Interview with Taylor Monahan, CEO of MyCrypto
We talk with Taylor Monahan, CEO of MyCrypto and co-founder of MyEtherWallet. Taylor discusses what she believes to be the biggest hurdles to overcome before the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies, plus how she believes this industry will evolve over the next few years.
Austin Knight: Today we’re going to be speaking with Taylor Monahan, the founder and CEO of MyCrypto. Welcome to the podcast, Taylor.
Taylor Monahan: Thanks so much for having me.
Austin Knight: So you have super interesting back story and path into this space, so I think we would love to start there. Just hearing about who you are and how you got involved in the crypto space. Tell us about yourself.
Taylor Monahan: Yeah thank you. So I think that, and this is pretty typical of most people in this space, everyone has a pretty unique journey because you don’t really got to college and major in crypto currency so, for example, I went to college for film and television. I went to NYU and I dropped out of NYU to basically focus on just making movies and it was really, really an exciting time in my life. And then when I was trying to get my first real job out of school and the recession was pretty hitting hard and the film and television industry doesn’t pay very much, I was exploring a lot of different avenues on how to be financially stable and I found that doing web design and development was a bit more steady than film and television was at that time. And from there, I don’t exactly know when or how it was but something about reading some articles about bitcoin or having friends who talked about bitcoin, or something like that, for whatever reason it peaked my interest and I kinda latched onto it.
Taylor Monahan: And this is the part of the story that everyone sort of has some version of. They hear about crypto currency or bitcoin, or Ethereum, or whatever it is and then they fall down this rabbit hole and it’s just this amazing magical experience where they realize sort of the potential of it and what makes it unique and special and why the world would be a better place with it and all of those sorts of things. And so it took a while for me to fully fall down the rabbit hole, but …
Matthew Howells-Barby: And Taylor, when roughly was it that you fell down the rabbit hole? We’ve got to have a timestamp here.
Taylor Monahan: Yeah so, I would say that it was … Okay so when bitcoin went up, it has to be 2013/2014 and then [inaudible 00:04:22] happened.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Oh wow.
Taylor Monahan: That’s when I was just getting interested in it and then really I was kind of diving down that rabbit hole as the price was tanking and the ecosystem was really sad and depressed. And then I would say that I really kind of became committed to it or developed a real emotional attachment to it much later. When Ethereum White Paper started being passed around and then Ethereum launched, that’s when I started bonding with the community and making friends and working with people and all of those sorts of things and that’s when I say the magic really happened.
Matthew Howells-Barby: And so you started out in this environment of film and TV and you then jumped into something pretty drastically different in terms of development, what even caused that jump in the first place?
Taylor Monahan: I had this job, I was hired to photograph pictures of the products and Photoshop the backgrounds out of them for the website and stuff, and I basically didn’t want to be fired and I didn’t feel like I could fill a week with taking product photos and shooting product videos, I just knew I wasn’t providing enough value to the company so I essentially would quickly teach myself any little skill to make myself a little bit more valuable so that I could hopefully not be fired, and it turns out it’s really hard to, at least for me the way that I learn, it’s quite hard for me to be like, okay I’m going to go be a developer now. That path just doesn’t rally work, but it’s really easy to say, “Hey, how do you add an image to a website?” If there’s an existing website here, how do you do that?
Taylor Monahan: And between Google and Stock Exchange and random forums, it’s pretty easy to figure out and so that’s sort of how I got started with development was literally, I had these photos that are sticking, how do I put them onto the website now? And then from there, okay how I add this text? Or how I style this text? Or whatever it was. Literally just trying to be useful.
Matthew Howells-Barby: So it was kind of you just self taught a lot of this stuff to ensure you didn’t get fired?
Taylor Monahan: Right, yeah. The thing is, when you are learning with a goal, with a tangible end goal in mind like, I want to make this website or I want to update this website or I want to do this one specific thing, I find that it moves much faster, it’s much more interesting, it’s much more fun and you learn so much so quickly. And so before I knew it, I was pretty proficient in your basic HTML and CSS and then I started taking some night classes and some online classes and really diving deep into sort of the whole website design, development type world.
Taylor Monahan: And it turns out that, that world is not super different from the film and television world because it’s still all about figuring out how to display information and tell someone’s story and make something interesting that’s going to capture people’s attention, all of those sorts of core concepts are identical. It’s just that the medium is different, right? Is this something that you’re going to be watching on YouTube? Or in a movie theater versus a website that’s going to be shown on your computer or on your phone, or whatever.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Absolutely.
Austin Knight: You mentioned that everybody sort of has a different path into this space, right? Because, like you said, you can’t just go to NYU and say, “I want a degree in Cryptocurrency,” but you did manage to take yourself down quite a back forward path to eventually get to where you are now, do you find that there are certain qualities that people despite their different paths into Blockchain and crypto tech, that everybody seems to have in common? Or is it really just a mixture of completely random people? What would you look for in somebody getting into this space?
Taylor Monahan: So I think that the common sort of traits aren’t necessarily where people come from or what their degrees are in but more of personality traits or characteristics and one of the big ones is, people tend to be really, really curious about things. So they may not be an engineer per se but they are just one of those people that enjoys learning about how things work or how things are put together or why things are a certain way. I think can say that I’ve especially noticed running a company, everyone on my team, literally almost everyone is a questioner. They question the world around them and they question the decision that we make and that I make and that’s something that’s quite unique.
Taylor Monahan: The world in general is more well rounded and you have people that are leaders and you have people that are followers and you have people that are pretty go with the flow. But the crypto space is definitely full of people who … They won’t do something because you say do it, they’re the people who are a little bit rebellious and they want to know why they should do it before they spend any time on it and I’m, by the way, the exact same way. My poor, poor parents.
Matthew Howells-Barby: And you talked earlier about running a company. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about MyCrypto to begin with.
Taylor Monahan: Yeah absolutely. So, MyCrypto started as originally we were MyEtherWallet and it was really this side project, it was a tool, it was a utility, it was just something that we were building to solve a problem that we encountered in our every day lives and MyCrypto is basically a big old expansion on that with some of the things we never really did with MyEtherWallet, like setting up a company properly and getting our paperwork ducks in a row and that kind of stuff. And from a product standpoint, what our big sort of goal and vision is, is we want to make the Blockchain more accessible. We want to make Cryptocurrency more accessible for everyone in this world. And so right now we’re doing that mostly via this wallet interface thing where you can go to the website, you can go to our desktop apps, you can create a new wallet.
Taylor Monahan: You can send ether, you can send your tokens, you can see your token balances. All of that kind of stuff and moving forward, we’re gonna look to expand our products to, again, make everyone’s lives a little bit easier and hopefully bring more and more people into this ecosystem and help them easily and safely and securely be able to do this whole crypto thing, that’s the big goal for the next few years.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Just a little goal then. Just a small milestone.
Taylor Monahan: Exactly.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Just completely revolutionize the world I guess, maybe.
Taylor Monahan: Yeah, and it is really … It’s an adventure. That’s what I’ll say. It is like a friggin’ adventure every day and it’s amazing but it is so … I’ve really underestimated how hard it would be to create a product that allows a really, really diverse set of users to easily interact with the Blockchain and it’s not that it’s technically hard, it’s not that it’s hard to write the code. It’s hard to make it a decision that keeps everyone happy or that doesn’t come with unintended consequences or that is a feature that we’re designing. Does this make it easy for my mother to use it and for the super security obsessed researcher to do it? And those types of things have been just surprisingly difficult to sort of balance, and especially just internally how we make decisions and how what we’re optimizing for and those sorts of things. I don’t know, it is blast though, that’s what I’ll say. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, it’s so exciting.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Well that’s great. And you mentioned would this product that your mom can use. You talked a bit about that MyCrypto enables you to interface with a Blockchain, what does that mean for someone who is not necessarily as familiar with Cryptocurrency, they’re learning a bit about what bitcoin is and maybe they’ve just purchased some of their first Cryptocurrency. How would you describe what MyCrypto does and how they can use MyCrypto in that respect?
Taylor Monahan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s an excellent question. So, this is probably one of the most difficult things for people to really, really understand because in the traditional world and even with things like Coinbase, you have this account where you have your username or your email address and your password and you’re able to basically log into these third parties, these systems right? And these are centralized systems and they’re on a server somewhere and they’re in the cloud somewhere. And what we do is not that at all, and it’s really quite unique. What we do is that we basically have created a visual layer that looks pretty typical in terms of a website or an application that allows you to directly talk to the Blockchain. So that means that instead of talking to our backend and our servers that are on our cloud, where we’re collecting all of your data, you’re actually just talking directly to the Blockchain.
Taylor Monahan: And this uses cryptography and it uses the interface that we’ve built and, for example, the buttons that we’ve built and the colors that we’ve chosen to make those buttons and all of that stuff, to try to help make that experience easier for you, but it’s just so different because we don’t have accounts. We don’t have accounts in a way you’re familiar with. For example, we don’t have the ability to reset your password. There are no email addresses, you will never put your email anywhere on the site. Instead, you’re given these strings of numbers and that’s how it works and that’s gonna be, probably one of the biggest things that we’re gonna have to overcome to make this really, really usable for say, my mother to use and understand. Getting people to just fundamentally at their core, understand that this isn’t a bank, they’re not interacting with a bank. There’s no fraud protection, all of those types of things.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Yeah, I mean this is something that myself and Austin, we’ve talked about this in previous episodes, talking about kinda the challenges for adoption within this space and UX within a lot of interfaces to the Blockchain are not only quite confusing for more advanced users, but almost terrifying for anyone new. Austin, we talked quite a lot about this right?
Austin Knight: Yeah, I, personally, and I’ve always thought this could partially … I could be feeling this way just because I’m an designer so I view I everything from a design perspective, but I definitely feel that the largest barrier to widespread adaption of Blockchain and crypto tech is UX and design right now. Just because everything is so opaque and difficult to understand, it’s almost like a black box even for more advanced or tech savvy users, not to mention this sort of ambitious goal that everybody is sort of dreaming of right now, which is crypto for everybody regardless of your age or your tech comfort level. So I think that hearing about services like MyCrypto where you are attempting that goal, my instinct would be that, that’s absolutely what this tech needs if it’s going to achieve the ambitions that it set out to achieve.
Taylor Monahan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, absolutely. And I completely agree with you by the way. The user experience, the design and I think definitely the research part of it and understanding your users and understanding the different peoples that are using your product and those types of things, they need a lot of work. Even on MyCrypto they need a lot of work. There’s so much low hanging fruit that just sort of gets overlooked in the process of building the product and building the technology and especially when the underlying protocols are developing and changing so much, it can be really hard to perfectly prioritize all the things and do all the things, in general.
Taylor Monahan: I can say that we’re definitely focused on improving the user experience and the design and really thinking hard about what our product is and who our product is for and helping people make an informed decision so that they can … When my mom shows up on the site, she shouldn’t be scared and right now, we do kind of fall into the trap of putting that big old [model 00:20:02], with all the scary red and we do that on purpose because we were seeing such a huge amount of loss, that we were like okay, slap this thing on here and let’s see if we can prevent some loss because in my opinion if we save people a couple ether, then we won, right?
Matthew Howells-Barby: Right.
Taylor Monahan: But in the long term or what is the real solution look like? And I think the answer is, my mom should be able to go to the site, and she should feel confident and empowered that she’s able to do this on her own and that she can, with confidence, go and either purchase her ether or purchase that token, or view her balance safely, or whatever it is, right? We want people to not only be able to do that, but to know that they can do that so they don’t see this big old popup and go running for the hills and never look at crypto again.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Taylor, what do you find is the most common problem that people run into, users of MyCrypto, that you kind of see as the biggest hold up? You touched on a few things there but is there one or two things that really stand out right now that’s a common threat that you’re noticing?
Taylor Monahan: God, it’s kind of like whack-a-mole. So I can say that about a year ago the biggest that we were seeing was people literally not properly saving and backing up their private keys and stuff. And I was constantly surprised by that, or can you reset my password? And then it shifted into people not even realizing that they should save their private keys, so there’s a difference. There’s the people that would save it and then lose it, and then there’s the people that just wouldn’t even save it.
Taylor Monahan: And so we made adjustments to the UI in order to, basically, we wouldn’t even give you your address until you’ve proven that you’ve saved that private key somewhere. And then it involved into the scams and the scams are what we’ve been seeing for pretty much just under a year now. I think they really, really took off in July of 2017. So first it was the slack scams were they would DM people some scary message, that transformed into right now it’s these Twitter scams, where they’re like send us .5 ETH and we’ll send you 5 ETH back.
Matthew Howells-Barby: And you have all of these replies and people are like, “Wow, just got this ETH, this is amazing!”
Taylor Monahan: Yeah, exactly. And so there all the same. I mean, they’re all different scams but they’re all in the same bay, right? We’re seeing phishing sites, we’re seeing look alike sites, we’re seeing the scary messages, we’re seeing the to good to be true messages. And so that’s sort of the biggest cause of loss right now is definitely, in my opinion, things that shouldn’t be a huge cause of loss. It’s so disappointing to see … Although I will say I guess it is better than exchanges being hacked every day, but not by much.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Yeah, and I think one of the things myself and Austin talked about in a couple of episodes ago where we’re actually talking about how to store and transfer crypto and the different wallets, things like that. One of the things that we talked a bit about is, and this has been mentioned by other people as well, is ultimately the consumer is now becoming the bank when it comes to security and there’s a lot of incredibly empowering things about that. I think there’s also a valid argument that people are almost not ready to become the bank, it sounds like a number of cases there. What are your thoughts around that?
Taylor Monahan: Oh yeah absolutely. I mean, that’s the thing is that being your own bank is such an amazing concept, right? And it’s perfect and it’s revolutionary, it’s everything we want until you realize that you’re now responsible for your own personal security. You’re now responsible for preventing fraud within your own little bubble. Obviously there aren’t really any insurance solutions right now but if there are or in the future insurance solutions come to be, then you’re going to be responsible for obtaining that insurance and utilizing it properly and that kind of stuff. And yeah, I think it’s a totally … In general, I would say that people are not ready to be their own banks. That said, because that’s incredibly depressing, right?
Matthew Howells-Barby: Yeah, yeah.
Taylor Monahan: That said, I think that everyone has the ability to be their own bank. I think that the problem is that one, there isn’t a great … We do a lot to try to educate people, where we learn every day and we’re not perfect at it and while we’ve tried to get better every day, there’s only a certain amount that one player can do.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Taylor Monahan: So I think that’s one of the things is that there’s just not enough education and instilling of best practices. And then the other thing is that it’s just the entire ecosystem is quite immature, and is developing at a really rapid pace but we’re just not there yet. And most of the people in the ecosystem are really, really technical people. They are researchers and they’re engineers and we have less designers in the space. We have less people from different walks of life. We have less people that … Most of the people in this space tend to be younger and I think that over time as the people that are helping build these products become more diverse, so different backgrounds coming from different countries, working for big corporations, everything that makes the world what it is, when we have all of those types of people building the products in this space, we’re gonna see the education, the user experience, the design and just generally how we tackle the different problems.
Taylor Monahan: We’re gonna see all those things sort of click into place more and then the end user is going to be able to be their own bank a lot more easily.
Austin Knight: So, sounds like some incredible design opportunities there and I also want to do just a little bit of victory lap because Matt and I harped on this during series one as it’s so important to understand what you’re getting into and to store your currency in a smart way and be responsible with your keys. So if you haven’t listened to the episodes that we did around that, do yourself a favor. Taylor has already touched on some of the horror stories, go back to series one and we’ve got some great tips on that, but continuing off of here, I want to kind of take us in a little bit of a different direction and address what may be an elephant in the room. Maybe not, but I would love to hear Taylor, if you could shed a little light into the situation that unfolded regarding MyEtherWallet and MyCrypto. It’s kind of a fascinating story in this space.
Taylor Monahan: Yeah absolutely. It is a pile of drama.
Matthew Howells-Barby: That doesn’t sound like the crypto space.
Taylor Monahan: So I kinda touched on it earlier when I said that when we were doing MyEtherWallet, we may not have really been prepared for sort of the growth that the product saw. We didn’t set out to build a company and have a huge amount of users or have even a product or a team. We basically were just building this little tool. And so when it turned into something that was much bigger and we didn’t have sort of the paperwork and the company structure and the things that you typically do when you are running a business, obviously it’s a little bit difficult to go back and time and get those things set up, so that’s sort of the gist of why the split happened. Obviously the things that people latch onto the most is the Twitter situation because I was operating under assumptions that were wrong and I shouldn’t have done that and essentially how I looked at the Twitter was …
Matthew Howells-Barby: Taylor, just for our listeners who may not necessarily be as savvy to … Could you just … I don’t want to pull out this too much but what exactly happened there?
Taylor Monahan: Okay so yeah. So basically when we split, everything that was MyEtherWallet, we basically let go of. But the Twitter account, not the Twitter username, the Twitter account we took the Twitter and just changed it to MyCrypto. And we did this because I had built this Twitter up and it was really the primary place that we communicated to people and it was the place that we utilized that Twitter as such a security beacon. We were Tweeting about scams, we were warning people for all of the ecosystem because it had a significant amount of followers in the space and it was yeah, it was a little bit of this thing that I built and I felt obligated to keep them updated about not necessarily just our products but also anything that went wrong in the space. Whether that was an DNS hack or some new scam that was going around, those types of things.
Taylor Monahan: So what ended up happening though is that when we did that, people instead of seeing it how I saw it and this is where I say I was operating under the wrong set of assumptions is that I assumed that everyone would understand why I did it. And I assumed that it wouldn’t cause more confusion and what ended up happening was that, that switch created more confusion in the community and I felt really, really terrible about that so then we ended basically going another switcheroo and the internet exploded and there’s a ton of drama and I basically told the whole team to heads down, kinda stay off social media and we released a statement or whatever but my main thing was let the drama sort of burn itself out and focus on building and focus on what we do best because my biggest priority is not necessarily what’s best for MyCrypto or let’s make MyCrypto the biggest thing in the world.
Taylor Monahan: I honestly don’t care very much about that at all. My biggest priority is how can we make Ethereum in the Blockchain more usable and more accessible and I think that limiting confusion in the space, eliminating confusion within the community and helping people interact with the Blockchain more easily, right? That’s what I want and when I realized that the decision that I had made regarding the Twitter was not doing that, it was creating more confusion that’s when I definitely had an, oh shit, what did I do? I never intended this. And so that was hard and that sucked really badly and the internet beat me up.
Matthew Howells-Barby: It must have been really tough, right?
Taylor Monahan: It sucks when it’s so obvious to look back on something that you’ve done and just be like, you should have seen that coming you moron. That’s what sucks.
Matthew Howells-Barby: I also, Taylor, I also don’t think it’s a crazy thing. I know you probably took a ton of shit for this and I saw a bunch of it on Twitter but at the end of the day regardless of whether it was right or wrong, you did build this thing. I can understand why you would want to do that and certainly from at least my point of view for whether that matters or not is a different thing, I would hope that people that weren’t just seeking drama could at least see that you were trying to do a service to the industry in maintaining that account.
Taylor Monahan: Right. And I mean, I hope people see that but I understand it may not have come across that way or obviously when everyone was confused and when there was a limited amount of information and the rumor mill was flying, these types of things, obviously regardless of my intentions is that what actually … Did my intentions sort of carry through and carry across this ecosystem? And I think that’s one of the, I don’t know if it’s one of the pain points in the industry right now or one of the things that frustrates me right now about the industry right now, but I really dislike how fragmented and dispersate all these different communities have become. And it’s like everyone hangs out in these Telegram or Discord, or Slack, or Riot, or whatever. All these little chat rooms that are surrounding these projects and tokens.
Taylor Monahan: And I feel like it’s a really … I understand that’s happened but I also miss the days where the core information was all shared on Reddit. That was really nice and so …
Matthew Howells-Barby: I think the irony of all of that, right, is we’re in space were looking to empower decentralization yet what is actually happening is the centralization of communications and relationships in amongst that and it’s pretty much just fueling drama. It kinda feels like this whole space, not tarnish the entire space but overall, I think it just needs to grow up a little bit and I think that comes with stage that we’re at right now as well, but also just the more kind of companies and individuals that are working together and ultimately a space that is fueled by open source decentralized projects, it’s only going to benefit things.
Taylor Monahan: Mm-hmm (affirmative), absolutely, absolutely. And yeah, I hope that we sort of see … It doesn’t necessarily have to be Reddit, that’s what our Ethereum used to be the one place that you’d go to for all conversation and news. It doesn’t necessarily need to be Reddit but I hope that we see the conversations come back to, I don’t know, more forum based so that they’re searchable and the knowledge can be reused later. Open and things happening in public, and where people that … So the biggest problem I have with Telegram channels for example, one it’s one horrendous to search or keep track of everything but two, most of the channels are focused around these projects or these tokens, or these ICO’s and they’re not focused around common goals. So they’re not focused around … You don’t have an education Telegram or a whatever. You know what I mean right?
Matthew Howells-Barby: Yeah for sure.
Taylor Monahan: You have a Telegram that’s focused around this one project and they’re usually one token or whatever it is.
Matthew Howells-Barby: And every other message is like, when is the price gonna go up? I invested, when is the price gonna go up?
Taylor Monahan: Yeah.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Okay, gotta mute this channel.
Taylor Monahan: Right exactly, and so I think that having more goal faced or problem solving structured conversations, or channels, or forums or whatever it is, I think that, that would be such an immense help for new people entering this space but also people that are a little bit more established in this space so that they can really contribute back into the ecosystem because right now I don’t know what goes on in these hundreds of telegram channels and I’m not contributing to those conversations and the discussions that are happening in those channels that are valuable, they’re not making their way back to me so that it influences my product and I can learn from their experiences and those sorts of things.
Taylor Monahan: I think that the best world is gonna be one where everything that I’ve learned from whether it’s the company, the team, our product, some very particular bug in a library somewhere, whatever it is, right? The best world is where all of that knowledge is accessible to every else in this space that’s building products and all of their knowledge is accessible to me so that I don’t know make the same mistakes that they have. And I just don’t feel like that’s happening right now very much and I really wish that we could figure out a way to do it.
Matthew Howells-Barby: I think we can all certainly agree on that and hopefully things like, not just our podcast but many of the other great podcasts out in the space, will help at least to certain extent share more open information. And on that note we’re probably coming up to time now, so I just wanted to say Taylor, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been really great fun talking with you and honestly I’m really excited to learn a little bit more and see what the future holds for MyCrypto and also for you personally in the space. I have no doubt that you’re going to go on and be a huge leader in this space over the next few years if not you’re already are right now. But just before we finish up, why don’t you just let our listeners know were they can hear more from you and how they can find out a little bit on some of the projects you’re working on.
Taylor Monahan: Yeah absolutely. So the main sort of place I prefer right now to talk to people is Twitter. So we have the Twitter.com/mycrpto, which is the company’s Twitter and then I now have my own personal Twitter, which is tayvano, T-A-Y-V-A-N-O and then a little underscore doodad because someone else apparently has my same name. But if you search MyCrypto on Twitter you’ll see the MyCrypto Twitter but also my personal account. Our CMO Jordan, his personal account. A lot of our team members are on Twitter as well with their personal accounts and beyond that, I think if you go to mycrypto.com, check out the site obviously but in the footer, we have all the social media links and that’s probably the easiest way to stay updated on our blog we got on Medium, if you really like LinkedIn for whatever reason, we have a LinkedIn you can follow.
Taylor Monahan: All the standard ones but if you just want to say what’s up to me, if you have a question, if you’re entering the space and you want to know where to start or whatever it is, just DM me on Twitter, DM’s area always open on both MyCrypto Twitter and my personal Twitter so that’s the best place to grab us.
Austin Knight: Great. Thanks again Taylor for coming on.
Taylor Monahan: Yeah, you’re very, very welcome. And this podcast, I listened to a couple episodes, I’m really, really impressed with what you guys are doing, I think you’re taking the right approach and definitely appreciate your sort of education UX design mindset. It’s definitely something that’s needed in this space and I applaud you for taking the initiative and doing a podcast about it.
Matthew Howells-Barby: Thanks so much.
Taylor Monahan: Awesome. Well, take care guys, thank you again so, so much.