Building on Blockchain pt. 5 ft. Maecenas
Their story, mission and our interview with the Founder and CEO. Building on Blockchain is an interview series, to find details on this series start here: [ link ].
We're proud to present the fifth part in our series with Marcelo Garcia Casil, Founder and CEO of Maecenas.
Summary: It's no secret that blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize almost every industry of trade. The story of Maecenas is of how this is beginning to happen in the Art industry. Maecenas has created a platform that allows its users to trade ownership of Fine Art. This tool allows individuals to digitally invest, own and trade ownership of fine art pieces. Maecenas is the first start-up in the world to ever tokenize a multi-million dollar asset; (14 Small Electric Chairs , Andy Warhol). With Maecenas' official launch soon approaching, and the 2nd art auction right around the corner, this is the perfect time to talk with the founder and find out more about how this tool can impact artists, the art industry, and the people who support it.
The first art tokenization shows true promise, and in the months since, many people have gotten excited by this. Maecenas is having an impact on the social and cultural use of blockchain technology, and that is what the Building on Blockchain series is all about. By using blockchain to democratize access to owning and investing in Fine Art, it is clear to us how Maecenas is Building on Blockchain.
Below is the story behind Maecenas, their mission, and our interview with the Founder, Marcelo Garcia Casil. Thanks again Marcelo!
Background: To give a decent background story, it's important we shortly note the state of the art industry before blockchain arrived to innovate. The problem Maecenas is solving in the Art industry deals with accessibility. For most consumers and collectors, Fine Art can be hard to come by. Fine Art is expensive and the auctions are typically exclusive to the wealthy. Not only is Fine Art hard to access as an investor, but it's incredibly challenging for the artist as well (especially living ones). Only 1% of all the Fine Art traded today valued at $1,000,000 or more has been created by an artist that is still alive. Maecenas is changing that. The true story of Maecenas starts in 2015 at a 'Growth Acceleration Program' in Geneva. Future Founder and CEO Marcelo, realized the potential that blockchain tech could have on the Fine Art trade, and the benefits it would bring the people and artists involved. Marcelo thought he could use this tech to create a digital tool that will allow people to invest in art safely, without a middle-man, and with piece of mind knowing that their investment is something they rightfully own. This would give access and opportunity to a lot of people who don't have it today. At the time, Marcelo Casil, didn't have much experience in Fine Art, but he understood how blockchain technology could be applied, and he had just spent over a decade in the financial sector, working investment banking in capital markets. Marcelo quickly identified the areas of the Fine Art industry that could be improved with this technology, and the research started. Considering Fine Art is a lightly regulated market, Marcelo understood the only way to make a positive change to the Fine Art trade process, was to disrupt it. Thus the Maecenas 'Proof of Concept' was born. Marcelo raised money, started hiring, paying salaries, creating the brand, and most importantly, building the product.
Today: Today the platform has just completed the first of its beta auctions. The team is still 'fine-tuning' the legal framework of the platform, while they are actively pursuing new jurisdictions. Yet, with just over a year in the books, the Maecenas team has grown 22 members strong. Ranging from Singapore to Europe, Argentina and Buenos Aires, such as their CTO Federico Cardoso. As of today, Maecenas has had one successful tokenization (Warhol), that raised close to $2million USD, they are now preparing for their 2nd tokenization (Picasso), with goals to tokenize at least 3 Fine Art pieces in 2019. Today, to join the beta platform, you need to pass KYC (Know Your Customer) rules to register an account. There are some details for the 2nd auction and future auctions (See the Q&A below), as well as changes to the minimum investment amount. Previously the minimum amount was $5,000- this is being changed (details in Q&A) to increase accessibility for all people.
Here’s how the process works:
The founder of Maecenas said this about technology:
“Technology is an enabler, it is the thing that can amplify an intention for good and for bad” — Marcelo Casil
While much of today may be looking ahead, there is certainly a lot to look forward to. While they are preparing to tokenize their 2nd piece of Fine Art (a Picasso), no more details could be given away at this time (See why in the Q&A). The team plans to add another 3 pieces of tokenized art to the exchange by the end of this year. This will all be done publicly on the Ethereum blockchain. While Q2 of 2019 looks promising for Maecenas, looking past 2019, you can see there is a whole world of opportunity opening up. The technology and the process can create opportunities for artists and investors, but Marcelo wants this tool to help art galleries and museums too. With plans of partnering with museums and galleries and giving them the ability to tokenize collected artworks or raise money through art auctions. Allowing museums to in-turn collect more art with the money they've raised, and give the people, the locals, a chance to own a fraction of the art that's on display. This will put art into the hands of the people again, in a way the world hasn't seen. Building on blockchain can change the world for the better, but there are definitely some challenges in the way.
We spoke with the Founder of Maecenas, Marcelo Garcia Casil.
Marcelo is a big-picture thinker. He’s quick, sharp and well-educated. He believes in Maecenas, he believes in his team, and he isn't intimidated by the challenges ahead. Below is our Q & A:
ELC: Share some details on your background. What were you doing before blockchain took over? Marcelo: “I was born and raised in Argentina, completed my studies, got my degree and I moved to London; looking to perfect my English and find some work. I worked 15-years for a number of different banks (American, British, Swiss & Australian). I was always on the investment banking side in capital markets where trading happens with different asset classes. This gave me really good exposure to how the financial world works and how banks trade and make money at the expense of people who have less access. When my time in London was complete, I moved to Asia; Singapore attracted me most. So in 2013 I moved to Singapore with a job that was happy to relocate me. It was around this part of my life I discovered Bitcoin for the 2nd time. I started deeply researching it, I wanted to understand everything about how it works, around the end of 2013, I had this eureka moment that we all have when we understand Bitcoin. I said 'Wow! This is going to change the world, this is the new internet for money, this is completely groundbreaking and revolutionary and I need to be a part of this!' So I decided to leave my job to pursue my dreams. My job wasn't fulfilling at the time to me, but Bitcoin is really, really exciting."
ELC: Tell me about a major decision you made that seriously impacted Maecenas' course. Marcelo: "Well, for Maecenas as a team, we found ourselves at a crossroads near the beginning. We had to focus on who we wanted to please. There's the traditional institutions in capital markets, we'd have to be compliant with them and check all their boxes so that they feel safe; or, say hey, we live on our beliefs, play the wildcard and support our customers based on our beliefs in crypto and focus on looking out for that community. It was a heated debate internally, not many agreed, and we had people on both sides. In the long-term, we will embrace everyone, but I pushed really hard for us to stick to our principles and serve the crypto community, and it has really paid off. We're working with a community of early adopters and we really want to give something back to them. We're after the people that are moved to support a project out of passion, out of sharing values with a team that's leading that change."
ELC: What challenges are you facing today, and how do you expect them to change? Marcelo: "Today, the market is very tightly controlled by a handful of players, who are very well aware of our existence. Some have gotten in touch with us, I have no idea how they found my personal contact details but they contacted me directly. We've been in touch with them and they are keeping a very close eye on us. If we start to look like more of a threat to them, I'm sure they're going to do something about it, because this happens in every industry, and Fine Art is no exception. Today, and down the road, regulation is proving to be a major hurdle. Even though we've done a lot of work on the tokenization not resulting in a security, the financial regulation is still so incredibly complicated. Each country has their own definition of what is a security and what isn't; so when I say the tokenization is not a security, that's not true for every country in the world, just the jurisdictions we'e been working with (commonwealth). There are a lot of regulatory challenges in front of us, for those types of tokenizations in the major markets (Europe/US), it will be tough nuts to crack. It will take a lot of time, patience, money, and the right lawyers to overcome the challenges."
ELC: What is the average day of work like for the Founder & CEO? Marcelo: "Well my team is all over the world, so because of the timezone changes, the first thing I do when I wake up is jump into our group chat and reply to our peers in South America. Then coffee, emails and connecting with local coworkers. All my morning work is done at home, about 10:00 AM I head into the office and work until Europe wakes up and we reconnect with them. As far as specific activities goes, it's: decision making, tons of conversations and making sure communication flows, that we are thinking about everything we are doing instead of just doing. A lot of steering in the right direction. It's taken me a while to delegate the workload but it's necessary for growth.
ELC: Does the name Maecenas come from the Roman 'Art Patron', Gaius Maecenas? Marcelo: "Yes! Gaius Maecenas was a famous Roman known as 'the Patron of the Arts', he financed young artists to help them make a living through creating art. We want a take on a modern day incarnation of Gaius Maecenas through our platform. We will use our platform to bring funding to the people who otherwise struggle in this industry. We can't do that by only tokenizing Picasso's because Picasso is dead. But it's the first step in the right direction. Once we can positively establish our name in the art market, we can lower our costs through higher efficiencies and leveraging economies of scale. This will allow us to finance commissions from artists who want to do creations that are valued between $5,000 - $10,000.
ELC: Okay Marcelo, what are the details on the 2nd auction? We know it's a Picasso... Marcelo: "Okay, well I can't share all the details yet. The art market is very skeptical and closed and conservative. It's members don't want any kind of advertising of auctions, that can go unsold, because the potential unsuccess can hurt the reputation of the collector and the artwork. So, out of discretion for the collector and the artwork, we have withheld a lot of information until the very last minute. We really want to avoid scaring collectors off. Unfortunately, this is just the nature of the markets we are walking in to. We have details, dates, names and the launching all coming up around the corner; Q2 will be very exciting for us."
ELC: What is the minimum to invest on your platform? Fine Art would be a grand addition to my portfolio! Marcelo: "Our first tokenization had a minimum entry of $5,000 which is very high for a company that wants to open up art investing for everyone. It was necessary for us to do it that way at the time. Now we can run the auctions in a completely decentralized way. Meaning that Maecenas does not control the auction process. The minimum entry can potentially be as low as $100. It's been a trial and error process and we are prepared to make the changes we need to succeed."
ELC: Who do you think Satoshi Nakamoto is? Marcelo: "I think it's a group of people who are passionate about cryptography and therefore value privacy, and it makes complete sense that they want to remain anonymous. I think very early in their discussions they realized they were creating a sort of financial atomic-bomb. They realized the whole world would come after them to force them at gunpoint to shut-down Bitcoin. It makes sense for the anonymity. Like how writers with controversial ideas will often use pen names and pseudo-names and sometime a group of writers will write with the same name. All in all, I think Satoshi Nakamoto is a collective of people.
A big thank you to Marcelo and Maecenas for giving us the pleasure of an interview, and encouraging freedom and opportunity for individuals and artists. We support your mission!
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