As an attorney for Yahoo in 2007, Denelle Dixon watched her company come under heavy scrutiny for its mishandling of users’ personal information. Watching Congress interrogate her bosses left her with a deep impression that “you have to be really thoughtful before you take steps to unleash new technology in the world”.
This month, it’s Dixon’s turn to testify before Congress about perhaps the biggest source of cash in all of technology: cryptocurrency.
As CEO of the non-profit Stellar Development Foundation in San Francisco, Dixon has emerged as one of the leading public advocates for the greener, ethical, and accessible cryptocurrency industry that is now taking shape in San Francisco.
In very simple terms, the blockchain is a method of recording information that is almost impossible to hack or alter. Blocks of encoded information are added to form a permanent history that different parties can use. Cryptocurrency is digital money that is tracked via the blockchain, which records transactions in a shared ledger. Bitcoin was the first and largest cryptocurrency, with a blockchain built with challenging math puzzles that required a lot of computer power and electricity. Other crypto-blockchains, such as Stellar, backed by the Dixon Foundation, do not require as much electricity.
The world is on a learning curve about everything right now. The public perception of cryptocurrency is changing before our eyes. A survey conducted by VISA last year found that while a quarter (27%) of Americans own a cryptocurrency, two-thirds (64%) are either curious (12%), skeptical (8%) or not engaged (44%).
The public opinion panel makes its decision, and Dixon makes her case before Congress, the International Monetary Fund, and on the World Economic Forum blog.
Cryptocurrencies have become a sack of technology, a study by the University of Cambridge found that Bitcoin consumes more energy than Argentina, and a famous tech personality in San Francisco ignited the entire industry on Twitter recently.
But Dixon may be the absolute opposite of the “planet-burning Ponzi birds” that Jimmy Zawinsky, founder of Mozilla and owner of the DNA Lounge nightclub in Soma, toasted Jan. 3 on Twitter.
she’s perfect. When she was 8 years old growing up in Gilroy, she dreamed of becoming the first member of her family to go to college in order to become a lawyer and fight domestic violence. She grew up to be an interesting mix of lawyers, technologists, and nonprofit leaders.
Dixon and partner Harvey Anderson, HP’s chief legal officer, formerly known as Hewlett Packard, have been at home in Oakland with five boys at home for the past two years. When you need a break from work and all that teamwork, you go for a run or read. Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald are the nominees.
But if you want to see Dixon excited, ask her about cryptocurrency’s potential to help refugees get resources, or migrants to send money home. That’s when her big eyes widen under her thick tummy with light blond hair. International remittances to private individuals are a focus and profoundly meaningful to her institution.
This is not usually what people think of cryptocurrency. The common opinion is that the industry is “people who really have a lot of money make a lot of money,” says Dixon. Much of that may stem from Bitcoin, Facebook’s first impressions of the cryptocurrency, which slashed tracks and burned resources. Bitcoin “miners” use huge amounts of electricity in their calculations, but other cryptocurrencies use different methods. The Stellar process, which is based on agreements between developers and companies, uses much less energy.
Dixon is a charitable foundation towards the early pioneer of cryptocurrency. “Bitcoin was the early days. It brought everything together,” says Dixon.
Now, as cryptocurrency matures, it has to evolve, she says. “As an industry grows, you have to change it.”
She is working hard for this change. The Stellar Development Foundation with 105 employees based in Hayes Valley supports developers and users of the green Stellar cryptocurrency. The foundation assists with the technical, business, and community assistance, and public advocacy that is Dixon’s passion.
This work has been happening away from the Foundation’s offices in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Austin for the most part for the past two years. Dixon misses her team. “We used to have lunch together every day,” she says, slightly wistfully.
And the institution needs it, says Jed McCalebAnd who hired her “I started looking for a CEO about two years before Denelle joined SDF,” says McCaleb, co-founder of both the foundation and the San Francisco flagship of Ripple. “I talked to a number of people about the role, but didn’t find the right fit until I met Denelle and we did. That really. As an organization, we needed to grow and mature to take Stellar to the next level and I believed Denelle was the leader to do that. And if you look at the organization today and how far it has come, there is no doubt that this was the right call.”
She is also a leader in the city’s cryptocurrency scene, advocating a new focus and perception of cryptocurrency. Crypto startups in The City, including Chia, NEAR, and MobileCoin, have created an eco-friendly cryptocurrency with a focus on the company’s values. These companies want nothing to do with the bad reputation of cryptocurrencies.
“Crypto Bros is freaking hell out of me,” MobileCoin CEO Joshua Goldbard told The Examiner of troubled traders scrambling for profits and arrogant developers heralding the future of money. Goldbard, a native of the Bay Area, also says his company’s environmental priorities are a selling point in the politically conscious Bay Area. “The fact that we are environmentally friendly is one of the great reasons why people want to work with us.”
When asked if she thinks San Francisco could give cryptocurrency a more ethical direction, Dixon replied, “I do. I would like to help make it a cryptocurrency hub for good.”