Unicorn Hunters is sort of like Shark Tank on steroids…with a twist. Both business reality shows feature startup founders looking for capital and panels of famous entrepreneurs, experts and investors.
But while the “sharks” size up opportunities for themselves, the Unicorn Hunters seek out companies they think can hit a billion-dollar valuation (in other words, become a "unicorn”) — and offer up a piece of the action to the general public.
Launched last year on Amazon Prime, Unicorn Hunters boasted a lineup of luminaries as judges including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, pop singer Lance Bass, and, former
Former White House advisor Moe Vela, and former U.S. Treasurer Rosa Rios. It boldly promised (with vigorous disclaimers) to be “the only show that can make you rich.”
But not long after the show premiered, its creators started to think maybe one of the best ways it could help viewers get rich was by making a move into crypto — instead of focusing solely on startups. In February, the show debuted its own token, Unicoin, as a “next-generation cryptocurrency that pays dividends” and is “backed by equity in high-growth companies.”
Crashes in the crypto markets earlier this month should only make the asset-backed Unicoin more appealing to investors, Unicorn Hunters executive producer and Unicoin co-creator Vela told us in an interview recently. Because of the way it’s structured, Unicoin might be a safer investment than the most well-known cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, or even stablecoins, he added. Stablecoins, which are supposed to be less-volatile than traditional crypto, have also endured gyrations.
Vela, an advisor to Joe Biden when he served as former President Barack Obama’s VP, had much to say about Unicoin, crypto markets in general, possible crypto regulation, and about Unicorn Hunters (which he loves working on). Here is more of what he told The Business of Business in a recent interview.
The following has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Business of Business: I was really interested to see you had been a former adviser to Joe Biden. What did you do in that capacity? And what did it have to do with crypto?
MV: That was my second White House tenure. I have the honor and the privilege of having served twice in the White House. I was also CFO and senior adviser to Vice President [Al] Gore for five years, and came back to be the director of management and administration to then-Vice President Joe Biden. And it was also his senior adviser on several policy matters. Crypto wasn't really on the radar screen. back then. So no, I was not advising on crypto. But of course, fintech and other related topics certainly were in our portfolio.
What kinds of things were you most interested in keeping them abreast of in terms of ongoing financial issues?
First of all, when, when we first took over, we were in a recession. And so I think almost all of our finance concerns revolved around the Recovery Act. In fact, it was housed literally across the hall from my office. So I worked very closely with their team and all of our senior team. So I think all of our finance related issues, frankly, were to focus on getting us out of the recession, and the proper implementation, and the infrastructure and the operational infrastructure necessary to implement the Recovery Act that President Obama had asked Vice President Biden to spearhead.
Okay, so what is your understanding of crypto, and where does that come from?
My understanding of crypto comes from the fact that I have co-created a new cryptocurrency and launched it. And, of course, I'm executive producer and co star of our business reality show called Unicorn Hunters, which has multiple millions of viewers around the world. So I've been involved in the investment and finance space for over a decade now since I left the White House in various capacities, and in various roles, sometimes peripherally.
So we launched our own crypto. One thing you learn in law school is how to research and learn and get up to speed. So I've been doing that for the last couple of years, a few years on crypto. And so that's where my experience comes in now as a co-creator of a new cryptocurrency that we believe is going to be popular.
"We're really proud that we took the best of traditional investing and what we believe to be some of the best attributes and traits of crypto and brought it together with Unicoin."
We’re excited about what we brought to the marketplace. Frankly, when we launched Unicoin, our cryptocurrency, we felt very, very proud to be launching and introducing the next generation of crypto. I call everything we've seen so far traditional crypto, the Bitcoins, the Ethereums and the Solanas, even some of the stablecoins and Dogecoins and so forth. Or doggy coins, whatever.
To me, those are traditional cryptos. We saw some vulnerabilities, not some, lots of vulnerabilities. We were seeing tremendous volatility and traditional crypto. So we're really proud that we took the best of traditional investing and what we believe to be some of the best attributes and traits of crypto and brought it together with Unicoin.
One of the issues you seem to be raising is that Bitcoin in particular (the most well-known cryptocurrency) is not an optimal investment option, or safe option. Why, in your mind, is that not safe?
A couple things first, just because somebody knows about something doesn't make it wiser or smart or safe. Does it have the greatest brand recognition? Absolutely. It was the shiny new object and people gravitated toward it.
Let’s be clear here. Only 18% of Americans so far, you know, are estimated to trade crypto. So it's not, you know, it's not like every American is trading and exchanging crypto yet. We anticipate hopefully, that as we're giving them more viable options with mitigated risks that you will see that number go up. We believe it will. We're banking on it going up.
So just because Bitcoin is a strong brand name, that doesn't make it less volatile, or more stable. We clearly have seen that not to be true, right? It’s dropped in value by over 50% In the last year. And I'm not picking on Bitcoin. I just think the traditional crypto, including Bitcoin, is extremely volatile.
What attracted people to the traditional crypto was the anonymity, the decentralization. And, unfortunately, they're all having a rude awakening. Those very things that were its original allure are now its Achilles heel. Right? So this decentralization and anonymity are what I believe are causing people to be very nervous and sell off in record numbers.
"I don't mean to be disrespectful, but when you buy a Bitcoin or Ethereum or Solana or whatever, you’re trading air."
But I don't think that people have been asking me lately, do you think crypto is dead? Of course not. Crypto is not dead. I think crypto is a very important part of our future. My argument and my stance is that our coin, Unicoin, is an example of what crypto will look like in the future, which is a hybrid model of sorts with mitigated risks, and some semblance of centralization and operational infrastructure using the blockchain technology that is at the heart of crypto.
In my opinion, the sell off you're seeing is because people are realizing, again, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but when you buy a Bitcoin or Ethereum or Solana or whatever, you’re trading air. There's nothing behind it. I've often said that, in many ways, the traditional crypto so far is somewhat fantastical.
Well, OK, so yes, crypto including Bitcoin is very volatile and there are pluses and minuses for that.
What would be a plus of volatility?
You have a chance to, you know, reap huge rewards potentially if you buy low and are able to somewhat manage to sell high, which is obviously very difficult to predict.
That would be with any investment. True.
But if it’s more volatile, there’s like more opportunities for people who are focused on the short-term.
But there would be more risk.
Well, yes, there is no reward without risk.
Anyway, what makes Unicoin different is we will be asset-backed. So we will be in the near future. When you buy a Unicoin, you are literally buying a stake in a global innovation fund we are creating. That fund will be taking an equity stake in emerging growth companies around the world, some which appear on our show Unicorn Hunters. [Others will be] pre-IPO emerging growth companies with technological and innovative solutions to challenges around the world through various industries and sectors.
You said it perfectly: Every investment has risk. What I think we’re seeing from the sell offs is that investors, because of the economy, because of inflation, because there are many projecting and predicting a recession, I think investors are rethinking the level of risk they're willing to engage in. I think that's what we're seeing here. So we're going to give them a mitigated risk.
"What I think we’re seeing from the sell offs is... I think investors are rethinking the level of risk they're willing to engage in."
Again, nothing is risk free. You said it perfectly. There's no reward without risk, right. But I think when you're facing inflationary environments, like we are now, and we don’t know who owns these traditional cryptos. We don't know whether Vladimir Putin owns Bitcoin. We're not going to play that game at Unicoin. We want some stability. I jokingly said the other day, but I kinda like it: We'd like to bring “stable” back into “stablecoin.”
So stablecoins, what have been going on with those? Why has that been not so stable lately, in your view?
Again, I think it's the economic environment we're facing. Some of those, again, are not asset backed. Some of those are backed by I guess, gold? There are different ways that they’re backed, and I just look, I think it would take a triple Harvard educated PhD, psychologist-backslash-economist combo to truly understand what’s in the psyche. And what motivates these types of sell offs.
So that’s not me, right? I don’t have a joint economic and psychology degree. I guess what my opinion would be is just what I said already. I’ll repeat it. I believe that investors are nervous right now. There’s unpredictability about whether we’re headed into a recession or not. Inflation is at record highs, right? Rates are going up. You can see in the daily results of Wall Street. You see small increases and then the next day you see a decrease. There’s a lot of rollercoastering going on.
Sorry, I'm changing topics slightly. You must have thoughts on regulation. And that's certainly a hot topic in crypto.
I have a lot of thoughts. Regulation is a very interesting topic. I was somewhat disappointed to see many in the crypto space react so negatively and nervously when President Biden issued his executive order. I thought that, you know, the president did an excellent thing by issuing his executive order, and recognizing the role crypto is going to play in our country’s future. I thought that was an acknowledgement from the administration that crypto was here to stay.
I thought it was a smart move to instruct his government, our government to start to figure out which agency has what purview. What oversight, which agencies need to begin to assess what regulations might be necessary. So I am one of those in the crypto world that does not fear regulation. We don't fear regulation at Unicoin. I don't think anybody should fear regulation.
Now, that said, let me be clear, I have said this over and over again, about regulation. Regulation can be healthy, when it's used to encourage, to inspire, and to motivate innovation. But the minute it becomes stifling, it's wrong and it's bad. If it ever comes to the point where regulation becomes prohibitive in the sense that it's keeping people from being able to improve their position in life, then in my opinion, that's bad regulation, or over regulation.
We cannot go there. And so I would highly encourage the Biden administration to be careful to find a healthy balance, I believe regulation has to be healthily balanced. And I will be the first one to criticize them or anybody else.
"Regulation becomes bad when these agencies think that they're “protecting” somebody, when in essence, they are keeping them uninvolved."
We’ve seen historically, in our country, regulation becomes bad when these agencies think that they're “protecting” somebody, when in essence, they are keeping them uninvolved. And I don't support that. The only way you're gonna have economic parity in this nation, the only way we're going to create a democratization of access to wealth creation, is by informing and educating and encouraging, inspiring and motivating people, not intimidating them through regulation. So you can say, I'm protecting somebody through this regulation. But in essence, you're keeping them uninformed. I don't buy into that. I do not support that. And I hope to God, they don't go there with crypto regulations.
Okay, I have to ask because you're here. Do you? Do you have any thoughts on the SEC Ripple case or similar enforcement actions?
I prefer not to comment on that. I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that. First of all, I'm, I'm not involved in it in any way, shape, or form. It would simply be my opinion, and I don't really think anybody cares what my thoughts are on that.
Okay. Can I ask something about Unicorn Hunters, then? What do you think about tech right now? Does it seem like we’re at a position where there’s some hot air coming out of the VC market?
I’m going to stay positive on this. One of the many reasons I am so proud that I co-created Unicorn Hunters, and that I have the privilege of executive producing and co-starring in, is because if you go back and you look at all of the companies that come on our show, they are all about solutions to challenges facing humanity.
Whether it be in healthcare, whether it be in financial tech and fintech, whether it be in energy, whether it be to fight climate change, and to save our planet, the list goes on and on. So to me, I feel blessed that I get to be on a show that sees technology being used in a way to address the world's challenges. I'm not going to comment on what venture capital is focusing on. I hope that they continue to support companies like the ones on our show.
We're about to shoot the next round of shows in early June and I And, the companies that will be appearing are going to make a difference in the world using technology. So hopefully the VC world will rally and be encouraging entrepreneurs to use technology in a way that makes the world a better place for everyone.