Today we are talking to Ruben Merre who is the Co-Founder and CEO of NGRAVE.
- NGRAVE is a crypto hardware wallet company which purports to offer the most secure solution on the planet with its fully offline hardware wallet, NGRAVE ZERO. This is further complimented by NGRAVE's other products, GRAPHENE and LIQUID.
We’d like to kick things off by asking you a couple of questions regarding your formative years.
1) Firstly, can you tell us the things which interested you the most throughout your childhood and teenage years, and what brought you the most happiness?
I was a kid with a huge passion for acquiring knowledge and improving myself in any way possible. I was the kid with an encyclopedia under his pillow to rebelliously read at night when my folks thought I was sleeping. Where other kids asked Santa Claus for toys, I requested a self-study course for learning Spanish or a medical dictionary. In the early days of MSN, I launched large communities to talk about quantum theory, astrophysics, and other things I marveled about. On holiday with my parents, I was the kid reading Einstein’s relativity theory, because it interested me.
But I was also the guy who played soccer more than 20 hours a week, went for a run every single day, and basically so-to-speak overdosed on what might well be an excessive amount of sports, just because of all the energy I had. I was a very happy kid, constantly questioning everything, with a lot of natural dopamines to keep me going, and avid to learn about everything.
My biggest frustration was the classroom and the pace of learning. I could really eat myself up, even in kindergarten, where I was quite a fightful toddler, and also in elementary school, i was difficult to handle. For me, it was the only way I could express my frustration of the tempo of learning, I couldn't just sit 8 hours a day on a school bench and not go crazy from it. I got top grades, but my reports were always picking about my behaviour. The truth is, it all simply went too slow. And it wasn’t that my parents didn’t know. They had gotten several recommendations of making me skip grades. But they knew better than anyone else that I was also highly sensitive. Changing my environment in a disruptive way, would alienate me. And rightfully so, they found that most important.
By the time I got to the age of 14 though, I became what they call “school tired”, became quite rebellious, started to lose interest in many things. And that happened to be the exact moment that I got to know music. My best friends got me a guitar for my birthday, and it was basically the thing that saved my late teenage years. I played day and night, I slept with the thing, playing along with Jimi Hendrix guitar solos on maximum distortion with my electric guitar, and I finally discovered one of my big whys. Creating, composing music. Yet, I felt I had an enormous backlog to create and it was hard for me to stick to finishing a single song, always moving on to the next idea. It wasn’t until in my twenties, that I found a way to also actually complete music. Yet even today, although I had to put music on a bit of a lower fire, due to managing NGRAVE, I know it’s what I’ll revert back to. In moments of emotional distress for sure, but also as one of my core roots that truly drive my inner being.
2) Who were your biggest influences growing up, and why did they have such a profound effect on you?
I’ve always found that a hard question. Many people grow up having idols and so, but I never really had that. What I honestly mostly look up to, is to people who are capable of seizing the moment whenever it is there. And actually, my own mother is such a person. She knows how to enjoy the beauty of life, how to keep marveling about many things, and how to find her way to happiness in a constant flow. I find such a talent much more important than say, know how to fly, or having other superhero powers.
I do remember reading a lot of Stephen Hawking’s oeuvre, or playing challenging guitar solos from the eighties and nineties, but I would say it is all of this in its entirety that was influential, nothing truly standing out, except for the moment that I discovered my huge adoration for music. If anything, I wish I would have started a decade earlier with music.
3) Teenage years are often a turbulent time for many, so on this note, can you name a time which was tough for you, and how you managed to overcome it?
Yes, I already mentioned it in the first question, but for me it was truly tough to sit 8 hours a day on a school bench, listening to material I could soak in on my own in just a fraction of that time. Imagine going over that frustration every single hour, every single day of a school year, over several school years. It really got to me. Obviously, I talked a lot during teaching hours, I made my own crossword puzzles sneaky under the table, or read a book. I remember a math class that was so boring and with like a hundred digits after the comma of pi, and I memorized them all just out of pure boredom. During the breaks, I played soccer, which helped ventilate that frustration, and eventually I had girlfriends, which also helped in terms of distraction. At the age of 14 though, I had an inner crisis, my grades plummeted with over a 30% from one month till the next, even though after a few months they stabilized again around being top of the class, even though I actually stopped studying. But what really got hit was my wide interest in so many topics. I suddenly felt oversaturated, didn’t really find any interest in many things. But I also met the power of music. I started playing guitar and got really soaked up in that. In 2 years, I finished the 10 years of conservatory in Belgium. In my third year, when I was 17 years old an in my last high school year, I played university pieces. Meanwhile, in the schoolyard, I couldn’t hide my rebellionism any longer and often got into trouble with teachers at school. Mostly though when I saw injustice, for example when the mens room was closed and I saw a 10 year old kid peeing himself, which was one of those moments that I decided to take a stand and almost got expelled.
In retrospect, and overall it was actually a great time and I had many ways to vent my feelings, through music, sports, parties with friends and so on. I had the luck of - when you would compare it with the typical American high school movie - to be and a “nerd”, a “jock’, a guy from a popular “band”, and as my parents didn’t make me skip grades, I actually was very smooth in making new friendships too. Then, when I turned 19, I went for the first time on a solo adventure, to Spain, where I took language courses and got acquainted with the beautiful world of traveling.
4) If there was some advice you could give young aspiring individuals, advice which you would really have liked to have heard yourself as a young person, what would it be?
If you’re a smart kid and you feel like you’re performing under your potential because of the context you have to work with, this can get very frustrating. What I missed a bit was that I didn’t get a lot of guidance from people or peer groups where you could learn how to handle this. It is important that your parents and teachers really understand this and find ways to truly challenge you. Communicate this frustration to the people who are listening. There are increasingly places and ways to help you develop your talents.
We are now going to ask you some questions which will hopefully give our readers something to go on regarding you as a person.
5) Firstly, what are the particular strengths that you feel have made you successful in your field (don’t hold back)?
I actually followed a very special path that challenged me a lot but made me a better CEO today. I’m more of the creative, associative kind, meaning before I started working, I was really not the type to plan anything, I loved jumping from one adventure into the other and have the most impressions at the same. This was really what I was after, hence during my studies I lived in five different countries around the world, learned to speak 6 languages fluently, submerge into the culture, and I absolutely loved that life style and being left to my own to build out relationships and new lives. I didn’t solve problems linearly. I didn’t keep action logs or any other real structure in what I did. When I wrote music, I wrote five songs at the same time and didn’t finish any of them. I’m absolutely not a natural born project manager, and I have quite the rebellious, prospecting nature. For those acquainted with Myers-Briggs personality models, I’m a clear ENFP. So imagine me applying for a position as a strategy consultant, where basically they wanna see very structured, linear thinking, tight project management skills, typically there is a lot of rigor and to some extent hierarchy and so on. During that time, especially in the beginning, I got into a lot of trouble, I didn’t really feel the need to take notes or to write out a plan as I felt I could do it in my head. Basically very junior consultant behaviour and mistakes. But by doing this for years, from getting my first tasks of aligning paragraph lines in powerpoint presentations up to tenths of a millimeter, I actually became an expert in everything that I’m naturally less strong at: tight project management, having a constant overview of risks and issues, seeing super tiny errors in presentations or argumentations, and even in my music I started applying very structured methods to finally publish my first songs. Eventually, before I started NGRAVE, I started entrepreneuring, including the launch of some disruptive tech projects, and I even headed over 20 teams and 100 people in very complex program management structures to build new innovative platforms in fintech. All of this has trained me to become a CEO that is naturally strong at keeping the strategy and helicopter view always in mind, think several steps ahead and use my creativity to come up with innovations such as those brought to market by NGRAVE. Meanwhile, my acquired expert skills in a.o. project management that require for example constant risks and issues checking, action points follow-up, and more, I manage the huge project of NGRAVE on a daily basis, including product development, set-up of our factories, the go-to-market implementation, business development, funding avenues, and so on and so on. I’m overseeing the details and I’m overseeing the strategy. And I have two amazing co-founders to do that with.
6) What would you say is your most controversial opinion as regards to blockchain or the crypto space?
The majority of, if not all existing security solutions are looking at security from the wrong angle.
7) In the course of your day you can become under the most ridiculous pressures and stresses, what is your particular way of dealing with this?
Take a step back. Analyze. Prioritize. Handle it while taking into consideration the human factor (empathy, etc.), mapping out potential risks and issues, and make the decisions based on the time I have. Luckily, I have a good gut feeling and an associative nature. So I can skip a couple of linear thinking steps and handle things quickly or analyze on multiple levels simultaneously. To blow off steam though, channeling it through composing or playing music, writing, or do some intensive sports like swimming my guts out really, really helps too!
8) Outside of crypto/blockchain, what is your favorite thing to do?
Music is what’s constantly brooding and burning inside of me. The urge to create. To write poetic excavations and come up with new music. Nowadays, I have less time for this, so I try to play piano or guitar whenever I can. Have a good night out in a bar is definitely also on the list. As well as running and swimming to keep in shape.
We are now going to ask you some creative and humorous questions, and we are sure people will love to see you what you can come up with.
9) What is the most humorous thing you have seen or experienced during your time in the crypto/blockchain space?
Well, obviously the ICO craze brought some absurd things to market, one of them being utter shitcoins or having funny names like Jesuscoin, buttcoin, F*ckToken, Useless Ethereum Token (UET) an its logo, Mooncoin, KodakCoin, PotCoin, TrumpCoin, PutinCoin and PutinClassic, GarliCoin.
And finally, the memes that are starting to come in on NGRAVE, for example where “pepe” is holding a gun at his head with the caption “brb, testing my ngrave”.
10) If you somehow managed to meet Satoshi Nakamoto (that is he is a male person in this scenario) on his deathbed, but only had time to ask him one question, what would it be? Bear in mind that you don’t have much time at all, so make it a good one.
Can I have his private key?
Did he make a seed back-up on his GRAPHENE and where did he hide the two parts?
Why did he remain anonymous, what was the rationale behind that? Did he ever monetize his own bitcoin? Why is there a huge amount of bitcoin that has never moved, what’s the rationale behind that?
11) Can you give three policies you'd enact if you became the president of a country tomorrow?
Obviously, it would greatly depend on the country. But let’s take the USA.
1) Social healthcare system accessible for all and integral part of society
2) Significantly decrease college tuition and make it quasi-free in the majority of cases
3) Reverse all Trump’s decisions
Communities are often an important backbone for many crypto/blockchain projects, so we’d now like to get some personal thoughts on the community side of things.
12) Personal project aside, what are some ‘communities’ in the space that you admire and why (this is not an endorsement)?
The bitcoin community, for having clear convictions and strong principles, while remaining for anyone willing to contribute honestly. The Chainlink community is also great, with meme experts simply making it fun to be part of it. And it actually is a quality project.
13) What social-media platform do you like most and why, and are there any improvements which you feel can be made to these platforms for an even better community user-experience?
Telegram and Twitter is good for staying on top of latest developments. Personally I find Reddit a bit too harsh and unconstructive, at least from what I have seen. And the fact that you have to wait to post a new comment or anything, kinda drives me crazy. We also have a private Facebook group for our backers only, which is great to build a good relationship and communicate transparently.
14) With the endgame being mainstream adoption, do you think crypto/blockchain communities will still have an important role to play in a post-adoption environment?
I don't necessarily agree that the end goal should be mainstream adoption. Even though we as NGRAVE and personally are partly in it to foster worldwide blockchain adoption. Crypto itself should remain as a viable alternative for value storage, and should open up avenues for a huge number of innovations, such as fractional ownership of otherwise inaccessible investment opportunities (e.g. co-owning a hotel somewhere or investing in early stage growth capital like startups through the mechanism of security tokens, etc.).
The crypto communities will always remain critical to ensure the crypto option continues to exist.
In our penultimate section we are going to ask you a question regarding NGRAVE.
15) What do you feel sets NGRAVE apart from your competitors (that is if you have any)?
Whereas existing solutions look at security from a singular angle, e.g. providing only a hardware wallet or only a secure exchange, NGRAVE takes an exhaustive end-to-end approach to security, considering every step in the user journey and upgrading it for security and ease of use without leaving any stone unturned. For example, most hardware wallets provide a piece of paper – a “paper wallet” – to back up the key generated by the device. NGRAVE provides a whole other solution for the backup, called the GRAPHENE, which is a stainless steel cryptographic puzzle. This is obviously way more durable than paper. And because it’s encrypted, if someone finds your back-up, they still don’t have knowledge of your key. So we resolve many more “what-if” questions than the status quo does. If someone finds your back-up, they still don’t have information on your keys, as they need both parts. And for the “what-if you lose your back-up?”, we have come up with an ingenious recoverability feature for the GRAPHENE. We can even recover it posthumously, without any 3rd party risk.
Secondly, let’s zoom in on the NGRAVE ZERO hardware wallet from a security perspective. Our solution is 100% offline, meaning there is no need for a USB or network connection (such as 4G, WiFi, Bluetooth, or other). The ZERO works completely on its own and never needs to connect. Keys are generated offline and never exposed, offering a whole new feeling of peace of mind. Incumbent solutions still need to make connections and are therefore more vulnerable.
The ZERO is also fully physically tamper-proof, meaning that if someone gets their hands on your ZERO, they can’t find out your keys. Even better: the device will detect any intrusions and will wipe all the keys. Also relevant is that some of the existing hardware wallets are basically stripped down solutions that are actually coming from products that serve other purposes than secure crypto management, such as stripped mobile phone hardware wallets.
Finally, we have a vastly higher security level, as we are the only ones with a security certification for the secure firmware on the device for EAL7, which is the highest security certification in the world. No other blockchain solution does better.
If we look at usability, our solution hides all of this beautiful cryptography and complexity behind a slick, touch-screen experience. Users will be able to operate the device in very intuitive flows that we built with the end-user ourselves. Your coins are always just a tap away.
To summarize, the NGRAVE solutions excels in that it is end-to-end, fully integrated and foolproof, radically more secure and user friendly. And it is the first solution that really allows you to “start truly owning what is yours”.
Well that just about does it, but before we end this interview we’d like to ask you for something which we believe will say a lot about your belief in the industry, and which may inspire those who are reading.
16) Can you come up with a short argument for our readers on why you feel cryptocurrency and blockchain (or just one) has a bright future?
We believe in blockchain. Why? Because we want to back the truth and blockchain is perfect for that. It can back and empower people in countries where people can lose their homes because of a dictator's centralized database. It gives them and anyone an undisputable version of the truth. Such a thing is priceless. And it can be extrapolated to so many other use cases and applications in different industries, different governance systems, you name it. It solves long-lasting challenges and issues such as the double-spend problem - which was one of the things the bitcoin paper explicitly set out to resolve - but also so much more. Because of several of blockchain’s superior technical features, digital assets will move to a blockchain back-end. McKinsey and BCG research project this tokenization trend to reach 24T dollar in 7 years from now, up from only a few billion today. Blockchain will be adopted.
When we look at cryptocurrency, it is important to make the differentiation between all of these thousand+ coins that have a questionable intrinsic value. But let’s just have a look at the current number one, bitcoin. Bitcoin has one of the strongest behavioral finance powers of financial markets going for it: fear and panic selling, and – in this case – greed and FOMO. Over time, this power dynamic is multiplied with one of the six strongest laws of persuasion: scarcity. The latter is the whole underpinning strategy of high-end, high-priced products. Whenever a new halving happens, the effect of this will come on gradually but strongly. And yes, all else equal, bitcoin will in the long run experience new all.time highs because of this. Note however that in the short term, as buyers are looking to the past, the immediate effects on price post-halving will tend to be less pronounced. Another important economic law is one of supply and demand. We’ve recently seen a perfect example of this in the oil markets. Demand goes down with buyers in lockdown, while some oil powers are flooding the market with excessive supply. The result is a huge drop in oil prices. Bitcoin has the exact opposite dynamic in place: over time there will be more buyers per bitcoin, pushing the price up. Fun fact: Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2019 estimated the number of global millionaires is 46.8 million, already more than double the number of the maximum bitcoin supply (21 million). This means that it is already impossible for every millionaire in the world to hold one single bitcoin. Also, I believe that we’re very early still in the Bitcoin and crypto story, and that the chances of the cryptocurrency becoming a store of value could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If everybody is buying Bitcoin for the reason of it being a store of value, then that is exactly what will happen, it will become a store of value. However, such a state is very contextual, meaning that it might in the long run also stop being a store of value. Yet, Bitcoin is a deflationary asset, whereas the dollar has lost over 70% of its value in the last one hundred years. And finally, in several countries, hyperinflation is starting to be a real issue today. These countries are already seeing an increasing appetite for a.o. bitcoin as a welcome alternative, and yes, for now, a store of value.
So yes, I believe in blockchain, and in crypto.
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