Naomi Brockwell is a staple of the crypto scene. She first started making videos back in 2013, and gained a following with her lighthearted take on all things bitcoin, like her 2015 Taylor Swift Cover “Everything Has Changed: Lovesong for Satoshi Nakamoto Bitcoin Whitepaper.”
Unlike certain (unnamed) people in the space, Brockwell doesn’t take herself too seriously. She loves a wig. Or several. She teams up with a llama to explain blockchain to unsuspecting tourists in Central Park. She interviews a man dressed up as the bitcoin white paper. But she’s also eager to talk Austrian economics and the parallels between blockchain and VoIP technology. BREAKER caught up with Brockwell between conferences (she estimates she’s MCed at least 20 this year), making content for her channel and podcast, and her work on a “crypto-noir thriller” called HardFork.
I know you go to a ton of conferences. Which ones have stood out this year?
I just got back from Blockchain South in New Zealand and that was incredible. We were in in Queenstown and it was probably the most stunning place I ever visited in my life. I felt like I was in this Disney World, and the caliber of speakers was really great.
Who have been some of your favorite people to interview?
In New Zealand, I interviewed Jeff Pulver. He is someone who was instrumental in saving VoIP technology back in the ’90s when the internet was first coming around, and people were learning about video and audio on the internet. The telecom industry came around and said, “Oh, this should be regulated as telecommunications,” and he was someone who was instrumental in saying, “No, this this is an entirely new technology. This shouldn’t be shoehorned into this existing archaic infrastructure because that’s going to slow down the innovation.” He gave this great presentation about how important it was to be proactive in fighting this, and he had a lot of lessons in that for blockchain, as well.
Who else is an interesting person to interview?
[I love speaking with] Erik Voorhees at conferences. I got to chat with him at the Satoshi Roundtable this year. Bruce Fenton always has great things say. I am working with Patrick Byrne from Overstock on the TV series that I’m producing at the moment, so I got to interview him at PorcFest this year, which was pretty fun. He’s on the advisory board of the HardFork series, which is this sci-fi thriller that we’re with putting together.
That’s awesome. When will that come out?
We’re in development stages at the moment. The idea would be to go into production early next year, although anything could happen in production [Laughs]. So we’ll see. But it’s been really fun to work on that.
What’s your role in HardFork?
I’m a producer and I’m also an actor. Actually, I found out about them by [social media platform] Steemit. There was this group that said that they were putting together a “crypto-noir thriller” and I was like, “that’s the best genre I’ve ever heard.”
The director is a Sundance alumni, [and] the lead actor and writer, he’s on Ozark from Netflix. I was like, “Wow, this is a legit group,” so I reached out to them. And they said “Oh, Naomi, we were actually going to reach out to you.” So I’ve been working with them for the past year. It’s been the most fun series I’ve ever been part of.
I would imagine everyone working on it is knowledgeable about crypto then?
Oh, absolutely. It’s interesting because these people found themselves through crypto avenues, but they were also well-known in the art space. Basically it was this iterative process. We raised all the incubation money from Steemit, just by creating content, putting it out there, raising money, using that money, putting into production, creating more teasers and things, putting it out there. We raised probably about $30,000 and then got our first million from DASH from there.
How are you dividing your time now between that and working on content for your own channel?
The travel just works really symbolically, with the MCing, and then with my show. A lot of the people we’re approaching for the show are also really great interviews.
Who do you think of as your audience on your channel? People who are new to crypto?
It’s a bit of a mix. I’m finding that that my channel’s growing really fast at the moment and a lot of people coming over are new. I just did an interview with Andrew Hales who’s a big YouTube star about “What is Bitcoin?” and that was interesting, because I saw a huge uptick in my viewers and I knew a lot of them were coming over from his interview, and a lot of them wouldn’t have had any exposure to bitcoin. I was happy that I got them curious enough about it to check out more content about blockchain.
How did you get into blockchain in the first place?
I’m super fascinated by Austrian economics. When I first moved to the States eight years ago, I was taken under the wing by the economics editor of Barron’s, Gene Epstein, and we started this Austrian economics reading group together. I was reading a lot of Rothbard, you know, What Has the Government Done to Our Money?, a lot of Hayek. My background really came from wanting to see a solution to centralized banking. I was super fascinated with the financial crash of 2008. Saw a lot of people devastated by that. I wanted to find out if there were ways that we can safeguard against something like that happening again. When I heard about cryptocurrency, it was because a lot of my friends come from the math and physics world and they were super geeky and all knew about it. My housemate at the time was trading cryptocurrencies and his best friend was building this gambling platform, and so everyone was in this very early stage.
"This was also the time [of] WikiLeaks. When they froze accounts, when they banned donations to WikiLeaks website, I started to see such a correlation between people who control the money supply and being able to control the actions of the population."
Do you remember when this was?
This was 2012, and 2013 was when I first started making videos. It didn’t take me long to say, “Oh, wow, if this works, this is incredible. This is an alternative to centralized banking; this is a way for us to have an alternative currency where we’re not losing at least two percent a year for inflation, where we’re not having accounts shut down.” This was also the time [of] WikiLeaks. When they froze accounts, when they banned donations to WikiLeaks website, I started to see such a correlation between people who control the money supply and being able to control the actions of the population, so I was really interested in having an alternative form of money that couldn’t be controlled. I just started playing around with it. I started trading futures right off the bat. I didn’t know what a margin call was. I learned that lesson pretty quickly [Laughs] and decided I did not have what it took to be a trader. So I stopped doing that and started making videos about awesome people and awesome applications of this technology.
Do you see cryptocurrency as totally replacing centralized banking?
I definitely see a place for centralized structures. At the moment, there’s a lot less friction when you have centralized structures because centralizing things it’s often makes it easier, if everything’s done in one place that can sometimes make it cheaper, when you have economies of scale, et cetera. I can see bitcoin coexisting with fiat money, coexisting with gold, and coexisting with a bunch of other cryptocurrencies. We’re going to have ecosystem of probably a lot of different blockchain-related tech, all existing at once … and I think that’s okay. Different things have different use-cases. [The] US dollar currently is really great for paying my taxes. Gold is a great store of value. Bitcoin is really great for transferring across borders instantaneously.
What is your biggest frustration about the space right now?
Nouriel Roubini. [Laughs.] No, I would say that in general, to have him as an example of this, I think the misconception of bitcoin and what a revolution this is. We’ve literally figured out how to create digital assets that are irreproducible. At a time when we are living so much of our lives on the internet when our assets are in digital form, when we’re constantly on social media, and connected, to reach a point where we now have digital assets that can’t be reproduced is a huge step forward. We’re going [to have] a huge restructuring of how we live a lot of our lives. That’s exciting, and people miss that point. People also miss the point that we’ve reached a point where individuals have more control than they ever had before.
You look at the Cody Wilson case where they’re deciding “Are we going to let him release these blueprints?” and the question isn’t whether or not you’re going to let him. The question is: “These have been released. What’s our reaction going to be?” We’ve reached a point where we have these infrastructures now that can’t be shut down, that decentralize control, and people—especially in positions of power—haven’t realized this. They’re pretending that they still have authority in these areas, and that’s frustrating to see people not really discussing this issue. I think that’s really exciting—especially in places around the world where people are being persecuted and subjugated; this is going to be a lifeline for a lot of these people.
Speaking of Roubini, there’s been talk of a Roubini vs. Vitalik Buterin debate. Do you think that would be productive?
[Laughs.] I’m so sick of debating the fundamentals. I don’t want to hear a debate with some guy who just operates on ad hominems, versus someone who actually works full-time with the tech.
Is there some critic who you think does understand the tech and could be productive in their criticisms?
Honestly, no. I think people who really understand the tech are involved in the industry somehow. Perry Metzger, who is probably the first bitcoin skeptic—it was his mailing list that that bitcoin white paper was first released on, and he’s been skeptical about a lot of aspects of it—but he’s such a smart guy that he understands that there there are issues. He is actually a big fan of Tezos at the moment. People like that, who don’t necessarily see bitcoin as being this perfect solution to everything, I respect their opinion. I want to learn from those people. It’s not helpful to just be wearing rose-colored glasses, or pretend that everything’s fine. But it’s definitely not helpful to just be calling people losers and swear a lot.
If you could pick anyone to be on a panel to moderate, who would you pick?
Scott Stornetta, who I interviewed recently, was amazing. [He’s] the inventor of the early blockchain, and and he provided this fascinating explanation and perspective on the industry. If I could get my All-Star panel together, he’d probably on it, and you’d probably have [ShapeShift CEO] Erik Voorhees on there. There are just so many awesome people in this industry, it would be hard for me to pick. This isn’t a world of lambos and “moon.” This is a world where people sacrificed everything in the belief that they’re creating a world where people have more control over their finances and more control over their lives. I’ve seen people lose everything and build everything back up again—whether it’s because of regulation or because the markets turn—but they’re people who believe in what they were doing. To be surrounded by inspirational people like that, I feel super lucky.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Photo courtesy Naomi Brockwell.