, you know, their payout from Facebook. Do you know what it was? It’s shocking.

Yoli
No, I don’t.

Grad
Eleven million. That’s all they got. And there’s two of them… just five and a half million each. Anyway, so they took that 11 million and they turned it into what is now a multi billion dollar Bitcoin Empire. It’s pretty impressive. So yeah, at some point, you got to take your hat off and say, way to go. They were in the Olympics too, they’re on the rowing team, the Olympics. They’re this object of ridicule, but I don’t know… maybe it’s the name, Winklevoss.

Yoli
They’re going to get the last laugh.

Grad
They’re going to get the last laugh. I think they’re a real story. What’s really interesting, I’ll end on this is that what you’re seeing, what I think is really exciting is all the social platforms are moving heavily into commerce, right? Especially Facebook, they’re being really aggressive and doing some very cool stuff. I don’t know if you’ve seen Facebook video. It’s very cool. It’s like the new QVC. So as you see all these social platforms move into commerce. And as you see Bitcoin and blockchain become, more standardized ways of paying for things. Wouldn’t it be delicious… wouldn’t you pay a million dollars to be at the meeting where the WInklevoss twins sit down with Facebook? I mean, I think that would be poetic.

Grad
All right. Yoli, as always amazing having you on. Thank you for joining and enjoy the weather in Mexico. I’m in Florida so I’m not that far away from you now. But we’re both in warm weather right now. Which is great. So I miss you very much. And it was great talking with you today. Thank you.

Yoli
Great talking with you. Thank you for having me.

Grad
The CXM Experience. It’s Grad Conn and Yoli. Just follow her on Twitter @YoliChisholm, or on Instagram at Yoli.Chisholm. And that’s it for the CXM Experience today, and I’ll see you next time.