In our fifth edition of 21 Questions By Decentralize Today, we feature Colin Goltra, an advisor, investor, and researcher in the cryptocurrency space, and former Head of Cryptocurrency at one of Southeast Asia's most successful Bitcoin and fintech startups, Philippines-based Coins.ph, which was acquired by Southeast Asian on-demand multi-service platform and digital payment technology group, Go-Jek.
Let's get to know more about one of the pioneers of Crypto in the Philippines in one of our best and most insightful interviews yet.
Decentralize Today: If you could choose three words to describe yourself, what would they be and why?
Colin Goltra: Deliberate. Independent. Patient.
I'm sure there are people close to me that will mock me for self-describing as patient (perhaps "macro-patient" is a slightly better descriptor), but generally I am trying to convey a sense of long-term focus. I have strong thoughts about the life I want to live 10+ years from now and try my best to be viscerally aware of how my day-to-day decisions impact that future - at the very least, it's a helpful framework for HODL-ing!
DT: How/when did you discover Bitcoin/crypto?
CG: I hopped on the Bitcoin bandwagon in mid-2013 while I was an Investment Banker. Our firm's compliance team was (rightfully) fairly strict about preventing us from personally trading equities and other corporate securities, so people at the firm were dabbling in Bitcoin on the sid instead, since it was so niche (especially at the time) and squarely exempted from oversight by the firm's policy. My initial investment thesis had to do with the fact that Bitcoin was supporting an entire online economy (Silk Road) without any institutional infrastructure - I figured it would have even further implications once the serious technical and business talent jumped in properly. I started regularly attending the early San Francisco Bitcoin meetups soon after and have remained an active part of the Crypto ecosystem ever since. |
DT: What were you doing as a profession before crypto?
CG: Generally speaking, my career has been at the intersection of Tech and Finance. I started as an Investment Banker covering the tech sector, have been in emerging tech strategy for Samsung, and have been involved with a few different crypto/blockchain startups - most notably Coins.ph.
DT: How would you describe your current work to a 5 year old kid?
CG: I would tell the 5 year old kid that, just like in a video game, there are forms of money that only exist on the internet - and that I work with companies that want to let people use this internet money more easily.
DT: What was your first ever job (even as a kid)?
CG: I had a lot of random little endeavors as a kid, I really just wanted to make and have spending money. I made slime (glue/water/borax) and sold it at my swim meets. I froze my Halloween candy and then sold it at school a few months later. I went to the bulk stores and bought random snacks to sell at school. It was awesome, I always had the newest Game Boys and was able to buy lots of games and Pokemon cards - life was good!
In terms of a job I could put on an actual resume, I worked as a Clerk at a Law Firm for one summer when I was a teenager. Was a great summer job, but makes for a less interesting origin story.
DT: Who is your biggest inspiration when it comes to work/business?
CG: This is going to read like a VERY basic tech bro answer, but alas:
In terms of pure inspiration, basically everything Elon Musk does absolutely blows my mind (including and especially the great memes) - but I have some self-awareness that from a pure skill and talent perspective I'm just not wired in that hyper-engineering way (I mean, nobody else is either, but I'm not even on that spectrum really), so he's not a realistic role model.
Outside of Elon, three practitioner-intellectuals come to mind that have shaped how I think about the arc of my career (and life in general): Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Peter Thiel, and Naval Ravikant. Taleb's "Incerto" series is absolutely required reading and has taught me a lot of interesting frameworks to approaching life, work, and uncertainty. Thiel's work really taught me that the important work in life revolves around finding open secrets that the crowd refuses to see. Naval's work really incorporates staying present and focused on the work that matters, and to architect one's life in a way that removes the unimportant distractions.
DT: What's the best life and work advice you've ever been given?
CG: Anytime I'd freak out about my various pitfalls as a teenager, my mom would always tell me "it's not always linear" - referring to the arc and progress of one's life. It was often hard for me to incorporate that advice growing up, but as I grow older it's become an excellent mantra in basically all aspects of my life, including work/career.
DT: Your favorite superhero or fictional character, and why?
CG: Always hard to pick these things on the spot, I'm sure my actual answer will come to me the very moment this piece gets published, but I'll give it a shot.
In terms of actual comic genre characters, I think Doctor Manhattan from the 'Watchmen' universe is an incredible character. I like the way that he is perceived to be all powerful, literally godlike, yet at the same time absolutely powerless and trapped in this deterministic-timeline paradox that he has no ability to shape the course of. It was really a strangely thought-provoking concept the first time I read the graphic novel.
I also really like Oscar Isaac's character ("Nathan") in the film 'Ex Machina' - he's sort of like a modern version of Dr. Frankenstein, but the entire aesthetic of his character was super cool.
Oh, last one, I also absolutely aspire to the level of levity that Roger Sterling from 'Mad Men' has - such a brilliant character.
DT: What were you like as a student?
CG: I think I was always fairly intellectually curious and multi-disciplined. Growing up it was probably hard to say what my favorite or best subject was, I was a decent student across the board, but not a master in any one discipline. I studied Economics, Applied Statistics, and French in undergrad and later did a professional course in Software Engineering.
I hink my career also kind of maps to this meandering, as I have had very different types of roles across tech and finance, all thematically consistent but functionally different each time. I very much like it this way though.
DT: What would be your dream project if money was no object?
CG: If money were no object, I would love to be part of the terraforming of Earth that is going to eventually happen when we properly fix and control the various climate systems and ecology on this planet. A lot of it is downstream of the energy issue, but we're going to need some incredible, Elon Musk-style innovations in desalination, carbon capture, ocean cleanup, icecap reformation, etc.
In the same vein (though perhaps the exact opposite), the work happening in space colonization and resource utilization is also pretty cool.
The former gets us to a Type 1 civilization and the latter gets us to a Type 2 civilization, both of which are pretty exciting to me.
DT: What is your favorite sport or game?
CG: Growing up I was a swimmer and a water polo player. Now, my favorite sport to watch is NBA basketball. I'm a Warriors fan, but have been since they were really bad in the 90s and early 2000s (and am still a fan while they are temporarily bad again this season), not a bandwagoner I swear.
*Sure Colin, that's what they all say...
DT: You were part of a successful bitcoin startup in the Philippines. What's your most valuable insight out of that experience?
CG: Micro learning: When interacting with a crypto company, relatively little of the inconvenience you face as a user has to do with the actual crypto/blockchain technology in question, most of the hassle comes from the company having to deal with the backend legacy systems (payments, identity, regulation, etc.) on your behalf.
Macro learning: Crypto is a super cyclical business and the ecosystem in general has a really long way to go.
DT: Who are your real life heroes?
CG: I don't really have any - or if I can think of specific individuals it's too personal of an answer to share publicly. In general I try not to worship specific individuals. I really appreciate specific ideas, attributes, or virtues of admirable people in general, but then try my best to decouple that quality from the actual person.
DT: What does your family think of Bitcoin / crypto?
CG: At first my Father would try to convince me to take gains off the table every time there was a pump, but now he has a sense that I have a much longer time horizon than the short and intermediate term moves. I've been involved in crypto for a while now (and literally moved away from home to work at a crypto company), so the family is pretty accustomed to it now. Many of my relatives even hold a little bit of crypto now.
DT: What was the last book you read that you would recommend to others?
CG: Almost done with "Asian Godfathers" by Joe Studwell and would recommend it to anyone that wants a bit of 20th century economic history on Southeast Asia. Also reading Alfred Lansing's account of Earnest Shackleton's attempted Endurance expedition across the Antarctic continent and am really enamored by the narrative - awesome story of adventure, ambition, leadership, grit. I would also reiterate that Taleb's "Incerto" series is required reading for anyone focused on the crypto ecosystem.
DT: What grinds your gears or is your pet peeve?
CG: A lot of stuff makes me mad but I try my best to not sweat the small stuff. Something I think about a lot is the "Dunning–Kruger effect" which basically states that new or uninformed people vastly over-rate their capabilities or understanding of a given discipline because they don't know what the highest level of the discipline looks like yet. When I see people in the super early stages of the Dunning-Kruger, where they are oblivious to the world but don't understand yet that they are making fools of themselves, I get really annoyed.
DT: Do you have an "I lost my private keys" story? Or a crazy crypto related story? Do share!
CG: Surprisingly, I don't have a crazy lost my keys story as I am somewhat paranoid on that front. I once had an issue with the firmware of a hardware wallet so thought for a moment I had lost everything, but was able to recover everything using my passphrase fairly quickly. Only the paranoid survive.
DT: Where do you see Bitcoin/crypto in ten years?
CG: I remain very bullish on the space in general, but hesitate to over-predict as predictions often prove to be very fragile. In ten years, I think Bitcoin will, at the absolute minimum, be used as a meaningful global store of value for individuals, institutions, and government treasuries to safely place their capital into. I also think we will have at least a few very proficient smart contract platforms that will have properly figured out product-market fit and will be deployed at a really large scale. I am trying to keep things general, but I think we'll be very far along, ten years is an eternity in technology.
DT: What's your go-to form of entertainment or pastime? What do you do for fun?
CG: I'm on Twitter pretty often, probably more often than I should be, haha.
Week to week I try to be good about dedicating time to working out, getting sun, swimming, doing yoga, etc. I also just took up SCUBA diving and want to become a lot better at that. I was a swimmer as a kid, so I was always in the water growing up - I am kind of trying to rekindle that.
DT: You have the power to solve one world problem forever. Which one would you choose?
CG: Crypto is cool and all, but I think almost all of society's problems are downstream of our energy production problem. If we had orders of magnitude cheaper, cleaner, more abundant energy production and storage, society would be greatly improved. If you gave me a magic wand to fix one problem, it would definitely be that.
DT: You have one thing to say to your 18 year old self. What would it be?
CG: If there are no time travel paradoxes, I would tell myself not to go to college, save as much money as possible, then buy as much of this thing called Bitcoin as possible when it comes out in a couple years.
If I'm trying to be wise and the answer above doesn't count, I would remind myself that "it's not always linear."
About Colin Goltra
Colin Goltra is currently an advisor, investor, and researcher in the cryptocurrency space and is primarily focused on the growth of Crypto, FinTech, and Venture ecosystems throughout Southeast Asia.
Most recently he served on the Management Team at Coins.ph, where he held leadership roles across the Cryptocurrency, People Ops, and Product Development teams. He joined Coins.ph in its early days and left after its acquisition by Go-Jek in 2019, a period in which the Coins.ph team expanded its cryptocurrency service to several million Filipinos and made significant strides in providing blockchain-based financial inclusion in the Philippines.
Prior to joining Coins.ph, he spent his career in Silicon Valley as both a technologist and financier. He has been very actively involved in the Cryptocurrency and Blockchain ecosystem since 2013 and is excited by the impact that the technology is having throughout Southeast Asia.
He studied Economics, Applied Statistics, and French at the University of California and Software Engineering at Hack Reactor. He has been featured in 'Esquire,' 'South China Morning Post,' 'Southeast Asia Globe,' as well as numerous crypto and technology industry publications.