Erich Wasserman is a Co-Founder of MediaMath, an angel investor, and is now pursuing his next entrepreneurial venture.
Who is your digital hero?
Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum.
What has he done to win hero status in your eyes?
Mr Buterin is the visionary inventor of a new class of technology that has sparked a new and exciting era of innovation for consumers and enterprises. The most welcomed of these innovations lie in the new category of Decentralized Finance.
DeFi applications are, right now, helping millions of people struggling with real financial challenges. Consider that there are 1.7 billion people globally who lack access to any financial services, while the rest of us rely on products bloated with fees and access requirements.
During normal times, this system limits opportunities for individual and enterprise advancement. But in times of monetary crisis, the system’s inadequacies are laid thoroughly bare. Right now, for example, in countries like Argentina and Venezuela, currencies are being ravaged by staggering inflation that eviscerate savings and complicate basic purchasing.
In prior eras, retreating money to safety would either be practically impossible or would be relegated to black markets. But moving money to digital currencies, accessed over the internet from a smartphone, now give more and more people options to protect their assets while staying liquid, enabling commerce.
How has his heroism helped drive digital?
I think we’ll look back on this period of decentralized technology innovation — in particular its utility in finance — and conclude that it was the foremost counter-cultural movement of our time.
As a digital-first utility, and not one sea-anchored by legacy paper-first institutions, innovations in DeFi will surely drive faster growth of both existing digital economies — enabling new and more engaging ways for brands to connect and transact directly with consumers in digital marketing, for example — and will compel the creation of wholly new ones.
And in the unlikely event that any of this is over-hyped, one thing is clear: it is now hard to ignore the weighty structural questions DeFi provokes about the limitations of our existing financial systems. These questions alone may be Mr Buterin’s most heroic contribution: it’s hard to unsee DeFi’s potential.
What the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?
We need more fluid and more intuitive access to decentralized applications, especially those developed for consumers. At present, the promise of better access to more diversity of financial products is limited because dealing in digital currencies is a bit more complicated than visiting a cash point.
This is rapidly changing, of course, much like the transformation I witnessed working in digital media beginning in 2005 at the dawn of the sector’s own technological transformation, when tools were positively loathsome.
I’ve no doubt that access modes will simplify and improve to meet the vast opportunity. So, other digital heroes might focus on lowering barriers to access digital currencies through innovations in flow and experience.
What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?
Heroic or not, I’ve sought to play an important role in advocating for, developing, and distributing more responsible, consumer-centric, and useful digital advertising with technology, both in my roles at MediaMath and through personal investments in a slew of promising technology companies.
The digital marketing industry still has plenty of work to do to reduce friction across the board, but it does feed the primary business model that enables a vitally important, but embattled, open web.