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‘FTX Users May Seek DeFi Alternatives,’ Interview With Origin Protocol’s Andra Nicolau

In a risk-off environment where cryptocurrency has plummeted to a fraction of its previous valuation, it’s no secret raising capital in 2022 has become a challenge for startups and industry behemoths alike. 

But for those still building in the space, bear markets are pivotal for creating a foundation for the next market frenzy. While the markets are quiet, decentralized protocols are laying the groundwork for the future of crypto. 

Among these protocols is Origin Protocol, an Ethereum-based application aggressively recruiting the top talent in crypto. After raising $275 million for DeFi protocol 1inch, Andra Nicolau found herself taking the next step in her career as head of BD for Origin Protocol’s OUSD stablecoin. 

Benzinga interviewed Andra Nicolau on venture funding in Web3, her experience raising nine figures in 2021, and why she chose Origin Protocol as the next step in her career. 

BZ: Tell us about your crypto journey up to this point. Where did it all start?

“My exposure to crypto started during my days at UC Berkeley, but I was more so adjacent to the industry than a part of it. Many people were still skeptical of the industry back then, but after seeing more signals in the news, I dove in head first and ended up working within crypto in 2017, right before the first mainstream bull market.

I started my crypto journey working for products that were focused on privacy of personal data; this was a hot topic in 2017. I continued the privacy trend and worked for a decentralized VPN protocol and then found my way to the Ethereum Infrastructure world.

As DeFi took off in 2020, I joined 1inch as Head of Growth.”

BZ: What is 1inch and what were you focusing on there? 

“1inch is a top decentralized exchange (DEX) aggregator with a novel execution algorithm and the deepest liquidity. DEX aggregators find the best rates for crypto trading across multiple exchanges, such as Uniswap, Curve, and Sushiswap, allowing traders to find the best liquidity pool to execute their trades in. 

I was focused on increasing trading volume which was our North Star for growth. After seeing success in regards to trading volume metrics, I led fundraising efforts for 1inch’s Series B. The funding round brought in $175 million of capital to 1inch.

The fundraise focused on institutions looking to enter DeFi, which is more relevant today than ever. We were creating an environment for institutions to trade and access yield via fully decentralized technology safely.” 

BZ: What made you join Origin Protocol?

“I left 1inch in December and decided to look for a wholesome team bringing their experience from Web 2.0 to Web3 and building products bridging the two industries. I had known the Origin team for a while, and when I heard about their stablecoin product (OUSD), I was hooked.”

BZ: How is OUSD different from other stablecoins? 

“OUSD is a self-custodial, fully collateralized, yield-bearing stablecoin. Those may be heavy terms for the average user, but let’s break it down. Self-custody is crucial, especially after the collapse of FTX, Celsius, Voyager, and others. Self-custody enables you, and only you, to manage your crypto, eliminating the risk of a malicious, centralized, non-transparent actor going bankrupt and leaving you without your funds.

Origin Dollar is fully collateralized, assuring investors they will always have $1 of liquidity for each OUSD. Earlier this year UST collapsed, as it was algorithmically collateralized and failed. We have yet to see a successful stablecoin that is uncollateralized, and OUSD doesn’t carry that risk and it never will. 

Lastly, OUSD is yield-bearing, and earns passive rewards from blue-chip DeFi protocols. The end user simply needs to hold the token in their wallet of choice, and the amount of OUSD increases each day passively through the interest earned by its collateral from blue chip DeFi protocols.

Passive access to yield is essential because the discovery process can be burdensome. Even though a good handle on the trading world in DeFi, I was always overwhelmed by the yield space as there are too many options and yields are constantly changing, so chasing the highest yield can be a full-time job. If I find it challenging to keep up as an operator in the space, I can only imagine how exhausting it must be for the new entrants.” 

BZ: How has FTX impacted what you’re building at Origin, and how has it impacted the future of crypto more broadly?

“Thankfully, Origin takes risk seriously and holds security to an extremely high standard. The protocol wasn’t directly impacted by the collapse of FTX or other catastrophic events that occurred earlier this year. The collapse of FTX actually emphasizes the need for OUSD: a self-custodied, yield-bearing, and fully transparent product.

Long-term, lack of transparency from centralized institutions will ultimately force users to turn to decentralized alternatives. We need to look at what actually failed and it wasn’t DeFi. It was a centralized trading venue with zero transparency, zero governance rights for its users, and one growing too fast while taking on too much risk. I think this catastrophe has slowed down crypto adoption but not stopped it entirely.” 

BZ: Is there a future for crypto? 

“Of course. Crypto may take a different shape to appeal to the masses. I mean less shilling à la FTX stadiums and more use of the tech in the back-end with clean interfaces for the user. I think the future of crypto consists of abstracting the experience we’ve had so far and providing the user with nothing but utility. 

That’s why I am bullish on the future of OUSD. OUSD can easily be used in the back end by anyone building financial products, games, and even consumer apps with a financial layer on top of it. OUSD has the potential to unlock static AUM wherever it’s sitting and put it to work.” 

With Nicolau’s passion for DeFi and her wealth of industry experience, she’s the ideal leader to drive the growth of Origin Dollar. Clearly, centralized platforms bear extraneous risks not seen in the world of DeFi, and now may be when the mainstream begins to realize the power of blockchain.

Both Nicolau and Origin Protocol’s co-founder Josh Fraser are attending Benzinga’s Future of Crypto in New York City on Dec. 7. Alongside the Origin team will be Yuga Labs co-founder Greg Solano, as well as investors among the likes of Anthony Scaramucci and Kevin O’Leary. Join us to chat about where the future of crypto is headed and what projects are poised for growth in the next bull market.

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