web3 by Ian Rogers, Ledger

A privacy-centric web3, reminiscent of “the beginnings of the Internet”.

They did not launch a blockchain or token. However, Ledger stands out as the French technological champion of a web3 ecosystem still in the making. The company took advantage of the recent crypto-asset bubble to become a unicorn and strengthen its management. Ian Rogers, who previously worked for Bernard Arnault, Tim Cook, Dr Dre or the Beastie Boys, joined the company in January 2021 as Chief Experience Officer. He shares with us his vision of the future of the web.

You are a specialist in securing crypto-assets thanks to “hardware wallets”, kinds of secure USB keys. The subject may seem very technical: how to create the hype around such a product, and more generally how to create a strong and attractive brand in this context?

Ian Rogers: Keep in mind that it takes time for an innovation to be accepted. Many people remember the iPod as a big hit, but if you look at the sales charts, it took years to become a mainstream product. Becoming a “cultural object” is important, but culture develops at its own pace. This is why fashion brands are rarely sought after by venture capitalists: they take time to catch on.

At Ledger, we listen to what’s happening in the world, and we react to issues that do not directly affect us, such as inflation, the fact that those who do not have access to banking services want alternatives, or that our governments increasingly seek to know how we manage our money, how we seek to leave poverty, what opportunities we seize… Similarly, we have nothing to do with the success from NBA Top Shot or Bored Ape Yacht Club. All this happens with or without Ledger, but we are part of this global cultural movement and have things to offer in this context, such as securing crypto-assets.

This way of using culture is what you did while working in the music or luxury industry, notably being CEO of Beats Music, then director of Apple Music or even Chief Digital Officer of LVMH . What links do you make between these companies and Ledger? And how do you use these experiences today?

IR: What strikes me is the difficulty of conceiving that a niche sector can become mainstream. When I started working in digital music in the early 90s, few people believed in it. We didn’t yet have an iPod, a high-speed Internet connection or a smartphone to really change dimension… And there again, some people told me that it would remain reserved for the rich. You have to keep your belief in technology. Many smart people have been myopic in recent years about what it has to offer in the long term, and yet here we are today with 6.5 billion people connected to the Internet via mobile!

And beyond tech, you have to believe in uses and culture. For me, MySpace was far from revolutionary at first glance. It was so ugly! But what allowed him to be popular, and to “cross the chasm”, according to the title of the famous book [Crossing the Chasm, publié par Geoffrey A.Moore en 1991, se penche notamment sur la façon dont les innovateurs peuvent accélérer le cycle d’adoption de leur technologie, NDLR], is that the network was carried by the music. Everyone over 30 thought it was stupid, and everyone under 30 had to be there. It was the beginning of what we then experienced with Facebook, Instagram, Snap and TikTok.

You often compare Ledger to Netscape, in the sense that Ledger is a gateway to web3, thanks in particular to Ledger Live, its decentralized application store. How do you analyze the company’s strategy, given what you have just described to us?

IR: The analogy with Netscape is good because what we do is both simple, but as necessary as it is powerful, and is part of the evolution of the web. The web1 allowed us to access online content through a search engine, and we had to log in with a password. We have done more and more things online, and produced more and more content and data that says a lot about us, our identity and our consumption habits. But we have lost our sovereignty over this data, even our identity, with the use of the Facebook, Google, Twitter or iCloud login.

Web3 allows us to reclaim them. It is “privacy centric”, and the future of identification goes through the ownership of our data, through the wallet, which keeps our identity, our money or simply an NFT which proves that we are members of a club. We can draw a parallel with a classic wallet, which contains your money, but also your driver’s license or your Sephora membership card. The wallet will be something common and necessary for everyone in the future. Besides, I don’t think you should say wallet, “hardware wallet”, “cold wallet” or even “signing device”. We must say Ledger, in the same way that we do not say “paper handkerchief”, but directly Kleenex!

Ledger means “register” in French, but we often speak of “key Ledger”. In your marketing strategy, you multiply collaborations with luxury players like Fendi to create, for example, Ledgers which are also jewels, or even to do product placement in rap clips. From a cultural and symbolic point of view, can we say that you want to make the possession of a Ledger a sign of success? Is this a key to success? And how can this image be reconciled with that of a common product for daily use?

IR: This is a difficult question… I will answer you by citing the principle of “culture of generosity”. As a skate fan, I have seen many brands try to appropriate the codes of this sport, to take its values ​​and integrate it into their marketing, without giving anything in return. When I come to eat at your place, I bring flowers or a bottle, it’s natural! The same should be done in culture.

When we collaborated with fashion brand The Hundreds, Bobby Hundreds, one of the co-founders, told me he didn’t see it as advertising, but as a way to educate, to bring security and peace of mind for fans of the brand, who used software wallets vulnerable to hacks. People need to understand why they buy our products. I think the key is there. When I leave your house after dinner, I want to be invited back because you had an interesting time, not that you’re relieved that I’m leaving!

So yes, it may seem like a sign of success, but it’s a side. You have to stay in your role and you must not disappoint by making false promises. People do what they want with their money, they can spend it to party or to make the world a better place. Our goal is to provide them with security.

As you said, it can take years for an innovation to take hold on a daily basis. What services do you use daily through your Ledger?

IR: I’m very interested in generative art right now. I think this trend is really underrated and we are still struggling to realize the change that is taking place. From this point of view I really like the Art Blocks community, and I also spend a lot of time on the Objkt.com marketplace where I find a lot of works that are very accessible.

Otherwise, I occasionally use Tokenproof, a “token gating” application that gives me access to certain places if I have the associated NFT. It’s crazy to think that the technology I recently used to go to a Halloween party in Los Angeles is more advanced than the one that allowed me to enter the country…

I also use Satisfy running, a French brand that recently launched shoes with the Norda brand. They are associated with an NFT that you can connect to your Strava account. It evolves according to your performance and gives you access to challenges. These new practices are quite interesting. These NFTs are not intended to cost thousands of dollars. It’s just fun, useful or community.

Finally, I have just acquired a work from the Roll Forever project, by photographer and skateboarder Dave Bachinsky. I’m quite proud of it, I don’t know at all what it will be worth in the future but I think it’s cool and that’s enough for me! All of this reminds me of the early days of the Internet, where anything was possible, we didn’t really know what we were doing but we were a community and we felt we were sharing something special.

You mention generative art. Everyone was surprised by the rapid progress made in artificial intelligence by platforms like DALL-E or Midjourney. When do you think the subject of web3 will become more democratic? Do you think it will still take years or we will also be surprised?

IR: I think we are going to experience a development similar to that of the Internet. After the bubble burst in the early 2000s, some believed the industry would not recover. However, from 2003, when I was at Yahoo, we saw great things emerge. We thought the web was on fire, and we were still in the pre-iPhone and pre-App Store era! There are currently a lot of young talents involved in the development of web3, and we have to see what is also happening on the side of Reddit or Instagram, etc. You never know who will take the movement to the next level. But here we go, and we have no idea what this is all going to look like twenty years from now.

You mentioned the bubble. Despite the fall in prices, Ledger continues to grow and has exceeded the bar of 5 million devices sold this year. How do you explain this development?

IR: The news has worked in our favour! Self-custody, the fact of having direct access to its funds, and the securing of assets have always been at the heart of our strategy. This summer, the platforms that froze access to funds deposited by their customers gave us the best advertisement. And we must add the Solana hack… Owners of crypto-assets are increasingly aware of the dangers of software wallets, and as a result, the number of assets kept on Ledger has exploded this year.

What is your market penetration rate? And don’t you think you need to pivot your business model as this rate increases and there are fewer and fewer crypto owners to equip? How does Ledger Market, your NFT marketplace launched this summer, and Ledger Live, your decentralized application store, fit into your strategy?

IR: Our business model is very similar to that of Apple. We sell hardware and allow third-party developers to build services on our OS, and beyond that we have these transactional platforms, and we offer business services. Apple does not totally dominate its market, but it is the most valuable company in the world! People love their offer, they love the brand, and they continue to be loyal to it with each new generation of products, because they bring value to them every day. In addition, there may be an interest in having several Ledger, especially within companies that want to divide the funds and the associated risks. And to answer you on the penetration rate, we have indeed sold 5 million Ledger, but the estimates speak of 350 million crypto-asset owners in the world. Many may only have a little Dogecoin on Robinhood…Why not! But people who are seriously involved in the ecosystem use Ledger. We already keep 20% of all crypto-assets in the world, and among them, 25% of all NFTs! And it will continue, you just have to be patient. Some people told me in the 90’s that they would probably never have an e-mail address… It’s understandable, you have to be in tune with the times, don’t get carried away, and offer what the market wants at the present moment.

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