Desiree Dickerson, VP of Business Operations at Lightning Labs, found Bitcoin when she encountered r/Dogecoin, and ever since, has been patiently awaiting global Bitcoin adoption ever. She is a recovering management consultant, formerly specializing in strategy and operations for large-scale IT enterprises. She received her M.S. in Biophysics & Physiology from Georgetown University and B.A. in Biological Sciences from the University of Chicago.
Interview Date : 25th June 2020
- Desiree Dickerson from Lightning Labs (All Interviews)
- From r/Dogecoin to Bitcoin
- Lightning Network Goal
- Entangled Wallets and Intermediaries
- Onboarding Feasibility
- The On-Chain Layer and The Lightning Network
- Potential Places To Release Lightning’s Full Potential
- Highlight The Women In This Industry More
- Bitcoin Reddit Forums
- Twitter or Reddit?
- Gaming Platform is The Next Social Network
- SNS Integrate Bitcoin Lightning Microtransactions
- Experiment for Future Gaming Platforms
- Full-Fledged Lightning Companies have Emerged
- Informative Podcast Resources
- VR and Bitcoin Lightning Network Struggles
Desiree Dickerson from Lightning Labs (All Interviews)
I was really excited when you reached out to me because reaching out to communities in Japan and other Asian markets is important to us. We know there is interest for Bitcoin in these markets and the Lightning Network as well. The language barrier is a little challenging but that shouldn’t stop us from growing as a community.
From r/Dogecoin to Bitcoin
My academic background is in the sciences. Back when I was in graduate school, I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I spent a lot of time on the internet as we all do. I have been on Reddit forever, and that is where I stumbled upon r/Dogecoin. r/Dogecoin was my first introduction to the crypto world. I had heard of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency on the news and the internet, but I did not immediately connect for me. The community in the r/Dogecoin was so nice and the entire project was all about community and fun.
They were funding projects, and sponsors, for example, NASCAR and MMA,. I thought it was fun, and became passively involved. Very soon, I realized that it was a system that was a fun version of something much more powerful and impactful, and that is when I transitioned over to the Bitcoin sphere. I understand now that Bitcoin has the ability to change the way we do things.
Lightning Network Goal
The purpose of the lightning network is to make Bitcoin faster, easier, and cheaper to use. Our role at Lightning Labs is to build the infrastructure and the rails for bitcoin to work. Lightning is the HTTP to Bitcoin’s TCP/IP protocol. One thing that is interesting about Lightning Labs is that we are not the big, sexy app that is going to be the “next big thing” or killer app. We are building the infrastructure for someone else to build the killer app on. You can say we are the Intel-processor for lightning apps. We are going to power that killer app and all lightning apps.
Lightning Usability and Accessibility
Everyone has different challenges, but for us, one of the more interesting and important ones to solve is usability and ease of access. For the past few years, it has been an environment for very technical people and engineers to develop, however at some point, we need to make sure that this technology reaches everybody, from me to my grandmother, we all should be using this, and it should be that easy.
Entangled Wallets and Intermediaries
However, it is very complicated right now. You have to get a bitcoin wallet, then find a way to get bitcoin, then you have to create a lightning wallet, and send bitcoin to your lightning wallet; all that is not feasible for most people. This is why we need to focus on usability and think about the people we are building for. Ideally, non-custodial solutions are the best, and that is a big part of why I became interested in bitcoin; to get rid of the middleman and bypass intermediaries. That is an important aspect of this technology, but at the end of the day, many people won’t have the technical knowledge to hold their own keys or “actually care”, so we need to work making technology that meets these people in the middle.
The end goal is non-custodial solutions, but in the meantime, we need to start onboarding more people. Moreover, we have to think about how to do that, whether that is custodial or not. There has been tremendous progress in a lot of the wallets and apps people are building like Breez and Strike. Also, ZEBEDEE just announced their wallet that is targeted towards video games and gamers. We are seeing a lot of new entrants to Lightning onboarding through video games.
Getting wallets into the hands of new users is another challenge. How do we get people interested, educate them, and get them onboarded? For example, how we onboarded people on using credit cards. However, before that, it was cash and cheques only. How do you get people to mentally transition from this traditional way of handling assets to do it in a completely virtual way?
My building concierge asked me about bitcoin recently and he was very critical about it being completely virtual. I asked him “on a day-to-day basis, do you see your money, like when you pay your bills or buy something on Amazon”, and he said “no”. Why do you care so much about having physical cash when you bring up bitcoin? But we don’t mind when our fiat money is digital. This is another issue we should be addressing, but thankfully people seem to understand it a little more nowadays.
We do need to do a better job at educating people and speaking to people at whatever level they are coming from; from a complete beginner or the most technical person. From a business and marketing perspective, “how do we make it interesting?” “how do we make it easy to onboard?” are some of the things that I am really focused on personally.
The On-Chain Layer and The Lightning Network
On-chain is the layer of truth, that is to say, where every transaction is recorded. It is slow, but it is good at what it does. The Lightning Network is the second layer that makes it more efficient. Lightning is the HTTP to Bitcoin’s TCP/IP protocol.
You can think of the Lightning Network as sitting on top Bitcoin. Lightning is a huge spider web or network of payment channels, and all the channels can connect with the others through this network. First, you send your funds off-chain to the Lightning network by opening a payment channel. You can then send bitcoin instantly to anyone in this network with insanely low fees. You can do this back and forth, simply updating your channel balances, and not have to broadcast to the bitcoin blockchain and wait for each transaction to settle. Eventually, you can close your channels and send your balances from your Lightning “hot wallet”, to your off-chain, or bitcoin “cold storage”.
Potential Places To Release Lightning’s Full Potential
I think there is a lot of interest for the Lightning Network and Bitcoin in places living under repressive governmental regimes and dealing with hyperinflation. We can see the potential of Bitcoin by looking at how much impact it has had on the people in Venezuela. The humanitarian impact is really powerful and there are a lot of folks working on that.
There are also a lot of new Lightning use cases popping up. For example, Stak, which is a mechanical turk type site where you can perform micro tasks and get paid satoshis for it. Lightning is creating new ways for people to earn money and actually become your own bank.
There are fun use cases as well, my favorite being Lightning-enabled gaming. A few companies are popping up helping develop the Lightning and bitcoin gaming ecosystem: Zebedee, ThndrGames, Donner Lab, and Satoshi’s Games. We’ve also created, MintGox, a platform for showcasing and testing out the games and technology emerging in this space.
Highlight The Women In This Industry More
There are a lot of women in this industry and this space. but they are not highlighted as much as they deserve. There are many powerful women in this industry, like our CEO, Elizabeth Stark, Meltem Demirors at CoinShares, and Amanda Fabiano from Fidelity. Maybe women aren’t getting the visibility that they deserve because they are busy building and not wasting time on Twitter?
Bitcoin Reddit Forums
Reddit is an interesting place with forums for any kind of community. r/Bitcoin and r/Dogecoin are forums I am part of, but at the same time, you have to be careful because there is a lot of bad information and misinformation out there that sometimes gets mixed in. If you are new, Reddit is not the first place I would recommend for information. There also is a lightning subreddit, but there hasn’t been a lot of activity. Thus, on Reddit, you have to pick and choose your information. But definitely stay away from r/BTC. Other than Reddit, Twitter, Telegram, Slack, and Discord are also good places to start getting involved.
Twitter or Reddit?
Reddit is a forum where there are specific groups and it is very much moderated. Reddit is, basically, a really scary library, but the information is organized and there is less fighting than you will find on Twitter, and “Crypto Twitter”.
Twitter is a disaster zone where people say whatever they want whenever they want. It is full of fighting within and outside the Bitcoin and crypto communities, but this has an entertainment factor to it. On Twitter, you can not only witness people talking about altcoin and bitcoin, etc., and fighting over it, but you can also see fully grown adults fighting about dietary habits.
A good thing about Twitter is that you can have access to accurate and reliable information if you follow the right people. For example, if you follow Alex Bosworth on the Lightning Labs team, he is tweeting a wealth of information every day. I follow him to learn about what we are doing and the technology as well. It is worth spending time finding out what you are interested in, and searching for the right people to follow who talk about what you are most interested in. For example, there is a huge bitcoin mining community on twitter for the ones who are interested in mining. For me, a tweet mostly about the Lightning network as well about the gaming use-case as that interests me the most.
Gaming Platform is The Next Social Network
I have always played video games since I was very young because my dad used to play games. I know people who are really good at these games and spend an incredible amount of time and money doing it. When they win, they receive whatever in-game currency is native to that game, and that is where it stays – in the game. Then what? You have a bunch of useless points locked inside that game. However, if you are earning satoshis in the game, then they don’t have to stay there, you can cash them out to your Lightning wallet.
Esports is quickly becoming social platforms and social networks for people to interact. It makes sense that the next social network would have a currency built-in. As we are going through a pandemic, this new social network might come earlier than we initially thought.
SNS Integrate Bitcoin Lightning Microtransactions
The next phase is the transfer of value through social networks and interactions. As of now, you can buy things directly on Facebook or Instagram in the app, by just clicking an ad directly. This type of buy and sell options within the social networks is the direction in which we are heading. Also, micropayments are a powerful use-case. If you are in a game, no denomination is smaller than a cent. The denominations only go so far in every fiat currency, but with bitcoin you receive satoshis; a satoshi is so small, so paying 10 satoshis for a task you have accomplished in a game is not that much. For players, however, it really builds up after some time. And even though it is worth so little, it is much more than others in game currencies.
Zebedee is one of those companies where its ZEBEDEE Unity SDK allows developers to easily integrate Bitcoin Lightning microtransactions into their games and digital experiences. Once integrated you will be able to follow development flows to introduce the ability to pay, receive, and withdraw Bitcoin through your game.
Moreover, such platforms are an amazing opportunity to onboard people directly to the lightning network. I talked with Data Labs and asked “how many people have actually used bitcoin?”. I was amazed to hear how many people in the platform had actually never used Bitcoin before even on those platforms. They are just interested in the cool games, but now they came out from it making money. So, I think that this might be a phenomenal opportunity to onboard completely new users to lightning and Bitcoin.
Experiment for Future Gaming Platforms
A few months ago, before the pandemic hit North America, I was trying to think of ways to highlight the progress being made around Lightning and Bitcoin gaming and had a couple of ideas in mind for events and conferences. Unfortunately, the pandemic put an end to most of those plans. However, it led to something even greater – MintGox. Partnering with Simon Cowell, and the other guys at Zebedee and THNDR GAMES we started a monthly virtual event series that features various games built on lightning. It’s been a fun few months and we’re happy to report that this use-case works. It is like an experiment for how the future of gaming will look like in a world where we cannot interact in person, and it has been very successful so far.
Full-Fledged Lightning Companies have Emerged
The scale and popularity of Lightning Network and bitcoin keep growing. Last year we held The Lightning Conference in Berlin, which had over 400 attendees. It was incredible. The Lightning Network alone has gone through immense growth. It went from a few devs who were tinkering and experimenting with new ideas, to now, where there are numerous full-fledged companies built on Lightning that are doing serious work. Companies like FOLD, Bitrefill, and LN Markets, among many others, have seen a sharp increase in growth. There has also been increased VC interest over the past year in Lightning businesses. It is exciting to see this level of interest and growth.
Informative Podcast Resources
There are so many amazing podcasts. Stephan Livera’s podcast and Peter McCormack’s What Bitcoin Did are both incredibly informative and accessible. Other good ones are Mart Bent’s Tales from the Crypt, Noded with Pierre Rochard and Michael Goldstein, and Brad Mill’s Magic Internet Money. Furthermore, there are some Lightning specific podcasts like Lightning Junkies out there as well.
You will be super informed after listening to these kinds of podcasts for a week. The man behind Fulmo Lightning, Jeff Gallas, who is also a community organizer, posts great video interviews on his YouTube. He gets a lot of great guests on his show, in addition to all of his events.
VR and Bitcoin Lightning Network Struggles
We have been playing around with the intersection of VR and bitcoin / Lightning Network, but it is still early. It is a challenge trying to pay Lightning invoices while totally consumed in a VR headset.
Before the pandemic, I had never used or tried out a VR headset at all. I recently borrowed someone’s for a couple of months, and now I am sold and obsessed with it. I even use it for working out. I live a lot of my live-in VR now, much more so due to the pandemic situation.
The problem may be that VR technology is still very early on in its development. It is like Bitcoin and Lightning, in that not everyone has adopted it yet, but I do think that there is huge potential there. That is one question we are addressing with MintGox: “how can we start transacting, not only virtually, but also in virtual reality?”
With Lightning, you have to have a QR code and your Lightning wallet on your phone, but how would you pay for something with your phone by scanning a QR code that is VR? As of now, you can’t. So, that is a major hurdle.
Interviewer , Editor : Lina Kamada
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