Don't Understand Crypto? Ask 'CryptOprah' to Explain It
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Marie-Antoinette Tichler will make sure your family gets your b when you die.
By Molly Fosco
In a conference room overlooking a busy Atlanta street, Marie-Antoinette Tichler appears regal in a ruffled white shirt, particularly next to her interview subjects — two startup founders clad in the classic tech-apparel combo: a T-shirt and jeans. The self-described “CryptOprah” gets animated when speaking about her favorite subject: the blockchain. And the host of “CryptO Vlog: Behind the Blockchain” on Amazon and Roku’s Cryptocoin Channel has substance along with style. Her straightforward insight makes digital currency seem as unintimidating as online banking.
Just two years ago, Tichler, 47, had never heard of cryptocurrency. But when her 25-year-old son told her about bitcoin in 2016, “I was hooked!” Tichler exclaims. “I thought, ‘This has a huge ability to change our lives.’” But after some research, she had a striking thought: If cryptocurrency is so protected, what happens to it after you die? And the idea for Tichler’s digital assets management startup, C2Legacy, was born.
If she sees a barrier, her response is ‘Do we need a ladder?’
LaTrelle Freeman, of C2Legacy, on founder Marie-Antoinette Tichler
Cryptocurrency has been enjoying its 15 minutes of fame for what feels like 15 years. And while bitcoin is still king — with a value of more than $8,000 as of this writing — other digital currencies such as Ethereum and Ripple’s XRP are on the rise. Regulation, meanwhile, has been minimal.
Tichler’s interest in the postmortem is personal. In 2005, her ex-husband — the father of her son — was murdered. He didn’t have a will, and Tichler had no way to access his money, which legally should have gone to their son. “I am convinced there are still thousands of dollars hidden somewhere,” Tichler says. Learning about digital currencies made her realize how prevalent this problem could become once bitcoin millionaires start dying.
Born to teenage parents in Athens, Georgia, Tichler didn’t have an easy childhood, but she was determined to do something important with her life. The accomplished high school high jumper set her sights on the Olympics, until her parents talked her out of it, insisting she stay close to home. Tichler joined the Air Force and left Georgia for Germany instead. Her military service sparked a fascination with computer science; after she left, she worked with a number of doctors’ offices to institute electronic medical records. Tichler also formed the nonprofit Texting Organization Against Distracted Driving, to encourage responsible technology use among kids.
Always a self-starter, in 2016 she saw a prime entrepreneurial opportunity in crypto. Tichler began attending bitcoin seminars and steeped herself in digital currency research. She recruited several friends and together they developed the C2Legacy platform: a private ledger account that creates a digital “certificate of estates” for clients. Their technology uses Social Security records to verify when someone has died and can then securely distribute their assets. C2Legacy also has a partnership with EstatePass, which allows users to create a digital will for any online account — social media, credit cards, even dating sites.
Tichler’s platform is still in development and doesn’t have any active users yet, but later this year the several hundred people on EstatePass will be given access to C2Legacy. Tichler is on the hunt for funding from investment firms. As of now, the six people on her staff are all volunteers.
LaTrelle Freeman, a web developer for C2Legacy, doesn’t mind doing free work for Tichler. “No matter the project, she can develop ideas into something tangible,” Freeman says. The two hit it off at an Atlanta bitcoin Meetup last year, and Freeman says she liked that Tichler wasn’t intimidated by the unknowns of crypto. “If she sees a barrier, her response is ‘Do we need a ladder?’” Freeman says.
Outside of work, Tichler is still trying to convert some of her family members, who call intangible cryptocurrencies “funny money.” “The only thing people believe in that they can’t see is Jesus,” Tichler says. “Other than Jesus, if they don’t see it, it ain’t real.”
The legal hurdles might be even tougher. Regulations that govern wills vary among states but are typically based on laws written in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the “blockchain” was a way to keep prisoners from running. In states that haven’t updated their laws, beneficiaries are required to sign on paper, making the signature of an online will invalid. “If a company is trying to create an online mechanism for the disposition of cryptocurrency and it does not comply with the [law] in the customer’s state, it probably won’t work,” says Suzanne Walsh, a wills and estate attorney with the law firm Murtha Cullina. There are some workarounds: a few online wallets will let customers open a joint account, for example, but the laws governing those accounts may not clearly cover digital currency, Walsh says.
Tichler is currently working with EstatePass to tackle these roadblocks, hoping to both educate consumers and convince states to change their laws. And the show fits right in with her quest to take digital currencies mainstream. Last year, Tichler started “CryptO Vlog: Behind the Blockchain” on YouTube and was then approached by Amazon and Roku to host her show on their streaming Cryptocoin Channel. The show officially launched in February, though Tichler’s focus on C2Legacy hasn’t allowed much time for filming. Her goal is to film 10 to 12 hourlong shows in the coming weeks. “I want to talk about cryptocurrency in layman’s terms and make it more accessible,” says Tichler. “You don’t have to be a supergeek to be involved in crypto.”
In her videos, Tichler asks her subjects questions like “How would you describe blockchain to someone outside the industry?” Not unlike the real Oprah, she’s genuine and empathetic, which she attributes to being “a Georgia-born country girl at heart.” But the package comes with a healthy dose of spunk, as she tries to convince the world that this “funny money” is serious business.