How did Bitcoin Magazine start? : Interview with John Riggins Bitcoin Magazine (All Interviews)

John Riggins Is the Head of Operations at BTC Inc, parent company of Bitcoin Magazine. He spent several years in Shanghai and mainland China where he interacted with the Asian Bitcoin community. With a strong group of tech-savvy friends who were interested in Bitcoin and digital money since University, he joined the space through Bitcoin Magazine to serve the Bitcoin community in the form of Media. Riggins has worked with some of the most influential and prominent people in the Bitcoin community in Asia, including Vitalik Buterin, Bo Shen and Xiao Feng.

Interview Date : 9th December 2020

John Riggins (All Interviews)

How did Bitcoin Magazine start?

I got into Bitcoin in my senior year at University in 2013. A group of friends discovered Bitcoin, and us being a little libertarian-minded, we thought it was very interesting. After college, I took a job at FedEx, an American multinational delivery services company, and worked in a revenue strategy group developing alternative payment options for countries around the world. Thanks to that position, I spent some time in Asia. Together with the team back then, we onboarded Alipay and WeChat pay. Spending some time especially in China blew me away by how far ahead Asia was getting in terms of digital payments. Around the same time, my group of friends from college who got into the Bitcoin space had started a Bitcoin company. They had decided that, as fresh college grads without real connections, experience, and exposure to this still-nascent industry, the easiest way to get involved was via the media industry. Back in 2014-15, there was a lack of onboarding material for Bitcoiners not only in English but in anything. David Bailey, the CEO and founder of Bitcoin Magazine, and the team started a media called yBitcoin and over time other brands were added, including Bitcoin Magazine, to form BTC Media.

How did you join the Team?

Our CEO was looking to branch out  to become a more international media group. And, because I had majored in Mandarin in College and had experience with the Chinese business market, he called me up and offered me a position in his team. Later, we opened our Shanghai office in 2015. In moving to Shanghai, we raised a little funding from a new VC in Shanghai FBS Capital. Later we also opened a media brand in Korea with a partner there, thus we were able to create and expand  crypto and Bitcoin media in the Korean language as well. I was very fortunate to receive the opportunity of working with some of the smartest people in the industry.

Wasn’t Bitcoin Magazine created by Vitalik Buterin?

The team went to conferences all over the US and the world meeting all kinds of companies related to Bitcoin after we had just launched. At that time, Vitalik Buterin had started Bitcoin Magazine, and he had done some great writing. Through some connections and interactions, the yBitcoin team got to know the Bitcoin Magazine team and that is also the time when Vitalik founded Ethereum. So we bought Bitcoin Magazine from the founding team, and thus, David and his team became the custodian of Bitcoin Magazine. That is how our magazine became a growing subset of the media business.

How is Bitcoin Magazine’s connection with Vitalik’s today?

We bought Bitcoin Magazine from Vitalik, but we were in close contact running in the same circles in the industry before we made that acquisition. Today, we consider the Bitcoin Magazine brand the bible of Bitcoin, and take our job as the magazine’s custodian very seriously. It’s one of the things we are proud of to be today.

How is Vitalik as a person?

Vitalik is a brilliant guy. If you read some of his early writings on Bitcoin, you get a sense of his way of explaining technical aspects of Bitcoin. They are readable and it comes  across well with a range of intellects and expertise in technology, which was very valuable for Bitcoin Magazine’s early phases. I spent some time with Vitalik in Shanghai as we were partners in Shanghai Venture Capital. I was impressed by how he drove into Chinese and essentially became fluent in the language. He truly is full of curiosity and respected in the industry.

What do you think of Ethereum?

We were skeptical of Ethereum in the beginning, but today it has developed into a massive multifunctional infrastructure with potential that is very different from Bitcoin. As a company, we are more on the pro-Bitcoin side above everything else, but we still have a lot of respect for him and what he did for Bitcoin Magazine. He remains our friend, and he still believes in Bitcoin. I don’t think he has something negative to say about it nor the technology. He wanted to do something different and did so by starting a project. That’s what he has continued doing.

How would you describe Bitcoin Magazine?

I would describe it as the bible of Bitcoin. It holds some of Bitcoins earliest writings written by people who have made it in the industry. It also has some of the older pieces with the best technical coverage of Bitcoin’s development for its whole history. Aaron van Wirdum, who I would consider being one of the best technical writers in Bitcoin, recently collaborated with Pete Rizzo, a long time former Coindesk Editor-in-Chief, to write a fantastic article called“The Untold Story of the First Bitcoin War”. I think that is an article example that speaks to the quality of writers who are Bitcoin-focused. There is also some definitive writing about the lightning network which also were some of the earliest written in a readable language.

How do you fact-check detailed news articles?

We have a network of journalists who have typical journalistic sources and fact-checking processes. The industry is small and people talk to each other, so it’s usually not too difficult to get to the bottom of any controversy. Nevertheless, typical journalistic actions need to be confirmed by talking to the right people and doing the right fact-checking to conclude an analysis that sticks to the facts.

How does the team stay in touch when you have geographical barriers?

We don’t have a single point of failure geographically. Our headquarter is in Nashville, Tennessee, but we have people in Europe, Asia, as well as from the west coast to the east coast in the US. Other media platforms like Cointelegraph, for example, went with the model of franchising out to different regions early on. Due to this, as they and the industry have grown, it may have cost them a little communicative and cooperative quality. Such media does need to coordinate internally in a more efficient manner. Even though we have people employed from different parts of the world, we don’t have franchises and work closely with people wherever they are. 

What is P2SH about?

The battle for P2SH is the untold story of the first Bitcoin crisis when it was at risk of collapsing. This incident continued until the end of 2010, and the authors Aaron Van Wirdum and Pete Rizzo explain it in a fluent and artistic manner readable for anyone. This article goes in-depth about how Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin and changed the protocol 8 times until he gradually stepped away from the project. After Satoshi left the Bitcoin project publicly, he gave the role as the main developer to Gavin Andersen. Within the group of Bitcoin core developers, the first upgrade of Bitcoin was revealed by Russell O’Connor. The upgrade was made as the team found a potential exploit that could crash Bitcoin nodes and destroy the whole network. The findings of the potential threat by Russel O’Connor and the team got the attention of the old-school Bitcoin circles. Wallets were “bare” and there was no security, so people’s wallets could be manipulated by owners themselves or a third party that could steal an asset holder’s whole digital asset collection. There was no way to move forward with the Bitcoin project the way it was, thus P2SH, censored Pay to script hash, was created. This allowed the sender to commit funds to a hash of the arbitrary valid script, and it is used mainly for MultiSig and non-native SegWit transactions till today. The problem was eventually resolved, but this was one example of issues in Bitcoin’s early days the community had to solve.

How was Bitcoin Black Friday?

In November, held the Bitcoin Black Friday event, an initiative highlighting Bitcoins use in e-commerce. We did an article where we analyze Bitcoin Black Friday and I think that article which was released on Thanksgiving Day was our most-read article of that week, clearly showing that people are looking for Bitcoin product deals. Black Friday in the US is the biggest shopping day, and that goes for the crypto industry e-commerce too.

What Stance do you take when it Comes to Bitcoin?

We are all about Bitcoin at Bitcoin Magazine, so we certainly agree with those who say “hold on to your BTC”. The value proposition for spending Bitcoin, at least for me, is that it has to offer me a better deal paying in Bitcoin than holding it. For example, it gives me access to make necessary payments when I might be abroad. Also, it is the easiest way to get a local currency through a Bitcoin ATM. Besides, statistics of this year’s Bitcoin Black Friday show that people spend BTC on some exclusive Bitcoin tool deals, so people around the world pay in Bitcoin because of its accessibility and easy-to-use nature. This occurs more and more with the years, especially since the Lightning Network has expanded because it is the fastest and cheapest way. We support Bitcoin and hyper Bitcoinization, but we think that a circular economy is also a part of that. Therefore, if merchants want your Bitcoin, they need to give a reason for you to pay in it. So, it is all about incentives for individuals to make that choice.

What Kind of Sponsors Do You Work with?

We focus only on Bitcoin, Bitcoin products, and companies that have ties to Bitcoin. That’s also how we think of our sponsors. We want all our sponsors to have some relevance to either be Bitcoin focused or have a Bitcoin audience. That is how we filter and choose our sponsors. Certainly, we make sure that all of our sponsors and partners are doing the right thing operating above ground all around the world.

What Do you like about Bitcoin?

Everything that got people interested in Bitcoin in the first place is what I like about Bitcoin. For example, being sovereign money, peer-to-peer, and uncensorable are some of the top features why it is so intriguing. I don’t need to rely on an institution to make sure I can conduct a transaction or do business. That borderless nature of it is also what stable money needs.

How do you think Michael Saylor has come to the Space?

Michael Saylor has taken the world by storm. MicroStrategy has gone into Bitcoin with enormous faith and a strong ground which is a very bold move. It speaks to Saylor’s conviction in his Bitcoin thesis. His thoughts and belief in Bitcoin is super bullish, and his thesis about not keeping your money in dollars, and about sovereign debt versus Bitcoin, etc., is very compelling, and we support him on his thesis.

What do you think of Companies like Fidelity and Paypal?

We have worked with Fidelity before, and even have had them in our conferences in the past. It has been interesting to watch them develop their long-term plans not just for brokerage and investment services, but also for mining as well. I think it’s already serving to legitimize the space to their contemporaries. Once they launch a custody product for all their retail and institutional users in a seamless way, it is going to create a bullish demand for Bitcoin. I believe they encourage custody for individuals, institutions, and others who use Fidelity to take a position in Bitcoin.

Paypal has a massive network of users that may not have had as easy access to Bitcoin before Paypal launching that connection. Another avenue for accessing Bitcoin means some percentage greater demand for Bitcoin daily. We saw Square’s Cash App, and its numbers there were impressive. Thus, I would expect a similar volume of transactions of Bitcoin over Paypal as people are worrying about how much time there is left for them to buy Bitcoin under 20K in USD. I believe we have already crossed that line, but still think it is cheap to get some.

What Podcast/Events Do You Do?

We have our “Let’s Talk Bitcoin” podcast network which is an audio version of additional content we have. I have a more personal podcast called “Bitcoin in Asia” where we have discussions with people in Asia and around the world who interact with the Asian Bitcoin ecosystem. Relevant development news, themes, and trends that are occurring in Asia and how they affect Bitcoins overall growth are all brought up. Besides podcasts and news contents, we are planning the Bitcoin Conference 2021. We are following the COVID-19 situation closely, especially the travel industry and hope it will recover soon. We certainly would like all of our international participants to come and take part in the conference. We feel good about the progress of the vaccine, but we are not going to do anything which will put people’s health in danger. This conference will be the most important Bitcoin conference for 2021 as it will mark the next bull run. We owe this to the community, the Bitcoin ecosystem, and to the people who are onboarding into Bitcoin. I am the most excited for this event, and to meet the key speakers and special guests  like Nick Szabo, Tony Hawk, Jack Dorsey, Chamath Palihapitiya, and many more.

What are the current struggles with the Media Industry?

The media business model is something that is much discussed not only in traditional media circles, but in niche media of Crypto and Bitcoin as well. Covid-19 hit the event business aspect of the media industry the hardest, and it’s still something media platforms are dealing with. We have been trying to develop strategies around broadcast and other parts of the business to make up for the event business aspect of it. It is not futile as it’s all about having that trust with your audience and community. I think as long as you have that trust and provide value to your viewers, there is a way for sustaining a media.

Interviewer , Editor : Lina Kamada


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