Saum Noursalehi, CEO of tZERO – Interview Series
Saum Noursalehi is the CEO of tZERO, a security token exchange which has the potential to disrupt the entire digital securities space. Previous, to this position Saum was President of Overstock.
Before becoming CEO of tZERO, you were President of Overstock, a leader in ecommerce and one of the first Fortune 500 companies to accept Bitcoin. When did you first hear about Bitcoin, and what was your initial impression of this technology?
I first heard about Bitcoin in 2013 at a dinner party, and was fascinated by the technology. I did not actually invest in bitcoin until 2014 when I started to learn more about it, which was after Overstock signed a deal with Coinbase to accept it as a payment option.
Could you let us know how you transitioned from being President of Overstock, to CEO of tZERO?
I worked at Overstock for nearly 14 years, holding a number of leadership positions in a variety of functions at the company, including technology, product development, R&D and marketing to name a few. Having studied Computer Science in college, I have always had an interest in technology, particularly artificial intelligence and blockchain technology. When the opportunity arose to become the CEO of tZERO, I could not pass it up. My time at Overstock provided me with a strong understanding of product development, leadership and what it takes to run a business, which cultivated my professional identity as a product-focused leader. As a senior leader at a publicly-traded company, I had deep exposure to capital markets and opportunities for transforming the current ecosystem. I believe that this experience and my interest in innovative technology allowed me to transition the blockchain-based capital markets space without too much difficulty.
Patrick Byrne recently offered his resignation as the CEO of Overstock. How will this impact both tZERO and its parent company Medici Ventures?
As I said in my recent letter to investors, I was sad to see Patrick go. He is the founder of these organizations, however, his resignation has not impacted tZERO and Medici Ventures’ day-to-day operations or the execution of our roadmaps. Jonathan Johnson, who continues to be the Chairman of tZERO’s board and President of Medici Ventures, assumed the role of Interim CEO of Overstock. Jonathan is a great leader and a champion for blockchain and its potential as a contributor to evolution in a number of ecosystems, particularly its application to the capital markets through tZERO. Jonathan and the Overstock/Medici boards are committed to tZERO and our long-term success.
In July the OSTKO digital preferred dividend was announced. Can you explain the rationale behind this and how it will help to onboard new clients to tZERO?
In July, Overstock announced its intention to issue a dividend to its shareholders in the form of new shares of Digital Voting Series A-1 Preferred Stock, OSTKO. A number of OSTKO shares currently trade exclusively on the PRO Securities ATS, operated by a wholly-owned subsidiary of tZERO, and Overstock expects the new dividend shares to likewise trade on PRO Securities ATS. The dividend will be payable at a ratio of 1:10, meaning that one share of Series A-1 will be issued for every ten shares of common stock, Series A-1 or Voting Series B Preferred Stock held by all holders of such shares as of the record date.
This dividend has the potential to introduce tens of thousands of Overstock shareholders to the PRO Securities ATS. In addition, it has brought interest from many broker-dealers that would like to trade such securities, which in turn will introduce all of their clients to our platform. One of our key priorities is to introduce more investors to the platform, and this should serve as a catalyst for enhancing liquidity. The dividend is currently in the process of SEC registration and Overstock is working actively with the regulatory authorities.
Ravencoin was the third cryptocurrency added to the tZERO app. Why Ravencoin?
Ravencoin is one of the fastest growing cryptocurrencies. Additionally, Ravencoin is philosophically aligned with tZERO in making it easy to digitize assets and make them freely tradable. Ravencoin technology allows for straightforward issuance and on-chain transfer of any digital asset, including security tokens, making support for RVN cryptocurrency a natural fit for tZERO’s Crypto app.
Adding security tokens such as BCAP and SPiCE on tZERO would speed up adoption of the entire digital securities ecosystem. Is there an expected date for when more tokens will be added to tZERO?
PRO Securities is currently conducting due diligence on security tokens that utilize Securitize’s DS protocol, and we are excited about this potential to offer new assets, which will in turn attract new investors. We are aiming to have additional tokens trading by the end of the year.
You’re aiming to launch the first regulated National Security Token Exchange with Box Digital Markets sometime in 2020. Can you share with us some details regarding this partnership, and how it benefits tZERO?
We continue to work with our partners at BOX Digital Markets (BOX) on launching the first regulated national security token exchange through our joint venture, the Boston Security Token Exchange (BSTX), in 2020. With BOX’s experience in building and operating a sophisticated securities exchange and tZERO’s industry leading blockchain technology, we have brought together our organizations’ combined expertise to fundamentally improve the marketplace for digital securities. We continue to make progress and work together to establish a technical and regulatory structure that will be in place ahead of the launch of the exchange.
Where do you foresee digital securities being in five to ten years, and tZERO’s role in this?
Within five to ten years, I expect capital markets to evolve into a blockchain-based ecosystem where not only equities and fixed income on Wall Street will be tokenized, but also other non-traditional assets, such as real-estate, film, art, sports teams, athletes or anything of value. Blockchain technology has great potential to increase transparency, reduce friction costs, enhance regulatory compliance and reform the role of traditional market participants. The average retail investor will have access to the types of assets that were previously reserved for just the wealthy or connected. I see tZERO spearheading the effort of providing a platform for the next generation of asset trading.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about tZERO or Medici Ventures?
Medici Ventures is committed to advancing companies focused on blockchain technology, and tZERO is the crown jewel of Medici Ventures’s global keiretsu of companies. At tZERO, we continue to work toward our vision of creating a robust ecosystem powered by blockchain technology for investors to have venues to buy and sell digital assets (the PRO Securities ATS, tZERO’s Crypto App and, once established, BSTX), integrating the technology to tokenize assets (tZERO’s tokenization protocol technology) and establishing direct relationships with customers (subject to our wholly-owned subsidiary becoming approved as a retail broker-dealer).
Thank you for this great interview.
Anyone who wishes to learn more can visit tZERO or our tZERO business listing. You can also follow Saum Noursalehi on Twitter.