We have been a fan of the “inspired by Burning Man” SHIFTPODs since day one, and we have covered them before:
SHELTERCOIN is something new, and as far as I know, the first Initial Coin Offering (ICO) connected to a real company with real products. Most of the ones I’ve seen promise that something will be built a year or more in the future, hoping at that time there will be a community ready to use their digital tokens. This offering is drawing an existing community of stakeholders together to solve old problems in new ways.
This seems like an idea that has come at just the right time, as the devastation of Hurricane Harvey has shown us amazing scenes of citizens springing into action to help each other, instead of waiting for centralized authorities to get their bureaucracy together. The decentralized model works; the centralized model keeps failing us.
Last week, Fast Company magazine profiled the company behind SHELTERCOIN and SHIFTPOD, Advanced Shelter Systems Inc of Napa, CA
Arriving in the desert that August, in 2015, I saw a SHIFTPOD for the first time. As someone who, like Weber, had explored countless Burning Man camping methods, I was intrigued by how a SHIFTPOD could both keep the dust out and be set up in less than five minutes. It looked like a lunar habitat–conversation piece!–and you didn’t freeze overnight. There’s nothing else like it. So prior to Burning Man 2016, I bought one.
In my camp alone last year, there were five SHIFTPODs and more than 1,000 on the playa. By then, Weber had sold his green-fracking operation and launched Advanced Shelter Systems Inc. (ASSI), the Napa-based company that’s turned his late-night Burning Man lodging idea into a multimillion-dollar business whose market extends far beyond the U.S. festival circuit—so far, in fact, that it requires an entirely new currency.
The article caused somewhat of a stir on the Burners.Me Facebook page, with some Burners screaming “Commodification!” and (predictably) “Burning Man is over!” and “ICOs are just a fad!”
I got the chance to raise these concerns with company founder Christian Weber directly. The ShelterCoin Foundation’s Initial Coin Offering on the blockchain is actually inspired by giving shelter to those who need it most – which seems very compatible with Burner principles like Gifting, Immediacy, Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort.
B.Me: What is interesting about this story for Burners?
CW: One of the things I learned over 23 years out on the playa is to help people out if they needed it. The Black Rock Desert is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. Back in the day, before chefs and camp producers the thing that really struck me was that everyone wanted to help the other have a better experience. That has faded a bit but we all still bring extra parts and even heavy equipment to share with surrounding people and camps. When you get right down to it, beyond ego and politics it feels good to help others. Especially in times of need. This is a natural extension of the burner ethos and experience.
B.Me: Just before Burning Man started this year, “Hell Storm” Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Are you doing anything to help them?
CW: We already mobilizing product, family care hygiene kits and getting ready to load trucks and planes to get the goods down there. We are in contact with FEMA, Team Rubicon and several other NGOs with boots on the ground to enlist help with distribution. I have my chainsaw gassed up and ready to go. I can’t wait to get down there and help. I just spoke to a friend and colleague who has been running a boat for 48 hours straight rescuing people. After the initial rescue efforts subside he has committed to help run shelters and supplies for us. Once we mobilize he will gather the people he is working with to help distribute and deliver the goods and material we bring in.
The need for shelter and supplies in Houston is huge, with more than 30,000 people in emergency shelters. People are reaching out to help their fellow citizens, regardless of skin color or political affiliation. Helping those who need it most is the American way, and that is what we are trying to do with this ICO. The recovery is a massive task and unfortunately we will only be a small part of the solution, for now.
B.Me: Are your pods safe in a Hurricane?
CW: We have put a lot of work into making our products highly wind, rain, and temperature resistant. We recently wind tested them up to 106 MPH sustained winds, which is above the highest level 12 of the Beaufort Scale. Hurricane Harvey was an unprecedented storm with some winds being recorded even higher than that.
B.Me: What is SHELTERCOIN?
CW: SHELTERCOIN is a new crypto-coin that will be used to build and supply emergency shelter, equipment and responders to people in need in disaster areas in advance, of and in times of need. This is a natural extension of our “sell 20 donate one” program we have had in place from the beginning of our shelter company. So far we have donated hundreds of SHIFTPODS all over the world including to the fire victims in California, Earthquake victims in Japan and Ecuador, victims in Haiti and to refugees on Lesvos, Greece. We even donated to the earthquake victims in Nepal but these units got stuck in customs when the government wanted 100% tax on the full retail value before they would release them as gifts to the people. Crazy. Most recently we donated to the Nation of Hawaii to help with a homeless program there. In this program the people will have to “pay rent” to live in the SHIFTPODS and they will pay this “rent” by taking classes on their heritage and working in the garden to grow their own food. If successful the SHELTERCOIN will allow us to do more and build more product to donate to people in need. It will also allow us to build and stage product in advance so when there is a disaster the units will be close or on site so there is no waiting for equipment to be shipped in from across the country.
B.Me: What can people use SHELTERCOIN for?
CW: Anyone can buy, trade and use SHELTERCOIN to make purchases, get discounts, make donations, to access new software or to store wealth. As we build our SHELTERCOIN community and eco-system we hope to have many vendors that will offer discounts on product purchased with SHELTERCOIN. We will offer steep discounts on our products for both retail and large commercial buyers and we will show people how to convert to SHELTERCOIN on our check out page to get the instant discounts. This is just one of the ways to support the demand for SHELTERCOIN. The other use for SHELTERCOIN is to directly support missions to disaster areas. Rather than donating to a normal NGO where less than 5% goes to the actual cause, we will use SHELTERCOIN to raise funds for a specific disaster or mission and then the donors will be able to track the use of funds almost in real time with transparency. We hope to shift the donation and disaster response paradigm with the SHELTERCOIN. A decentralized solution on the blockchain lets us connect donors and responders more directly to people and areas in need, and much more efficiently than the centralized institutions who seem to take most of the money for overhead.
B.Me: Is this a for-profit, or altruistic venture?
CW: We have created the SHELTERCOIN Foundation to issue the tokens. SHELTERCOINs are an altruistic token, not an investment. When you buy them in the ICO there is no guarantee that they will go up in value or be worth anything in the future. Cryptocurrencies and alt-coins seem to generally be doing well, we think it is an exciting new trend with a lot of potential to fix old problems in new ways. If our idea works, more and more people will start using SHELTERCOIN and will donate to bring shelter rapidly to places where it is needed.
B.Me: Why would people buy a coin in an ICO if it was not tied to profits?
CW: We are seeing right now with Hurricane Harvey the immediate response from people stepping up who want to help. When you give money to a relief fund, the money is gone from you and most of it won’t reach the people who need the aid. When you give money to our ICO you get something in return: SHELTERCOINs.
Buying tokens in our ICO will help bring shelter in response to disasters. People who buy the coins will be able to get large discounts in our online store and VIP access to our latest products and disaster response software platform. They can also choose to use the coins to enable relief efforts, or hold on to them in the future.
B.Me: How does the price of an alt-coin get determined?
CW: there are many alt-coin exchanges around the world and we will endeavor to get SHELTERCOIN traded on as many as we can. The laws of supply and demand set the price, and we hope demand will grow over time. Our supply is fixed. We hope that as people become aware of what we are doing and see the success of a decentralized approach to disaster relief, demand will increase.
B.Me: So if a disaster strikes like Hurricane Harvey, people will be able to use SHELTERCOIN to send aid to people?
CW: Yes. We will be able to finance many units for the SHELTERCOIN FOUNDATION from the ICO, and future donations will help us pay for the first-responder personnel to get on site. The blockchain and our software platform lets us connect donors and first responders directly to the people, places and projects where shelter is needed.
B.Me: What problems are you trying to solve with a new alt-coin?
CW: Well, with so many people forcibly displaced in the world and so many disasters happening all over the world many people want to help. Most donate to large NGOs that have huge executive teams and lots of overhead. In most cases these NGOs only get less than 5% of what is raised to the actual people in need. It is really astounding. In the case of an NGO that raised hundreds of millions for Haiti, less than 1% actually made it to the people in Haiti. This is a huge problem and there has to be a better way. We hope SHELTERCOIN will be the first of many new tools built to decentralize disaster response. We aim to create a response eco-system around the SHELTERCOIN that can move quickly and efficiently to get goods and services into disaster areas and to the actual people in need. Through technology we should be able to make the whole process more efficient and deliver more value to the actual cause. In some cases we will also be able to get ahead of the curve and get shelters and equipment staged in problem areas in advance of the disasters. This is a very exciting prospect.
B.Me: Most of the money goes to overhead, instead of going back out to those who need the charity? Sounds like Burning Man! How does your solution compare to the existing “big institution” approach to disaster relief?
CW: We believe software and crowd-sourcing can help with a lot of this. Much of the distribution can be done without a lot of executives and overhead. A lot of systems and agencies get too top heavy over time to be really effective. You need the people for an event but then you don’t want to get rid of them so you have to raise more money to keep them and the next thing you know you have a huge bureaucracy that only really works when there is a disaster. The beast needs more and more fuel to continue. We are not running an event or a year around bureaucracy and connecting people and disasters is something that can be done online. The blockchain can be used to let people see were money raised for a specific campaign gets spent. Our hope and belief is most all of this can be done with much much less overhead than the traditional model. This will allow more money to get to the hands that really need it.
As for the shelters, many tents the large NGOs are using are made of that same material as the standard blue tarp, not fabric but a cheap plastic material with no thermal or reflective qualities. These do not last and when you consider many of the refugee camps are in place for 5 years or more, we need a better solution. We believe our SHELTERPOD is the better mouse trap. It sets up quickly, is large and spacious, it uses new long lasting fabric technologies and has great thermal and heat reflective characteristics.
One of the other issues in response to disasters is the time between the disaster, raising funds, manufacturing goods and then delivering them to the disaster zone. This timeline can run many months and by that time the dire need has past. We hope the SHELTERCOIN will help us and other vendors get ahead of the problem so we can manufacture and stage goods and equipment in or near areas that are prone to or expecting disasters. This will reduce the delivery times and make more product available faster when it is needed. Why wait?
B.Me: Are ICOs just the latest fad?
CW: ICOs are getting very popular. I believe we are at the very beginning of the alt-coin craze and over time some coins will fail and some will become community standards. The alt-coins or tokens give people all over the world an unrestricted way to support projects and causes they believe in and the block chain can be a way to track efforts and spending. The beauty of it is that they are really market supported. If people believe in the project they will succeed, if not they will fall away into the abyss, the way it should be. My Grandfather once said buy what you believe in. With alt-coins it could not be more true.
B.Me: So if I buy the coin in the Initial Coin Offering, that enables shelter to get to people in need. But in return I get the coins, which still have value and may go up in value like BitCoin?
CW: Exactly. They may go up or they may crash and completely lose all of their value. They are really not a security and we do not have a crystal ball. Sorry, had to put that out there to keep the lawyers happy. How much is BitCoin today? If the value of SHELTERCOIN went up like that I think we might be able to solve the homeless issue all together.
B.Me: It’s philanthropy with upside!
CW: Yes. This is the beauty of alt-coins, it is a new way to crowd-source support for worthy projects where everyone is a winner.
B.Me: Do you think SHELTERCOINs might one day be worth as much as BitCoins?
CW: We are not trying to be or replace BitCoin or any other crypto-currency. Decentralization is a new world with a whole new financial model. There will be thousands of digital currencies, we want to use ours to bring together a community of shelter providers and disaster responders with our enthusiastic and fast-growing SHIFTPOD community.
B.Me: You are literally making money. Is that what this is all about?
CW: This is about more than making money, which is why we created the SHELTERCOIN Foundation. This is about the decentralized, peer-to-peer model of the blockchain providing a more efficient way to get shelter to people who need it immediately, they don’t have time to wait for big bureaucracies to raise billions but never spend them. We are building a new system and community around SHELTERCOIN. We have emergency responders vetted and ready to get on planes with a moments notice. If we can create value in an alt-coin it can support the mobilization of not only equipment but also people. We have vendors we can engage to support the coin and the cause. We can bring all of this together and use software and the Internet to take a lot of the cost out of the process. The money we are creating is borderless and can be used to support projects all over the world. It is all there and we can use SHELTERCOIN to bring it all together.
B.Me: Why use a SHIFTPOD for disaster relief? Aren’t they expensive?
CW: Expensive is relative. Many of the “tents” used in disaster response can cost $5000 to $50,000 each. Many of these take multiple people hours to set up. We have the fastest shelter set up for the best price available on the market anywhere in the world. We can deploy hundreds of units in a matter of hours for housing, triage units, and even operating rooms. Our units can be dropped by plane or helicopter. When you consider the mobility and speed of set up, durability and all we offer a very inexpensive option that is setting a new standard that is quickly being adopted.
B.Me: Some Burners have said “this is just a glorified ice fishing tent”. How do you respond to that?
CW: Some ice fishing tents have a similar look and fiberglass poles but that is really where the similarity stops. It is pretty funny when people think they can compare them especially for use in the desert. The list of differences is very long but the most obvious ones are most ice fishing huts are a dark color and are designed to keep heat in, they do not have floors and they have velcro windows. We have developed and patented a 5-layer composite fabric that reflects the heat of the sun in the daytime and keeps body heat in at night and engineered our units to be all weather and long term shelters. Our patented shape sheds the wind and has been tested to 109MPH! We have created many other features make it possible to live comfortably for extended periods of time. We have spend a lot of time and attention on the details of long term living, in some of the harshest environments in the world. We currently have people in Hawaii living in our original unit for more than a year and we have units going to Iraq, South Sudan and Haiti for long term in-field testing. We are building our current units for families to live in for up to five years. This takes a lot of engineering.
B.Me: How can people participate in the ICO?
CW: Our ICO will be open to the public next month, and our white paper will be released at http://sheltercoin.io in the next few days. Sign up to our ICO mailing list there if you are interested. People can buy into the ICO with BitCoin, Ether, or by wiring fiat currency to the SHELTERCOIN bank account. To improve security and give us time to get the word out the ICO will happen in stages, with a lower coin price for earlier participants, just like our camp contributions.
Spread the word, buy, use, trade and store SHELTERCOIN and more importanly get involved in your community and help those around you. Just get out there and make it happen. Remember, everyone can make a difference and every second in life counts
B.Me: Thanks very much Christian for giving us this exclusive interview. It sounds like an exciting project and the right thing at the right time with so many victims of Hurricane Harvey needing shelter. Good luck down there!