Black People & Cryptocurrency Is On A Mission To Launch An Accelerator For Black-Led Blockchain Startups

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Deidra McIntyre
“There were a few Black people running solo. It didn’t seem like everyone was connected”: Deidra McIntyre on why she founded Black People & Cryptocurrency. McIntyre teaches, consults and supports entrepreneurs and schools about blockchain. She co-founded Black People & Cryptocurrency, an online community of 10,000-plus that holds discussions on how to invest, mining and business news with an emphasis on African and African diaspora trends and interests. Image: Black Blockchain Summit

Deidra McIntyre found her way into the cryptocurrency space seven years ago while doing research for a client.

She realized early on that people were curious but lacked information — and confidence — about blockchain and crypto to buy direct, making them vulnerable to multi-level marketing schemes.

Remember OneCoin? The founder obtained more than $3 billion worldwide through an MLM sham. Similarly, MiningMax asked people to invest thousands in exchange for a referral commission.

It became so blatant, scammers took to running Facebook and Google ads hoping to catch new prey. Eventually, Facebook and Google began to flag paid posts for cryptocurrency and stopped the MLM advertising campaigns on their platforms.

Headlines like this one in the New York Times give bitcoin a bad name: “Bitcoin Has Lost Steam. But Criminals Still Love It.”

McIntyre was concerned about what she was seeing. “I was being direct messaged by people saying ‘Hey, if you want to invest in bitcoin, I have this great program for you and it only costs $100 a month,'” she told Moguldom.

With a background in print journalism and education, McIntyre co-founded and launched Black People & Cryptocurrency in an attempt to help educate the Black community online. Black People & Cryptocurrency holds online discussions on how to invest and mine cryptocurrency with an emphasis on African and African diaspora trends and interests.

“I knew some of my friends who weren’t technical but were interested in bitcoin really didn’t have the wherewithal to understand how to buy direct,” McIntyre said. “You don’t have to pay these types of fees to buy and sell cryptocurrency.”

More than two years later, Black People & Cryptocurrency has grown to nearly 10,000 people from around the world sharing information and debating blockchain-related topics. More than a place to hang out online, McIntyre says the group has a mission to launch an accelerator for Black-led blockchain startups.

McIntyre has created a list of more than 170 Black blockchain and cryptocurrency professionals and organizers. There is work to be done to help advance and connect Black people in the space, she said.

McIntyre shared with Moguldom how to tell if something is a multi-level marketing crypto scheme, and discussed her focus on making sure Black people are not left behind in blockchain.

Moguldom: Why did you start Black People & Cryptocurrency?

Deidra McIntyre: I launched Black People & Cryptocurrency in September 2017. A year prior I had a former client reach out to me to create a document about bitcoin in plain English. This person worked in finance and had interest from some people who wanted to know more about bitcoin, including the history of it and how to invest in it. I reached out to another peer and started collecting data, and gave him the document that he wanted by November. Because of that research, I was opened to this under-the-radar financial community of people doing transactions globally, that I wasn’t aware of before.

I remember hearing about (bitcoin) in 2013 but thought it was a gaming coin since the gamers were talking about it back then. After creating the document, I was being direct messaged by people saying, “Hey, if you want to invest in Bitcoin, I have this great program for you and it only costs $100 a month.” I knew it was an MLM pitch and knew what they were saying wasn’t true. I became alarmed.

I knew some of my friends who weren’t technical but were interested in bitcoin really didn’t have the wherewithal to understand how to buy direct. They would not know or understand you could buy $5 worth of bitcoin on your own and not through one of these MLM scams. I launched Black People & Cryptocurrency to gather people together to discuss what was happening. I knew from my research there were a few Black people running solo in the space.

People like Edwardo Jackson, who started Blacks in Bitcoin, which was one of the first blogs targeting Black people, and Sinclair Skinner that I noticed being interviewed or randomly discussing crypto. It didn’t seem like everyone was connected.

Moguldom: How did you grow to 10,000 people in the group?

Deidra McIntyre: Along with Bob Ponce, who I knew from New York and the dot.com world, and two others, we decided we would launch the group on Facebook. Facebook was where Black people were at since there was no more BlackPlanet. With the initial four as admins, we would invite anybody from our friends list who mentioned bitcoin or cryptocurrency to the group.

Essentially what it is today is a platform that people can bring up topics and post news, argue and debate very similar to what the original bulletin boards were on AOL and CompuServe. There can be some arguments there, but we leave it all on the table and let the others decide if they want to choose a side or participate. That’s kind of the genesis of how the group got started. It has evolved into people forming alliances within the group and trying to help one another with their various startups.

Moguldom: You mentioned the MLM scams. It has been difficult for Black people to overcome feeling like they’re being duped or scammed with bitcoin. How do you overcome that negative aspect of cryptocurrency?

Deidra McIntyre: I think that’s been the biggest hurdle for our group as well. I was fortunate not to have been introduced to cryptocurrency in that fashion. But after I did the research I was aware there were a lot of MLM schemes, which are marketed extremely well. It was especially prevalent during the ICO craze of 2017 and 2018. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors, fancy marketing and the leaders ran away with the cash.

These people work by saying, “You don’t need to know how this works.” That’s your tip to just run. We try to impress on people to learn as much as you can from everyone you can. Be loyal to no one brand and question everything. And then, after you’ve done that, if someone can defend what they’re doing like a dissertation, then make your decision on whether you want to enter that route or another route.

I think a big trademark of MLM scams is that if you start asking too many questions, they start getting defensive and won’t answer questions. Some of them are in our group. We have a no referral link policy. When we start questioning the white paper — essentially the technical specs of how it works — and they don’t have an answer for it or deflect from the questions, we know what’s up.

Founder Deidra McIntyre on how to spot a multi-level marketing scam.

Some cryptocurrency projects are legit. They don’t have the marketing in place but they have thriving communities around the platform they’re building. If it is a startup, they are not going to likely have the additional documentation. In that case, it is OK to take a wait-and-see approach. I will wait to see what relationships they develop before moving in that direction. But crypto projects where you see the use in public are a good example of it not being an intended scheme. We have seen the expansion of the dash coin being used in Church’s Chicken locations in Venezuela. When you see the use of bitcoin and litecoin with large vendors — Amazon, Overstock and even Walmart is considering using it — there is some validity in crypto as a currency for everyday life.

Moguldom: There are almost 10,000 people in the Black People & Cryptocurrency group. What percentage of those are startups fundraising with ICOs or people that are mining or developers vs. members who are strictly investing in crypto?

Deidra McIntyre: A lot of people, because this involves currency, are tight-lipped on what they are doing. They are not advertising their investment in crypto or that they are mining XYZ. However, what we did in September 2019 at the Black Blockchain Summit in D.C., was release a document of 100 Black people that are in blockchain and cryptocurrency. We created the list, we separated the true startup founders from people who were education- and media-related, and who are developers and other professionals such as law and accounting.

We just searched everything from Twitter to LinkedIn and looked at links that people provided, whether personal websites or organizations. We put the list together because it was the second year at the Black in Blockchain Summit and yet, going into the second year, a lot of the conference wasn’t talking about Black people in this space. We talk a lot about Vitalik Buterin and ethereum or Charlie Lee and litecoin, but not about Africa and the predominately Black Caribbean nations and Black people dispersed between Brazil and the U.S. in the space.

If we look collectively at Black people globally, we don’t have a speck of pepper in a sea of salt in this space. And we need to talk about how we move into the space of producers, not just consumers.

Deidra McIntyre on the need to increase Black people’s exposure to blockchain, in Moguldom

So that list was kind of the first effort. We received push back. Because up until that point, people were saying there were only three, 10 or 15 people you should know. We were like, “Are you kidding me?” We just knew there were so many more.

Despite the people that were in the group and the people we were encountering on LinkedIn, Twitter and even Instagram that were at least discussing cryptocurrency, even if they weren’t working in blockchain organizations, there were many more. Our list is now up to 170 entries. Some of the people listed are startup founders to professional service providers. Now people have a list to check to see who they can reach out to virtually and maybe start a discussion.

Moguldom: I saw in the group, someone mentioned only wanting to use one exchange. You seemed to feel otherwise. For those starting out, how do they choose an exchange to purchase their cryptocurrency and how can they go about choosing a wallet to store it?

Deidra McIntyre: Search engines are still an excellent tool. My process has always been to look at multi-coin wallet reviews. You will come up with many bloggers and other independent people doing YouTube videos. Start watching them and see what people say. You can buy cryptocurrency with a credit card or money wire transfer, but you really should not store any of your money on an exchange. You should get it off immediately to an offline wallet.

In the U.S., we have a limited number of exchanges – four or five. My point in mentioning the person should check out other exchanges, instead of that particular product, is similar to burgers. You may like McDonald’s, but Smashburger has great burgers too. You need to be aware of your options. I mean there are only four exchanges in the U.S., so it is not like you have to do a tremendous amount of research. You just need to go and review the pluses and minuses of those exchanges where you can legally buy and sell cryptocurrency. You don’t put all your eggs in one basket. That’s all I’m saying.

Moguldom: Have you faced challenges being a Black woman in the cryptocurrency space?

Deidra McIntyre: I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, at least for me. I’ve worked in the dot.com industry for years. I worked for TheGlobe.com, which was the social media platform in New York City before MySpace and Facebook. I’ve been where I was one of the few Black people no matter how big the company grew.

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I think you do run into sexism in every industry. You just kind of deal with the person on a person-to-person basis. In terms of racism, I just stick with the content. I know in this crypto space there are racist libertarians, but I’m not necessarily looking at the racists, I’m looking at what they’re saying, the value of the product they’re pitching and judge for myself on whether it has a value to our community or not.

Moguldom: In five years, where will Black People & Cryptocurrency be? What will it have accomplished?

Deidra McIntyre: We have a pitch deck and a mission statement. Our goal is to create an incubator that services Black-led startups in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space as well as be an education vehicle for people interested in working in the space. We’re looking at models out of Silicon Valley such as Berkeley’s incubator, Blockchain Lab, which is one of the ones at the forefront. We partnered with MouseBelt, which is the first blockchain lab accelerator in the U.S. They have online resources for students to learn about programming languages and other aspects in the blockchain space.

We want to be that vehicle for our community before it becomes another digital divide-type of scenario, which is what happened with the fallout with the dot.com era. We had to play catch up. We’re kind of behind right now in blockchain, but it’s not so far out of reach that we can’t cultivate and support startup founders in a way that not only gets them funding but also makes sure they’re on par with the education and services they could use for their businesses. That’s where we see ourselves.

My background is a bachelor’s in print journalism and a master’s in education. So, I stick with educating people and passing of information, for companies to grow and develop. When we look at the model of the groups that are ahead of us, we want our Black startup founders to find that same level of support.