His name is behind Coinhouse, the first European crypto bank, and especially behind Ledger, a heavyweight in the crypto world that offers a storage solution for digital assets. On the occasion of VivaTech, Eric Larchevêque, a multi-professional entrepreneur, has returned to 20 minutes In his extraordinary career and seizes the opportunity to address key 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. A meeting with one of the great personalities of the crypto world in France.
Can you go back to the journey that led you to the world of cryptocurrency?
I got my degree in Microelectronics Engineering in 1996 and set up my first company shortly before graduation. It was the beginning of the internet, we made websites, hosting, the equivalent of a web agency. We did this for 2 years and then wanted to go from service to product with my partner. We have developed online payment methods. We developed this company whose turnover rose to 20 million euros, and we sold it to Rentabiliweb which at that time was a big pillar of the web. In 2008, I stumbled upon a poker game by chance. I played there internationally for two years. It has been beneficial to my career as an entrepreneur in particular. Back in France in 2010, I created Prixing, an app that compares prices to find out where to buy the cheapest thanks to barcodes. We sold in 2013 and while searching for my next adventure, I became interested in Bitcoin. I was struck by the thunderbolt and thought Bitcoin would change everything. The internet changed the way we communicate, and the cryptocurrency, the blockchain, was going to change the way we were exchanging values directly on the internet. For me it was just as important a revolution as the one I witnessed in 1996 with the arrival of the Internet. We decided to open a physical space in Paris called Maison du bitcoin [rebaptisée Coinhouse aujourd’hui]. We were the first to try to create the ecosystem in France, to evangelize and collect resources.
How did Ledger come about?
As part of the Maison du Bitcoin, we crossed paths with two other startups, ChronoCoin and BTChip, which have been developing crypto products. We merged to create Ledger at the end of 2014. Today, Maison du bitcoin, now Coinhouse, lives its life independently of Ledger. We developed the company with growth periods and complex periods to reach this great company today. A unicorn with a very beautiful twist. We provide solutions for security but also for administration and access in a decentralized way. Today, the cryptocurrency markets are shaking, and many markets are plunging, reinforcing the belief that it is important to maintain good decentralization and that everyone should have their keys well. All of these types of events where companies get too close to the sun reinforce Ledger’s long-standing position that continues to cement its place in the ecosystem.
Backtracking is never easy, but Pascal Gaultier, Ledger’s current CEO, is in a better position to ensure a shift towards new goals.
In an immaterial world like that of crypto, it makes almost no sense to offer a physical wallet of digital assets like Ledger.
This has a strong psychological effect. Since the existence of Ledger, we have seen that presenting something physical in a virtual environment plays a democratic role. It is not a construct of the mind. When you have bitcoins or NFTs, what you really have is information, that famous private key. This representation of the property reassures users. One gets the impression that he owns something, that it is in his hand. Ledger allows you to own your own cryptocurrency.
Why did you quit Ledger?
I left my operational position in 2019. The company has grown a lot, we were about twenty years old in the beginning and ended up with 300-400 employees. It’s not the same companies. We don’t need the same kind of CEOs. I’m handy and apt to get projects off the ground, but when it comes to managing them within a larger company, you have to realize your limits and make choices that aren’t easy. Backtracking is never easy, but Ledger’s current CEO, Pascal Gaultier, is in a better position to drive the shift toward new goals.
How does it feel to be one of the big names in crypto?
I’m glad I believed in my instincts and my vision. It is nice to see that I did well to cling to and not listen to those who said I was wasting my time and would destroy everything I managed to build. There are more important people in the crypto world than me, I don’t tell myself every day, “Hey, I’m someone”.
“We are going through a new nuclear winter for cryptocurrencies that could last eighteen months.”
When we look at your background, it looks like you’re in motion, right?
I need to change, to do new things. Today, I’m more involved with the Algosup school that trains general developers in five years. I like to be interested in different things, there are courses. It matches my personality, I’m not the type to base twenty years on the same thing.
Speaking of Algosup, what is your stance on the lack of women in coding and IT in general? Is this a question that the gossip seizes to reverse the trend?
We cannot deprive ourselves of 50% of the world’s population. Programs cannot be designed by men alone. When it developed its own Apple Watch, the engineers did not include the idea of menstruation in the health part because they are men. We can’t develop good products if we don’t have women. It is clear that Gossup addresses this topic. It’s tough because from a structural and traditional point of view, we have to oppose decades of women not entering scientific or technological fields because they were told it wasn’t for them. The school is being recruited through a video game and the goal is to put it in the hands of everyone, including women. This game analyzes a person’s ability to create and respond to developers’ problems. Through this game, we try to indirectly attract talent and improve diversity.
How do you see the future of Web 3 and cryptocurrency? Do you think the general public will adopt these technologies?
Since the creation of Bitcoin, there have been cycles. Today there is talk of a cryptocurrency crash, and this is not the first and it will not be the last. These cycles allow the market to clean up but also re-establish the time brake. We’re going through another crypto nuclear winter that could last for 18 months. It is always difficult to define the concept of timer, it is more complicated to give date and time issues. 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 idea of decentralization for Web 3, will be incorporated into traditional business models. We can talk about the democratization of these technologies in today’s public use without even knowing it. We will have more and more layers of abstraction that will make it easier to manage the user towards Web 3. This also means 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 is going to run out of steam. There is awareness among the people. They want to be involved in the product, access to a minimum level of governance, and the ability to manage and control their data and the product itself no longer exploits it. Web 3’s promise is to bring the user back to the heart of the value system and allow them to share and share in that value. It seems to me that this evolution of the paradigm is inevitable.
“With Poker, I learned a lot about human nature, about myself, and about my limits.”
You said poker helped you in your career as an entrepreneur, how did you use it?
In fact, I learned a lot about human nature, about myself, and about my limitations. We can talk about deception but above all negotiation. What a deceiver if a story is not told or the parameters of the conversation changed to put it differently. These are the same principles of negotiation. It teaches you to manage your own risks and emotions, and sometimes to hide your emotions. It teaches you to read your opponent, and to understand what he wants to say. These are skills that can be very useful. In some negotiations and some fundraising, there are risks that have to be taken, and we put ourselves at risk. Sometimes I remember some poker games and specific situations I learned from them and put them back together. There is a rather important similarity between a poker player and an entrepreneur. There’s a dose of risk management, a bit of recklessness, a dose of hype. I am sure that playing poker for two years helped me in my career as an entrepreneur.
During the presidential campaign, he heard a lot about Ledger when far-right candidate Eric Zemmour came to visit the company. Why this rapprochement with a presidential candidate?
Ledger and Pascal Gauthier’s goal was to question the various presidential candidates on the topic of sovereignty and cybersecurity, two important issues. Eric Zemmour happened to be the quickest and most enthusiastic responder. Even internally, the fact that Eric Zeymore had come to Ledger could have made people sway. Pascal Gautier had to comply with the exercise and manage the situation. And the solution was not to say: “I change my mind, and I boycotted everything.” Other candidates with less media exposure attended, but it was Eric Zemmour who caught the eye above all else. The goal was not to make contact on Eric Zemmour. This at least had the advantage of highlighting the topics that Ledger wanted to address. We’ll see what we do in the next elections.