From innovative entrepreneurs to those educating others about the power of digital assets, women have been shaping the blockchain industry since day one.
Today, on International Women’s Day, we shed the spotlight on some of the inspiring women behind projects that continuously drive crypto forward.
As we look into the awesome women in blockchain, we cannot forget those who have been re-shaping the industry with innovative ideas that support those coming from less privileged backgrounds. Today, we’ll be talking to Beryl Li - a fintech entrepreneur behind success stories such as a play2earn platform Yield Guild Games with a mission to bank the ‘unbanked’.
After finishing her Master of Finance degree at Cambridge University, where she sat as President of the Cambridge University Cryptocurrency Society during her final year of study, Li took on a mission to financially empower others, especially those coming from emerging countries. Having co-founded CapchainX, an asset tokenization platform that was acquired by SMKG in 2019, and was on the founding team at Coins.PH, a leading crypto exchange in the Philippines which was later acquired by GoJek in 2019. Today, Beryl is re-shaping the lives of hundreds of thousands through the play-to-earn revolution that is Yield Guild Games - a decentralized gaming guild acquiring NFTs in blockchain games such as Axie Infinity.
What sparked your interest in cryptocurrency?
“I was first introduced to cryptocurrencies in 2013. The year after, I became an Entrepreneur in Residence at Coins.ph, a leading crypto mobile wallet and digital currency exchange in the Philippines (which was acquired by GoJek in 2019). I was curious about blockchain as the underlying technology behind Bitcoin as an infrastructure to move funds.
Compared to investment banking, where my career started, crypto still hasn’t reached exponential growth. If you look at the investment banking industry, it is all about having the funds and deploying those funds into something that would grow. There has been limited innovation in this space as compared to projects that are being built on the blockchain.
Financial empowerment has also been one of my core advocacies since the beginning of my career in FinTech and I have been philosophizing about financial democratization for quite some time now. I consulted for financial institutions and government departments on subjects ranging from property tokenization and backtesting FX trading algorithms at BlackRock London to authoring the startup roadmap in the Philippines for the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). Fast-forward to 2020 when I spent most of the lockdown exploring DeFi platforms, on- and off-ramps in the Philippines, and NFTs, and I came across this CoinDesk article that sent ripples across the crypto community, telling the story of how a rural community in the Philippines found a way to put food on the table during the pandemic by playing Axie Infinity. The story got my full attention.
Co-founding YGG has been a unique opportunity for me to truly “bank the unbanked,” starting with the scholarship model, where a scholar can borrow, without upfront fees, the NFTs they would need to start playing an NFT game and actually earn from it. The scholar keeps 70% of those rewards they earn, while 10% goes to YGG and 20% goes to their manager. This has provided thousands of players around the world — currently, we have onboarded 16,000 scholars and counting — with income-earning alternatives that they actually enjoy, and it has caused many of them to develop an entrepreneurial mindset where they’ve started creating their own scholarships, putting up their own businesses and learning to invest, because of their exposure to cryptocurrencies from play-to-earn.”
During your final year of MA course in Finance, you became a President of the Cambridge University Cryptocurrency Society, how do you think this experience has imprinted on your work today?
“As the president of the Cambridge University Cryptocurrency Society, I organized and hosted a lot of events centered around crypto. I was already familiar with Bitcoin at the time, so it was really interesting having these discussions with so many brilliant minds, most of whom were students working on their PhDs. In 2014, I once invited Vitalik Buterin to one of our events, and he talked about blockchain, smart contracts, ERC20 tokens, concepts that were still very new then.”
Since the very beginning, your work has focused on the mission of ‘banking the unbanked’, especially those in countries such as the Philippines where bank accounts aren’t as popular as they are in the West. Now, with Yield Guild Games, those communities can benefit from the play2earn aspect. Are we correct in assuming most of your user-base comes from the countries such as the Philippines?
“Only about 29% of Filipino adults have a bank account in the Philippines, according to a 2019 report on financial inclusion by the Philippine central bank. The main reason for lacking a bank account was that they just didn’t have enough money to need one. The vast majority of people in the Philippines earn little more than US$300 a month, and to many of them, a bank account is just a thing with expensive fees that eats away at your balance for no good reason.
The truth is, even for the privileged few who have access to one, a bank account alone does not necessarily qualify its holder to access all the products and services that could actually help them improve their financial position and economic status in this world. I wrote an op-ed for CoinDesk that discusses this in more detail, but my idea of “banking the unbanked” is giving them financial freedom and financial literacy — because financial freedom is giving somebody the freedom to figure out where they want to put their funds, what they really want to be invested in and what they want to do with their money. And arriving at that kind of decision requires financial literacy.
More powerful than “banking the unbanked” is providing an option for anyone to earn a living or extra income. What we’re doing at Yield Guild is giving people access to NFTs that they can use to earn in-game rewards, which they can exchange for real money and turn into an alternative, supplemental income — simply through their time and skill. Play-to-earn then becomes a way to provide DeFi, which makes it the perfect platform for financial education. Players have a real democracy over what they would like to do with their rewards.
YGG’s mission is to onboard millions of people into the play-to-earn revolution. To date, there are over 100,000 guild members and over 10,000 YGG scholars around the world. Most are located in developing countries from Southeast Asia and Latin America, YGG's two primary areas of growth. Countries include the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Venezuela. Apart from this, YGG also has players and community contributors from the United States and Europe.”
Whilst still a relatively new, the whole play2earn aspect is very exciting. What are the average earnings a user can expect when playing games such as Axie Infinity?
“Some players in the Philippines have been able to earn two to three times the local minimum salary by playing the play-to-earn game Axie Infinity. However, the amount of money that can be earned depends on several factors. This includes the player’s skill, how much time they spend playing the game and their win rate. The price movements of in-game tokens and assets on the open market also influence how much money a player can earn. Many people play NFT games to supplement their income.”
Especially over the past few months, both the crypto community and the mainstream have seen the word “metaverse” cropping up more and more often. How would you define the concept to a person that has little to no knowledge about it?
“I would define the Metaverse as an expansive, interconnected virtual world wherein people can recreate many of the things they do in real life and more. In the Metaverse, people can build, buy, sell, own, socialize, entertain, work, learn, and so on. The Metaverse is available to anyone who would want to enter it, and this can open up opportunities to people from all parts of the world regardless of race, gender, and socio-economic status.
YGG is working towards an open Metaverse, where this virtual world’s underlying economies, assets, and items are built on open standards and open digital asset ledgers. We are presenting an alternative future where data and assets are owned by the people, protocols can be openly accessible, and no one company will have a monopoly on that value — unlike what is happening right now with Web2. What we are building instead is a Metaverse that has different networks, protocols, and projects working collaboratively with each other to create a greater network effect.”
With more play2earn projects making their way into the industry, do you believe that metaverse could soon become part of our daily lives?
“Absolutely. We actually think that the future of work can easily be seen in digital economies in the Metaverse, and we expect YGG to be at the forefront of that with gaming and the community. We want to be able to facilitate all these jobs in different virtual worlds like being a designer, creating digital clothing or avatars, creating tools and weapons if you are a blacksmith inside a role-playing game, or raising digital creatures in a different game. No matter where you are from, as long as you have an internet connection and access to these worlds, you can have a job in the Metaverse. And YGG sees itself as a necessary layer to bring people from the real world into the Metaverse, especially for those who can’t afford it.”
Lastly, what advice would you give to a person that is just starting to learn about the world of digital assets?
“My first piece of advice would be to always do your own research. Especially when people are really excited about starting with play-to-earn, they might skip doing their research or familiarizing themselves with how crypto works before participating in projects.
I would also advise new players to start by engaging in a community, which they can find on Twitter, Discord or Facebook. YGG’s Discord server has dedicated channels for each game partner to cater to the different interests of our community members. There, they help each other learn everything from setting up their first crypto wallet to purchasing NFTs and researching the game economics of different play-to-earn games. The YGG community also has a good grasp of concepts in crypto and DeFi, so those come in handy for any newbie player.
By learning the basics and having a community that puts an emphasis on educating each other about these new concepts, it will be easier for newcomers to learn more about crypto, NFTs, and their application to games to really understand the concept of play-to-earn and figure out where the value is coming from. “
To stay up to date with Beryl’s work, you can do so by following her Twitter. And, if you’d like to hear more about Yield Guild Games, here are some helpful links to get you started: