His name is behind Coinhouse, the first European crypto-bank, and especially behind Ledger, a heavyweight in the crypto universe which offers a storage solution for digital assets. On the occasion of VivaTech, Eric Larchevêque, a jack-of-all-trades entrepreneur, returns to 20 minutes on his extraordinary career and takes the opportunity to address the major issues related to Web 3: from decentralization to the protection of personal data through the unexpected spotlight of Eric Zemmour during the last presidential campaign. Meeting with one of the great figures of the crypto universe in France.
Can you come back to your journey that led you to the world of cryptos?
I got my degree in micro-electronics engineering in 1996 and I created my first company shortly before graduating. It was the very beginning of the Internet, we made sites, hosting, the equivalent of a Web agency. We did this for two years and then we wanted to move from service to product with my partner. We have developed means of online payment. We developed this company which rose to 20 million euros in turnover, we sold it to Rentabiliweb which was at the time a big pillar of the Web. In 2008, I stumbled across poker. I played there internationally for two years. It was useful for my career as an entrepreneur in particular. When I returned to France in 2010, I created Prixing, an application that compared prices to find out where to buy the cheapest thanks to barcodes. We sold in 2013 and while looking for my next adventure, I became interested in bitcoin. I was struck by lightning and thought bitcoin would change everything. The Internet had changed the way we communicate and cryptocurrency, the blockchain, was going to change the way we were going to exchange values directly on the Internet. For me it was a revolution as important as the one I experienced in 1996 with the arrival of the Internet. We decided to open a physical space in Paris called the Maison du bitcoin [rebaptisée Coinhouse aujourd’hui]. We were the first to try to create the ecosystem in France, to evangelize, to gather resources.
And how did Ledger come about?
As part of the Maison du Bitcoin, we crossed paths with two other startups, ChronoCoin and BTChip, which were developing crypto products. We merged to create Ledger at the end of 2014. Today, the Maison du bitcoin, now Coinhouse, lives its life independently of Ledger. We developed the company with periods of growth, complicated periods to arrive at this great company, today. A unicorn with a very beautiful development. We provide solutions for security but also for management and access in a decentralized way. Today, the crypto markets are shaken, many marketplaces are sinking, which reinforces the belief that it is important to keep a good decentralization and that each person must have his keys well. All these types of events where companies get too close to the sun strengthen the position of Ledger which has been there for a long time and which continues to establish its position in the ecosystem.
“Stepping back is never easy, but Pascal Gauthier, the current CEO of Ledger, is in a better position to ensure the transformation towards new objectives”
In a dematerialized world like that of crypto, it is almost counter-intuitive to offer a physical wallet of digital assets like Ledger.
This has a strong psychological impact. Since Ledger has existed, we have seen that offering something physical in a virtual environment plays a democratizing role. It is not a construct of the mind. When you have bitcoins or NFTs, what you really have is information, this famous private key. This representation of the property reassures users. One has the impression of possessing something, of having it in one’s hand. Ledger allows you to own your cryptos.
Why did you withdraw from Ledger?
I left my operational position in 2019. The company has grown a lot, we were around twenty at the start and we ended up with 300-400 employees. It’s not the same companies. We don’t need the same type of CEO. I am useful and relevant to get projects out of the ground, but when it comes to managing them in a larger corporate setting, you have to realize your limits and make choices that are not easy. Stepping back is never easy, but Pascal Gauthier, the current CEO of Ledger, is in a better position to drive the transformation towards new goals.
How does it feel to be one of the big names in crypto?
I’m happy that I believed in my instincts and my vision. It’s nice to see that I did well to hang on and not listen to those who said that I was wasting my time and that I was going to ruin everything I had managed to build. There are far more important people in the crypto universe than me, I don’t say to myself every day, “Hey, I’m somebody”.
“We are going through a new crypto nuclear winter that could last eighteen months”
When we look at your background, you seem to be on the move, don’t you?
I need to change, to do new things. Today, I am more involved in the Algosup school which trains generalist developers in five years. I like to be interested in different things, there are cycles. It corresponds to my character, I’m not the type to stay twenty years on the same thing.
Speaking of Algosup, what is your position on the lack of women in crypto and IT in general? Is this a question that Algosup is seizing on to reverse the trend?
We cannot afford to deprive ourselves of 50% of the world’s population. Software cannot be designed by men alone. When Apple developed its Apple Watch, the engineers did not include the notion of menstruation in the health part because they were men. We can’t develop good products if we don’t have women. Obviously Algosup is taking up this subject. It’s difficult because from a structural and traditional point of view, we have to go against decades of women not going into scientific or technological fields because they were told that was not for them. The school’s recruitment is done via a video game and the objective is to put it in everyone’s hands, including those of women. This game analyzes the person’s ability to create and respond to developer issues. Through this game, we try to attract talent indirectly and improve diversity.
How do you see the future of Web 3 and crypto? Do you think the general public will embrace these technologies?
Since the creation of bitcoin, there have been cycles. Today there is talk of a crypto crash, it is not the first and it will not be the last. These cycles make it possible to clean up the market but they also recreate temporal brakes. We are going through another crypto nuclear winter that could last 18 months. The notion of temporality is always difficult to define, it’s complicated to give issues of date and time. But there is no doubt that this revolution, both technological and monetary, will continue to follow its own dynamic. And there is no doubt that cryptocurrencies, the notion of decentralization, of Web 3, will be integrated into traditional business models. We can talk about the democratization of these technologies the day the general public uses them without knowing it. We will have more and more layers of abstraction that will facilitate user management towards Web 3. This also implies that Ledger continues to develop increasingly easy access solutions. When we talk about the future of Web 3, I think the model where the user is the product will run out of steam. There is an awareness of people. They want to be involved in the product, to have access to a minimum of governance, to be able to manage and control their data and no longer be exploited by the product itself. The promise of Web 3 is to put the user back at the heart of the value system and allow him to participate and take part of this value. This evolution of the model seems inevitable to me.
“With poker, I learned a lot about human nature and about myself, about my limits”
You said that poker helped you in your career as an entrepreneur, how did you use it?
In fact, I learned a lot about human nature and about myself, about my limits. We can talk about the bluff but it is above all to negotiate. What is bluffing if not telling a story or changing the parameters of a conversation to place it differently. These are the same principles as a negotiation. It teaches you to manage your risk and your emotions, sometimes to hide your emotions. It teaches you to read your opponent, understand what he wants to say. These are skills that can be very useful. In some negotiations and some fundraising, there are risks to be taken, we put ourselves in danger. Sometimes I will remember certain poker games, certain situations that I had learned from and I reuse them. There is a rather important parallel between the poker player and the entrepreneur. There is a dose of risk management, a bit of recklessness, a dose of bluster. I’m sure playing poker for two years has helped me in my career as an entrepreneur.
During the presidential campaign, a lot was heard about Ledger when far-right candidate Eric Zemmour came to visit the company. Why this rapprochement with a presidential candidate?
The objective of Ledger and Pascal Gauthier was to question the various presidential candidates on the subject of sovereignty and cybersecurity, which are important issues. Eric Zemmour happened to be the quickest and most eager responder. Even internally, the fact that Eric Zemmour came to Ledger could have made people cringe. Pascal Gauthier had to comply with the exercise and manage the situation. Nor was the solution to say: “I change my mind, I interrupt everything”. Other candidates with much less media exposure came, but it was above all Eric Zemmour who caught the eye. The goal was not to carry out a communication operation on Eric Zemmour. This at least had the benefit of putting a spotlight on the topics Ledger wanted to address. We’ll see what we do for the next election…