Metaverse Realities and Innovations - Sandra Helou | ATC #497

In this episode of 'Around The Coin' podcast, Stephen Sargeant interviews Sandra Helou, CEO of MetaMinds Group. Sandra is the CEO and Co-Founder of MetaMinds, a pioneering Metaverse and spatial web company. She has emerged as one of the most prominent figures and public speakers in web3 and the Metaverse. In addition to her role at MetaMinds, Sandra holds the position of GCC lead and is part of the recently formed CEO Office at Zilliqa Group. Her global experience across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East enables her to deliver on both a strategic level and an execution level. A Futurist and action leader at heart, Sandra is committed to enriching and innovating the creator economy, web3, and Metaverse / Spatial Web space.

Host: Stephen Sargeant

Guest: Sandra Helou

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Episode Transcript

Stephen: This is Stephen Sargeant, host of the Around The Coin podcast. Today we have Sandra Helou to talk a little bit about the Metaverse. She's the CEO of MetaMinds Groups. She's also the GCC lead at Zilliqa Group, focused on the Metaverse and Spatial Web. So we talk a lot about the nuances of the Metaverse. What the Spatial Web is, and we talk about everything AI, AR, VR, any acronym that has to do with Web3, you name it, we discuss it here.

We also talk a little bit about the regulatory framework around things like the Spatial Web and the Metaverse, and we get deep into what she's building at the intersection of immersive experiences, as well as Web3 technology, listen closely. If you're into the Metaverse, this is a must listen to episode. Enjoy.

Stephen: This is Stephen Sargeant, back for another episode of Around The Coin. We're with Sandra Helou. I think I got it close to correctly. Sandra, tell us a little bit about yourself. I think I remember kind of watching you progress during the air times of NFTs, Web3, and Metaverse, and you've really expanded, I think, your thought leadership across, you know, brands and partnerships and collaborations.

But tell the audience a little bit about what you're doing. We're going to jump right into the conversation.

Sandra: Sounds good. Thanks, Stephen. By the way, you didn't really butcher it. You just needed to run out of breath just a little bit more. It's Helou. So good job for a first-timer. Yeah, so my name is Sandra Helou.

I'm the CEO of MetaMinds Group, a metaverse and Spatial web company and the GCC lead for Zilliqa Group, which is a layer 1 blockchain pretty much known for their sharding technology out of Singapore initially 2017 but, you know, established in 2015 with a whole vision. And I guess we'll dive into it more in the discussion.


Stephen: Even like right off the bat, you mentioned Spatial. I hear that term a lot more than I'm hearing metaverse these days. Can you kind of, maybe it means the same thing with different elements or features. Can you kind of define what Spatial is and how it's either similar or different than the term metaverse?

Sandra: You know, I don't like giving myself credit a lot but I guess I would say I was one of the first people in the space that really wanted to push for everyone in the industry to kind of start adopting the Spatial web approach or the Spatial kind of discussion way before, you know, Apple launched their Vision Pro and then they went with the Spatial computing and all of that.

I mean, look, Spatial, for me, I call it the Spatial web because at the end of the day, it has to do with the vision that we're leading with at Metaminds, which is I consider. Spatial Web, kind of like the building block of AR, VR, Metaverse, NFTs, Crypto, Blockchain, 5G, IoT. You know, and I can keep on going, but it's pretty much the umbrella that's going to help elevate that next iteration or the next existence of what the internet is right now.

I have also noticed a lot of people started to use it. I think on LinkedIn, I'm starting to see more people, start saying, "oh, Spatial web", "Spatial computing". I even think saw a Spatial like someone actually said, "Spatial content creation". Haven't really figured out what that is, but I'm sure I will soon.

But you know, I think that the term in itself is starting to make its, its rounds.

Stephen: That's awesome. And what was your first interaction with Web3? Or maybe, everyone has that kind of origin story, how they either got into crypto or how they got, you know, introduced to the blockchain, Ethereum.

What was your first introduction into Web3?

Sandra: I guess there's no real straightforward answer. I was pretty lucky to graduate at a period when everything traditional was going digital. So already I wouldn't say it was Web3, but it was at that cornerstone where everything you were doing had to have an element of digital into it.

A lot of what. Again, it really just depends on how people classify Web3. You know, at the end of the day, I can ask you, what is Web3? Because, you know, my answer about what Web3 is, is completely different, probably to someone else's. That kind of like intersection between traditional going digital. We had a lot of experimentation around activations that did have an element of AR, that did have an element of, QR coding, NFC tags.

At one point there was the beacons where, you know, you can push notifications and all of that. It really just depends on how far you want to go back into defining that transitional period of when you, when I interacted with it. I would probably say my origin story with blockchain happened after which is actually quite a funny story.

Obviously Bitcoin, everyone started off with Bitcoin, but there was like back, back in the day when people were using Bitcoin to buy pizza and to kind of, you know, do their little kind of like back and forth transactions. I remember I had heard the term Bitcoin, I was already looking into it. So I guess I can't remember dates pretty well right now, the interesting story is I had left one of my positions that I was in and one of my coworkers, my colleague said, Hey, do you want to do a project for me? So I was like, yeah, sure. And then at the end of the project, he goes to me, all right, do you want Bitcoin or do you want me to pay you kind of like in, in dollars you in, in, yeah, it's like actual money.

So I'm like. Give me a day and I'll come back to you. So that was kind of like when I kind of took that, okay, Bitcoin, blockchain, all of that, kind of like seeing it, dabbling with it, but not really that much and fully diving into it. So yeah, I guess that, that would be my origin story into the blockchain, Bitcoin, kind of, not blockchain, but Bitcoin, I would say, more so than That's

Stephen: Awesome. That's awesome. Tell me a little bit about..

Sandra: Sorry, go ahead.

I say, yeah, thank you to my colleague.

Stephen: Especially, it doesn't matter what day it was, it was probably a lot cheaper than it is today.

Stephen: Tell me a little bit about, like, your first thought when metaverse started to explode, NFTs, you know, Web3. You're already in the space at that time, I believe.

Tell me what your first thought was. Was it where you're like, Oh, I don't want this type of hype. We just want to build. Were you like, finally, our time has come and people have seen what I've seen for years. Walk me through what that feeling was like when something that you're working on hits mainstream.

Sandra: I think a lot of people expect it to be a sigh of relief and it's actually the exact opposite of that. Again, it really goes back to with, with my own background personally, that there's, my background is in tech, but it's also in marketing and advertising. There's been a lot of instances, again, when a lot of the activations that we would do for clients did have an element of what the metaverse is now.

The only difference is, is that now the vision that we have, again, is to prolong it as part of a brand's operations. Back then it was a little activation. Now, I have a funny story. I won't drop names, but there's A leader now in, a brand leader now in Web3, especially in the metaverse. I did a strategy for them, part of the company I was working with ages ago, ages, ages ago that had metaverse AR, VR and it had NFTs actually.

And I remember back then it got. I came back with the feedback of, we're not ready for this. This is too advanced or we're not going to do it. No one will understand it. And then a couple of years later, now they're leaders in the space. So it's actually really funny when I was reflecting on it a couple of months ago, because things moved really quickly and I definitely do think that COVID added to the movement of the metaverse and the hype that it kind of created.

So yeah, I was pretty happy that. People are now starting to understand that the internet is great, engaging with your community is brilliant, and you need it to prolong a brand's identity, but you need to have that ongoing kind of interaction between them and yourself.

Stephen: Interesting enough, you know, if you pick up any paper today, if you read any news headlines, I think this was advanced by, you know, the UK or the English government spending $350, 000 on a Metaverse event, and 14 people showed up.

Stephen: When you hear the word Metaverse, What is one of those first things that come to mind to you? I know you said that everyone's going to have a different kind of definition or their version of what Web3 is. When you hear the word metaverse, like what does that experientially mean to you?

Sandra: I think the term itself kind of is beneficial.

I know a lot of people tend to kind of steer clear from it. But I think as humans and as a society, we like to give things terms and we like to put, you know, we do, we like to, you know, this is why stereotypes exist because it makes things easier to kind of interact with someone or kind of to build a bias or an idea. I think having the term metaverse has helped a lot of people to shape.

Or to split rather the industry. For me, it doesn't really make a difference. You know, you could call it a metaverse. You could call it I don't know, the new iPhone, you could call it a brownie. At the end of the day, what really matters is the use case and the functionality that you add to it and what that actually means to a business.

Obviously we do use metaverse because again, this is the best way to remind people that this is our core focus. We are still in an educational period and an educational phase, so people do need to build an association with a certain word or acronym or whatever it is.

Stephen: And are there different, like, when I say, like, if I said, hey, do you know about the blockchain, you said, yeah, that, that kind of covers a ton of things, it covers Layer 1s, Layer 2s, it covers stablecoins, and everything you can think of, private, public, are there the same complexities or layers with the metaverse that there are with, like, the term blockchain?

Sandra: Definitely. I mean, the metaverse itself has multiple layers, right? You have the, I mean, I've probably without diving too deep and taking the whole kind of discussion, but there are multiple layers to it. I'll try to simplify it very quickly. To build a metaverse, obviously you have the design aesthetic aspect of it.

Then you have the actual development of it, which is where you start using your tech stack and what that is going to look like. Then you include your use cases, your functionalities, and then you go down to the blockchain layer that needs to integrate with it for it to actually become a metaverse that has NFTs, that has an identity, that has all of this.

This is a very over the top kind of rushed explanation, but there are a lot of people in the space, where they classify themselves as being a metaverse, whereas in reality, they could be just a builder, so they only design 3D assets or the environment. There are some people who call themselves, again, metaverse builders, but they only just develop using Unity or Unreal.

It's a very broad umbrella, and I think everyone has a different definition of what they use it for. For us personally with Metaminds, we are pretty much able to use the term because we cover the entire process of concept, execution, design, development, strategy, and then deployment on the blockchain layer.

So we're an all in one platform, which makes it easier for any client that's looking to onboard into the space.

Stephen: And we're gonna dive down deeper into the conversation, but what are your thoughts when you see / read the reports that the Metaverse is dead? Give us reasoning why you think this is an inaccurate statement it's alive and thriving and give us a reason why you think people do have a point or they have a right to think the way they do that the Metaverse is dead

Sandra: I had quite a lot of fun when the hype had kind of died down and everyone was claiming the Metaverse was dead, I think a little comedian inside of me came out and I started to play around with that.

Also wrote a whole bunch of like, Obed articles and articles on why it isn't dead and for what reason. I think what happened in the space is that the metaverse did need to die whether it's the right term to use or not. I think a lot of people came into the space with the idea of business models that weren't really accurate.

I mean, you had people paying 500, 000 to build on a small, you know, piece of land. You had people paying up to 1 million or 2 million to acquire land that is scarce, but you cannot have scarce land in, in the metaverse at the end of the day. To simplify it for us, it's a command C, command V, like we just duplicate the instance and then there's pop on other land.

So I think what happened did need to happen because it did rebalance the, we needed to reset business models. We needed to reset the division, the structure. And when I say we, I'm not just talking as in us as a company, we did undergo a big restructure ourselves, but I think the entire space needed to separate between what is a viable business model for the end user and what isn't. So, I'm personally glad it happened, but I wouldn't say it's dead. I would definitely say it's thriving, alive, and yeah, healthy.

Stephen: Awesome. Did you feel that there was a lot of grifters in this space when it comes to NFTs or AI or VR or AR?

You see people that bounce from, you know, real estate to cannabis to social media to blockchain to Bitcoin. Everyone's experts. Could you tell in conversations that people were pitching business but hadn't actually been in the metaverse before or a metaverse?

Sandra: Yeah, I mean, I get on a lot of calls generally throughout the day and sometimes like within the first two or three minutes, I'm able to tell if this call is going to go the whole 30 minutes or not.

So definitely there were a lot of people that did bounce from place to place, but then again, you know. In my mind, I have this funny theory that it's the people who missed out on kind of becoming Tumblr influencers and then was it MySpace? Yeah, probably MySpace influencers and then Facebook and all of that.

I think they're now trying to do it in Web3. It's, I mean, look, whatever works for people, go for it. But at the end of the day, I think If you're impacting the end user's bias towards an industry, make sure you're giving them the right information. Otherwise, you're doing yourself and everyone else a disservice.

And that's my only problem.

Stephen: You've already mentioned Metaminds and Zilliqa. I think people have heard the name Zilliqa quite a bit. You're the GCC there. Tell us a little bit about what Zilliqa is. Like, how did they get into this Web3 industry? Because I think each organization has an interesting path to get into Web3.

I don't think many people go to school to get into Web3. This is always a path or progression. Can you talk a little bit through Zilliqa's projection into Web3?

Sandra: Yeah, no, definitely. So I was actually a community member at Zilliqa up in, so Zilliqa launched in 2015, like I said initially. They didn't launch, sorry, they came out from the University of, I think it was called NUS, if I'm not mistaken. Sorry, I'm not that good with acronyms. Anyways, out of Singapore they officially entered the market and launched in 2017. And around that time was when I kind of, they flagged my radar because I was starting to kind of really pay attention to the space having been in it for a while.

So. I started to follow Zilliqa around 2017, and I was a community member, kind of, you know, always following them and seeing what they're up to. Until a couple of years ago, I joined the actual team as their head of Metaverse, as their head of NFT, and then the Metaverse department came through. So I was head of Metaverse and NFTs.

What ended up happening is we realized very quickly and early on with the strategy that the Metaverse needed to be its own kind of entity and its own department. And that was when I kind of broke out from I didn't break out from the team, but I started to lead the metaverse side of the business while keeping a foot in Zilliqa as, you know, still part of the GCC kind of lead.

So currently where we're at is I'm, like I said, GCC lead for Zilliqa group as a whole and part of the CEO office, which kind of federates the approach and decision making. across the group based on the, on the entities. It's a beautiful way to kind of run a company and a business, to be honest, because the nice thing about Zilliqa is not only is it known for its sharding technology, for its own smart conflict language Scilla.

It's also one of these blockchain layers where if you know about it, you know about it and it's one of those ones that's been extremely successful, but you have to be kind of in the know to understand that it's eco friendly, it's low cost, it's sustainable, it's safe. Secure. It's extremely what do you call it?

Has a quite a big community, a very large dedicated community actually. And it has pretty much a global outreach. So the focus of Zilliqa is around metaverse, NFTs, gaming blockchain through a layer one. It does quite a lot as a layer one, but then again, all layer ones do if, if we were to dive deep into it, really.

Stephen: That's hilarious.

Stephen: You know, I met your co founder of Metamind in Dubai. During Jitex and future blockchain summit, you're in Abu Dhabi right now. Was it important to make sure your headquarters was in Dubai? You know, I know they've, you know, invested a lot verbally and investment wise into the, their Metaverse actually strategy.

And that's the first Metaverse strategy I think globally that we've ever heard a government commit to. How important was it to be like kind of at the, the heart of the storm of Metaverse and that kind of technology?

Sandra: I mean, it was extremely important for us to be at a place that understood the future. Rules and regulations made it easy for entrepreneurs, for teams, and for access to skills that are necessary. Obviously Dubai or the UAE was an easy choice for us. Having Zilliqa out from Singapore with teams in London, for us it was just the next obvious choice in terms of setting up our headquarters because, like you mentioned, you know, The rules, regulations here have been in favor of Web3 especially, you know, Metaverse, digital assets blockchain.

You have a lot of support from the government. If you want it, you have a lot of support from other entrepreneurs around you and all of that. So, I don't believe we followed the hype because technically we were in the UAE prior to when people started to say they wanted to come here and do that. But I believe the movement that's happened has definitely been because of the region and why it's been so welcoming and how it's been able to support people to come in.

Stephen: You know, one of the things I heard a lot of when going to Dubai, everyone talks about, you know, there's a lot of smoke and mirrors. But I also know that a lot of people are going to Dubai, like, looking for something, right? They have a lot of money flowing around there. They're, you know, well connected to other jurisdictions close by, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and others.

So I think people go there with the intent, like, they have a lot of money, I'm gonna find out ways I can take the money. What are your thoughts about that? Is it a lot of smoke and mirrors, or are people approaching Dubai and Abu Dhabi and other places within the UAE with more of a selfish intent, and that's why they might not be seeing the results that they want?

Sandra: No, I think you answered the question, to be honest. I think people have been coming to the country because I've experienced it myself, to the region, thinking that they're going to land and investors are just going to come throw cash in their face and say, go do what you want to do. It really isn't like that.

The GCC region is built based on a lot of relationships, so personal relationships, actually taking the time to get to know the people that you want to build a relationship with, whether they're investors, whether they're employees, whether they're kind of like brands or clients in the future. I wouldn't say it's smoke and mirrors, but I would say it's definitely a prolonged journey that isn't going to happen as soon as you land at the airport and make your way to the hotel.

You do need to put in the effort, the energy, and you need to also prove that you want to be here. I mean, for us, we've expanded our team in the region. We have a headquarters here. We're at events. We participate in government discussions around setting rules and regulations for the space. So we do actively partake in proving that this is why we're here and we do want to be here.

I've seen it happen as well with a lot of people that I know personally that have come to the region. They've tried it for like a month or two. They went to a couple of events and then they were like, no, no, I can't, I, I haven't raised anything. I need to go back. But you know, those who did persevere kind of did benefit at the end. At the end of the day, everything can be smoke and mirrors. It really just comes down to you and how you want to tackle things, right?

Stephen: I love it.

Stephen: You mentioned regulation, you touched on regulation, obviously my background's in, you know, compliance, blockchain investigation, so regulation is dear to my heart.

We've seen global regulators start to create, actually, legislation and regulations that encompass Web3. You know, when FADA first came out with their approach to digital assets, They never even mentioned the word NFT or any other things in their revision eight months later. You start seeing that they were focusing on these emerging technologies that haven't quite fully baked yet, for lack of a better word. The UK House of Lord Members have called for a bill to regulate internet services to now extend to virtual environments. Such as the metaverse, maybe can you talk to some of the regulatory challenges that you're seeing or that, you know, your, maybe your colleagues or other organizations in the metaverse have to go through?

Sandra: Again, it can be a bit tricky because this is where it comes down to the business model and the structure that a company would have. There's a fine line between what is considered a digital asset and what isn't a digital asset. There's a fine line between what is considered a crypto token and what is considered an in world token.

There's a fine line between what's considered a blockchain layer and what's considered just, you know, an authentication layer. It really just comes down to the business model and the operations. The thing with the UAE is that they have I don't know if you've heard of it, but it's called VARA. So it's a virtual assets, regulatory authority, I believe is what it stands for.

And that was established around Feb 2022. Pretty much their main goal is to look at kinda like the key principles that they have is around market integrity and stability. So making sure that the market to is doing what it needs to do consumer protection, technology support in terms of innovation and neutrality.

So just making sure that. People are doing what they're saying they're going to do. Regulatory resilience, efficiency in the regulations. So when you have kind of like these government bodies who are kind of helping and supporting people understand what is going to be considered a virtual asset and what isn't, what's going to be that fine line between them being successful and them having people knocking on their door saying, you know, you, you need to come in for more questioning. It does. tend to help a lot, but it does put a lot of strain on the founder because you do need to be very Open around your business and what actually it is you're dabbling in. So I wouldn't say it's a lot of hard effort, but it's more around just really understanding your business model.

For example, we don't do anything that has to do with blockchain as a metaverse company. We don't, no. So not blockchain, crypto we don't touch crypto because all of our worlds are just. built based on in world kind of tokenization and how that operates around a strategy. So for us, we don't really classify as a crypto company.

Even though we use the blockchain, we have tokens and we do all these things, we're, we're completely far from being a crypto company. So, yeah, it's, it's these kinds of things that people need to pay attention to.

Stephen: What are your thoughts when you see the U. S. start going after NFT projects, most notably Stoner Cats, I believe, was won by Mila Kunitz and Ashton Kutcher, they've gone after Tom Bilyeu basically saying that it was an unlicensed security.

Do you get scared? I'm not sure if you have, you know, US customers or you have a US nexus. Does that worry you when regulators in places like the US are very powerful, aren't kind of regulating by legislation and guidance, they're almost regulating by lawsuits? What are your thoughts around that? How do you navigate?

Sandra: To be honest the US isn't really a market that we have a lot of how to put it.

Sandra: We don't really have a lot of exposure to the rules and regulations out of the US because we don't really, not that we don't function in the US but our operations are more kind of, outside of the USA, there's been a lot of these kind of stories, and I think yesterday I was even reading that Cristiano Ronaldo, if I'm not mistaken, was also being sued, I believe, for his involvement with Binance, if I'm not wrong in terms of some of the projects. So I guess the only worry I have is what does that mean for for the future of innovation and setting guidelines that people can actually follow because it does sometimes feel like it bounces around a lot.

And if things aren't very straightforward, it can be difficult. And the last thing you'd want is to start deterring people from wanting to actually experience new technology or, or play around with it. I mean, obviously.

Sandra: There is a level of ethics and integrity that does need to go into anything that you're promoting as a business and as an ambassador or an influencer.

But the responsibility also lies on the end user, as in with anything, to do your own research and kind of understand where you fit within it all. But this to me is extremely normal. I mean, it's kind of like if you're buying something off eBay or Amazon, you would read the reviews to see if it's good or if it isn't, and if the buyer makes sense or if he doesn't.

I don't think Web3 should be aloof. You know, it's not like everyone here is honest to God and, and very righteous in what they're doing. It's, it's, it's human nature. You know, it, it, it's the evolution of life. This is how we are as human beings. So I can't really say a, a lot around what's happening in the us but I know that a lot is going on right now in terms of the rules and the regulations out of there.

Stephen: I'm very big on accountability as well, right? You can't just give your crypto to some, you know, sometimes you don't even know who the founder has or they're up on Instagram with chains instead of heir and then you're mad at them because they didn't complete the next best video game when they had no experience kind of in that field and then look And blame the company that sold, that allowed you to trade or, you know, buy those assets.

It's, it's a little bit, I think we've gone a little bit too far with, you know, we need Facebook and we need YouTube to protect us from these advertisements. And I think we've gone far away from just kind of common sense. We would never give that kind of money to somebody that we didn't know on the street, but online, it almost feels like our greed is getting the best of us.

Sandra: Well, it is a bit contradictory if you really think about it.

Sandra: I mean, I don't want to get psychological and philosophical right now, but in a sense, you know, you have people who are screaming decentralization and at the same time they're screaming accountability. Do you want decentralization or do you want accountability?

Because at the end of the day, if you're screaming, you know, Oh, I want to control my own keys and I want to do this and I want to do that. And then when something goes wrong, you're saying, oh, but you told me to do it. It's, it's kind of like, what do you call it? You're kind of like stuck on this kind of like highway and you don't want to go back and you don't want to go forwards.

Who do you blame yourself, the car or the bridge? You know, it's, it's a matter of just making things work. We've seen that quite a lot actually in the metaverse. And it's funny because I have gotten a lot of comments.

Sandra: Um, And a lot of people asking me questions around why have I always pushed for KYC in the metaverse, which I have and I don't really shy away from saying that I have, because to me it's extremely important that when you are building a metaverse that has teenagers, that has children, that has adults, that has people of all walks of life interacting with a brand, interacting with one another, you do need to have a level of KYC because you do need to put a level and a layer of protection around grooming, harassment, bullying.

I don't know why, but there's this like sense that people think Metaverse is going to be like this utopia where everyone is happy and everyone's nice and everyone's, you know, perfect and all of that. I think sometimes they forget that the people building these businesses and the people building these metaverses and, you know, these, these models.

are in fact in Web 2. 0 day to day, so if we have this in our physical world, yes, it will move into Web 3. 0, it's not going to be that distance. So, whenever I bring up KYC around the metaverse, I do always get a lot of people saying to me, well, why? It should just be decentralized. Alright, well, go to a decentralized world, you don't need to come into one that has KYC, at the day, that's your choice, but we can't just think that the metaverse can exist without the level of KYC.

Stephen: I think if history repeats itself, right, there's the libertarian Bitcoin people that are like, Hey, decentralization, be your own bank. But if you want to build a big business, you're going to have to have that element of KYC and, you know, compliance with regulation. So this depends on what you want to do.

I think people want to build a big business and kind of walk outside of regulation at the same time. And that's just not going to happen, I don't think, anytime soon. They also want, you know, the bank to call if they, you know, when somebody uses my credit card to go on a shopping spree at Holt Renfrew and spend $15, 000.

I want to be able to call my credit card company and get those charges removed. But I think in Web 3, when people realize there's nobody to call, they're kind of like, why didn't regul why wouldn't regulators put in guardrails here? Where are they to kind of help us out? And why aren't they penalizing people? So, as you said, it's a funny contradiction.

Sandra: It is. I mean, look, KYC in the metaverse layer, it doesn't need to be an open, it can be just between the user and either the platform or whoever is doing the KYC itself. It doesn't need to be to the public. You can have your own profile. You know, you can, it's kind of, you can have your own profiles, but as long as there is that level of KYC, it is, well, it is necessary.

Stephen: You know, on your website, you do talk about safety and security and some of the bottlenecks actually with the metaverse, including things like interoperability, which I think is a bottleneck for all of Web3, to be quite honest.

Stephen: I think we're moving towards more cross chain and, you know, more interoperability between chains and blockchains.

Which makes it, making things a little bit better, but still a little bit janky, if I have to, if I have to say what is the, you know, the first problem you think that a company or that you need to solve for a company before they can start attacking some of these bottlenecks and maybe explain how MetaMind approaches these challenges on behalf of their customers.

Sandra: Yeah, I mean, one of the first things that we did at the company was we looked at what are the bottlenecks that people face, the bottlenecks that we face with clients, and we built a model around how can we solve it for them. You know, one of the biggest issues is that the, I mean, it's, it's a long list, but you know, I, like you said, we do have it on the website, but yeah, interoperability is one of them.

What we've done is we've made sure that if anyone uses our metaverse as a service layer, they're able to move freely within the world. So you don't really need to change. You can be in one world, move to the other, move to the other, move to the other. Interoperability between let's say our world and the central end or Sandbox or Roblox.

It could happen, but that needs to be a connectors of APIs and two companies agreeing with one another that let's make it interoperable. It's, it's one of those things that is, again, it's one of those words that has a lot under the umbrella and it just really depends on how you use it. Another bottleneck that people face and we've seen a lot is that they don't really understand how costly it is to build a metaverse or to build a team that is going to give you a metaverse and that goes across strategy. It goes across design, execution and all that. So what we've done is we've built a pipeline that works with the client across strategy concept, execution, development and deployment. So we, in a sense, act as part of the team.

Another issue is. The segregation. with the blockchain layer you have, for example, Ethereum, you have Zilliqa, you have Cardano, you have Near, you have all of these blockchain layers. One of the problems a lot of clients face is that they don't really know how each one works and where they should be.

Which is why we've made it easy for them. They don't really need to think much about it. Everything we do is under the hood. So you pretty much come to us, you say, I want to enter the metaverse, and we give you an all round package where you have a wallet, you have avatars, you have a metaverse, you have a blockchain layer, you have NFTs.

Obviously as per your strategy that we work with you on, but it does remove that friction of having to find a wallet, find a blockchain find a character builder for your avatar, find someone to build you the metaverse. Decide where you're going to put your metaverse, so there's a lot that goes into it.

It's kind of like a Shopify, right? You go to Shopify, you pick a template, that's it. You set up your storefront. It's, it's that easy.

Stephen: I think that's what most companies want, right? They, a lot of them want that kind of, they want to be in this space, but it doesn't have to be like so elaborate. And you know, like Shopify, you want to start up your business, but there's certain limits that Shopify has.

I'm sure there's certain limits. That's some of these companies encounter. Where are your thoughts with cybersecurity? You mentioned KYC. Now from a blockchain investigator background that I have, we saw that the DeFi space is not a safe space to store your cryptocurrency. I think there was over a hundred million dollars worth of hacks alone in the, in last October 2022 from many different DeFi protocols.

How safe is the metaverse? When you have maybe crypto or tokens being held or paid for, for in game, you know, skins or other things that purchasers are acquiring, how safe is that crypto? How safe are those tokens? I don't hear much about metaverse hacks or anything of the like. Is there not much token or crypto being moved around in those areas?

Sandra: Honestly, that's not a question I can answer because I'm not 100 percent sure what would happen on like a Decentraland or a Sandbox or Roblox. Everything we do is white labeled for the client. We do have a social layer aspect of the business. But again, like I said, we are not a crypto company, so we don't really dabble in any kind of crypto.

We have in world tokens, which is part of the loyalty movement, moving from one place to the other, but that is not pegged to any monetary instance or, or number. It's more a matter of the strategy. Now, to answer your question, though, from my own experience, I think I remember the last DeFi hack I remember personally was the one that was happening live.

And the person who was doing it was I think on like Discord or Twitter or whatever telling, kind of literally live tweeting what he's doing and what he's about to do and all of that. I was actually still Internal at Zilliqa when that was going on and I remember the Slack channel was going off because we were like, Oh, did you see that?

Did you see what he said? Did you see that? Did you see that? So, to answer your question, I think it really just depends on the blockchain layer, to be honest. I mean, at the end of the day, it comes down to the smart contract and how safe and secure it is. How safety measures have been taken by the users.

I think I've seen a lot of people saying online, you know, Oh, I got a email, someone asked for my phrase key, so I gave it to them and then all my money was gone. Well, I mean, if someone knocks on the door and you answer and you get punched in the face, you kind of, you know, you need to kind of protect yourself from these things, you know, it's, do your own research, it's pretty important still, that's for sure.

Stephen: One thing you've mentioned quite a bit is Roblox, and I don't think many people, many people on web2 know exactly what Roblox is. I have a son that's 7 and 4, so I definitely am on Roblox once a night playing some games with them and their friends.

Fortnite is my favorite game to play on Roblox, but how is Roblox connected to the metaverse? Is it the best version of the metaverse that we have right now? Because we all know it's very centralized there's definitely a central authority on Roblox. Talk to me through, like, your concept of Roblox and what it has to do with the Metaverse.

Sandra: I mean, at first I didn't realize I was saying Roblox that much. Maybe that's something I need to flag in myself. But to me personally, Roblox isn't really a metaverse. I think it's more a gamified world. Again, it just comes down to how people define what a metaverse is. We use a different level of rendering, so we use a high poly, I believe they use the, is it pixel?

I can't really remember. The target market that we have is completely different to Roblox generally speaking, our core focus when going for a client is not the Roblox audience or experiences, it's more the metaverse as part of your ongoing operations. As in it taps into your hr, it taps into your training and upskilling, it taps into your community building.

It taps into your pre and post customer engagement and support. It taps into your funnel of driving, you know, revenue and new revenue streams. That's what we do. From my experience with Roblox, it's a gamified world where you go in, you play a game, you do what you have to do, you have the experience, and then.

You kind of move to another place or you jump out. I could be wrong, but unless it's pivoted in the last 24 hours that's how I, that's how I remember it being. So, we have two completely different models and I, I, I believe that, again, people are calling Roblox the metaverse, but it's not a sustainable, for me anyways, it's not a sustainable environment for people who want to continuously engage in a strategic and incentivized way with a brand or an influencer or an ambassador that they like and follow.

Stephen: I think you make a great point there. Commercially, they gotta down pack. I'd be spending 100 on Roblox. A month for my kids to get to you. So commercially they have it down back, but you're right. There's not much engagement. There's not much, maybe brand loyalty would be the best word, but speaking of brand loyalty, it seems like luxury brands have like dove in headfirst into the metaverse LVMH, you're in, you know, Abu Dhabi, FinTech Week was there. F1 was there. Chris Bown in the club. I saw a lot of expensive watches, purses in some of those clips.

What has been your experience with traditional brands? And how hard are they trying to get into Web3 to build in?

Sandra: So we've had a lot of success with luxury brands personally we work with quite a large number across proof of concepts. So one of our models or one of our kind of business visions or insider what do you call it? Culture is that we work with our client on a private proof of concept, meaning that we build the strategy with them. And we do internal and internal and small closed testing before they are ready for deployment. So for me and the company, one of the biggest movers in the space has been the luxury industry because they've been extremely quick to pivot to understanding the value of building their community, engaging with their community. They've also realized that if they engage with the community and incentivize them, it will actually yield more rewards and be more sustainable, because a lot of the issues that luxury groups faced or were facing, not where, but like have been facing is that their warehouses are filled with a lot of products that not many people are wanting to purchase.

They've also realized that the pre loved or the secondary market industry has really shot up, whereas more people, especially Gen Z, is excited in kind of taking items that have a story and a narrative and connecting with it. One of the big misses in the industry has been where we've been extremely successful with the brands that we are working with is that We don't shy away from telling the brand story, and we definitely don't shy away from making sure that their community feels engaged post, pre, and kind of after you've left the experience, or you've left the store, or you've left the metaverse, or anything like that.

For us, Luxury is set to be our core focus and it is actually our core focus when dealing with with clients. Luxury, lifestyle, entertainment, they all fall under the same umbrella for me personally. But there's a lot that can be done and yeah, you, you are right. Chris Brown was in town and I believe Kanye West was too if I'm not mistaken. So, yeah, it was a good party. I didn't go, but I heard it wasn't . I heard it wasn't good. .

Stephen: Yeah, sure. You're like, yeah. I didn't personally, I, it wasn't me in the background with my hand over my face bumping in the club, but I heard others had a really good time.

Sandra: A friend told me it was really good. .

Stephen: But my wife would like to hear this episode listing about luxury brands. One thing I noticed in Dubai though, when we was there with Jitex, there was a lot of conversation, obviously now about AI and blockchain for like the fashion industry. What part is really, do you feel AI is playing? What has been the biggest impact AI has had on some of the work that you're doing maybe?

Sandra: again, you, you said in a previous question something around smoke, smoke and mirrors. And I think a lot of time when people use These two terms sustainability and AI right now, I believe it's a lot of smoke and mirrors. AI is a very big and a very broad and a very complicated umbrella with many, many, many layers and levels to it.

We use AI in personalization, we use AI with NPCs, we use AI when it comes to advertising. But this is not new. This has been done many, many, many years ago and it continues to now be done. The only difference now is that it's either more streamlined more focused or more you have more professional services that cater to that.

I think a lot of people talk about generative AI, they talk around, you know, I think I saw that dress that changes as you click a button or as you put a, I don't know, something along these lines. People need to kind of be more aware of what is a concept. And what is reality? And I think I've mentioned that quite a lot on LinkedIn because so many times I'd be just scrolling through my timeline and, you know, you see all of these grand, grand concepts and they're amazing. And people are like, wow, I can't wait to try this. But in reality, you're, you cannot try it because one, it's, it's a nice render. The technology does not exist. And even if it does probably no one would be able to afford it. We are definitely not at that level right now when it comes to AI and what people think we can and can't do with it.

AI is advanced, but the tangible AI that people can interact with, we're not tapping at that level where, you know, all these cool things are going to start happening anytime soon. People were kind of going on about the, what was it called? I think it was called the AI, was it the human pin? The humane pin or something?

Yeah, yeah, human, yeah. The humane pin, I've seen that making the rounds. I've also seen you know, a couple of wearables, tech wearables that supposedly can do everything. Thanks to AI, I've seen AI shoes that tell you how fast you're walking or to slow down and, you know, even walk for you. So there's been a lot of like different versions of what people think AI is and what it can and can't do.

But there is still a level of concept versus real execution and what we can and can't do. And the lines that have just been blurred, in my opinion.

Stephen: And I think you could probably sniff it out too, right? Like I think there's a lot, everyone comes up with these Al can do this and you can get to do that. Like, okay, show me, don't just sell me, like, don't just sell me on the concept, show me exactly, do it then, like, you're saying it can do all these things, so actually do it and then show me what it does, not give me the concept behind it.

Stephen: We have a couple more minutes left, and I think I actually want to end, because, you know, to be quite honest, Sandra, you're extremely real and authentic.

I just saw this week, and I think it's been making its rounds the conference DevTernity, I believe that's the name, I'm not really much of a developer, so I don't know the exact name, I think it's DevTernity. Huge scandal, you know, posting women speakers that were either AI generated or never existed.

They actually had to cancel the conference because many of the other speakers pulled out. And it goes to show like, like diversity is now being so highlighted in the news that people actually have to fake the diversity in order to draw in some of the more diverse conscious professionals. You as a woman speaker, notable, I've seen you on, you know, many of the biggest stages around the world.

What are your thoughts about that? What has been maybe your own experience to end off this conversation?

Sandra: You know, I actually did see that and I remember I was driving down to Abu Dhabi Finance Week and I did write a long post and then the app crashed so I couldn't post it, so I'm glad you asked me that question because I guess I can still remember what I wrote.

I've never really believed that people should be just judged based on whether you're a male, you're a female, whether you're from this country or that country, I think it's always important to look at people, and I don't like using the term judge, but I will say it because it is 9pm my time and I can't think of a better word right now, but I think judging someone based on their skill and their experience is a lot more beneficial regardless of their sex or where they associate with or what their cultural background is.

There are plenty of women in the space who are doing a lot. There are plenty of men in the space that are doing a lot. There are plenty of unrepresented individuals in the space that have found it extremely difficult to make a name for themselves, doing quite a lot. And actually, I'm not someone that usually would pick on these things, but actually seeing that event generating AI images of speakers did in a sense trigger me I believe Gen Z would say it's cringe delulu, if I'm not mistaken the terminology that they would use, you know, I did feel that in all honesty, because in my mind, we talk about inclusivity, we talk about how can we make the world a better place. But if as a collective, we're not doing better, we cannot be better. For me, again, this does come down to the term inclusivity, I don't like when people use it, because in reality, we are not an all inclusive world. You will never have an all inclusive company, you will never have an all inclusive country, you will never have an all inclusive blah blah blah.

There are so many people that struggle to buy a laptop, so many people that struggle to get visas to get a good job. It's not always been equal for everyone, so I think when we talk about Inclusivity, and we talk about diversity, and we talk about all of these things. It's not fair to forget that some people are extremely privileged to be able to get on stage, and others have really worked extremely hard to get to a point where they should be on that stage.

And the fact that someone has decided to fake an AI personality and not give everyone an equal opportunity based on their experience, their knowledge, and what they know, It does, in a sense, make me wonder, why would you even do that? It's actually more tiring to develop a fake AI image and a portfolio for someone than actually just connecting with someone and telling them, come speak at the event, you know.

And the funny part is, I believe they were putting them working at really big companies too. I mean, if you, if you were going to fake, I believe they have.

Stephen: Yeah. Maybe go with a little more of an obscure company, not Coinbase. Not Coinbase

Sandra: Obviously Coinbase, at some point someone's gonna be like, Hey, I've never met this Ana Boyer, I think her name was, or something like that from memory.

So, rather than wasting time generating fake AI images and really bad resumes just connect with people and give them a chance. I mean, I got given a chance I've given people chances, my mentor has opened doors for me, I've opened doors for others. If we're not helping one another and we're not giving each other the time And, you know, the availability of being able to show what we're capable of doing, then we're just going to be stuck in this little circle.

So yeah, I probably went off on a bit of a rant, but for me, it was definitely one of the things

Stephen: No, I think you touched on it, and I think what's I think it even triggered me. It's like People don't mind. If you just had lack of diversity on your panels, I think, okay, it would, you wouldn't be cancelled for that, but they'd be like, okay, you can do better.

But when you try to trick people, I think that's the, nobody likes to feel like they're being tricked. And I think that's the part that bothered me, like, I don't like, yeah, you're right, like, the energy into tricking people, I think, is what bothered me, and the fact that you have so many great panelists, just ask them if they know somebody that they feel could, you know, help bring up, I think diversity is important, I think, you know, having someone like you on stage, not just because you're a woman, but you just bring completely different ideas, I think, than having me on stage, so I think this is the importance of having diversity.

The diversity of conversation, not so much just gender or race but obviously as a black person, I feel like you also want to see people there. And I was going to go back, I was like, oh, I'd love to see who they had, like, representing African Americans. I'd love to see what images they created for that, because if they're doing it for women, I'd hate to see what they're doing it for other minorities.

Sandra: I mean, I'm just kind of curious, like, if I decided I did want to go see this woman's Speech or I don't know, panel or whatever, what were they going to do? I mean, if you build an entire day or event around these speakers, obviously people are going to rock up expecting to see them, but they didn't show up.

As in, you create this fake personality and then you bad mouth it. It seems like a Netflix movie for Christmas, you know, someone got invited to like a family Christmas and then they made up a boyfriend or a girlfriend. And then the, I don't know, it just seems like, it just seems like it's useless. It doesn't really make us. It serves no purpose. It's speakers.

Stephen: They've done it in the past. Apparently they've done it quite a bit in the past and they just said that the person didn't show up. Sandra, you've been an amazing guest. This is way better of the conversation I could ever imagine. I love how authentic and real you are.

Thank you so much for joining Around The Coin podcast and, you know, good luck in everything that you, MetaMinds, and Zilliqa is doing out in UAE.

Sandra: Thanks Stephen. It's been absolutely amazing.