Untold Stories: Alena Vranova From Communism To Crypto

Join Charlie and guest Alena Vranova, Trezor founder, head of strategy for CasaHODL and one of the true innovators in crypto, as they discuss all things crypto, including: How she discovered Bitcoin, her experience of communism’s fall, how mass surveillance culture pushes people to crypto, the birth of the first crypto hardware wallet, the true meaning of updates that will come “in two weeks”, the driving philosophy behind the Trezor wallet, and how Trezor guards hardware security.

Charlie Shrem
Hey everyone, this is Charlie Shrem and you're listening to Untold Stories. This is a show where we dive deep into the lives and personal histories of some of crypto's most influential leaders and find out how the crypto movement truly came to be. Let's dive in. This episode of Untold Stories and sponsored by Scott Offord, the creator of crypto mining. Scott's a broker of ASIC basic mining gear and helps people buy and sell their miners. He created a bitcoin mining profitability calculator and an interactive ASIC basic hardware comparison chart that you can find at cryptomining.tools. It's the only free online tool for calculating profitability and days to ROI. That includes the impact of the bitcoin block reward halving.

Charlie Shrem
The calculator lets you put in your estimated uptime to give you a more realistic profit projections so check it out and find Scott on telegram and Twitter @offordscott. That's O-F-F-O-R-D S-C-O-T-T. Links are in the show notes. This episode of Untold Stories is sponsored by eToro, the smartest crypto trading platform and one of the largest in the world with over $1 trillion in trading volume per year. US customers can trade the most popular crypto assets with low and transparent fees, and if you're not ready to trade yet, practice building your crypto portfolio with the eToro $100,000 virtual trading feature.

Charlie Shrem
Best of all, you can connect with 11,000,000 other eToro traders around the world, myself included, to discuss trading, charts and all things crypto. Create an account at etoro.com. Links in the show notes and build your crypto portfolio, the smart way. Untold Stories is powered by BlockWorks Group, the only event and podcast production company I trust. For access to the premier, digital asset conferences and in-depth podcast content visit them at blockworksgroup.io. That's blockworksgroup.io. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Charlie Shrem
I know I say this a lot, but I truly am so excited about my next guest. I usually jump into this long intro introducing them. But Alena Vranova does not need an introduction because I guarantee you every single listener of my show has used one of her products before. And it's very interesting because most people, like I was telling her earlier before the show started, most people just do, but she just keeps on doing and launching amazing things. For example, in 2011, she was the founder of SatoshiLabs, which you all know, basically brought out, was the first... SatoshiLabs was one of the first companies that brought out infrastructure in the crypto space in the bitcoin world, I'd like to say coinmap.org, which was the first bitcoin map that you could find out, where in the world places are accepting and using bitcoin.

Charlie Shrem
Slush Pool, one of the first bitcoin mining pools and one of the largest Trezor. You guys all use the Trezor. I use the Trezor, one of the first hardware wallets and still till today, my favorite hardware wallet. And now she is the head of strategy at CasaHODL. Alena, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Alena Vranova
Well, thank you very much, Charlie. You've done a very generous intro to me.

Charlie Shrem
The energy is real.

Alena Vranova
Thank you. I don't want to take unjust credits for some of the things that you mentioned. So just to straighten up the record, I am the co founder of SatoshiLabs, together with Slush and Stick, they both go by by nicknames. And slush has created Slush Pool, the first mining pool before we even met. So I don't want to take credit for that, but SatoshiLabs in general kind of was…organization for all the projects that we've been developing. And there was a coin map, done by Stick very early 2013 and then we redesigned it once, but the major development under SatoshiLabs was Trezor the hardware wallet. So just to be fair.

Charlie Shrem
So that's awesome of you to say because it takes a very humble person to be able to recognize the other people that deserve credit for things. And it's very difficult to find amazing executives and amazing people that you can work with. So that's really great that you founded these projects with Slush, who I've spoken to dozens and dozens of times, but you and I have never actually met before, which is very surprising, because I thought I had pretty much met every person in the space.

Alena Vranova
Yes. I don't know how that happened. We have to also correct this soon in the future.

Charlie Shrem
Yes, for sure. So you also come from very humble beginnings. You identify as Czechoslovakian, which is super cool. I love that because as my listeners will know, there's two countries nowadays, there's the Czech Republic and there's Slovakia. I think there are a lot of parallels in the bitcoin world to what happened to Czechoslovakia. So you identify as Czechoslovakian. I think you said your mother is Slovakian and your father is Czech.

Alena Vranova
Exactly.

Charlie Shrem
And so you grew up in this world where everyone was the same, you were all Czechoslovakia. There was no separate cultures. It's like in the United States, if the north and the south end up becoming two separate countries and people start identifying as southerner or northerner. Do a lot of people in Czech Republic and Slovakia today identify the same way you do? Or is it, "I'm Czech." Or, "I'm Slovakian."

Alena Vranova
No, actually the two little nations have almost nothing in common throughout the history. And both nations are quite different in nature, in culture and history, in the way they're thinking. There's huge differences. The way Czechoslovakia came to existence was a purely political project. After the first world war there was... Slavic nations in Europe were suffering. So our political leaders thought it could be great to create like a Pan-Slavic state. Okay. Pan-Slavic meaning connecting all the Slavic countries, nations in Europe, which did not happen. There was not enough support and it was way too scattered and everyone had their own interests. And so basically it happened between Czechs and Slovaks. Right? But Slovakia was always these little, quite poor country. For 1000 years, it was part of Austria-Hungary.

Alena Vranova
Okay. So no sovereignty at all for the country and compared to Czechs and the Bohemian country, Bohemia was a beautifully cultural and very historically significant country. The seat of kings and Caesars, right? The two countries have almost nothing in common except for a little tiny period in the history, which led my mom and my dad together, just like in many others in Czechoslovakia. And so you have a fairly decent amount of people that could say they're Czechoslovak. But it's really a different nation, different country, different mind.

Charlie Shrem
The Czech Republic is known for engineering and mass producing hardware. And so when you guys originally launched the Trezor, and then I read that it's a Czech company. I was like, "Oh." I know this is great because you guys produce, I mean, a lot of the weapons, a lot of the guns in the world today. And actually interestingly enough, I have a Jet surfboard. I'm not sure if you've heard of this before, but the Jetsurf was, the concept was invented and they're all produced in the Czech Republic today. And I have one, it's basically a surfboard with a jet ski engine in it. I live in Florida, so it's amazing, but it's produced in the Czech Republic. All the parts I have to get are from the Czech Republic. And it's a lot fun.

Alena Vranova
I have no idea. You see, we have a saying, it says the golden Czech hands. And that means that Czechs are extremely innovative and extremely... We are a do it yourself culture, and that this was, I think that's a heritage from the communist times as well, where everyone had the same, like the other ones, which meant almost nothing. And so if you wanted something different or special, then you had to figure out a way how to create it yourself. And so it was very typical for women, for my moms and grand moms to sew and knit and produce clothes. For our dads to fix their cars and create whatever they wanted to. And I think it's true. So there is a lot of innovative thinking. We have a fairly good technical education. So a lot of brain power here, a little bit less on let's say sales and marketing, investment side, but when it comes to technical skills, yes, Czechoslovakia used to be, even before the Second World War, one of the top 10 economies in the world. Thanks to this wit.

Charlie Shrem
So let's go back 10 years. Let's go back. Let's turn on the time machine here.

Alena Vranova
The Wayback Machine.

Charlie Shrem
Let's go to The Wayback Machine. Actually, funny side story, the waybackmachinearchive.org. Brewster Kale is a phenomenal guy who owns The Wayback Machine archive, The Internet Archive Foundation. And funny story about him. In 2000, because you brought that up, in 2013 he actually tried... He founded a bank here in New Jersey, in the US called the Internet Credit Union and this was in the early days of Bitcoin. And so he's founded a bank and I was actually one of the... He only had a few hundred accounts. I had an account at the Internet Credit Union and it got shut down eventually. They quickly got rid of it, but for awhile it was a real bank and I had a debit card and I had a bank account number. He's very libertarian and loves bitcoin. So that's a total side point. But let's go back in our own Wayback Machine here. Let's get some untold stories. So the year is 2010 and you're studying at the University College of International and Public Relations. That's a very long name of a school, in Prague.

Alena Vranova
Yes.

Charlie Shrem
And you're studying for economic diplomacy. Imagine if bitcoin never existed, what would you have done? What did you want to do?

Alena Vranova
I would be sad. Okay. I went to study. That's cool because despite working in a traditional finance, I never had an actual financial education. My education was rather languages and marketing, communication and some creative stuff. And somehow I landed in finance, in risk management and insurance building businesses. Right? And then the crisis happened. Then they realized, "Okay, Alena you know nothing about the financial world actually." So I went on to study this. And money was-

Charlie Shrem
What is economic diplomacy?

Alena Vranova
It was a broad spectrum of topics. We had a very intense study of history and history of diplomacy, which is a layer on top of the usual. History books that you read. It was like, who negotiated what and why and how? And that gives you kind of a better understanding of how the world turns and why nation-states and rulers decide the way they do and why they say what they say, don't say what they don't say, right? And then there was a big part dedicated to macro economy and profiling each countries, how their economies work, what their problem's going to be in the future. Trying to think forward. Right? And I realized that money is the epicenter of it all and that's the tool of power. And I want to see, and I understood one country issuing internationally accepted in global currency could be a systemic problem.

Alena Vranova
And so there I was, digging into different kinds of monies, right? Local currencies and light systems, up to the point of studying International Monetary Fund's SDRs. That was the special drawing rights idea that never really took off. And they're trying to revive it in the recent years. I was just researching and also talking to friends and I found bitcoin and I had a feeling, "Okay, this was the purpose why I studied."

Charlie Shrem
So how did you find out about bitcoin?

Alena Vranova
I just found it. I was researching online. I was looking for all forms of money and hoping to find in my thesis a better form of money, a better form of global money. And it was like, "Surprise, surprise Alena, if you're looking for something. Well, here is some Satoshi Nakamoto piece. Written a paper and some people are starting to talk about it." And then I was lucky to have some good, good friends around me that are hackers, nerds, thinkers. And one of them came to visit Prague and he came to my house and we just spent the entire night just talking about bitcoin and he was explaining stuff to me and I was like, "Oh, holy crap. This is going to be huge." Right? He was giving me this conspiracy look, and that was 20-

Charlie Shrem
I still get that look from people.

Alena Vranova
Still. Yeah, you know which look.

Charlie Shrem
"What are you talking about?"

Alena Vranova
Yes. And then 2011, Amir Taaki organized the first bitcoin conference in Iraq-

Charlie Shrem
Yes, Amir.

Alena Vranova
Yes Amir.

Charlie Shrem
I miss Amir.

Alena Vranova
Yes. He's still around. He's doing some, as usual, some crazy things that he does. And one of these crazy things that he did and the great things that he did was this conference because there was the first European conference, I think the first American bitcoin conference happened just two weeks prior to that. So it was a tiny space, probably November 2011. And I went there of course, because it was in my town and I saw Max Keiser on stage talking about his beloved topics, monetary. Monetary topics and banking.

Charlie Shrem
Who else did you meet at this conference?

Alena Vranova
And there was Slush at the conference and there was Simon Dixon from Bank to the Future. Imagine. Back then.

Charlie Shrem
Wow.

Alena Vranova
And he's still around. I met I think both Slush and Stick, but they were super nerdy and I was like the business girl. So it was to find two ways, especially if you know someone is deep down in the technology and you're on the other side of the world, seems like, right? At the time it's difficult to pick up a conversation. But I was lucky and we were lucky again to meet in later, like 2013 in March, on some random security conference in Bruno. And I was just there because I had a crazy night partying with my business partners from some insurance company. I think I was pretty decently hangover. And then I went to just see my friend talking at this conference and there's Slush again. And he starts to tell me about the idea of creating a hardware wallet, which a few people have explored before, but nobody succeeded to do it well.

Alena Vranova
And I was like, "Oh, that's super interesting. Well, why don't we connect and meet again in Prague." And so we met a few times, and I've just found it more and more and more fascinating. And I've thought, "Yes, users need hold their keys." So I was like, "There's no way we should run these risks." And I offered my help and I basically just offered my help for a little bit. I said, "I'm going to help you a little bit." Because I was at that time the head of external sales and business development…which was a very responsible duty and working quite a lot. But then, it really was exciting. We set up the crowd funding for Trezor in what? May, June, 2013 and back then bitcoin was $90. And so we said, "Hey, if you want the Trezors, send us one bitcoin and if you want a metallic casing..."

Charlie Shrem
I still want the metallic casing.

Alena Vranova
Well, it's still late. They're gone.

Charlie Shrem
My friend has one, he won't sell it to me.

Alena Vranova
The first additions are gone. I've recently found one after moving houses, I found one in a box and I gave it away, Twitter.

Charlie Shrem
I have to check eBay. I want to hear about the crowdfund but I want to give you my perspective really quick. And I want the listeners to have a certain perspective before you tell the story of the founding of Trezor. Before Trezor existed, there were no hardware wallets. Nowadays the hardware wallet is as well known as your cell phone. There isn't a question about, should I use a hardware wallet? The question is which one should I use? And the field is full. There are dozens and dozens of different ones. I literally have... On my office, I have a stack of different ones. I have the BC VAULT, I have Trezors, I have the JuBiter one, I have the ledger, I have of course my Trezors. I have dozens of them, because I like playing with all different ones. Right. KeepKey. Funny Story. I almost bought KeepKey, but that's another story for another time.

Charlie Shrem
But what's interesting is that in 2014 when I went to prison there, there were no hotter or wallets. I was using exclusively blockchain.info because I liked the fact that with blockchain.info at the time, now they don't do this anymore, but the way blockchain.info is set up, their wallet back then, before they went to the HD wallet was that you can have your password, which encrypted your wallet and then you can have a secondary password that you can re-encrypt your wallet and have multiple, multiple wallets re-encrypted in that. So if someone got your original password... And I liked that, the double encryption. But when the hardware wallet first came out, I first got out of jail and I was talking to my friend, my friend George Manger, I don't know if you know him.

Charlie Shrem
He actually was at the time, the head of customer service for blockchain.info. And I emailed him, actually, we were living in the same town in Pennsylvania and I messaged him, this is 2016 and I said, "Hey, I'm out of jail. I need to unlock my blockchain.info wallet." Because he essentially turned off the two factor authentication for me that went to a cell phone that basically never existed because I was nervous that while I was in prison, someone could port my phone number and take my crypto. So he turned it off for me and I was able to... And he's like, "Hey, I know I work for blockchain.info, but there's this really cool hardware wallet called the Trezor, that I have one and you should try." And I'm like, "No, I don't really want to do that. I'm pretty comfortable with what I'm doing now." And he was like, "Dude, trust me, you have to use, and…actually was the head of customer service for a bit instant from 2012 to 2013. And so I trusted him a lot.

Charlie Shrem
And so he said, "You got to do it." And I said, "No, I'm not going to do it." And he came over, he literally showed up at my house with a Trezor and he's like, "Here, use this freaking thing now or else I'm going to punch you in the face basically." And I was like, "All right. All right." And that's when I got hooked.

Alena Vranova
Oh, okay. Thank you Mandarich.

Charlie Shrem
Yeah. Thank you Mandarich. And I'm going to have him on the show because he has some crazy stories. He's worked at a lot of early bitcoin companies. So take me back to the crowd sale. So, wait, I have a question. Why didn't you do a token sale for Trezor?

Alena Vranova
It was a token sale actually. We were just not distributing-

Charlie Shrem
But you actually got something out of it.

Alena Vranova
We did not distribute any actual crypto tokens. We distributed a promise, right? We said, "If you send us money, we will do this." And we did that. We were late though. And we made a few mistakes on the way we learned a ton of stuff. But when you look at it, it was in a way people would entrust us their money because they saw there's an actual need for some things more secure and usable for an everyday person. And they gave us the trust. One of the reasons I think it was because they've known Slush and that helped. Slush has created the first mining pool. His pool was hacked and he covered the losses from his pocket.

Alena Vranova
And so he had this social credit somehow that was very helpful, to start with. People back then didn't know me, although I was quite a successful business developer already. I had a few big businesses behind me, but I was new to bitcoin spaced. So that was kind of helpful. And there was probably less disappointments back then, so people were more apt to believe to trust. Right? And at the same time, we did the crowd fund purely on Bitcoin, no PayPal, no fiat money. We were heavy bitcoiners and if we want to build up the bitcoin economy we wish-

Charlie Shrem
Were or are heavy Bitcoiners?

Alena Vranova
Were and are.

Charlie Shrem
Okay, good. I just want to make sure.

Alena Vranova
Yeah, that back that I caught in 2010 just I can get rid of it. So we went pure bitcoin in the crowdfunding, just made things so much easier. Because we tried to create a Kickstarter campaign on kickstarter.com and they made everything possible to stop us. First of all-

Charlie Shrem
What do you mean?

Alena Vranova
So we submitted our campaign to Kickstarter and there's a procedure that you have to go through and they, I think, I've never gotten a clear answer, but I think they didn't like that it's bitcoin. And they kept asking us for extremely detailed plans. They wanted the entire code base for Trezor, way before we could even finish. They wanted a lot of schemes of the hardware and stuff. And so it took weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. And then we were like, "Damn, well we should fundraise ourself. You know what, screw that. Let's set up our eshop purely on Bitcoin, and let's do it." And so we did.

Alena Vranova
It turns out like we did it just shortly before the huge rally in 2013. So we started when bitcoin was $90 and within few months bitcoin was on what? 1200. From $90 to 1000 and something. And we were still working on the project. And so some people got nervous and they wanted to speculate and they wanted the money back. And then we had some delay in the manufacturing. So they call the scammers. They called us butterfly labs too

Charlie Shrem
Butterfly Labs.

Alena Vranova
You remember Butterfly Labs?

Charlie Shrem
I remember it. But most people listening to this show have no idea what we're talking about. And they're probably googling Butterfly Labs right now.

Alena Vranova
Okay. Butterfly Labs.

Charlie Shrem
And that's why we're here, to educate people. But yeah, tell us what it was.

Alena Vranova
It was a mining hardware producer, right? And they got kind of sadly famous for pre-selling their mining hardware. And then it took them forever to deliver and they got also famous for the into weeks-

Charlie Shrem
That's what they kept saying.

Alena Vranova
Into weeks-

Charlie Shrem
And this was pre-ASIC, right? This wasn't ASIC, this was GPU?

Alena Vranova
I think it was so much GPU. Yeah.

Charlie Shrem
Well, this wasn't even like-

Alena Vranova
Or one of the first technical-

Charlie Shrem
Almost all bitcoin mining today. Like you would say, what? 100% or 99.9% of bitcoin mining today is done on ASIC because they are just 10 times more efficient and better at mining bitcoin. But this was so long ago. This was still graphics card.

Alena Vranova
It's possible. I don't remember the technical specs anymore, but the problem wasn't that they kept postponing. The problem was that they actually produced a hardware, they mined a bunch of bitcoin with this hardware and they started to ship the hardware to the actual owners a long after it was profitable for them to mine. Right? So they would…machines, and that was a huge scam.

Charlie Shrem
So people were accusing you of being like another Butterfly Lab?

Alena Vranova
Yes. And that was-

Charlie Shrem
What year was this?

Alena Vranova
That was 2013 still. Because we'd promised to deliver the hardware wallets around October, 2013 and we were on a good path towards it, but then our manufacturer failed us big time and he kept postponing. And so when we were in November, and heading to December, I knew that I have to find a new manufacturer, but picking up negotiations with new manufacturers, that usually takes a few months until you settle on the contract and everything. So basically we delivered the product with some six or eight months late. Right. So it hurt. It was weird because I always was very fair in any business that I did and I always had a very good reputation for having great business relations. And then being accused of being scammers and knowing that it's painful for the people, because they think they may have been scammed but they don't know. And all the pressure was extreme. And I was still working at SG.

Alena Vranova
So I had two jobs. For nine months, I would work 9 to 5 in the bank, in the insurance company and then go to our... Not even our office, but an office of our friends and stay up all nights until 3-4 AM and then sleep three hours. So I was exhausted and I had my inbox full of people that were pissed and wanting their bitcoins back. And plus we were handling the learning process because none of the three had ever produced any hardware. We were-

Charlie Shrem
Well, let me ask you a question.

Alena Vranova
Yeah.

Charlie Shrem
Did the concept of hardware wallets exist before this? Where did you get that idea from? Because you weren't-

Alena Vranova
The idea existed, yeah. So the concept was tested by several people. People would try to build some Raspberry Pis and created... There was... I'm sure when you Google or you go to a bitcoin Wiki that you will find some very early attempts.

Charlie Shrem
I'll tell you the answer.

Alena Vranova
Yes.

Charlie Shrem
And this is a very unknown story. It's a very, very unknown story and I should keep it that way. But the first... As I know it hardware wallet actually was conceptualized by the former mayor of a town in Russia called... His name is Sasha. I don't want to say his real name, but that's his nickname.

Alena Vranova
Okay.

Charlie Shrem
And he was an oil oligarch. In 2012, he flew out almost all the early crypto people to Vienna to help him build what he was calling the bitcoin card. And the people... Nejc, from Bitstamp was there. Amir Taaki was there. I was there, Erik Voorhees was there, Roger Ver was there. And obviously he never launched it. It failed completely. But that was what I know was the original hardware, while it was conceptualized.

Alena Vranova
Let me go to this, to the webpage and look it up. There were several. So the way Slush and Stick got to come back to the idea was because they saw some presentation of some German professor who will try to do it as well with his students and failed. And there was another hardware wallet and I just... My memory is so bad, but I'm trying to-

Charlie Shrem
While you're thinking of that, I want to ask you where the Trezor name comes from.

Alena Vranova
Oh, Trezor is a very usual word in my language, both in Czech and Slovak, and means a safe box, safety box. So I can go to Czech Republic and walk into a bank and say, "Hey, I want to open up a Trezor."

Charlie Shrem
Yes.

Alena Vranova
Really?

Charlie Shrem
I want to try that.

Alena Vranova
Yes, definitely. Oh, here. I got it. I found it. So my team was inspired by Professor Clayman's cup. He tried to do something with his students and then... But there was a lot of work done around that time of 2011, '12. There's some big clip project or at least a concept. Then Jim, from MultiBit, if you remember MultiBit.

Charlie Shrem
MultiBit.

Alena Vranova
Yes.

Charlie Shrem
So Jim actually was the one who founded the KeepKey.

Alena Vranova
Well, no.

Charlie Shrem
I'm confusing him.

Alena Vranova
Yeah, no. But you don't confuse the person. We're talking about the same Jim from MultiBit. But KeepKey acquired MultiBit. Okay.

Charlie Shrem
Oh, okay. Got it now.

Alena Vranova
But Jim was involved in the space for a long time and-

Charlie Shrem
I spoke to him a few months ago. He's brilliant.

Alena Vranova
Yes. I always loved him. And he was writing about some dedicated bitcoin devices, that you deal with in an untrusted networks. So the idea was around, it was just like nobody sat down and made it happen and made it happen in a user-friendly way and in a mass production, right?

Charlie Shrem
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Charlie Shrem
I was a little sad actually, that when ShapeShift, Erik Voorhees they acquired KeepKey and MultiBit. They're sun-setting MultiBit. And I was a little sad about that because MultiBit was one of the first software wallet implementations that wasn't Bitcoin Core or before Bitcoin Core was called Bitcoin Core, there were few to other implementations, but that was one of the first ones. I was a little sad about that.

Alena Vranova
Well, at least the way, I understood it at the time with Trezor and MultiBit corporatives of course there was... They were one of the first, or maybe even the first wallet that implemented Trezor support. And so obviously when this news starting to come about, I was like, "Hey Jim, what are the plans?" And the plans supposedly were to maintain MultiBit, to further develop it and of course I had a feeling that's not going to be the case. And I was unfortunately right.

Charlie Shrem
How did you come up with the design for the Trezor?

Alena Vranova
This is mainly the... If you're asking about the architecture and about the-

Charlie Shrem
The physical, what it looks like and the buy ins and I mean the teardrop shape that you guys created in the... Instead of doing it as a card, you did it as a little elongated version or a larger version of a USB dongle. I mean, how was that design conceptualized by you and the team? And I know you guys are all famous for developing great hardware, but it worked. The design is very aesthetically pleasing and it doesn't... And then the model, your next model, the model t, while it has a larger screen, the actual design and the curve lines and the square and what it looks like is still very much similar to your first model. So what I'm trying to figure out is how did you come up with that concept?

Alena Vranova
Well, I mean, we tried to be minimalistic, right? In everything that we did. And that also goes to the code base. And to keep a simple code and to keep something that's easy, simple to use and doesn't have too many things that aren't necessary. So you may remember some other attempts for hardware wallets that promised fingerprint scanners and then wanting to have Bluetooth and a sim card slots and whatnot. And that all adds a huge complexity. So when you... If you open the Trezor, you find out that it's actually very simple product. There's a processor, there's a few things on the PCB, but basically, that's it.

Alena Vranova
And the second thing was looking at the user experience of how one would operate with it. And so we wanted something that a person could easily, nicely keep in the hand and use the thumb to... Just like you use on your phone. Right? And so that's how we came with this simplistic design. Yeah. It was a huge learning process. We have some hacker friends who... Well, Stick my co-founder, he also co-founded the first Hacker spacing in Prague. And so there was a friend who helped us with the initial PCB design. And then we had a professional company and all that rewired, made it a little bit more efficient. But basically that was it. The more troublesome stuff for us was to just understand the processes and everything that comes with creating electronics because it was not anymore a piece of software that you just deploy in that seat. Right?

Alena Vranova
You have to think about stuff like sourcing components and lead times, production times, distribution, logistics, customs, packaging, insurance, paying taxes around it. The topic of this is so complex. And plus you have to run the company, right? You need to hire people and do marketing and do the communication stuff.

Charlie Shrem
When you're sourcing all these components, are you telling your hardware sources what you're doing? Are you saying, "I'm building a..."

Alena Vranova
No.

Charlie Shrem
So what did you tell them?

Alena Vranova
No. So the way... One of the things we were aware is that we need to absolutely minimize risk exposure. So we would source components through someone else and that someone else, this is a specialized company, they could never share any diagrams or any plans. They just basically sourced those components ideally from very different companies. So the trick is, despite sourcing components from China, well that is the case unfortunately for most of the world and most of the electronics that we use today, we at least try to not give anyone any idea of what we're doing, right? And what is this for.

Charlie Shrem
But how, I mean, surely they were curious. And so whether they didn't ask you, maybe they were trying to think about it or figure it out what you need these components for-

Alena Vranova
No, these components are very standard components used in many other pieces of electronics. So it was just the usual, even rather small orders, small batches for them.

Charlie Shrem
Okay good. Because that's a big fear for people. It's like, "How do we know from a hardware level that no one can install something that will kill…whatever.

Alena Vranova
Yeah. Well, at least with this a little device you can validate yourself that you're running the actual SatoshiLabs from where you can theoretically, if you know how, we can build your own and compare the fingerprints and or ask someone to do it for you. If you want to be that level of paranoid, there is an option. Besides, I made sure that the production is extremely well-guarded, that nobody knows which company, where, that even employees of the manufacturer have very restricted access. Only certain employees can access any of the separate production facility that we have. So we were also lucky to have it at a highly, very professional manufacturer. That was a blessing for us. They led us through a lot of these processes and very grateful for that.

Charlie Shrem
Nowadays we have an amazing hardware wallet and a lot of the hardware wallets that exist today kind of came out of yours and your teams. And so thank you. We're very grateful for that. And so you moved on and you're involved now with the founding team of CasaHODL. But before we get to that, because I actually have one of those too. I'm a paying subscriber of you guys. I'm a paying member. I love it. Before we get to that though, tell me about your childhood. Tell me about growing up.

Alena Vranova
Okay. Well, I should not indicate the time when I was born because everyone will know how old-

Charlie Shrem
No one does, don't worry.

Alena Vranova
How old I am. But let's say I grew up in this small town in Slovakia, as a single child, but with very loving parents and very supportive parents. So I think despite growing up in communism, in the dark age of our history, I had a very environment and my mom supported me a lot in whatever I wanted to study, and I wanted to study it all. I was super bookworm. I was quite a shy girl, when I was a child. I wasn't aware that much of what's going on. As a four, five, seven year old, you're just enjoying your life and you take what is, that's your reality. But then November '89 came and I'm sitting in front of the TV news and there's police beating up people and there's people on the streets with their kids.

Alena Vranova
I'm a scared little girl. And I was like, "Mom, are we at war?" And they start laughing and say, "No, this is great. This is actually good. Now finally, we can tell you the truth." And for me, I was like, "Wow, what just happened?" And they explained to me, "Whenever you came from school and you were happy that you just learned a new poem about Lenin. We had to be quiet because if we told you something and you would speak about that in school, we would end up in jail."

Charlie Shrem
So this was the fall of communism?

Alena Vranova
Yes, exactly. That was the-

Charlie Shrem
What does it-

Alena Vranova
Yeah.

Charlie Shrem
As a child for you, did you understand what was going on or why it was so important?

Alena Vranova
Well, no, I was quite on the verge of my teenage and it took me awhile, but then we started to learn things that people kind of knew, but nobody talked about because all the system was based basically on mass surveillance, right? STB, which was something like the Soviet KGB. So we had our own state security and the state security's tactic was to push normal citizens to surveil on their relatives, on their friends, on their coworkers, and inform. So those were the informants. And the problem was you never know who's the informant. It could be your husband.

Charlie Shrem
It could be you.

Alena Vranova
Could be. Well-

Charlie Shrem
You physically, you're informing on yourself. I don't know.

Alena Vranova
Well, yeah, but that at least you're aware of.

Charlie Shrem
True story. Because it's not that people would want to inform, it's that they would, for example, they'd tell you, "Inform on your cousin because if you don't, we're going to take your husband into prison."

Alena Vranova
Yeah. Or you're going to-

Charlie Shrem
What choice did you have?

Alena Vranova
Yes, or you're going to lose your job and you're going to work as is it any lower graded job title that you want. So even pushing people to be a part of the communist party, that was part of the game. Everyone was in the communist party. Do you think because everyone was a communist and happy about it? No, because they had to. Right. And so these mass surveillance tactics, that is something that I grew to really, really hate and disgust. And today, I'm seeing that on a very different level, on a very different, with a very different ecology. It's not anymore that you have to go to the…and report. But it's just take the data, the data is all there.

Alena Vranova
I think this experience of not being able to speak up, not being able to travel, to move out to have different opinions, to be different than all the others because everyone had the same, everyone should have been the same. And you can see the same happening right now in China for example, people get normalized. People, if they don't behave as for expectations of the system, then they get policed by their own friends, through their social credit scoring. Right? So it's those things are repeating and knowing history, understanding history is extremely helpful to realize and see the consequences ahead.

Charlie Shrem
A lot of my other guests have been through the fall of communism from a Ukrainian perspective, from being in Russia, from being in all parts of the Soviet Union and the satellite countries. But some of my guests also came from Zimbabwe or came from Argentina. And so the common denominator there, is that you've all grown up in this deep state or this overbearing state and you've seen firsthand what it's like when you have no control over your liberty, your information and more importantly, your financial freedom. And that's why you are in love with Bitcoin so much. And that's why you see this as not just a way to make money, but you see this as a life meaning for you. It's what you're put on this earth to do.

Alena Vranova
Oh yeah. I've never been to bitcoin specifically for the money. Money is great to have. It's great to earn enough to make a living. I was always quite sober about money. But the vision of using bitcoin as a tool of freedom, that's very tempting. That's very appealing to me.

Charlie Shrem
So in addition to starting these companies and being part of founding teams, you've also forked in a way, and you got involved in charitable work. And I read that you are involved in, or part of the founding team of a charity called, Cadam At Bloom, Can you tell me about that?

Alena Vranova
That was the original name. Yeah, so that's funny, that you bring pit up.

Charlie Shrem
Little hard to pronounce.

Alena Vranova
No, no, that's okay. It was an initial name of the project that later on transformed to…And that was announced last year. Unfortunately, prior to establishing and... So here's the thing, I wanted to create a vehicle that could concentrate some money and support some research and development. There's a lot of people that were asking for some financial support. I felt that we as bitcoin need, if I can say that, we bitcoin, we need more developers, and that we need a little bit more just education of the masses. And it's clear to me that even after 10 years into Bitcoin, people still have a lot of misconceptions and stuff like that.

Alena Vranova
And I thought that inviting Jack Ma because he's such a huge bitcoiner and excited and he also had this idea. So I invited him to do this with me and because he was extremely excited about it, he wanted to announce it and I was like, "Jack Ma, maybe it's not a good idea. Let's establish first." And he was like, "Yes, but…is a great place to announce." He was right. So I said, "Okay, let's do it." And then we came back, we came to…we announced. And then there was a problem with anonymous donations. So there was no goal for us to start doing this and keeping it completely anonymous. I didn't want to KYC bitcoiners that want to give their money to good purpose. I found that weird. And then-

Charlie Shrem
That is kind of weird.

Alena Vranova
The country-

Charlie Shrem
That's the law, right?

Alena Vranova
I may have found a solution, recently. I don't want to talk about it yet because for me, the idea is still not that despite the fact that we didn't really launch the way we wanted to. I'm still working on this. I'm not talking about it too much because it just creates a lot of... I think too many emotions, for what it is really. So there was a huge support and actual need. But then there was also some pushback, which was due to the fact that there was some bitcoin foundation before. I think you've been even part of it.

Charlie Shrem
I was one of the founders of that, but it very quickly became something that it wasn't supposed to be.

Alena Vranova
Exactly and because people had... The market had this experience, they drew conclusions. And I'm not blaming anyone, but it made it a little bit hard to actually focus on what you need to do.

Charlie Shrem
The concept of the bitcoin foundation was conceptualized by Gavin and myself, in Austria actually in that meeting. And the idea like you said, was basically to create this organization for companies to pool resources together and do advertising and charitable work and things like that, but it ended up being something completely different. I resigned as its vice chairman-

Alena Vranova
Yeah, and there was…Mark Cappella was one of the guys and he just didn't have a very good reputation after…And a few things. I don't even want to dive into it. I see it as a completely different story, and although I understand concerns, I don't think that people should be judged by comparing to other people. And so I'm still not giving up on this idea. I'm talking quite intensely with someone and I'll be hoping that by the time I get to…that I will be able to say, "This is how it's going to happen."

Charlie Shrem
The movement in Bitcoin and it's one thing to talk about it, but it's another thing to do it, be your own bank, hold your own keys. You achieve that with the Trezor. The next thing that really if you want to have control of your financial life is to run your own node and to have your own physical device that's actually maintaining a copy of the bitcoin ledger, the blockchain, and verifying these transactions. And obviously the more nodes on the network there are, the more decentralized the network. And you've managed to turn that actually into a business and a business that people want to own. They want to have one, I want it. When I got one very quickly and I run it, in my house. I run my own node. Um, using CasaHODL. Tell me about that.

Alena Vranova
Yes. Well, I met Jeremy in New York that was funny because we were sitting on a security panel of some investor, bitcoin crypto investor conference. Right? And I'm sitting and I'm saying, "If anyone in the audience is thinking to invest a substantial amount of money into bitcoin, then looking to Casa for example, because of what they're doing is they're building a great multisig, using other hardware wallets. So they're not trying to keep the keys and they make it fairly easy for people to use. And that was my first encounter with Jeremy. And then we just went for a coffee and we talked and we talked a lot. We realize that our visions of the world align a lot. And that I had... One of the reasons kind of phased out of SatoshiLabs was I had a lot of ideas that were maybe too early.

Alena Vranova
I tend to be very early, and people tend to tell me, "Well, no. That's not going to happen." Or, "Well, no, that's stupid." Or, "No, because that's like 10 years ahead." And sometimes it's much earlier. So I had a lot of business ideas, a lot of things that could be done. And it was a little bit difficult to create within SatoshiLabs because guys, they wanted to mainly focus on just what there was. And then we started to add a lot of altcoins and stuff. And so for me, Trezor was a success. I made it happen and it was time to leave and look for new adventures. And so as we're sitting with Jeremy Welch and talking about, "Okay, I wanted to create this and that." And he goes, "Oh wow, I was thinking about the same."

Alena Vranova
And then I said, "And these." And he was becoming pale because he thought, "This woman is a witch. She's reading my mind or she hacked or..." I don't know. It was a very surreal meeting that we had. And it's like you could compare notes. And one of the things that bothered me and that as we talked about the surveillance, is the way the infrastructure today or the Internet and everything is built, the fact that we are using this mainframe, the cloud computing and we have these live clients and that the companies have everything about us, and knowing that the infrastructure of bitcoin and how we can tackle the risk on distributaries, can tackle on the personal level, that is something that I think could be applied to way further than just beyond transferring money, right? To transfer any kind of value, to be able to conduce some better, more privacy focus, more private, more sovereign way of life in the cyberspace. Right?

Alena Vranova
So the first project that I wanted to kick around in Casa was the Casa node. I joined the team prior to announcing my involvement, but basically this is something that Casa was already playing with. And I brought in some new team members, Thomas and Michael that met me just couple of days before I met Jeremy and were showing me the prototype that they're building. It was really an exciting moments. So I put them together with Casa and the goal was just to make it easy. I always wanted to run a node, but I'm not technical. I'm not the nerdy person, I'm the user. Right? So I would rather than ABCore on my old android. But that never seemed, it's always kind of lagging and-

Charlie Shrem
My software node is still sinking, six years later.

Alena Vranova
See. It was-

Charlie Shrem
Don't even talk about my Ethereum node. It hasn't even started up yet.

Alena Vranova
And so this is a way for early adopters. This is running a bitcoin full node. It should be the Omega in the Alpha Omega for a sovereign bitcoiner. But running the lightning is really for early, reckless people who want to support it, want to play, but they don't have the skills and they don't have the time. And at the same time, as we were building the key management layer, because that's the building…everything. If you don't have a good key management, you can build any decentralized applications or any storage or any notes or anything basically. And it will only work until your users lose their keys. So as we were building this, we figured like, "Okay, we are providing the best security for Bitcoin handlers out there. And we make them sovereign. We tell them, "You are in complete control." Then they would just send all those transactions through us, which doesn't make them completely in control.

Alena Vranova
So another step is to create this kind of plug and play experience around the node. Plug and play experience around even protecting data, protecting yourself in the new wave of home computing as I call it. Anyway, as you see now, we're playing a lot around the topic of home with Casa. It's like an analogy on the home button, something that you can call a home in the cyberspace, that is your own, that is your castle, that is your protection. So that's the next step and the future is open.

Charlie Shrem
What are some other products that you guys are ready to launch? Can you talk about them?

Alena Vranova
Well, we keep on improving on what we have today. I think we've managed to launch way more stuff in the span of 12 months than many other companies. Casa is literally a team on steroids because everyone is-

Charlie Shrem
When a DHL van shows up in front of my house, I know I have a package from the Czech Republic.

Alena Vranova
Did it happen to you? You got an-

Charlie Shrem
Oh yeah. Yeah. I get stuff from you guys, especially because I subscribed and then I got your... What's it called? The bag, the…What do you call it?

Alena Vranova
Faraday.

Charlie Shrem
Faraday bag. But yeah.

Alena Vranova
Yeah, we keep-

Charlie Shrem
So I keep getting stuff in the mail.

Alena Vranova
By the way, we ship from US. Yeah, we keep from adding these little components because security and personal sovereignty is not... You don't have one fix it all tool, right? You don't have one thing. So having a hardware wallet is a great start, but that doesn't solve a lot of issues. I'm very proud of what we achieved with Trezor and especially the BIP39, which made it easy for people to just back up their wallets, any kind of bullets, not just hardware bullets with 12 or 24 words. And it's great, right? Because that's the first time in the history where you can just do a backup of your stuff at the beginning before you start using it, and then use the wallet, right?

Alena Vranova
And when you lose it, you take the back up, and it was for me, the first time I saw it saw and understood it was like magic. Then you recreate the same balance and the entire history, thanks to the Bitcoin blockchain, right? So that start, but then a lot of people struggled with how to protect the recovery seat and they found themselves to be the single point of failure, right? Because even if you went through Lanson, you use some very advanced Shamir's Secret Sharing, then eventually or splitting in any ways your seat, eventually you had to do a recovery, you became a single point of failure. People wouldn't know like where to keep it. "Should I do copies. Should I split them? Should I shuffle the order of the words.?" It's a very new concept for our minds to deal with. All of a sudden your entire wealth relies on the piece of paper and how-

Charlie Shrem
That's true.

Alena Vranova
And how well you can protect it. And so we thought we need to figure out a better way for people and using a seedless multisig. So our engineers came up with this. It's just beautiful because it reduces the complexity in a way that if you want to improve your physical security, then you create a multisig. Why? Because you have different devices in different locations and you do several signatures in order to send funds. But then if you did this on your own, in the example of three or five, you would have five devices or five wallets and five recovery seeds. And that's 10 items to protect. So that's too much. Nobody's going to do that. And that's also a reason why a lot of individuals did not use multisig before. Because it was just very complex to do and worrisome. Right?

Charlie Shrem
Well, there's a... Usually it's like a lever system, right? So when something that is highly secure, it goes up. When something is really highly secure, the more secure and decentralized and private it is, the user experience goes down. And then something with a high user experience, usually you have low security, low privacy and higher ease of use. But you've managed to... Everything okay? You've managed to take both and merge them together and basically have a very high rich user experience, but at the same time, retaining the privacy and the ability for people to be their own bank.

Alena Vranova
And restricting the ability for people to do dumb stuff, they're seeing the... Look, it's like we've all committed some sense in the security sphere, even professionals lose keys. Professionals send monies to unverified agencies. If you remembered BitPay's story. Those were all big guys that worked in bitcoin company. So they should know better. Right? So a lot of the security really relies on the way you approached things and how you deal with the tools that you have, right? So we kind of trying to prevent the people from shooting themselves in the foot. That's why Casa has one of the keys as... Well, what I'd like to say, we never hold your keys, but we hold your hand if you want it.

Charlie Shrem
I like that.

Alena Vranova
Right? And that's something that was quite missing in this business, because you would have two options. You would have your own hardware wallet, one with a single key approach, right? So your single point of failure eventually or okay, some extreme cases would go and study the Glacier Protocol and split the keys and go the extra lengths. But even people who have a lot of bitcoins would not consider because it was just way too much work and or then on the other side of the skill, you would have the bitcoin banks, right? So you give up complete ownership of your keys and there was nothing in between. So Casa is great there and the key management I think is extremely important to make it ready for my mom to use.

Charlie Shrem
If people want to follow you, how can they do that?

Alena Vranova
They can do ideally on Twitter. Alena Satoshi. Yeah, that's the best-

Charlie Shrem
Are you Satoshi?

Alena Vranova
Of course, aren't you?

Charlie Shrem
Yeah. I wish. We're all Satoshi, except for Craig Wright? Oh no. I'm about to get sued now for saying that.

Alena Vranova
Well, what I can definitely say that I am not Craig Wright?

Charlie Shrem
Yeah, I'm not Craig Wright either. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate this.

Alena Vranova
Well, I really enjoyed this talk. This was different than most of the interviews, so thank you-

Charlie Shrem
That's what I'm trying to do.

Alena Vranova
Yeah.

Charlie Shrem
Excellent. Thank you. And hopefully we'll meet in the future.

Alena Vranova
I hope so too.

Charlie Shrem
Hey everyone. Thanks for listening. This episode of untold stories is sponsored by Scott Offord, the creator of crypto mining. Scott's a broker of ASIC mining gear and helps people buy and sell their miners. He created a bitcoin mining profitability calculator and an interactive ASIC hardware comparison chart that you can find @cryptomining.tools. It's the only free online tool for calculating profitability and days to ROI. That includes the impact of the bitcoin block reward halving. The calculator lets you put in your estimated uptime to give you a more realistic profit projection. So check it out and find Scott on telegram and Twitter @offordscott.

Charlie Shrem
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Charlie Shrem
New episodes go live every Tuesday at 7:00 AM EST. Links to our Apple and Spotify channels are in the show notes. You can also follow me on Twitter, Charlie Shrem to continue the conversation. See you next week.