Be prepared to work harder than you have ever worked in your life, because if it is something you really want/ need and it really does not exist yet, only you will be able to create your dream. Also be prepared to be torn to pieces by the media, because not everyone can see your vision in the beginning.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica VerSteeg the CEO of Paragon
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
I grew up in a tech family, my father worked on several IT operations at the Pentagon including things like being the executive officer for Battle Management and the superintendent of the IT help desk for the Secretary of the Air Force In the Washington DC area.
My mother was responsible for the accountability of communications for security material, as well as the keying of cryptographic equipment while overseas in the Gulf War — where she was a telecommunications/computer operations specialist. And my younger sisters, like myself grew up hearing IT talk all day and always had access to computers, so naturally one of my sisters became a computer science engineer. She is currently working as a full stack developer for a technology company here in the US. But unlike my sister, I did not want to follower my parents footsteps into the tech world, I wanted to be a model.
So I moved to Miami and modeled for 10 Years. It was not until someone very close to me overdosed on painkillers that I decided to stop my modeling career and I chose to dedicate my life to changing the way people saw cannabis and it became my goal to help legalize cannabis on a federal level. That’s when I created AuBox, a monthly subscription to medical marijuana in San Francisco. The idea to create a seed to sale tracking solution on the blockchain initially came while I was running AuBox. I realized that some cannabis suppliers were being disingenuous about their product information and were submitting photoshopped lab results that claimed their products were 100% organic or that they were 90% CBD, clearly lacking any verafiable results.
Lying about this information, was not only irresponsible, but potentially dangerous to consumers with compromised immune systems (these patients need organic products) or even children (18 and under should use CBD not THC).
Thankfully, the majority of my suppliers were honest, however, I had lost a lot of trust in part of the industry. But I knew there had to be a better way to move forward with verifying the history and life cycle of all products AuBox was buying and selling. So I decided to create a supply chain tracking tool that could not be hacked, altered or manipulated. I was able to input data from farmers and labs to help me keep track of everything and compare it with the data suppliers were giving me.
It was then that the idea of Paragon came to be. I realized it was a good system I had created for AuBox and figured I should build it out with smart contracts and different user profiles so labs and farmers could plug in their own data to share with suppliers, dispensaries, governments, and patients.
I knew that trust and transparency could help get cannabis on a faster path to becoming federally legal and it could change the old “reefer madness” image that so many have not been able to move away from.
I also knew that the problems I faced in the cannabis industry were not exclusive to companies like mine, but to the industry as a whole. The lack of transparency and the inability to verify product information that had not been altered was not something that only I was facing, but virtually every participant in the supply chain — all the way down to the final users. Ultimately, the final users are the ones putting this product into their body, and they should be able to rest fully assured that they are getting exactly what they paid for.
What we are building at Paragon is a compliant supply chain tracking tool that encompasses everything the industry direly needs. Users will finally be able to review the source of their product from seed to sale, and governments can review any segment of the life cycle at any time. On top of all that, each element of the supply chain, from cloning, harvesting batches, delivery and point of sale will all be registered in smart-contracts on the blockchain. To make things even better, every batch gets lab tested to verify if the input harvest data matches the lab results.
This method of tracking renders the data immutable — ensuring that nobody can alter or remove any data.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
The only project I’m working on is Paragon 🙂
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Obviously my family. I’m so thankful that they have always supported me and my wild dreams. I’m also thankful that they did not force me into the tech space just because they were in it. They always taught my sisters and I everything, but allowed us to chose our own paths. One sister became a computer science engineer, the other went on to work at a University, and I went from modeling, to selling cannabis products, to accidentally ending up in the world of blockchain. And they have always been 100% supportive of everything each of us decided to do.
Also my husband has played a huge roll in my success within the business world. We were friends for so many years and I was able to learn so much from him and all of his business ventures. Before we started dating it was him that I called to help me build my website for AuBox (theaubox.com) because I could not afford to pay developers in San Francisco, so he set me up with his amazing developers in Russia that were just as good and affordable. Later we started dating and eventually married. And throughout that time is when he helped me create the Blockchain for Paragon, this time introducing me to his amazing team of developers is Ukraine. He has also supported me and my mission to help legalize cannabis by creating trust and transparency in the space.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
To be honest, I see so more than just 5 things that excite me about Blockchain and cryptocurrency. They offer immense potential for identity verification, energy, efficiency, financial inclusion, remittances, supply chain, provenance, land titles, voting mechanisms, and improving governance. Governments everywhere should be on top of this emerging technology, especially for developing countries, it could bring change with a rare opportunity to bypass years of corruption and discomfort.
Ten things that most excite me about Blockchain:
#1 It’s flexible –
While Blockchain is not a solution for everything, Blockchain as a foundation — can penetrate in to many aspects of our day to day lives. There are more and more “blockchain as a service” types of companies emerging, making it easier for anybody to build a blockchain solution for their needs. This allows everybody to tap into the technology and use it for whatever means they require.
#2 It’s transparent –
Contrary to what some believe, blockchain ensures transparency on a whole new level. This transparency allows for countless useful applications in everyday life. This level of transparency can make work processes and auditing easier for companies and governments. And transparent doesn’t mean chaotic or anarchic, transparency on Blockchain can be customized for the specific needs of certain applications: for example, we can verify the identity of a patient and authenticity of a prescription for for that patient at a pharmacy, while preserving the medical privacy exclusively for the patient and doctors.
#3 It’s immutable –
The core essence of blockchain is its immutability. If we all voted on blockchain, we could rest assured that the outcome hasn’t been tampered with or that the results haven’t been altered at a later stage. Election process would be much more secure if held using Blockchain technology.
#4 It saves money –
Cutting out middle men and unnecessary costs makes blockchain powered solutions much more affordable for the average person. Blockchain based registries and notarized documents could prove to be a much more affordable solution.
#5 It’s accessible –
Everybody with an internet connection and a computer can harness the power of blockchain and all the solutions built upon it. This accessibility means that businesses and consumers can use blockchain to integrate it into IoT applications and provide smart tech with more to offer. If you learn to code you can even create your own decentralized applications.
#6 Ownership –
Cryptocurrencies, for the first time, have enabled an opportunity to truly own your digital assets, your money, not just legally, but physically, to be in control. You don’t need a credit card issuer, a bank and a credit card processing company to accept or make a payment in crypto.
#7 Alternative to the existing monetary system –
It’s definitely different and in many cases a more honest currency. It’s future and adoption has little to do with the governments that throughout history tend to mess things up with our money. Bitcoin should and in my opinion will become a global reserve currency with all other currencies traded against Bitcoin. The situation will reverse, it’s the Dollar and Euro that will have to prove the need for their existence in spite of Bitcoin. And I’m not even talking about extreme cases like Turkey’s lira, Venezuela’s Bolivar, Russia’s ruble or Zimbabwe’s famous one hundred trillion dollar bills. It’s happening now and people run to Bitcoin to protect the value of what they have today.
#8 The ability to send the original over the Internet –
Before Blockchain and even now we’re used to receiving, sending, buying and selling copies of everything over the Internet: songs, movies, documents, etc. If it was done over the Internet it was always a copy, not the original. With Bitcoin, we for the first time have gained the ability to send the original. You can track a Bitcoin from the first moment it was mined to where it it is now, including it’s every stop. It’s tremendous and Bitcoin was the first use-case for Blockchain, but we can only imagine in what ways this can be applied and will be applied soon.
#9 Quick payment and less disputes –
Crypto payments can provide a level of certainty when making and receiving payments for certain items. Imagine buying a used item or vehicle from somebody who listed it online — you can pay them on the spot in crypto and both verify the transaction has cleared. This solution is much faster than checks or wires, especially when it’s an international transaction. Irreversibility of the transactions on Blockchain does create some concerns about possible fraud, but in most cases it can be relieved by sophisticated smart contracts that will ensure honesty and fairness to all possible scenarios.
#10 Better foreign exchange rates –
With banks often charging very high rates for currency exchange when going abroad, people don’t always realize how expensive it really can be. A great solution would be the acceptance of cryptocurrency by more merchants. Alternatively, payment cards may be issued that bill the local currency amount to your cryptocurrency funds based on the daily rates.
What are the 5 things that worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
#1 I often hear others complain that blockchain is lagging behind in transaction speeds when compared to traditional corporations –
It’s not something I am worried about because it works fine for me and I know this is being addressed with things like the lighting network and we will see major breakthroughs in scalability over the next few years. It is inevitable that blockchain will become mainstream and widely adopted. I strongly believe that the acceptance of this technology will grow rapidly in 2019. We also need to remember that the Bitcoin ledger started 9 years ago and it was the first application of Blockchain, new technologies emerge every day and some developers in the space are working on Blockchain protocols that will provide the safety of Bitcoin and will eventually provide faster networks than VISA that is capable of processing 30,000 simultaneous transactions per second.
#2 Not all governments aren’t all embracing cryptocurrency and blockchain –
Blockchain based solutions can prove to be incredibly useful for governments, yet there are not many nations experimenting with it. Although this will likely increase as countries see progress and useful applications among other nations. Many will likely be late to the game and take years to start harnessing blockchain technology. But I fear it may be even longer for them to embrace crypto because they do not want people to have the power, I think many governments have forgotten that they work for the people and they are not elected into office to halt innovation.
#3 Another problem is that many people distrust blockchain –
Either due to lack of knowledge or old news that put Bitcoin in negative light. Although this is becoming less of a problem, but because a lot of media and publications had claim that Bitcoin was used for criminal practices and payments I think it will just take some time to get educate the masses.
#4 There is still a talent shortage for blockchain experts and developers –
With the technology being new and most blockchains having a different coding language, it’s not easy for start-ups or existing businesses to find good and affordable talent. It will take some years before more developers start working with blockchain protocols and gain the necessary experience for complex projects.
#5 Bad actors have given it a bad rep –
A major flaw in cryptographic security is obviously a concern, while it’s pretty safe to say that Bitcoin, especially given the current valuation is a sweet target for the worlds best hackers, is still immune to hacking, but there is still a small chance that it could be hacked. However, I think the community would come up with a fix if such issue will one day arise.
5 things that worry me about Cryptocurrency
#6 Crypto can complicate refunds –
With cryptocurrency prices changes frequently, refunds can be complex for companies to process, in addition to the fact that they may need to request more details for verification. As a result, people often have to wait longer than normal for a refund, or refunds are not accepted at all as per policy.
#7 I’m not really a fan of Bitcoin being an anonymous invention –
I can’t think of anything else so popular and widely used that is impossible to track to it’s inventors. I think it would provide more general trust if the origins are better known. Or at least a comment by the developers, their view on how it’s developing now would be helpful.
#8 Most real issues with cryptocurrencies, are not the cryptocurrencies per se, but rather centralized solutions that are built around them —
Centralized exchanges, centralized wallets, etc. Things that take away from the decentralization and paves the road to the extreme volatility, bubbles, manipulations and fraud. It will normalize as the industry matures, new regulations are introduced, and people become more educated. A lot of things will improve with crypto when fully functional and truly decentralized cross-blockchain exchanges emerge.
#9 Regulations worry me –
While I’m absolutely pro regulation, I’m worried that in many instances regulators are not educated on the matter enough to come up with much needed fair regulations that will promote innovation and growth in this space. Some government may fear the idea of giving the power back to the people and some just don’t fully understand cryptocurrency and blockchain. Yes, there are beautiful examples like Malta, where my team and I were lucky enough to actually assist the Maltese Government on some of the legislations surrounding cryptocurrency and Blockchain, but there are countries where cryptocurrency and Blockchain are oppressed. Including the US, I think we’re lagging behind in many ways, I think the US needs to lead here, but unfortunately, it’s not the case right now.
#10 Education –
I’m worried that people are not spending enough time educating themselves on cryptocurrency, and just relying on different opinions, often times stumbling upon opinions that are misleading, yet give the sense of truth because its been published in the media. Sometimes I have a feeling, that reading opinions from some of the most reputable media outlets can be the root of false accusations because not all journalists take the time to really dig into the technology and it’s implications on our life, but what’s even scarier — the people who are labelled “experts” by the media or themselves often are voicing absolutely confusing and incorrect opinions about crypto. My advice is to start with Satoshi’s original Whitepaper, go read it, I guarantee it will be much easier to understand.
I’ve been asked dozens of times by the journalists of some very respected media — how is Paragon Coin different from Bitcoin or other coins. That’s just an example that shows that the journalist didn’t spend time researching my company and the technology we’re working on, because the question itself is incorrect. I’m not building a competitor to Bitcoin, nor a currency for weed, among other things I do with Paragon — I’m building a much needed solution for the legal cannabis industry and using a Blockchain technology for it and it becomes very clear if you actually read Paragon’s Whitepaper.
People need to educate themselves on Blockchain and cryptocurrency in order to have an unbiased opinion about the industry in general and the particular players they’re interested in. The sooner you enter, the more advantages you’ll have to monetize the space, because we’re still in very early stages. While it’s never too late to enter, it will be more and more difficult.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I have used the resources I have around me to help me do my part in changing the prescription of cannabis and working towards making cannabis legal on a federal level. The goal is to get past this opioid epidemic that is plaguing the United States along with the rest of the world.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
#1 Only start if it’s something you genuinely needed and if it’s something you genuinely believe in.
#2 Be prepared to work harder than you have ever worked in your life, because if it is something you really want/ need and it really does not exist yet, only you will be able to create your dream. Also be prepared to be torn to pieces by the media, because not everyone can see your vision in the beginning.
#3 Stay humble and learn from everyone around you. Just because you are the CEO, does not mean there is noting you are too good for or that you know everything. You should be willing to get your hands dirty and willing to open your mind to learning from everyone around you.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”
― C. JoyBell C.
I like this quote because it’s about living, growing, learning, and just putting yourself out there. There will be times in life where your instincts tell you to just do something that may in fact upset your plans and may sound crazy to everyone around you, but the only way to grow and the only way to learn is to go with your gut and to go with your passion, to stop listening to society and to stop trying to fit into the box everyone else fits in. Expose your ideas, expose your dreams, and go after them!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement, I would start with the NFL. They have exploited so many young lives while, at the same time, ignoring the havoc that exploitation wreaks. The NFL’s impact on their players’ lives can be a mostly positive experience; giving them fame and fortune, or sometimes even getting them off the streets. But the decades of denying the link between football and CTE is, to me, unforgivable.
Football is America’s sport — I understand it’s not going anywhere. Instead, my call would be for a more open and honest dialogue about the link between CTE and football. Hopefully this would result in an allocation of resources suited for taking care of the young men who meet suffering caused by the more dour and long-term effects of giving their lives to this sport.
I see this in parallel to the military’s journey from “shell shock” to PTSD. Soldiers and laymen alike are now well-versed on the fact that enlisting could mean loss of life or sense of security even once they’re off the field. The recognition and transparency alone have ended so much needless suffering, and dissolved the implication of personal weakness so that more veterans are willing to seek help.
If CTE moved in to this more conspicuous/unconcealed realm, players and their families could be taught to more recognize the symptoms, visit the right professionals, and receive the right treatment. And, just as the acceptance of PTSD saw no significant decrease in the number of men and women willing to fight for the country they love, I don’t see the acknowledgement of CTE decreasing NFL recruit turnout. These players want to be on the field because they love the game. I’m just asking for the organization to return that love. I would also encourage the NFL to allow player to smoke weed vs pumping them with painkillers.
But there is a list of things I am passionate about and I wish I could dedicate my time to starting a movement for all of them.
Free college education:
We pay enough in taxes that this should be taken care of. If America is supposed to be the best at everything, it’s unfortunately clear that we have fallen behind, because other countries like Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Slovenia, Sweden, Norway, I think even Mexico and Brazil have virtually free tuition. It is time we start caring about the education of our youth, before it’s to late. .
Clean water for all people:
It is 2018 and there is no reason every person on this planet should not have access to clean water, it is a fundamental human need. Each person on earth requires at least 20 to 50 liters of clean, safe water a day for drinking, cooking, and keeping themselves clean. Polluted water isn’t just dirty — it’s deadly.
Protecting and preserving our nature and wildlife is something we need to start taking seriously. It is mind-blowing to me that we are so evolved, yet so careless about the planet we share with these beautiful plants and animals. I am shocked that humanity has not figured out when we destroy nature we destroying our quality of life. It is absolutely disgusting that we have not realized, we are a disease to the planet and we just continue to pollute and kill.
Build housing for the homeless:
Until the time comes that we can see one another as equal human beings, worthy of living happy, healthy, and fulfilled lives, we will continue to think in terms of “us” and “them” — a world view that is, fundamentally flawed. There are so many levels that need to be fixed, starting with education and healthcare, but since we can not turn back the hands of time, I believe the best option would be to at least care for those that have been forgotten about and give them shelter. I would create a rehab for them in each city allowing for social reintegration that would help them get back onto their feet. Because homelessness is fundamentally defined by lack of housing, housing is the essential foundation to ending homelessness. Housing provides stable ground from which people can get and keep a job, address mental illness and substance use, take care of their health and nutrition, and find purposeful roles in the community.
Restructure jails across America to focus more on rehabilitation:
While security should be taken seriously I would provide inmates with rooms fit for a human, and spend a significant amount of time focused on counseling and skill building. Offing classes in engineering, farming, cooking, really anything that could help them contribute to society and encourage rehabilitation, regardless of the sentence that has been given.
In Norway, inmates within the prison complex, get to play tennis, go horseback-riding, and even fishing. These are important things because many inmates have never experienced these things in life so to show them there is more to life than crime could actually benefit us as a society. In places like Scotland, inmates get 40 weekly hours of productive skill building. With a special focus on helping inmates transition back to civilian life in a purposeful and fulfilling manner. Treating prisoners like animals will only encourage them to behave like animals.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am verified on all accounts so please be careful to not follow a fake account
Facebook: Jessica VerSteeg
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com