Block Kong Breakfast is a series of interviews with blockchain-related entrepreneurs and financiers in Hong Kong, brought to you by Charles d’Haussy.
On the menu this morning: ferries, ferries and ferries. Walking along the piers, I see inviting destinations: Peng Chau, Discovery Bay, Lamma Island, Tsim Tsa Tsui, here you go.
Founded in 1888, The star Ferry company carry passengers across Victoria Harbor, between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula.
Before boarding, I stop at one of the pier’s food stalls to pick up a bag of siu mai – the delicious steamed dumplings, filled with pork and shrimp, that is a hallmark of Cantonese dim sum.
As planned, my guest is not there with me. We are having a virtual Block Kong breakfast. Sign of the times!
Sandy Peng, partner at Fission Capital and president of Tezos China, is stuck in Shenzhen due to COVID-19 cross-border restrictions. “I planned to be back in Hong Kong soon,” she explained over Zhumu, a virtual conference app popular in mainland China.
Peng has led investments in more than thirty blockchain projects and participated in more than ten M&A deals, including ones involving leading names in the industry. Fission Capital is a backer of digital-asset firm BC Group, digital exchange Huobi Technology, and Paxos, a stablecoin issuer.
She first heard about blockchain in the early 2010s while working as a management associate at the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission. She was leading a study for the regulator into technology’s impact on supervising cross-border activities.
One more ex-regulator who has bought a ticket on the blockchain ferry!
In 2013 she left government service to serve as CEO at Ucan.com, a mobile games maker. The blockchain industry has a heavy overlap with gamers and comic book fans. A Ucan.com she led the development a crypto wallet, serving demand on both sides.
It wasn’t really until 2016, however, that she took the deep dive, becoming partner at Fission Capital in Hong Kong, which invests in top blockchain projects and the professional management of digital assets.
As a side project, she is China president of blockchain protocol Tezos. But this is where our discussion turns.
Right now I am sitting on the lower deck of the very analog Star Ferry. The setup is perfect for an interview. It is windy, noisy, the boat is swaying, and it reeks of gasoline.
Plus I have to work while eating my dumplings.
Peng is drinking some gunpowder tea, a form of Chinese tea in which each leaf has been rolled into a small round pellet.
What is Tezos, Sandy? And what makes it different from other blockchain projects?
The graduate from Cambridge University then explains to me that Tezos is a cryptocurrency (token handle: XTZ), like Ethereum or Bitcoin or EOS; and it’s a blockchain protocol that hosts dApps (decentralized applications) and smart contracts.
By taking on the role of president for the China wing of the Tezzie community, Peng is making a bet that XTZ will grow into a globally leading, liquid cryptocurrency. Tezos’s global base is Switzerland; in 2017 it helped fuel the craze for initial coin offerings, controversially. But why XTZ?
She says Tezos differentiates itself around two main things: on-chain governance and Proof of Stake.
On-chain governance is a way of explicitly allowing token holders to vote on protocol upgrades or other enhancements to the blockchain core protocol.
“All projects have some form of governance,” Peng said, “but it’s often not explicit, and rarely as broadly participatory as the Tezos model. Tezos stands for ‘one token, one vote’. That is a whole new level of decentralization.”
It looks like a digital organism.
What this boils down to is a community in which decisions are made so much more efficiently, and with such broad support, that the Tezzie won’t face the risk of a fork. (Although this harmony has not always been the case.) Bitcoin and ether have both suffered from splits, with rival factions unable to agree on the protocol’s fundamental future. Forking is a huge risk that impedes mainstream institutional adoption of cryptocurrency: regulators, auditors, and risk managers can’t be sure exactly what their exposure to forkable asset might become.
As we chat, other passengers are boarding around me. Before I know it, our vessel begins its stately journey. I regard the harbor as if visiting the city for the first time. It is stunning, especially these days with so little pollution. There is a reason why the Society of American Travel Writers list the Star Ferry among the “Top 10 Most Exciting Ferry Rides”.
I feel myself getting a little dreamy. My belly is now full of siu mai. Keep going, Sandy!
Peng gives me a quick education into how blockchain systems reach consensus, so everyone agrees on the amounts, value and ownership of tokens.
Under proof of stake (PoS), a person can validate block transactions according to how many coins he or she holds. It is different from the Proof of Work consensus mechanism, used by Bitcoin for example, where transactions validation requires huge amounts of computing power and not-so-environmentally-friendly use of electricity. Ethereum was originated using proof of work, but is in the midst of an epic transition to PoS.
For Peng, though, PoS is more than just a technical specification.
“Our society is a proof of stake society,” she said. The PoS mechanism is designed to mimic, and optimize, how society is already organized.
The Tezos blockchain validates transaction via proof of stake and upgrades itself via community votes. The project has no leader or company behind it. Instead, it is supported by a community of validators, developers and users. It looks like a digital organism to me.
My ferry has reached Tsim Sha Tsui. But I need the return journey to get to my office in Central. I hop off to switch boats. This time I splurge for a seat on the Upper Deck. Much cozier, I must say.
Feeling relaxed, I ask Peng: why Tezos, governed by its token holders, needs a China President?
“Tezos China is one of the regional communities,” she says. “We are ambassadors and ecosystem builders.”
On the trip back to Hong Kong Island it feels just right to touch on the Greater Bay Area. Everyone in this part of the world has a project around integrating Hong Kong with nine municipalities in Guangdong Province (including Shenzhen) and Macau.
Covering 56,000 square kilometers (about triple the size of the San Francisco Bay Area), the GBA has a combined population of over 69 million people and GDP of around US$1.5 trillion.
Peng has been invited to GBA-related working groups with other tech experts. The local government and local banks are working together on supporting small businesses as they grapple with surviving in the age of COVID-19. She tells me blockchain, the ultimate coordination technology, will help measure the impact of loans, and deploy funds more efficiently.
My remote breakfast with Sandy ends with greetings and a 360-degree view of the harbor. Sandy misses the city. A crew in naval uniform is using a billhook to moor my ferry at Central Pier. And like that, I am back in the Island financial district.
Ferry Pier #5 siu mai shop
- Siu mai x5 : HK$10
- Soylent : HK$40