After five incredible years, I’m transitioning from Chief Digital Officer to an advisory role at LVMH. I’m taking a full-time role at Ledger as Chief Experience Officer (CXO). Ledger is the global leader in protecting digital assets such as cryptocurrency founded and based in Paris.
Five years ago I left Apple and California, where I had lived for more than twenty years and resettled in Paris working as Chief Digital Officer at LVMH. I’m not sure who took the bigger risk, LVMH or me, but we each had an intuition and I’m proud to say our instincts were at least partially correct. In a transplant such as this the body doesn’t always accept the organ, but with the mentorship of Toni Belloni and Alexandre Arnault, and a lot of patience and tolerance from the incredibly talented and experienced LVMH teams, I built a team of my own and we worked together toward Digital transformation in Luxury.
In one of the first meetings I had in my new role at LVMH, Scott Galloway said to me, “Chief Digital Officer… isn’t that kind of like ‘Chief Electricity Officer’?” Nice to meet you, too, Professor Galloway, but I get your point and yes, you’re right. After twenty years building software and never once using the word “Digital”, I was suddenly “The Digital Guy” in an industry built on selling physical products in physical stores. I quickly realized that this was the problem, traditional industries had put the Internet in a “technical” silo and completely missed the fact that their customers had grown an extension of their hand, a powerful pocket computer with a high-speed Internet connection.
After my first ninety days on the job at LVMH I told Toni Belloni (Managing Director and my boss), “I think this is a ten year transformation, but you should have me do the job for only five years.” In hindsight I had this roughly correct. After five years my fingerprints are visible on the work, but it’s probably useful to let new leadership bring something distinct to the transformation. I never want to overstay my welcome or overstate my abilities. I have my blind spots like everyone else, so adding someone else’s vision to mine is a net gain for LVMH. With Franck Le Moal and Michael David, plus the incredible team LVMH has collectively built, they are set up for continued success.
I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished at LVMH the last five years. We exploded buzz words — “Digital”, “Data”, “Social Media”, “Omnichannel”, etc — into practical applications focused on the future of the business. The luxury business itself hasn’t changed, but the ways we create awareness and sell are changing dramatically, so at LVMH we have made many adaptations. When I joined LVMH there was disagreement on strategies regarding online distribution which have since been rationalized, agreed upon, and are being executed. We have started to build a practice around Data and Artificial Intelligence which I believe will drive customer satisfaction, reduce waste, and drive sales in the coming years. We built bridges and partnerships with the companies surrounding our industry, from the thousands of startups who have applied to the LVMH Innovation Award to partnerships with Google, Apple, and Salesforce.
So, why Ledger, and what’s a CXO?
I guess you could similarly have asked why I dropped out of a PhD program in Computer Science to go on tour with Beastie Boys in 1995, why (in 1998) I joined an 18 year-old developer named Justin Frankel and his two friends, Rob Lord and Tom Pepper at the company whose name was meant to capture their smallness: Nullsoft (makers of Winamp, SHOUTcast, and ultimately Gnutella), why I left Yahoo to join Topspin in 2008, or Apple to go to a country, company, and industry I knew very little about in 2015. Like the Beatles said, I got a feeling.
I remember clearly the days in the early 1990s when you didn’t say, “Visit my Web site!”… you said, “Um, there’s this thing called The Internet, and if you get a modem, and a TCP/IP stack, and this thing called a ‘Web browser’ then you can see this page I made…” at which point the person with the blank stare would say, “Yeah, but… why?”
I remember clearly in the late 1990s when you didn’t say, “Here’s a link to my new song!”… you said, “Hey! If you get a soundcard, connect it to your stereo, come to our Web site and download Winamp, then you can rip your CDs from a command-line ripper — oh, you’re gonna need a big hard drive — but then you can play this song I’m going to send you… after you spend 20 minutes downloading it!”
In 2004, Dave Goldberg and I were convinced that the future or music would be subscription streaming and that it would cost somewhere between $5 and $10 per month. We were convinced enough to build and launch Yahoo Music Unlimited, the first $5/month all-you-can-eat streaming service that worked on portable devices. We had the basics right, including a belief that the music business would be in freefall until subscriptions approached 100M subscribers. But there were many specifics we couldn’t possibly have predicted or would have even bet against, such as an iPhone around the corner in 2008 or a green-logo’d company in Sweden getting to critical mass.
I remember very well being the crazy person trying to convince people of these inevitable futures. I remember the things we got right, and the things we got wrong.
I’m having déjà vu these days talking to people about cryptocurrency. I’ve seen this movie before. It’s inevitable, but still early. And fun.
There is no question that cryptocurrency will be a part of our lives in the future, and that it will change the landscape of finance. Last year I would go to my corner grocer in Paris and pay with cash. Today, they prefer you pay with Apple Pay or by tapping your credit card. This trend will continue, pandemic or no. But I don’t see a future where Visa International takes a small percentage of every cashless transaction when digital cash is technically possible.
Also, the macroeconomic environment is shifting. Interest rates are at 0%, inflation 2%. Western countries will need to continue to inject currency stimulus. I can feel my dollars melting. We’re at the point (again, in my personal opinion) where it seems foolish not to put a small percentage of your assets into cryptocurrencies such as BTC and ETH. If enough people believe as I do, demand will outstrip supply and the prophecy is self-fulfilling.
When I first moved to Paris, I was fortunate to meet a lot of people. Many become acquaintances, only a couple become close friends. For me, Pascal Gauthier, CEO of Ledger, became one of those few. Pascal and I have spent a lot of time talking, drinking, talking, eating, talking, and backcountry skiing together over the past five years. We’re both passionate about what we do, love solving mental puzzles, enjoy trying to predict the future, and like operating toward growth. Through Pascal I was fortunate enough to meet the Ledger team, and I was completely blown away by the intelligence, talent, and drive. There’s a pride, sincerity, and fire that reminds me of those early days of the Internet and Digital Music. It’s contagious.
The Ledger market opportunity feels tremendous to me. Analysts say there are only 50M to 100M people in the crypto space today — it’s clear to me we’re about to welcome the next 250M people to the space, including large institutions and wealthy individuals. Those assets will need to be protected, and if you aren’t holding the keys then you don’t own your crypto. There are an endless number of services to build around these assets, buying, swapping, insuring, and staking are only the beginning. Fundamentally Ledger is not a “blockchain” company, it’s about security and privacy for your assets under management (AUM). Given where the world is and where it’s headed, I’m willing to bet my opportunity cost in this direction and believe we can collectively build one of the greatest companies on the continent.
“But what do you add, Ian?” Fair question. I like to think I’m a good all-around athlete who likes to work hard with a team and solve problems. But hopefully my intersection of technical background mixed with a history of helping movements go from science fiction to mainstream will be well-placed at Ledger. As Chief Experience Officer I’ll oversee the B2C business at Ledger including product, marketing, and sales. Our job is to make sure Ledger products are not only secure but also easy to use. We also want to educate and help raise the tide to float all boats in the cryptocurrency movement.
Thanks sincerely to the entire LVMH family for making the last five years some of the most stimulating of my career. I received an education and I am grateful. I’m happy to be carrying on with you as an advisor and I look forward to continuing to host the LVMH Innovation Awards.
Thanks to the Ledger team for welcoming me. I’m excited to be a part of your team and grow alongside you.