I chose to speak to Mr. Neves because of his unique background: he isn’t the typical techie. Being of Guinean descent, he notes that a lot of people in the field don’t look like him. That said, he is hopeful things will change, allowing Luso-Africans to have more of an impact in technology.
Mr. Neves actually has quite a complicated background himself:
I grew up in five different countries because my step dad works for the Swedish embassy. I was born in Portugal, but my biological parents are from Guinea Bissau. I was raised in Guinea for a while, then we moved to Sweden. We lived in Sweden for about six years before we moved to Angola. We spent two and a half years in Angola, and then back to Sweden. From Sweden to Nicaragua, then to Cambodia. From Cambodia I went to Paris, then Sweden and finally Portugal.
On returning to his country of birth, Mr. Neves has this to say: ‘I feel as though Portugal has its own special brand of nationalism. If someone has a Portuguese background or their grandparents are Portuguese, Portuguese people have the tendency to slap on the flag and exclaim “You are Portuguese!” I feel more Portuguese than Swedish, even though I spent twelve years of my life there… even after living here for only a year. I think this mostly has to do with the way I’ve been received. Having been born in Portugal and speaking the language with a Lisbon-esque accent… many people just brush off my background and say “yeah whatever you’re Portuguese” Mr. Neves seemed very excited to be back in Portugal, praising the country for its sunny weather and excellent surfing conditions.
Mr. Neves and I then spoke at length about his background. Mr. Neves revealed that he studied International Relations at Malmö University in Sweden, which at this point, I asked him how he found himself in tech: ‘My first business was actually exporting cars to Liberia from Sweden to make extra income. While I was designing the website for this business I found myself really involved in the design process, I then decided to dedicate myself more to learning how to create webpages and found myself more and more involved with front-end development. When my first business failed I was determined to become a developer because of the mobility of the field… you can be a developer anywhere… I soon found out, however, that programming wasn’t my strong suit but talking was. I ended up being hired by a Finnish tech startup and together we developed an A.I. driven accounting robot. Because of differences with my boss, things didn’t work out, but I left that position being interested in both blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Once I saw the ad for a partner at Chainsmiths, I knew that it was the perfect opportunity. Together with Kevin Loaec, Mr. Neves has been working with Chainsmiths in Lisbon for about a year and a half. Chainsmiths, however, was not founded in Lisbon. Chainsmiths is an Irish company, but its offices are in Lisbon.
Mr. Neves explained that fallout from Brexit caused Dublin rent prices to soar as companies moved into secure European territory, this meant that smaller companies like Chainsmiths were forced out by larger firms.
After learning about Mr. Neves’ interesting past, I then asked him to explain what exactly Chainsmiths does:
‘We do blockchain consulting, this means that we focus on technical training, product architecture, and things of that nature. Our clientele primarily consists of ‘Big 4’ consulting firms (such as Deloitte, KPMG, and EY). As well as banking and financial institutions such as MasterCard, Bank of Ireland…. Our main focus is financial institutions, but we also consult startups.’
Delving in more, Mr. Neves claimed ‘Blockchain is just a way of finding a solution to the Byzantine Generals’ problem… This just means the ability to ensure that data that is transferred is not copied, sent maliciously, or fake. In other words, one piece of data travelling from point A to B remains the same piece of data as opposed to sending a copy of that piece.’ After learning about Blockchain, I then inquired about the blockchain and cryptocurrency community in Portugal. ‘This is what you’re looking at’ He exclaimed as he motioned to the space around us. (Mr. Neves and I met in The Block Café located in the Santo António civil neighboorhood in Lisbon.) ‘We created this space as a kind of motivator for cryptoheads to come to Lisbon. It’s kind of crazy when you think about the amount of people we’ve already been able to attract in such a short amount of time. When we came here, there was nothing and now there are two or three Meetups doing the same thing. This is the only space dedicated exclusively to cryptocurrencies in Portugal. We’re also opening a brokerage here, you can come give money and we’ll send you crypto. We also run workshops, events, we discuss privacy, we discuss economics… Having a physical place really makes it appealing for a lot of people to show up.’ The Block’s business model is unique among other coworking spaces, instead of renting a chair or a desk, a person pays for the time they spend there. Hot drinks are included in the price, and it also boasts some of the fastest internet of all the local coworking spaces – pivotal to the cryptocurrency business.
For our final topic of discussion, we talked about Made of Lisboa’s impact and why startup communities are important. Mr. Neves explained:
‘My first impression of Lisbon was actually Made of Lisboa when it popped up in a google search. When you see something like Made of Lisboa coming from the Swedish startup community it’s kind of what you’re looking for. You want transparency and you want good design. Something that says: “Okay here’s companies, points of contact…Alright that’s perfect”. Made of Lisboa actually made it very appealing to me to move here.’
Article written by Jayme Gerring