Cryptocurrency has been getting more popular these days. A lot of consumers want to learn how it works because people who have been using it are claiming that it’s the future of the world. Eryka Gemma was introduced to cryptocurrency, specifically Bitcoin at a young age through a community of people when she was a delegate of Washington state. But due to Ron Paul losing, she forgot about Bitcoin and focused her time on aviation and eventually worked in the aircraft leasing division. In this episode, she discusses her journey in hosting crypto events and opening up a Bitcoin center. She also shares the difference of cryptocurrency with our current printed money and the value it holds in the future.
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The Bank Of Eryka And Miami, Crypto Capital Of The World
Welcome to the show. I have with me the incomparable Eryka Gemma. Eryka’s nickname, her moniker on Instagram and on Twitter is @BankOfEryka. That is for a reason. Eryka is doing incredible things in the crypto space. She was one of the earlier people doing it. Eryka, welcome. I am super excited to have you on.
Thank you for having me. I am involved and love all the ladies in crypto. They are all goddesses.
I want to know your story. How did you come into wanting to, caring about, and being so involved with the future of the new age of money?
A lot of times, people in crypto, there is a saying that I like to say, “They come for the Lambo and then they stay for the revolution.” They come because they see this opportunity to make money then they learn about the issues that happen in the money system and how the money system is holding a lot of us down. For me, it was a little bit opposite. I came because I saw some of the issues. I campaigned for Ron Paul when I was younger. When I was nineteen, I became a delegate of Washington State for him. Through him and that community of people, I learned what the Federal Reserve was. I learned that the money supply is no longer based on gold.
I also learned about Bitcoin. It was through that open-minded group of people that showed me that Bitcoin is a solution to a lot of the money problems that we have. It was pretty exciting. Unfortunately, after Ron Paul lost in 2012, I brain-dumped everything. Maybe as women, sometimes when we do not want to deal with situations or when we get out of an abusive relationship, our first reaction is to forget about it. You brain dump it. That is what I did. I found out that we were in an abusive relationship with the state and I forgot about everything. I forgot about Bitcoin. I have always liked aviation. I have always liked airplanes, so I moved from Seattle, which is where I was born and raised, to a school called Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. That is a top aviation school in the world.
I had my pilot’s license. I’m very ingrained and I have always liked technical things. Afterward, I started working for a big bank. I got into finance and I worked in the aircraft leasing division. Interestingly enough, the CEO at the time was legendary Bankster. He did the merger between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. The next week, Lehman Brothers falls. He makes $50 million regardless. These legendary people on Wall Street make money, but a lot of people are losing money.
We had a Q&A session for the young new hires. In the end, I was racking my brain for a good question. I remembered Bitcoin at that moment. I asked him, “What do you think about Bitcoin?” To ask a good question. He and everybody in the room pretty much laughed at me. I was like, “It is time to go back down the rabbit hole.” When I had first learned about it in 2011, the payment channels were not there. Timing is very important.
What happened after that? You said, “I am going to go back down the rabbit hole.” I consider Miami the crypto capital of the world. I consider you the crypto queen of Miami. That is pretty impressive. How did you get from that moment going down the rabbit hole to where you are now?
[bctt tweet=”Ladies love purchasing power. And what Bitcoin does is it allows for more purchasing power. ” via=”no”]
That particular bank sold all their airplanes and I started working for another boutique aircraft leasing company. It was a smaller company. I was telling all of my colleagues about Bitcoin. This was 2017 when the big new hot trend in the blockchain was security tokens. We had twenty Mitsubishi regional jets on order. We tried to tokenize and crowdfund for the raise of these jets.
I warned you that you are going to be talking to a very mainstream audience. The security token and tokenizing are something a lot of our readers are not going to be so familiar with. What would you describe that as in layman’s terms?
When a company goes public and they do an IPO, there is a whole entire process behind that. Individuals can buy into that company and own a portion of it in shares. That same concept of an IPO, a company going somewhere being publicly traded on the NASDAQ or New York Stock Exchange, and then individuals being able to help fund that company, exists in the crypto world. A company can take a portion of their company, tokenize it, meaning offer shares to individuals to invest in that company. On this side of things, it is a much more technologically-savvy way to do what already exists. We need to understand that in the crypto space, almost everything that is being done, none of it is necessarily new. It already exists, but it is done much more efficiently with much less friction.
All the things I have heard, that is such an incredible point. I am so glad you said that because it is that simplification that is going to make such a difference.
The IPOs in the traditional world and STOs and ICOs in this world are essentially the same thing. Taking company and offering part of it to shareholders to be able to buy and fundraise for yourself is what we were trying to do with airplanes. My boss at the time had sent me around to learn officially about the blockchain and what the blockchain could do. During my travels, I saw the opportunity. I met a lot of people in the space that I had not met beforehand. It was very libertarian-focused, but these were crypto people that I started to meet that were not necessarily all libertarians like I was used to.
From there, I started hosting this event called Crypto Mondays in Miami. Crypto Mondays is in 180 different cities and 20 different countries. It is a meetup that happens on Monday. On the first Crypto Mondays that I through, I got in touch with Lou Kerner and James Haft, who were running it at the time. Forty people showed up at my event and I was like, “Here is the community.” I was continually throwing them. There were crypto events that were happening in Miami beforehand, but it was very developer-focused and it was technical. It may be twelve people max. I was the first one in the city to throw large-scale events. They were good. I executed well. People left feeling like, “I learned something.”
I started hosting panels and then it came to the point where hundreds of people would show up. This was also 2017. It was the run-up. We were going to $20,000 and the interest was there. It got such good traction that the mayor had invited us to come host an event at his location at one of the law firms that he is a partner in. In that one, probably 100, 150 people showed up. It was very good. I continually kept growing to the point where I opened up a Bitcoin center in downtown Miami. We had a 6,000 square foot building. It was very involved with the city. When we opened up, Mayor Francis Suarez came out and did a ribbon-cutting ceremony for us.
My new Bitcoin is less than $10,000 at this point. The Downtown Development Authority, the Beacon Council, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce were all sponsors for the event. We had a lot of local Miami-born and bred companies that helped us do the opening. The room was completely packed. Seven hundred people showed up. It was a rainy day, so I was worried that people were going to get rained out and they were not going to come out, but it was completely awesome. He gave us a declaration officially declaring the Bitcoin center was open and we started. It was home for people to be able to come to. We have art all over the walls that were crypto-focused.
It was this incubator co-working office and event space. EToro and Crypto.com were my big clients. This was back in the day when people did not know about them, but what attracted them was this very refined community. What attracted the community and the reason why Miami has been able to grow so much is when people come here from out of town, they were like, “You guys actually have a real community.” You can tell everybody is friends. You are in my chat room and one of the things I love hearing is, “This is my username in the chat room,” and then someone is like, “This is my username.” They are like, “That is you?” It is cool when online people are able to meet in person. That is what matters.
For you to have done this when you did it is even more important. It speaks to me to how centric Miami is and how crypto-friendly it is. I have gotten to the point of believing that Miami is the crypto capital of the world because, in 2017, there were a lot of people running around acting like the reception that you got when you talked to the big high-end banker. They laughed. There are a lot of people right now in 2022 who are still laughing. There is a guy I locked into a Twitter battle with. I and about 300,000 other people frankly because he is a finance guy, but he is so all about how Bitcoin is terrible and it is going to ruin everything.
I actually have a friend. I mentioned this in a previous episode. He is very high-end at a major bank. When he found out I was doing this stuff, he called me up and said, “You are shilling for fascism.” That was how he put it. We are both Jewish and he was like, “This is not okay.” I was like, “Are you kidding me? Are we even having the same conversation?” I could not even imagine that we were talking about the same thing because I see DeFi, crypto, and blockchain as the love and light part of money. The part of money that is designed to help people and not to bring harm. That is part of money that is designed to give the power back to the people, as opposed to keeping the money in the hands of a very tiny number of people.
Best of all, because I am an energy person, first and foremost, there is no limit to money. We just told ourselves that there is. When you relax into what is possible, there is enough for everybody. There is enough for all the old White guys to be rich, for all the Millennials to have money, for all the poor kids to have school lunches, and for nobody to have to worry about water in third-world countries. We can do all of the above. It is not an either/or thing. I wanted to jump in there about that because it is important that Miami has said yes before anybody else did.
The abundance is there. It is the scarcity mindset versus the abundance mentality. The problem, though, with the money system, and this is what makes Bitcoin so great and the reason why your friend that says this is fascism is completely wrong, is because when you look throughout history and every single evil thing that has happened. The slave trade, the atrocities that have always happened, even wars. The reason why we got off the Gold Standard as the United States was because we were told we need to print a little bit of money to fund ourselves for war to make sure that we are safe. We will go back to the Gold Standard, but we need to do it for a little bit.
We never went back on the Gold Standard, but that was the reason. They were able to fund it. Think about it like this, what makes money good money? There is a list of characteristics that makes money sound good. One of those characteristics is even limited supply. With the money system we have now, counterfeit money is present in every evil situation that happens, sometimes it is fake dollar bills. Sometimes it is fake coins or an IOU that never materializes. The fake money system that we live in is that we are supposed to be based on gold. Although that money might be validated and they say that it is legal money and it might be legal tender, the fact is that the people in the Federal Reserve can print money as much as they want, we can’t say anything about it.
Who gets that money first? They get to pass it out to their friends and they get to earmark it to the politicians. The projects that get funded is what causes the wealth disparity. It is the fact that you can create money out of thin air without having to add value to the economy. The opposite of that is Bitcoin, where there is a limited supply. There is only ever going to be $21 million Bitcoin in existence.
Less because of scams and such. I do not think Bitcoin will ever see $21 million. I know of a particular scam that burned $10 million in Bitcoin back when Bitcoin was worth about $10,000. Do that math. We will not ever even have the $21 million.
[bctt tweet=”Women are naturally better communicators. Use that to your benefit.” via=”no”]
It is estimated that 1/4 of it is already lost because people lose to private key of scams or sent to the wrong wallet, but there is a limited supply. We know if that money is burned because the blockchain is public. Imagine if the Federal Reserve was able to print money and then you could see who they send it to first and who gets it first. That would be completely transparent. You would see that it mostly goes to politicians and big corporations. When you look at Bitcoin, its proof of work is the validation system because you have to add work into the economy to get newly-minted Bitcoins.
It is this pure money system that is hard to corrupt. The entire world decided to go on a dollar standard because we had told them that we were not going to print more dollars unless more gold was found. Obviously, we had not held true to the money system as of 1971, when we fully got off the Gold Standard. We have the world economy right now running on an unstable base. What I have seen since the beginning of time is that everything is cyclical. There are times when nations rise and they fall. Money systems rise and fall. The average span of a fiat currency is about 30 to 50 years. America’s dollar, as we know it since 1971, is at that 50-year mark.
History has shown we have been here before, but for whatever reason, you, I, and your readers are living in a time where a shift is happening. We get to choose what side of history we are going to be on. There is a lot of calamity in the world. One thing that is promised when calamity happens is that some people will lose everything and some people will make it out on top. We have the ability and the knowledge to decide which side of that we are going to be on.
Let’s talk about women. You are incredibly well-informed and well-educated. It feels energetically like you have money in your veins. It feels like you are very comfortable and feel safe with money. A lot of women do not. As I talk about very often, there are a lot of women, especially women over 50, their mothers and even they were not allowed to access their own money. It was 1974 before there were laws that said, “You can have your own mortgage. You can have your own credit card. You can have your own bank account without your husband or your father co-signing.”
We have this legacy that ironically is around the same time as the holdback standard disappeared that women were told a lot of no when it came to money. How do you shift into this place where you feel like there is money running through your veins? Other than working with me, I definitely do with people. How do you get there?
Ladies love purchasing power. What Bitcoin does is it allows for more purchasing power. What you can buy with $1 now is not even the same as what you can buy with $1 six months from now. To tie it back to Latin American countries, a lot of people in America get into Bitcoin because they want to get rich, but in Latin America, they get into Bitcoin because they do not want to get poor. For one, keep in mind that it is purchasing power that matters. While dollars are less volatile, they may seem safer because there is no volatility. It is guaranteed, but since Coronavirus, they have printed at least 1/4 of the money supply. Meaning your $1 has 1/4 less since the beginning of Coronavirus.
It is not as apparent, but thinking of currency in absolute terms has helped. I’m a first-generation American. My parents were immigrants. They moved here because the mountain in the Philippines blew up. I was the first in my family to be born here and to go to college. I had a full-ride scholarship. Even until I was 28, I had a scarcity mindset and I had to deal with that. For me, it was understanding that if I get money, it is meant to flow through me, not come to me.
First of all, I realized I had a scarcity mindset that I did not think that there was enough. Acting out of fear holds you back. Knowing the universe has your back as long as your intention is to push things through for the bettering of everybody, that helped. It gives us so much peace. That is why women are more likely to save or spend money on helping people. It is because they see there is lack. It is not true. Me growing up in a family, I have six siblings. Money was tight for us when we were growing up. Sometimes I do think, “The rug is going to get pulled out from under me. I have to fend for myself.”
Over the years, it has been knowing that, “This opportunity is for me. It is not for anybody else. If I take it, then great. Only good can come from this because I know this opportunity is for me. If it is not for me, then it will pass on.” There are so many different opportunities that pass up to us. If one comes to me and it is not a good fit, there is another one right around the corner. I applied for so many scholarships in college. My tuition and my room and board were already paid off. They could not do anything but deposit the money in my bank account.
It was because I created space for opportunity. I had applied to so many different scholarships, even scholarships that I knew I was not eligible for. It was scholarships for certain people of color or certain whatever that I was technically not eligible for. People in the business school versus this school, but I would send my application out. A lot of times, one of the biggest scholarships that I got, all of it was $10,000 directly into my bank account because I already had scholarship money enough to cover school. I changed a couple of words from some paragraph that I had written before and I won it. The reason why was because, one, nobody was applying and two, I am a pretty good writer, but it was the fact that that I learned that nobody applies for these things, the money, the help, all of it is out there.
For one, we have to ask, which I sometimes feel for women is hard. We do not want to ask for help necessarily. You need to make yourself open to opportunities. Certain things will land in your lap and you, at some point, are going to get to pick and choose, “I like this one. I do not like this one.” It is being open to it and welcoming it that makes all the difference. I am in a place in my life where the opportunities are overwhelming. I do not have enough time in the day. There are not enough hours in the day. Now, I have had to learn to say no. I am still learning. Maybe I could use your coaching on this. People sometimes tell me like, “Eryka, you are really lucky.” I always say, “It is not luck. It is skill.” I work hard to get here.
For women, I hate this mindset. This mindset is frustrating. The first time I was the only girl in a classroom, I was sixteen years old. I was learning how to fly airplanes. We had an aviation program at my high school. I was the only girl. The teacher is a guy. I was one of two minorities in the classroom. Nobody ever did want me there. There is this whole mindset where women come into workplaces and they think that they are unwanted. That is absolutely not true. Somebody who complains, whether you are a girl or a guy, you are equally not wanted. If you are tough to deal with, whether you are a girl or a guy, you are equally not wanted. If you are efficient, if you are smart, if you speak up, if you communicate, girl or guy, you are equally wanted.
I want to go back and address that other stuff that you were talking about, but there is a sense that in crypto, women are not wanted. My experience is more like we are ignored because people do not realize that we learn differently, approach something differently, or care about different things. I remember going to a networking event and telling a guy, “Women did not have access to money,” and him looking at me. It was this blank stare. I could tell that it was not that he did not care. It was that he had no point of reference for it.
It is like you coming in and being one of two girls. Are you different? Yes. Is somebody going to treat you as different? Maybe. The stories that make the movies or the stories about how you would have been hazed to the point where you were almost out of the school and then you would have rallied and come on back in, but the truth is actually more subtle and boring than that. That truth is they are trying to make their grades. They are trying a good experience for themselves. They have their own fears and their own issues. It is not that they do not like you. It might be that they would ignore you. The other piece of this for you is being aware that you did get a lot of opportunities. You did make that opportunity for yourself.
When it comes to the boundaries you set for yourself, I have a question I always tell clients to put themselves through, especially at a high level, which I feel you have gotten to. Even at your age, you are already in that high-level space. The question becomes, “What is the cost of the opportunity?” There are only 24 hours in your day. There are only 24 hours in Richard Branson’s day. You have to decide, “What am I doing with this time?” You get to make a certain amount of money and the conversation stops being, “How can I make more money?” and starts being, “How can I have more time?” Your time is the thing that is the most precious, not your money.
It is easy to make more money. When you get to a certain point, you start to realize that you will not make more time in your day. We can’t. It is 24 hours, 7 days. On a spiritual level, there is no such thing as time or space, but we live in the third dimension, where those things are parameters for us. The question to be asking always is, “What is the cost of the opportunity? If I do this, what will I not be able to turn my attention to?” The bigger you get, the bigger the projects you will be doing. Do you know Mike Terpin?
[bctt tweet=”You can learn a lot of things by yourself. There is literally so much knowledge on YouTube.” via=”no”]
Mike and I have been friends for many years. We worked together at my first company. For those of you that do not know him, I call him the Godfather of Bitcoin. That is pretty accurate. He has BitAngels and then he has a lot of different things. His group is one of the founding investors in property, for example, which is doing real estate as NFTs and all the cool stuff. What he talked to me about the last time I saw him was the idea of being a super advisor. He is not as directly involved, but he advises more from an overarching standpoint.
He is somebody who has gotten to the point where he is too valuable to get into anything that is lower level than that. It can be utilized by so many resources at a higher level that the idea, “I have never heard of a super advisor before, but it makes perfect sense.” I see that for you getting to the point where you will be at a higher level, advising people, and not diving in at a lower level because you will not have the bandwidth.
The question becomes like, “How many more rainforests can I save with this project than with this one?” That will also be stuff that informs your decisions. I want to talk about Miami. Miami was the first city to claim an alliance with the CityCoins. Now there are four cities in the country that are doing it. There is going to be a lot more behind it. What causes a city to be the first one to say yes to that? Why do you think it is our city that did that?
In the 1920s, when the Great Depression happened, Miami was one of the few cities that did very well during that time. Here we are 100 years later, in 2020, we are in some type of downfall. I truly think Miami is one of the cities that is going to continue to do well during this time. Everything is cyclical. At the Blockchain Center myself, Nick Spanos and Scott Spiegel were my business partners in opening it. We had created marketing material back in 2018 that said Miami was the crypto capital of America. At that time, it was not even true.
It was interesting because it was not true, but then I had some professors come down from Canada and they said that their team of researchers were researching and they said that Miami is the crypto capital in America. It was not true. We were just putting out all of this material and SEO, and we called it into existence. This is what I am talking about, creating opportunity. The opportunity was not there, but we created it. In Miami, housing prices have gone up because all the crypto people are moving here. It is a good problem to have, but at the same time, this is what it was meant to be.
Even the place where we had the Blockchain Center was on Flagler Street. If you know anything about Miami, Flagler Street is the first street in Miami. From there, it goes one South, one North, one East, and one West. That is where, coincidentally, we had the Blockchain Center. There are a lot of things that I feel like are the timing. What makes a city the first one? My strategy was to see a young, vibrant community in the city. People are constantly showing up. They would take the train down from West Palm every time just to meet with the like-minds.
For me, the reason why, when I started doing events, I wanted to meet people who thought like me. I wanted to meet my tribe and my crowd of people, but then my strategy was, “Let’s involve the local government.” Getting the Downtown Development Authority, the Beacon Council, the Mayor’s office, getting all those organizations involved when Bitcoin was low was instrumental. It was also the fact that we would run education. It was like, “Come in. Free education. Do you want a wallet? Go to this back room. You will leave with a wallet.” It was in English and in Spanish. There was that real gorilla education that was going on. People could come to a physical location. We had four ATMs on the wall, so people could see, “Bitcoin ATMs are real.”
There are options. They would sit next to each other and people could pick and use whichever one they wanted. Miami’s demographic is interesting because it is very Latin here. Spanish is the main language. A lot of people are first- or second-generation Americans. The reason why is because they saw their home country in Latin America fall because their fiat currency failed. We understand it from a needs-based perspective when you look at people here.
Venezuela is the number one city in the world where Bitcoin is truly adopted. Miami is also the number one place for Venezuelan refugees to come. It was that understanding internationally why we need a form of money outside of our government control fiat currency. We have been here before. Miami specifically has been here before. Years ago, we did well. Years later, we are going to do well. I am so thankful that I get to play a part in all of it.
I know we have to wrap up. I want you to think about this. What is one thing that you would tell a woman who would like to start her journey into decentralized finance and into cryptocurrency and is afraid? What is one thing you would suggest to her?
One of the ways that I learned is I learned by talking to people. That is also why I throw events. A lot of my knowledge comes from having developer friends, understanding what is capable of the technology, looking at the decks of all these different companies, and seeing, “This is what can be done.” Not being afraid when you go to a networking event. If you are a girl and you feel ignored, especially at a crypto event, mostly it is because the guys are intimidated to talk to you because you are a girl. Understanding that portion is intimidation and not that they do not want you there. Having that mindset that you are not wanted holds a lot of women back.
It hurts me because I have seen in my entire career, my college, the ratio of guys to girls was 7 to 1. I have never felt not wanted. I have always felt like being a girl has actually given me benefits. It is because I never saw myself as not wanted. I never saw myself as, “These guys looked down on me.” For one, because I know I can run circles around them. In certain ways, women are naturally better communicators. Use that to your benefit. I could never sit behind a computer all day like some of my developers can, but I can talk to people in ways that they never could either.
It is understanding that we do have strengths, weaknesses, and balance. Going to crypto events if you are like me and you learn by talking to people by hearing, asking questions, and then meeting people in person. If you are not and maybe you are a little shy, you do not want to do that. My second tip is there is so much knowledge on YouTube. Here you are adding knowledge. If you think about it, like you are going to take a class and that class is 60 hours of work every 2 weeks or every month, invest time into yourself and watch things on YouTube. Do not listen to music, but take the time, research the topic you want, read the articles, do the work, put the work in, make it, so the opportunity is available, and then make friends.
For me, a lot of my resources are I can call this person who is an expert on that topic and they will give me the 411 of how it is. I can take that in and understand it and regurgitate it to people. The number one thing I would say is there is no reason to be afraid. I learned and am thankful that I learned this was Imposter syndrome. I had never known that existed, but when I learned that it existed, what I learned was that everyone suffers from imposter syndrome. What does that mean? That means that nobody knows what they are doing.
Men do not know what they are doing. Maybe they pretend better than us, but they do not know what they are doing. They are figuring it out day by day. Therefore my plan is to figure it out day by day. Do not get intimidated. Our brains work. There is a statistic that says, “When you are afraid, your brain works 30% less of its capacity.” The number one thing is getting rid of that fear and knowing that there is abundance. There are no limits. We have to do the inner work to understand. I had to do the inner work to understand that maybe my upbringing taught me that there was scarcity, but that was wrong. Abundance is correct.
I live by most of those principles. There is Imposter syndrome at every level. We need to get to the next level. There’s always going to be somebody better than you at that level. Living in a way where you are choosing to be fearless all the time is so important. Eryka, thank you so much for joining me here. I so appreciate it. If you enjoyed this episode, please comment, like, subscribe, and most importantly, please share this episode on whatever platform is your favorite with other women so that we can share this information with the whole world and help the whole world see the new age of money. I will see you next time on the show. Thank you.
About Eryka Gemma
As CEO of the Bitcoin Center Miami, Eryka Gemma leads the educational hub that powers the Blockchain Center. Her affinity for bitcoin stems from an appreciation for economics and sound money; as a teenager, she was a delegate in Washington State for the Ron Paul 2012 campaign.
Eryka graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics and her private pilot certificate. After trying to tokenize a fleet of aircraft using blockchain technology, Eryka started throwing events locally to bring people together. After seeing the demand, she opened up Miami’s first Blockchain Center, solidifying Miami as a center of excellence for blockchain technology. She is a public speaker, community figure and venture capitalist focused on education and inclusion for the new decentralized era.