Welcome to Mihavi
Not everyone can move to Miami. Especially not Cuban entrepreneurs, even those who share Mayor Suarez’ passion for bitcoin, startups, and freedom. Cuba’s socialist paradise outlaws private enterprise for the most part. Licenses are required to offer web dev or design services, and explicitly prohibit serving foreign clients. The U.S. embargo and related sanctions make it risky for foreigners to engage Cuban freelancers and impossible to invest in Cuba-based startups without procuring a specific OFAC license.
I enjoy these sorts of challenges.
Airtm, which I co-founded with interns from my first fintech startup, Uphold, solved a similar problem in Venezuela. By connecting US banks, public blockchains, and a P2P anything-to-dollar marketplace (think Uber but for forex), Airtm made it easy for local entrepreneurs to preserve wealth against hyperinflation and receive dollar payments from the US. We’ve helped millions of people in Venezuela and our success there served as a beachhead for Airtm to become one of the fastest-growing financial services in Latin America, providing millions of users access to USD, BTC, and related reliable financial services.
(You can read more about Airtm’s P2P forex innovation here).
Airtm’s permissionless P2P connection to the local banking system proved resistant to Maduro’s aggressive attempts at censorship, so much so that Venezuela’s president in exile (Juan Guaido) used Airtm to distribute funds to health workers on the frontlines of the pandemic in Venezuela. We’d previously organized Airdrop Venezuela, which distributed over $300,000 in cryptocurrency donations to families suffering from Maduro’s macro-economic catastrophe.
Airtm is a cryptocurrency success story. Our bank-bridging P2P dollar marketplace wouldn’t have been possible without bitcoin and localbitcoin’s anything-to-bitcoin P2P exchange. Airtm’s P2P agent network depends on crypto to cycle money from minor currencies to USD in their Airtm account.
I first visited Cuba in 1997 as a journalist on assignment for New York Magazine (writing and video-making have long been a hobby). Last year, I started connecting with local entrepreneurs to understand how Airtm might help Cuba’s businesses, freelancers, and families in the same way we’d done in Venezuela. In the process I befriended a group of entrepreneurs who were cranking out content, code, crypto, and product, with no local mayors encouraging their innovation and no outside funding. Just a whole lot of heart, hustle, and drive to solve problems. Check out: Qvapay, Bitremesas, Lugodev, Bachecubano for a taste of this remarkable output.
The startup city I propose would welcome both Miami-based VCs and Cuba-based entrepreneurs. It would necessarily be cloud-based, both for funding, ownership, and operations. It would need to be pseudonymous and decentralized. It would also need to navigate the U.S. embargo and the Cuban socialist regime. My placeholder name for it is Mihavi (Miami + Havana).
From my experience with Airtm, I know the cross-border funds flows are a solvable problem, even in the face of censorship by an authoritarian regime. From my work developing the Air Protocol with Jorge Ruiz Airtm’s original CTO, I know it’s possible to have decentralized and chain-agnostic P2P forex marketplace, making it even more resistant to censorship. I’m working with some of my Cuban friends to swap out their centralized back-ends to decentralize the last-mile to/from Cuban Pesos.
For anyone interested in running an Air Protocol Dapp, check out this WIP AP API. You can also check out the full self-healing mesh and chain agnostic P2P txn protocol, as well as implementations on Celo Foundation, Binance, Kusama Network and other chains here: https://github.com/air-protocol.
But what remains to be solved is the funding portion of Mihavi and the relationship between Mihavi, the Cuba-built apps and platforms, and their founders.
It’s a problem worth tackling.
Not everyone with talent will be able to migrate to enlightened startup cities like Miami. And even those places need a back-up plan for transitioning to the cloud if the state or country in which they are located turns hostile to innovation, entrepreneurship, free markets, and/or cryptocurrency. It could happen anywhere, including in the U.S.