The Stellar Podcast

The Digital Dollar for Emerging Markets with Kyle McCollom

Episode Summary

Did you know the SDF has an entire product team? Aside from building and maintaining our web presence they're also involved in building key ecosystem products like our latest and greatest dollar savings product Vibrant! Press play to hear from Sr. Director of Product, Kyle McCollom on what it's like drinking our own cool-aid using Stellar to build real, viable, innovative fintech applications.

Episode Notes

Did you know the SDF has an entire product team? Aside from building and maintaining our web presence they're also involved in building key ecosystem products like our latest and greatest dollar savings product Vibrant! Press play to hear from Sr. Director of Product, Kyle McCollom on what it's like drinking our own cool-aid using Stellar to build real, viable, innovative fintech applications.



Episode Transcription

Kyle McCollom (00:00):
It becomes so much more usable for someone in Argentina to access a dollar. That's what crypto, that's what Stellar unlocks.

Tyler (00:20):
Hello Stella community. Welcome to another episode of the Stellar podcast. Episode 24. Today we have a very special guest. All our guests are special in their own way, but this one's particularly special because he's from my side of the community pond, if there is such a thing, Kyle McCollom.

Tyler (00:41):
Not only is he native to Tennessee, though he's in New York now, he comes from the community. He was a fellow participant in Stellar build challenges. So, we went head to head in the past in competitions. And now, we works side by side as compatriots.

Tyler (01:00):
So, I'm very much looking forward. Kyle, thanks so much for coming on, and sharing some of your wisdom and insight. Very much looking forward to our discussion today.

Kyle McCollom (01:08):
Yeah, thanks for having me. It is funny that we were both from Tennessee competing in the [Stellar Build 00:01:13] challenge, and now we're here at STF.

Tyler (01:15):
It is. People, Tennessee it's whatever, but lots of good things. Lots of good things coming out of this state.

Kyle McCollom (01:22):
Definitely, definitely.

Tyler (01:23):
All right. Let's have a little bit of background. Maybe you can introduce yourself a bit. Some of your background history. How do you get from Tennessee to crypto, and the role that you have? The path there, and then maybe end a little bit with what you're doing now at the Stellar Development Foundation.

Kyle McCollom (01:43):
Sure thing. I went to college in Nashville, in Tennessee at Vanderbilt, and spent a lot of my time doing different impact-based social projects, social work, and that actually surprisingly got me into business. I was helping volunteering at this halfway house near campus, and cooking meals with the guys. This is a place for people who would transition out of prison, and back into society, and have this soft landing spot so that they can be successful in this transition.

Kyle McCollom (02:19):
And much to my parents and grandparents confusion, I decided that I would move in with the guys in the house. And so, the summer before senior year, I moved in, and I lived there first semester of senior year, too. And really what came out of that is that I realized that these guys need jobs. That's the big factor. And so, decided to make all my friends in college buy their custom t-shirts, because you're always making shirts for your events, fraternities, sororities, resed student groups. Make them buy for me, and create jobs through that process for the guys in the house. And I was on this chemistry track, and went off that track, and into this track of trying to do business for good.

Kyle McCollom (03:02):
After college, started a consumer product. Sold into grocery stores like Whole Foods, and Publix, and Target, and Kroger, and did a lot of eCommerce focus, too. And it's kind of this extension of impact. It was trying to help people with their health, make the world a better place, and reduce packaging impact.

Kyle McCollom (03:25):
And after about six years there, rolled off and started to tinker, and learn to program and code. And mostly as an means to an end, I wanted to just make interesting web apps. And I was tinkering with basically this embed tool that customers embed on their site. And I wanted to know how big the market was. I wanted to have a lead list of customers.

Kyle McCollom (03:56):
And so, I wanted to find a searchable database of all the source code of the websites on the internet because I figured my competitors had these unique markers and their embed codes. And if I could just search through, I could find all my competitors customers, and how big the market was.

Kyle McCollom (04:13):
And [inaudible 00:04:14] I could find that had a central database like this was a little sketchy. I didn't want to give it my credit card information. And it surprisingly had this Bitcoin option. And my perception of Bitcoin was, the media's message around it, it was this internet drug money, and I didn't want to touch it. But at that moment, I was like, "Okay. Actually, I don't want to give this website my credit card. And so, I'll try this internet drug money."

Kyle McCollom (04:38):
And I bought some Bitcoin off Coinbase, and I sent it over to this website. And a full hour later, because of six confirmations, which is a pain point I realized right off the bat, that I finally got access to this database. And that actually caused me to get very distracted from my side project of this web app, and fall down the proverbial rabbit hole as they say of Bitcoin. And that's what really got me into the crypto space.

Kyle McCollom (05:06):
And then from there, it's a similar story I feel like to many other people who fall down that rabbit hole where they initially go down the Bitcoin rabbit hole, and then they get deeper and deeper, and they find other communities that resonate with their interests and their worldviews, and Stellar really matched that for me. This whole impact background. I really wanted to find a way to use this for some sort of good, and Stellar's focus on emerging markets and financial access really resonated with me.

Kyle McCollom (05:38):
And there was also it felt like there was this opportunity to learn a lot, and then distill a lot. Because Bitcoin had been massaged so much to where there was so much content out there, and it was approachable enough to understand it. But Stellar was still at this point where there was a lot opportunity to get in there and make things easier to understand. And that's really where I got hooked on Stellar, and a lot of the work I did in the Stellar Build challenge.

Tyler (06:07):
Wow. Quite the journey. I can remember me e-meeting you. We never actually met in real life at this point. But when you were competing with your [Luminauts 00:06:20] entry into the Stellar Build challenge, I don't remember what I was entering at that time, but just being struck by the high quality and care behind actually explaining what Stellar was, how it worked, and the different details behind it.

Tyler (06:37):
Maybe walk us through a little bit what was the Stellar Build challenge, and the content that you were creating? What's your vision behind it was, and then ultimately your journey from that into the SDF.

Kyle McCollom (06:52):
Yeah, sure. My whole goal was just to make it easy to understand Stellar, and to keep up with it. And that came in two forms. One was this weekly newsletter where I would summarize what had happened that week, and then explain things that were new and complicated. Mostly CAPs and SEPs. Any sort of new project to building on top of Stellar and how they're approaching it. What they were doing exactly.

Kyle McCollom (07:22):
And then outside of that newsletter, I worked on this animated educational video course, or I took the concepts of Stellar and made them simple, made them visual in about a 30 minute long animated video course split out across several different videos. And it gets deeper and deeper into the more and more complex levels of Stellar as you go. And those are the two main things that I tackled at Luminauts. So, make it easier to keep up, and making it easier to understand.

Kyle McCollom (07:56):
And then from there, just by the nature of running a newsletter and putting out this video course, started to build relationships with people, an ecosystem like you, and with people at SDF. And we started to discuss whether or not I should come in or not, and do some of the work that I was doing but do it internally. And ultimately, we landed on me joining SDF as a product manager out of the New York office, the product-focused office.

Kyle McCollom (08:30):
And it connected really well to my initial projects, from Luminauts to redoing the Stellar website with our engineers and developers, making this really beautiful, simple way to get into Stellar, understand Stellar, and update the messaging to be focused on assets, and tokenization, and financial access. Provide explainers, and also really focus on transparency.

Kyle McCollom (08:57):
Our new Stellar Development Foundation mandate page, where we detail out all of the accounts of our treasury, and our mandates, and the balances, and where we're focusing our efforts. Making sure that dashboard had those and were updated, and then working on new docks which were about to roll out, which we're really excited about. And making it so that people can submit changes via the repo where the content's hosted, making it focus on building a wallet to showing in assets, running a horizon mode, and spinning up core. And then, the API reference, and really modeling the front end of [inaudible 00:09:43] reference based off of how Horizon is created, and how Horizon may change over time.

Kyle McCollom (09:49):
Those are the first two projects that I worked on internally. They were mostly about understanding Stellar and learning about Stellar, and starting to get into building on top of Stellar. So, somewhat connected to Luminauts and the work I was doing there.

Tyler (10:03):
Right, yeah. Absolutely. So, transition or I guess continuing the story, particularly along the project management role, I think it's something I know I hadn't really thought of a lot before. Because when you're dealing with crypto projects, you tend to deal with their APIs, and their open source code, and maybe every now and then a developer who wrote a certain line or implemented a feature.

Tyler (10:28):
You don't think about the other side of it, which is the organizational side. Particularly at the SDF where we take a bit more involved role in our own ecosystem building projects. So, we're not just working on core implementations or our rest horizon API end points, we're also building on top of Stellar. Maybe walk us through why that's important. What are the benefits of having someone that close building projects? And then, what is it like as a project manager of those internal projects?

Kyle McCollom (11:05):
Yeah, yeah. These first two products, the website and the docs, are really about taking Horizon and Core, and making it something that is easy to understand and build on, and be able to get into.

Kyle McCollom (11:21):
But the next level that we're focused on now is building products on top of the network that spin up this flywheel effect so that we have something that's really usable. That people can, as consumers, interact with. And actually, use the Stellar network, but often even don't know that they're using the Stellar network. Just like email users don't know they're using SMTP.

Kyle McCollom (11:51):
And that requires a lot product focus, and making something that acts like a FinTech app and not like a crypto app. It's very difficult to take crypto, and something that is traditionally very difficult to interact with and use, it's very easy to lose your money, and turn it into something that is usable. That my cousin, and my dad, and my sister are going to use and be able to use, and not be scared of and confused by.

Kyle McCollom (12:25):
And so, that's this next level, this next focus that we're going into is building these products that are usable, and that actually both prove out the use case of Stellar being this asset for tokens and for stable coins. That spin up this flywheel effect so that you have users that attract asset insurers, that attract developers, that attract users, and the cycle continues.

Kyle McCollom (12:51):
And then too, actually dogfood [inaudible 00:12:54] itself. And to look at our CAPs and our SEPs and say, "You know what? This SEP is really great in all these ways, but there are certain things that we could really improve to make it easier for developers to build on top of the network."

Kyle McCollom (13:10):
And so, what we're going to do is update this SEP in this way, or we're going to create this reference of implementation so that it's really easy for others to implement this SEP themselves as a developer. Or you know what? It's really hard to use this certain part of Core, and so there's this great change that we can make to Core via a CAP that will make it much easier for developers to build on.

Kyle McCollom (13:33):
So, it's most focused on consumers, but it's also focused on developers. Because by dogfooding it ourselves and running into barriers to building on top of Stellar, and working through those, and making it easier, we make it easier for developers in the ecosystem.

Tyler (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, very well explained. I think it's important to recognize that by building out products ourselves, we do have to use our own code. We have to use it for real world applications, and not just build features and functionalities that we think are useful, or feel like they're right, but never actually experiment with using them out in the real world. We get that testing that we need so badly to ensure that we're actually building something that's useful. Something that's improving what already existed, or adding functionality that's essential.

Tyler (14:23):
And we're full time SDF employees. We're able to do that. That's our job to continue to structure this code, and build it out, and shepherd along the creation of Stellar, while other companies, while they may contribute to that, and while they may take a pivotal and critical role in implementing, and testing, and discussing those changes, ultimately their job is to build businesses. They're going to try and make money, or turn a profit, or build a business. Something more specific on top of Stellar. Not to build necessarily Stellar itself. That's what we're doing.

Tyler (14:56):
But we're able to do that even better by building products and actual implementations utilizing the Stellar code base rather than always and only getting really into the weeds of the actual code behind it and the features around it. By implementing and building out these web products ourselves or applications and services, we're able to really identify where improvements need to be made, and to contribute in that discussion in a way that we really wouldn't be able to if we were only ever outside of the usage of Stellar.

Kyle McCollom (15:33):
No, definitely. Yeah, just by improving SEP 24, by building a wallet, we can make it easier for other wallets and ecosystems to implement SEP 24, and connect to other asset issuers in the network. And by providing a reference implementation for SEP 24, it allows people, businesses, and the ecosystem to focus on their business and to grow rather than having to get into the very, very, very nitty gritty running into issues and barriers with implementing SEP 24 itself.

Tyler (16:09):
Yeah, yep. Exactly. That's kind of a little bit of your history, and how you got into the role that you are now as a project manager.

Tyler (16:20):
But let's transition. Let's take it that one step further to what you're doing on a daily basis now. So, I believe that you have shifted a bit from web products to a very specific product. Let's talk a little bit about that, what it is, what it's for, and what it's like managing a team building a very specific product within the SDF.

Kyle McCollom (16:43):
Yeah, sure. Like you said, I've shifted into this app called [Vibrant 00:00:16:49], and Vibrant is getting at those goals I talked about. It's getting at this goal of spinning up the flywheel effect, and dogfooding Stellar, and proving out a scalable FinTech product built on top of the network.

Kyle McCollom (17:05):
And really what Vibrant is is a wallet. It's a Stellar wallet. And it's this beautiful Stellar wallet that's very easy to use, but it has these two main new features. One is a real implementation integrating with SEP 24 web apps that asset issuers in the network have created to make it easy for people to get into and out of the Stellar network.

Kyle McCollom (17:38):
And then, the other new feature is SEP 30, which is a SEP that makes it really easy for mass market users to use an app built on top of Stellar. What that really means is that Vibrant itself is non-custodial, but our users don't have to worry about pneumonic phrases, and private keys, and losing their funds. It's very complicated for mass market consumers to think about pneumonic phrases. They don't want to think about it. And this is a big problem for any sort of business or app trying to build on top of crypto.

Kyle McCollom (18:20):
And so, SEP 24 attracts that away. And it mirrors as closely as possible as we could get it, a typical FinTech experience, FinTech app experience, where you can recover your account, and not have to really worry about private keys, which we're really excited about. So, those are the two main core features that Vibrant really gets at, SEP 24 and SEP 30. Account recovery with SEP 30, and on/off ramps with SEP 24. And then-

Tyler (18:52):
Let me just interrupt real quick. It obviously begs the question, and I think you're probably about to just now get to it, but up to this point the whole goal is to get it as close as you can to a traditional FinTech application, why not just build a typical traditional FinTech app? What have you gained by backing up crypto to the point where it's indistinguishable as crypto? Why use crypto now?

Kyle McCollom (19:17):
That's a great question. Totally great question. It unlocks these things that consumers can't get access to often otherwise, or they can it's just very difficult. An example would be we're focusing in the beginning on Argentinians who want access to dollars. And right now, the way that they access dollars often is is by going to an off-market where they buy physical cash and store it somewhere in their house.

Kyle McCollom (19:54):
And what crypto does, because of the ability to be non-custodial, because of the ability to issue fiat currencies on top of Stellar, and be able to access that fiat currency anywhere in the world, it becomes so much more usable for someone in Argentina to access a dollar. That's what crypto, that's what Stellar unlocks.

Kyle McCollom (20:18):
There are a lot of other use cases that people are pushing with crypto that I'm not a big believer in quite yet. They're really interesting. They're fun to think about. But I don't know how soon they're actually being used. I do really think that stable coins, fiat currency, and access to more stable fiat currencies in different emerging markets is definitely something that is very much in need now, and is getting a lot of usage.

Kyle McCollom (20:48):
And the way that we think about Vibrant is there's two different inputs that we can test that gets at this idea of unlocking assets in emerging markets. The first input is countries. What countries we can talk about, and the needs that those countries have in terms of financial assets. And the second is the assets themselves. What assets can really solve those financial needs that people in these countries have. And so, we can just keep playing with different combinations of those two inputs with Vibrant on top of the Stellar network, and unlocking these solutions for people in these countries.

Kyle McCollom (21:28):
The first hypothesis that we have is that countries experience hyperinflation really want access to dollars. A more stable, alternative fiat currency. And that's where we're focused on Argentina in the beginning as far as the country input, and on US dollars as far as the asset input.

Tyler (21:47):
That's interesting, and I agree, and I think it's really worth noting why stable coins or fiat currency, digital fiat currencies are so important. We need to take it that step beyond just isn't it so cool that money can be digital or that dollars are digital? Why is that interesting? Why is that cool? What does that get me?

Tyler (22:10):
And it's the interoperability. It's that capability of that dollar or that value really to be usable and secured where it's not fluctuating. But it's in a space now that can go much further than just wherever my two feet can take me. It's wherever that internet is connected. Wherever somebody else has tapped into the Stellar network, that asset is now valuable. The value that's stored within that asset can be used anywhere that the Stellar network is plugged into.

Tyler (22:48):
And so, you can be anywhere in the world, and so long as you have that value store connected into your wallet, you can begin to access their services. And the value that this other company, this other entity might have, you can spread all of those usability constraints. Those go away, and you can now just use it anywhere for anything. It has that what I call the athleticism of your asset. It's much more flexible. You can use it anywhere. It's not locked down.

Tyler (23:20):
So, both the usability but also the security where you have a certain amount of that value, and that value is relatively stable. You don't have to worry that what you had and what it could get you is now completely different only a short time later. It has that stability that these hyperinflation countries need.

Kyle McCollom (23:44):
Yeah. No, definitely. I think that at first people who are into crypto were thinking about these countries that are experiencing hyperinflation, the initial thought was to go to Bitcoin. It's like people really want access to Bitcoin as this escape hatch. And what we're realizing is that while Bitcoin is really interesting, it's not as stable as USD is.

Kyle McCollom (24:11):
And what people in Venezuela, for example, really, really want access to more so than Bitcoin is really USD. It's this brand name, and it is more stable. And that's definitely a thing that I didn't really think about when I first got into crypto. I thought that Bitcoin would be the asset, but really it's tokenized USD.

Kyle McCollom (24:31):
And I think what Stellar does or crypto does is, one, is it creates access to these assets that you can't get otherwise. Or if you can get it, it's very high friction going and physically buying cash somewhere, and then putting [inaudible 00:24:47] your bed. Two, it's opening up access to new markets for businesses. And three, it's interoperability. It's just it's allowing every app on the Stellar network, and every asset issuer on the Stellar network to interoperate with everyone else. It unlocks assets and it unlocks markets. It helps those first two.

Tyler (25:09):
Yeah, absolutely. Circling it back around to Vibrant, that's the asset, I guess the target asset within Vibrant is that US dollar token.

Tyler (25:23):
So, talk us through how that works between anchors. There's a couple of different anchors that we're partnered with. Talk about not only the interoperability of the network, but really the interoperability of relationships. How all these different partners can now communicate, and work together, and inter operate with each other because the network allows for that. Talk us through what that was like building Vibrant.

Kyle McCollom (25:47):
Yeah. We have these two main anchors that we're focused on right now. One is our Argentinian anchor, and the other is our USD anchor. And both have implemented SEP 24. And we have done a lot of QA with them. We continue to do QA with them. And then, really help them build very usable on and off ramps with the Stellar network.

Kyle McCollom (26:13):
And users in the app can, if they're in Argentina, go in and say, "I want to deposit Argentinian pesos." And go through the SEP 24 experience of our Argentina anchor settle, and they can deposit fairly quickly. Much faster than the US. Argentina's got at least their interbank payment system together. It's an hour to 24 hours, where in the US it could be five to seven days. And users deposit Argentine pesos, and then they can go into the app, and they can decide, "I want to convert into USD."

Kyle McCollom (26:48):
And then, through the decks on top of Stellar, they can convert into USD. And our Argentine users don't really interact with anchor USD, our USD issuer here in the US, they just hold the asset, and gain access to that stability. And then whenever they need to, they can use the decks to convert back into the Argentine peso, and then back into their local banking system if they have some sort of bill that they need to pay at that time. And that value has been preserved within the value of USD.

Kyle McCollom (27:22):
And I'm really excited about the fact that we're focused on USD. That there is this real pain point. Because USD in the app itself it's like a single player game. You get value immediately by downloading the app, and depositing, and getting in USD. There doesn't have to be someone else on the other side where payments come in. That's more of a multiplayer game.

Kyle McCollom (27:48):
And the best analogy here is Instagram. Instagram was just this filter app whenever I first downloaded it, and I would just use it to make filtered photos. And it was usable day one. There didn't have to be anyone. None of my friends had to be on there for it to be valuable. But over time, as more and more of my friends came in and started to use Instagram to filter their photos, there started to be this multiplayer game. We started following each other, following each other's photos.

Kyle McCollom (28:17):
And that's, again, why I'm excited about Vibrant's focus on USD is because it is this single player game in the beginning, and it's much easier to spin that up. And then over time, as more and more users come in and are attracted by this single player game, all of a sudden now you have these network effects in place, and a multiplayer game can be played.

Tyler (28:36):
That's really interesting. Hadn't necessarily thought about that aspect of it, but the main value prop of Vibrant is as a dollar savings app. That you can move your instable currency to a stable currency and just hold it. And that is attractive to more and more people, and used by more and more people, you unlock the next tier of, well, now you can start making payments to each other, but you don't have to do that for it to be valuable.

Kyle McCollom (29:02):
Exactly, exactly. It's easier to start up a single player game than it is to start up a multiplayer game. And so, my pitch there is that to you, the listeners, is that if you want to help us towards that mission of financial access and emerging markets is to go to, and download the app, and bounce around in it, and find bugs, and find things that are confusing. And think about it, if you're not in an emerging market, think about it from the perspective of someone in emerging markets, and give us ideas. And if you feel like this is useful in your country in some way, reach out and let us know. And I'm excited to hear what you think.

Tyler (29:45):
Well Kyle, thanks so much for joining us, for sharing. I'm extremely excited about the future of Vibrant, and all other manner of web products that we're building. Anything else to call out? Where can people get ahold of you? What do you want to call out?

Kyle McCollom (30:01):
Yeah, there's two requests. One is go to and download the app, and there's a way to report bugs on the menu there. And then, two is find me on Twitter, Kyle McCollom, and would love to hear from you.

Tyler (30:14):
All right. Super. Thanks so much for jumping on, and we'll catch you later.

Kyle McCollom (30:19):
Thanks Tyler. See ya.

Tyler (30:22):
For more information about Stellar and the future of decentralized finance, visit And get involved in the discussion in one of our active communities on Keybase at Stellar.public or Stellar Stock Exchange. Until next time, I'm your host, Tyler van der Hoeven. Catch y'all later.