The Bit Podcast Episode 9 - Steve van Zutphen
This week on The Bit, we’re joined by Steve Van Zutphen, the Co-founder and CEO of TheFutbolCoin, a token that fuels all sorts of activities within TheFutbolApp, a digital, decentralized ecosystem for football fans all over the globe.
The FutbolCoin (TFC) token will soon be listed on Bittrex Global.
Here are the show notes:
[02:43] My First Bitcoin
[04:44] A New Kind of Social Network
[07:21] TFC: Limitless Possibilities
[20:56] Planning Ahead
[24:36] Tokenized Everything
Tom: Hi, welcome to The Bit, the Bittrex Global podcast where we give you the inside scoop on all things crypto. I’m Tom Albright, the CEO of Bittrex Global.
Welcome to today’s episode of The Bit, where we sit with some of the hottest names in crypto to give you an insider’s perspective on the fast moving world of cryptocurrency.
It’s been a tough year for sports with the COVID-19 pandemic. And if you’re like me, you’re just itching to get back to an arena and enjoy a live game, whether that’s basketball, tennis, or football.
With football alone, or soccer, as it’s called in the US, nearly 4 billion people watch and or play the sport alone. And our guest today is using cryptocurrencies to revolutionize the world of football. So without further ado, I’m excited today to be talking with Steve van Zutphen, CEO and Co-founder of TheFutbolCoin, to dive more into the world of sports and crypto. Welcome to the podcast, Steve.
Steve: Thanks so much, Tom. Great to be here.
Tom: Great. Well, we’re very, very excited to have you and I see here that you are a Maryland guy, you went to University of Maryland, and you’re now in Cypress. So as a Marylander myself, I need to ask how that came about and how you made that journey?
Steve: Yeah, that was…after I graduated from university, I went to law school in Baltimore and did the grind of practicing law. I understand you’re a lawyer, as well. So you know.
Tom: Yes. And I lived in Baltimore, as well. So we’ve got a lot in common.
Steve: Yeah. So I did the grind, and all the 14, 16 hour days, and I really did enjoy law. But I pivoted my way into technology and creative things, writing books. And, you know, when I was 27…I had founded a software company, when I was 26. And when I was 27, I kind of retired from it, and started to do fun things. And the fun part, I met a really wonderful woman who was working at the Cypress Embassy in Washington, D.C., and we started to date a bit. And she brought me to visit the island of Cyprus, probably in 1998. And I think the week before I visited Cyprus, I’d recorded my 24th D.C. parking ticket.
Tom: And that’s a pretty low number for the amount of time you were there.
Steve: I was hitting jailable levels, and I’d gotten three speeding tickets in the 10 days before and I was just kind of D.C.’d out. And so I fell in love with Cyprus when we came here. And I actually persuaded her within a year or so after we returned that we packed it up and went back to the island.
[02:43] My First Bitcoin
Tom: So you persuaded her. That’s an interesting one. I love that. So you transitioned out of law and then into creative and tech. But how did you make the transition then into crypto? So when did you first hear about it? What first got you interested? And how’d you buy your first Bitcoin?
Steve: You know, I was really heavy into technology because I was doing IP law and I had to learn to code for that. And then after that, I founded the software company and started to code myself. But the time that I started to get into crypto, I mean, I heard about it from the beginning, but I wasn’t really in the scene in let’s say 2010, 2011, 2012. And I thought I was really late buying my first Bitcoin.
Tom: People still think that.
Steve: I was in Canada at the time. I actually was, originally I’d moved to D.C. when I went to Maryland, Rockville area when I was 13. Before that I was in Canada. So I did a stint back, a year back in Canada in 2013.
And it was during that time I decided I’d just go ahead and try to buy Bitcoin and test out the usability of the whole experience to judge whether or not it could go mainstream, because I wanted to buy just before it went mainstream. And it was so torturous and so difficult. And, you know, every part of it was torture. And I think I was buying at $70 Canadian at the time, that was like $55 US. And I probably should have stuck with it a bit more back then.
But I’ve always had my sights set on… within a year or two later than that I started to think that the future of that industry would be the combination of large enabling technology ecosystems that are tokenized, as opposed to just, you know, a raw token on the blockchain. So that started the next phase of the journey, but yeah, 2013 was the first Bitcoin for me.
[04:44] A New Kind of Social Network
Tom: That is really, really early. So could you tell us a little bit then about the journey to TheFutbolCoin and how that got started and how you started moving in that direction?
Steve: Yeah, so it seems like an accidental yet natural evolution that what I’ve been really focused on for the last 15 years is building communication applications, building the back end technology and the front end technology for a variety of communication technologies, including some of the products that Nokia was putting out back in 2007 and 2008 when they were trying to be a services company.
They were doing something called Ovi, which was basically they wanted to become Google and Yahoo in the service side. And so I had a great experience on consumer facing communication products, including social networks, business networks, things like Slack, and really a purist on this topic of trying to create better human experiences on digital for interactive group communication, whether it’s social or business.
And a natural part of communication is money. We exchange words, we exchange ideas, we exchange documents, and we exchange money. And so I view that all as an organic, natural process to have an ecosystem where you communicate without communicating and exchanging money would be missing something.
But from the beginning, when we started our initiative of TheFutbolApp, which was going after the largest social community in the world, the football/soccer fans, we intended first to build the app and then to wind the token into it, and we needed the blockchains to mature to the level that we needed them to be, because we were not going to need to build our own, we wanted to use something bigger and fast, we chose Stellar on that front, because of the potential for higher volumes, because we feel that we could, you know, bring 100 million people into the ecosystem. And also the low transaction costs, because we’re using this token as a mechanism of revenue sharing within the community.
This is what I would consider the next generation of social networking, that it has to be a community. And it has to be, the money has to be shared that’s generated from within a large social network. And so, you know, through a strange series of events, it just took a long time to build all that framework. But it was, you know, inevitable to me that it would be tokenized. And now it is.
[07:21] TFC: Limitless Possibilities
Tom: Absolutely, and I feel the same way. The way that things are moving, it’s clear that blockchain technology and tokenization is taking over many different aspects of both our online, our digital lives, bringing the physical world into the digital world, all those sorts of things. So I think you guys are definitely at the forefront of that. And certainly quite visionary in that respect.
So you mentioned TheFutbolApp, can you tell us a little bit about that and how TheFutbolCoin interacts with the app?
Steve: TheFutbolApp is a social network, and it’s themed around the sport of football. But it’s not only football, there’s all kinds of games and social discussion in there that would be similar to how you could have a football themed sports bar. And, you know, you might find a lot of people in there who aren’t even sports fans that would be in the bar because it’s a cool place to hang out. That’s what we wanted to do.
We were also aware that Twitter, particularly, 70% of their daily active users are primarily interested in using that app to follow football, which is something that not many people know.
Tom: Wow, that’s an incredible statistic, I had no idea.
Steve: Yeah, and this is why they have such a big focus in Southeast Asia, where the young…that’s where their largest growth was. And the big interest there is football, so with a little more football specialization plus all the tools that Twitter and Instagram and Facebook have, we have a super rich environment that’s a bit more tailor made to the primary interest that so many young people are demonstrating in the sport. And so that’s, you know, we really directly are competing with Twitter in this regard.
And the way that we integrated the token is pretty cool. I mean, you can send the token, the TFC token, it’s TheFutbolCoin, TFC, you can create a wallet with a click of a button in a few quick steps inside of the app, which is good for most people who don’t even know, many don’t even know what crypto is still to this day, or some of them have heard of it but have never set up a wallet. So we made that very easy.
And an automated part of the experience, when you do that you get your first TFC immediately. And you can instantly spend that inside of the app. There’s a spend button where there’s certain businesses who are willing to accept this token as payment or partial payment for goods and services. And the reason they do that is because they need this token to pay for the advertising.
So that’s the mechanism of revenue sharing, and it really is a very powerful integrated commerce and social ecosystem where that token is an essential element. And where the demand for the token comes from the potential advertising community that wants to reach that growing user base targeted to that primary interest of football, which is a super high CPM sport.
People are willing to pay a lot of money to do, you know, put their ads on television during football matches, soccer, you know. But small businesses don’t really have access. We’ve given the small businesses the access to maybe target the Liverpool fans in there. Maybe they’re the supporters of Liverpool and we’re going to target them before a match to come in and drink beer there or something. So it’s a very, really well fleshed out tokenized implementation.
Tom: That’s really interesting. And it’s, as you point out, it’s amazing how global the sport is. I’ve been all around the world and seeing, like you mentioned, Liverpool flags flying outside houses in Bermuda. I was in Hong Kong, not last summer, but the summer before and Manchester City was there. And there were just lines hundreds of people long just trying to get a glimpse of the players at the hotel and the exhibition matches. So I mean, you’re absolutely right, the global reach is incredible.
Steve: For people in the US, many of them don’t know how, you know, because we have 20 sports there, and we pay attention to all of them in small bits. But it’s hard for people who aren’t in North America, US, particularly, to understand how intense that football is, and that it’s year round. And that it’s a singular focus for, you know, so many hundreds of millions of young people in these emerging, you know, in South America, in Africa, and Southeast Asia, and all of Europe, of course.
And the US is growing so fast, not as much the fan side of the Premier League, but players. And our app also supported that you can do live scores for your recreational team. So if you had an eight year old daughter, they could load their team in the app. And you as a parent can run the live scores during the match that notifies all the other people who are following that club. So there’s a lot of depth and ability to reach any market where there’s either fans or players.
Tom: That’s really cool that you’re focusing not just on the Premier League or Champions League or the sort of very, very highest elite tier, but all the way down to the grassroots. That really engages a lot more people and brings them into the ecosystem. That’s really cool.
So one other question I had following up on that. So you mentioned that when people sign up for the app, they’re automatically given TFC, or TheFutbolCoin. How else can people get hold of that and use that token on the app or within the ecosystem?
Steve: So the inside of the…you get one token when you create your wallet, and then you get points for all the different activities that you’re doing in the app that you can kind of convert those points into a token. And when you invite somebody, you get 5,000 points. 5,000 points converts into one TFC token. And a lot of the different activities in the app, you can earn points.
And then we have games inside the app in the chat rooms, in the worldwide chat rooms, the football club chat rooms, there is a game called pandaMONIUM, where you play something like a Flappy Bird kind of thing and you earn points. It pops up five, six times a day. Also, we have two kinds of, we have a kind of a famous game called Midnight Madness, where people try to guess a number between one and seven exactly at midnight, and the first 50 people get TFC directly.
So we use that to kind of almost test the servers, as well. We would take the system down every other night. And a lot of people play that game at midnight, Dubai time, because we’re trying to serve…we have people in Indonesia and India that will set their alarm clock for four in the morning to wake up, guess a number, and go back to sleep. And then we have people playing from, you know, Europe and the USA. And then we also have trivia games inside there, football related trivia in general. And the prizes, again, are TFC.
Tom: Really cool. I hope you give more prizes for the football related trivia with the ecosystem there.
Steve: It’s true. We try to keep a balance on that. You know, we’ve got all different ranges of people in there.
Tom: Yeah, you add Football Manager or FIFA and you have everything you need there, all in one spot.
You’re listening to The Bit, the podcast that gives you an inside look at the world of crypto from Bittrex Global. Our guest today is Steve van Zutphen, CEO and Co-founder of TheFutbolCoin.
Tom: So one other thing I wanted to ask you about as we go a little bit beyond just TheFutbolCoin ecosystem, but what other use cases are you seeing in the world of sports and crypto and football or soccer in particular, whether it’s NFTs or, you know, team issued tokens, or, you know, things like that? Are there any other really interesting use cases in the space as well?
Steve: There are and we’re chasing them. And I think that team issued tokens are, it sounds like a glamorous idea, but I don’t think it works.
Because what we did with TheFutbolCoin is we’re now inviting clubs to join that larger ecosystem, so that even as large as those big brands are, like Liverpool and Barcelona, if all 400 of the world’s big clubs all put out a token, they kind of splinter the energy and create a lot of confusion. Whereas if they all participate in a master token across the entire sport tied to a powerful enabling ecosystem, the chance of success and traction are very, very high.
So what we’re doing is…this is quite a shoot for the moon use case that we are hoping we can pull off. And that would be to get the large clubs to adopt TFC as the only way to pay for their tickets. And there’s a few benefits for that.
One, we ask them to promote the app in exchange for receiving tokens from us, a large inventory of tokens. And as we grow collectively in that community, we are a point of sale for tickets and merchandise sales, you know, their fans are coming into our app. And unlike Facebook, we have a button where you can buy a ticket, and we can use the simplicity of the Stellar blockchain, it’s a one click payment process. And it really enables a higher sale.
And it also allows the clubs to participate in the total digital wealth of a global community. And that they need this right now. They’re suffering from low ticket sales. I think Barcelona lost a billion dollars in revenue since the start of this thing. So more than ever, they need some new form of revenue.
And essentially, The FutbolCoin acts as a forward rev share for the next 25 years. All the advertising that can come into the ecosystem can become liquid in the early years of the token, as opposed to…and that’s a new form of revenue. They’re not making any money from Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
So now we’re offering them the chance to participate with us. And to allow that forward revenue on a new revenue source to come into the present as opposed to getting it over 25 years. So that is extremely compelling. And we do hope that we will succeed on that path of requiring exclusive use of that token for purchase of tickets on Premier League and large leagues.
Tom: Yeah, that would be amazing if you can pull that off. Absolutely. That would be fantastic. But along with those lines, are you guys working on something like allowing fans to actually buy stakes in teams?
I know that there’s a whole different range of ownership models for teams up and down the different chains from, you know, Premier League down to, you know, the lower leagues and things like that. And even different very different ownership models in those leagues.
But is that something you guys are working on as well? Is that something you think cryptocurrency in general or TheFutbolCoin, in particular, enables? Because that’s something that would be absolutely incredible for fans to carve out some small stake and know that they own a piece of their team.
Steve: Yeah, on the idea of buying a stake of a football club, I think that it starts to bleed over into the world of securities and create a bit of confusion. Now I do think there will be teams that take advantage of powerful platforms like Bittrex that both can handle security tokens and utility tokens to, maybe in the future, let the fan buy tokens through a platform like Bittrex where it is a security offering.
But that’s a separate world from us. And I think that the fun that we have is that…it’s hard for people to imagine this, but the digital value of the attention of the football fan to the sport so far exceeds the value of the ticket’s revenue.
Tom: Oh, orders of magnitude higher, for sure.
Steve: Well you know Barcelona is a football club. Maybe they’re worth 3.2 billion euros. And that’s top two to three in the world of football, the most valuable football franchises. Yet, if you took the value of the top 100 football clubs in the world and combined it, it’s not even a fifth of the value of Facebook, which is simply on the digital side.
And football is driving…really a large portion of the interest in football, as you can see even from Instagram, I think maybe 9 of the top 20 personalities followed on Instagram are football players.
And we’re going after that very simple fundamental area of, you know, getting the whole football ecosystem into a common platform, letting them share the revenue, let that go to the benefit of the club, the fans, and the players so that they can share the digital wealth that they are creating in the sport that they love as a community.
[20:56] Planning Ahead
Tom: Yeah, that is absolutely incredible. Really, really cool. And I definitely agree with you on the digital space. It absolutely dwarfs with the worldwide interest and following. Just look at the difference in what TV rights sell for versus matchday revenue and things like that. And it is absolutely where things are going and will just continue to grow in my opinion.
So with that, for you and your team, what are your ultimate goals and objectives for the next 12 months? What are the most important things for you guys to accomplish, both for your community and then on the teams and players side, as well?
Steve: Yeah, so this is a really crucial year for us. And this year is really our coming out party. We started this app on a Greek island.
Tom: There are way worse places to start up apps and companies.
Steve: Yeah, exactly. It was, you know, it was great because it’s a microcosm. And we were able to capture 7% of the users on the island into an app, it’s a higher penetration than Twitter on the island.
So it gives you the sense that we really show that we can hold people’s attention, draw in businesses and advertisers. There are 100 businesses accepting the token here. And now we’re taking that out to the world. And I think it’s about publicity for us in the next few months, showing people the strength of our model, letting them learn about what is TheFutbolCoin, what is TheFutbolApp, how they work together. And what is the potential of that ecosystem to compete with something like Twitter? Is it realistic? What’s our plan to get there?
I think that as they learn, they’ll see that it is a serious effort that has a credible chance to actually go far. And, of course, that includes attracting traders and people to pay attention to the token, because liquidity on the token opens up many, many other possibilities, it makes it easier for us to let people where we don’t have businesses where they can spend the token have some sort of sense of rev share liquidity.
And it also opens up the possibility that I mentioned to you that if the clubs see that there’s enough liquidity to support them accepting the token as a means for paying for tickets, and there’s enough liquidity to cash that for them, then I think it becomes more realistic that we can persuade medium and large clubs to participate. So we really hope to grow the community into millions of users this year, to let the world know what we are doing and let them evaluate it and see how they want to participate in the app or in holding the token.
And then just increasing the community, increasing the number of businesses that are accepting it. We’re going into some new geographies. We’re going into Greece, Turkey, UK, Southern California, and Brazil this year. And imagine if we get so fortunate that we get 7% of Brazil, as we did in Cyprus.
Tom: Yeah, I’ve heard they like the sport down there. It’s just just a rumor.
Steve: They kind of like social networking, they kind of like football. So when you’re combining those three most popular things that the conditions are avalanche conditions, but you know, it’s all about the execution and you need a few breaks always with these things.
But if the wind is a little on your back, you can go real fast. And so we’ll just see how it goes through the year. And hopefully a lot of people will follow along with us how we progress through them.
[24:36] Tokenized Everything
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we are absolutely thrilled to be supporting you guys on this. And we are incredibly excited that you chose Bittrex Global to list TFC, TheFutbolCoin. I think it’s going to be an incredible journey over the next 12 months and even beyond.
So I love to ask people this one, especially people who have been early in the ecosystem and technologists for a long time, but predicting a year out in cryptocurrency is very, very hard to do. This industry moves at lightning speed.
But you know, you’ve got such an interesting perspective at the intersection of sports and crypto. I would love to hear where you think this is going over the next three to five years. If you have any predictions for that, as well.
Steve: I do, I do. I actually predicted where we are today three years ago in a presentation that I did in Asia. And I predicted it miraculously close to what it is. And back then I did predict that the market cap would hit around $1 trillion around this timeframe. And that I mentioned…
Tom: That is remarkably accurate.
Steve: Yeah. And that this will be the start of the next generation crypto, where you have larger players that can step in in the next 18 months that nobody knows about now. We’re a small but potentially huge player, but you’ll also have huge existing people stepping in, because once…now that it’s hit a trillion dollars in market cap, it can accelerate the same amount of time that it took to go from 0 to 1 trillion, it will go from 1 trillion to 5 trillion in maybe 10% to 20% the time.
So that’s a natural process of how many people have made money, the legends and the stories continue. The Wall Street guys are coming in, then some countries will start buying in. I already think that’s happening privately. And it’s an $80 trillion market minimum, okay. And once it goes from 1 trillion to 5 trillion, you’re going to see an absolute mania, and that is going to be in the next three to five years, you’re definitely going to hit 5 trillion within the next three years, in my opinion.
And once it hits 5 trillion, it’ll rock it up to 20, again, in 20% of the time that it took to get from 1 trillion to 5, it’ll go from 5 to 20. And when it goes to 20, you’ll see big brands step in.
You’ll see the Amazon coin, you’ll see the Apple coin, the Mercedes coin, and you’ll see people starting to realize that they can cannibalize their products and have a bigger economic impact by giving the products away or saying the only way to buy a Mercedes car is to use the Mercedes token. Or they might say if you hold the Mercedes token in your wallet, 10,000 units minimum, you can lease any Mercedes car free at any time. And you’re going to see, you’re going to see all this happen in the next three to five years. And then you’re going to see countries struggle to figure out how they can compete with these ecosystems and all kinds of creative, strange things can happen.
And so that’s my prediction is that we haven’t even really, you know, we’re in internet 1.0. We’re still in a very pre Yahoo phase, we’re not even in the Google phase of the internet. So I think that many people just can’t fathom how big the market actually is for tokens. It’s just dramatically huge.
Tom: I agree with that 100%. I think it is absolutely spot on. And it really echoes one of the things you talked about earlier, and one of the meta themes that I keep trying to point out to people as they first discover this ecosystem is, sure Bitcoin has been around for a little over 10 years now.
But you are still incredibly early if you’re discovering it now. If you’re discovering Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and all those sorts of things, that explosive growth is definitely coming, in my opinion. So people that are discovering it now, getting in now, buying Bitcoin and other tokens now, coming into the ecosystem are definitely still on the early side, early adopters, and are poised to do very, very well if you can get into the ecosystem now.
So, one last question for you. And we’ve talked about a lot of interesting things, but this might be the most fun one. So who’s your football team? And how did you first get started supporting them?
Steve: So when I moved to Cyprus in 2001, it was a bit of a sports shock, because it’s just football…
Tom: All football, all the time.
Steve: Forever. And I always enjoyed the big matches. And my team is Liverpool. But I know I have some friends who are what I would consider like real serious diehard Liverpool supporters. I am a…
Tom: There are levels to it, for sure.
Steve: Yeah, I’m a supporter at like the US sports team level. Here it’s a religion. And there’s a joke about it. It’s like, you know, football is not a matter of life and death. It’s far more important than that.
Tom: You don’t have your never walk alone tattoo, I assume.
Steve: Yeah, I absolutely love the level of the sport at the highest levels. And when you have a sport, just the sheer brilliance of the talent pool of billions of people. You know, hockey is produced from Russia, Northern Europe, some Americans in the northern states and Canada.
It’s a smaller pool producing the talent, but the worldwide, the whole worldwide body of people playing football, you end up with just the level of talent at the highest levels is just so magnificent to watch. It’s just such a beautiful game. So I’m a huge fan, but I certainly cannot claim to be one of the really super diehard supporters, although I’ve developed a great love of the sport.
Tom: Yeah, it is an absolutely incredible sport. And you’re really fortunate Liverpool is one of the, if not the best teams to be watching right now with the way that they play and the talent levels that they have. So that is absolutely incredible. Great.
Well, Steve, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking with us about TheFutbolCoin and TheFutbolApp and your visions for the future. We’re looking forward to hearing a lot more great news from your project. And we’re really, really excited. And thank you very much for listing on Bittrex Global.
Steve: Thank you so much. I highly appreciate it. And it’s been great to meet a fellow Marylander who also suffered through technology and law and is now heavy into crypto, so we’ll have more to talk about in other days. Thanks so much.
Tom: Absolutely. Thank you very much. Really appreciate it.
Thanks for listening to The Bit, the Bittrex Global podcast. Our guest today was Steve van Zutphen, CEO and Co-founder of The Football Coin. To learn more about TheFutbolCoin, visit www.thefutbolcoin.io and check out their token TFC. That’s T-F-C on Bittrex Global. To learn more about Bittrex Global visit global.bittrex.com. And please make sure to subscribe to our podcast. You can find us wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening and for making The Bit one of the fastest growing podcasts in the world of crypto. I’m Tom Albright, the CEO of Bittrex Global.