Samson Mow has been working in cryptocurrency, specifically Bitcoin, since 2015 when he transitioned from the gaming industry. He was offered an opportunity to advise a friend, who was starting a Bitcoin exchange, and since then he hasn’t looked back. Mow has stayed on the cutting edge of a fast-moving and progressive sector, one that both excites and bewilders.
“The majority of everything is self-learning,” says Mow. “Being able to adapt to new technologies, new paradigms, is really critical because the world is constantly in a state of flux and changing.”
In March, Mow left his role as CSO of Blockstream, a Victoria-headquartered company that focuses on infrastructure-level Bitcoin technology development, where he had been since 2017, to start his own company. Named after the day that the first block of Bitcoin was mined, Jan3 (January 3, 2009) will work toward Mow’s mission of “finding ways to get Bitcoin into the hands of more people around the world.”
Both companies are allied in pushing for Bitcoin adoption worldwide but through different tactics and implementation. Education has been a big part of Mow’s career, largely because “Bitcoin is difficult to understand.” Mow helps others learn more about the many dimensions that amass its potential, from security to cold storage and transactions.
A lot of those are very high-level conversations, especially for countries considering adopting Bitcoin at a nation-state level — one direction that Mow is now focusing on.
How did you get into Bitcoin?
My background in game development really opened my eyes to how economies work — if not an economy of a country, an economy of a game. In building an online game, you have to manage the money supply, and you have to deal with things like inflation and runaway pricing, etc. That was really the interest, understanding that Bitcoin is permissionless, and there’s nobody in charge of it.
What kept you interested in Bitcoin?
The simple fact that it is a form of money not controlled by anyone and it is incorruptible. If you think about a game, the game developer or the company running the game controls the money supply. Bitcoin is like that, except there’s no one in control. You can extrapolate that to a national currency — imagine that the Canadian dollar is governed by math and energy instead of people running the Bank of Canada.
What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is digital gold. I like to say its money reimagined. The important thing about Bitcoin is that it is a decentralized money.
What are the challenges to uptake or adopt cryptocurrency?
The biggest challenge for the adoption of Bitcoin is for people to relearn what money is — also the problem is made worse by “crypto,” which distracts most people. Bitcoin is really quite simple to understand: it is apolitical, incorruptible money. People don’t need to fully understand the inner workings of Bitcoin in order to use it — Bitcoin is money.
What is the aim of Jan3?
Jan3 is focusing on Bitcoin adoption in two segments. One would be with nation-states, either helping them with direct Bitcoin integration for payments or designing Bitcoin financial products. The other is to see if there’s a way to get Bitcoin into the hands of people by focusing on mass-market adoption through a Bitcoin wallet.
Why should Bitcoin be in the hands of more people?
There are a lot of unbanked people in the world, who don’t have access to banking. In Mexico alone, there are 67 million people that are unbanked — using cash, they have no bank accounts. The reason they’re unbanked is that they are living in poverty or they don’t have an address. So, typically, to get a bank account, you need to have some degree of financial privilege like a fixed address or regular employment. There’s no way that the current system can fix that, unless we change the rules.
With Bitcoin, anybody that has a mobile phone and internet connection can get a Bitcoin wallet and partake in the new financial system.
What is El Salvador doing with Bitcoin?
El Salvador is raising a billion-dollar bond to mine Bitcoin using geothermal energy from their volcanoes. When I worked at Blockstream, we proposed how they could potentially structure a bond and have a Bitcoin component to it. It is really just a normal bond that is tokenized, running on a Bitcoin sidechain with 50 per cent of it backed in Bitcoin itself. I believe the game theory around the bond makes it very attractive. If they do a 10-year Bitcoin bond, it’s possible that after 10 years, the single bond with half a billion dollars of Bitcoin in it would pay off all their debts.
A lot of countries in Latin America are very much bound to the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. They have to keep borrowing money to service all debts, and they’re not really able to break out of that cycle. If the only solution is to borrow money to finance that, using an asset, a rapidly appreciating asset is the only way out of that hole. I see Bitcoin as a way for them to do that, both using Bitcoin as legal tender to stimulate the economy — stimulate tourism, GDP — but also raising capital to build infrastructure for the country.
How is global uptake at a nation-state level progressing?
Ukraine legalized cryptocurrency, so they’re actively raising money through cryptocurrency donations. The world is moving very, very rapidly toward adopting Bitcoin. First, you have El Salvador, then you have Lugano in Switzerland, who wants to stimulate their local economy.
They cannot make Bitcoin legal tender, but they can make Bitcoin de facto legal tender, which means that the government accepts Bitcoin, and they’re encouraging merchants to take Bitcoin. Because there’s no capital gains tax on Bitcoin, you basically have the same thing as legal tender, except you’re not forced to take it by law.
You have Madeira saying the same thing. We are planning to work together. They want to roll out some Bitcoin adoption. It could potentially be working with the government to take Bitcoin payments: You could pay your taxes with Bitcoin, you could pay for government services and use municipal facilities, all with Bitcoin.
How has the war in Ukraine affected currency and Bitcoin?
The war between Ukraine and Russia effectively eliminated foreign currency reserves. Once the U.S. took action to freeze Russian foreign currency reserves, I would say that that was the death of the U.S. dollar and the reserve curency system. I believe that the trajectory that we’re going in now is a return to hard assets, like gold and Bitcoin — assets that you can take custody of yourself, and you don’t have to rely on another party to hold.
Where do you see the most potential?
I see it as the countries that need Bitcoin. Those are largely going to be Latin America and potentially Africa. A lot of those people are already using stablecoins [any cryptocurrency whose price is stabilized through being pegged to a commodity or currency or having its supply regulated by an algorithm] as their form of money to transact.
I think pushing harder in those regions, trying both bottom-up and top-down approaches, could result in something interesting — getting ordinary merchants or communities to adopt Bitcoin at the grassroots level, but also engaging with the governments and trying to explain to them how they could leverage Bitcoin to benefit their people as well.
Why do you think the investment world is so cautious regarding their clients investing in Bitcoin?
Investment advisors try to be conservative in their approach but are actually taking huge amounts of risk by not embracing Bitcoin. If Bitcoin becomes the new base of the financial system, then not getting in now would have a massive opportunity cost.
Many in the traditional finance industry think that Bitcoin is a risk-on asset because they view it as a tech stock and can’t understand that Bitcoin is competing with other forms of money, not tech companies.
Also, traditional investors are usually looking at Bitcoin on very short time horizons. If you look at Bitcoin on a four-year time frame, the moving average has never fallen. The investment world being unable to understand paradigm shifts in money, and looking at long-term macro trends, really makes you question their ability to advise clients.
What’s in the future for Bitcoin?
I believe there’s a big place for Bitcoin in national treasuries, like in central banks around the world, just because it’s easier to transact with. This process is going to take some time, but it’s also going to be a relatively quick process just because people will learn to understand that international trade will be a lot smoother if you’re using digital gold rather than physical gold.
How could Canada use Bitcoin?
I think we have a lot of potential in Canada. We could make this a really great place to live by mining Bitcoin.
We have abundant natural resources, and we have abundant energy. Our installed hydro capacity in Canada is about 665 terawatt-hours a year. But our technical potential, which means creating more hydro dams around rivers and lakes, could have 1,400 terawatt-hours a year.
The Bitcoin network only uses about 120 terawatt-hours a year. So you could fit roughly 10 Bitcoin networks into Canada, if we really wanted to, all using renewable energy.
How would you make this happen?
You could raise money to do this new venture in Canada through a private-public venture or partnership. The problem is that [currently] the incentives are not there. If you want to build a hydro plant, if you’re only going to be selling electricity, it’s not that much money at the end of the day.
But the right way to think about it is that this is a gold mine, a digital gold mine. And your ROI is going to be massive. Then, you can actually build this infrastructure. ′