A rapper’s cryptocurrency dreams
Akon's business partner Jon Karas explains their plans for a digital token in Africa and beyond
11 Jan 2021 | Tom King

Aliaune Thiam, better known as Akon, is a Senegalese-American R&B singer, rapper, songwriter, record producer, and philantrophist who is now also making waves as a cryptocurrency entrepreneur.

In 2018, Akon revealed he was working with the Senegalese government to build a 2,000-acre smart city with a cryptocurrency, Akoin, at the heart of its economy. Called "Akon City", the project is said to be now under construction.

Would Akon’s ambitious plans inspire other entrepreneurs and celebrities, particularly in Asia, to explore opportunities in the realm of cryptocurrencies?

At the recent Singapore Fintech Festival, The Asset spoke with Jon Karas, president and co-founder of Akoin, who shared the story of his group’s journey into the world of cryptocurrency, its plans and objectives, as well as hopes that Akoin’s adoption and development will extend throughout Africa and beyond.

The Asset: What was the main purpose behind the creation of Akoin?   

Jon Karas: Driven by Akon’s dream to bring empowerment and opportunity to rising entrepreneurs in Africa and beyond, we launched our Akoin utility token as a digital currency that would bring more trust and interoperability to the 54 countries of Africa.

The ecosystem is powered by the AkoinWallet, which provides token holders access to a wide range of entrepreneur-focused DApps (decentralized apps) and Apps, providing unique tools, services, education and global access that will allow Akoin users to learn, earn, spend and save.

What challenges did you face in creating this cryptocurrency?

We first announced our Akoin vision at the Cannes Lions in June of 2018. We’ve evolved our strategy based on market trends, many of which didn’t work, and ultimately landed on a model that would bring the most value to our Akoin community. We chose to directly list on major trusted global exchanges (starting with Bittrex Global in November 2020) and doing the work of slowly but surely building the value of the Akoin token for users by launching multiple utilization cases simultaneously, which, to us as an organization, is the most important lever to ensure your token will grow as a store of value.

Examples of the large utility-use cases being launched include the major rollout of Akoin and our AkoinWallet in Western Kenya (Mwale Medical and Technology City) which will scale to tens of thousands of users in early 2021, where the entire city is fueled by Akoin, integrated from a merchant level all the way to enterprise companies. In addition, we recently announced our AkoinCard that will offer more global inclusion and usage opportunity to Akoin holders.     

What was the key to getting people to use Akoin and how do you ensure its value or security?

By continuing to deploy strong use cases such as the ones I have mentioned. Our focus is on partnering with the best of the best tools and service partners and creating tight integrations into our ecosystem, from strong DApps/Apps to more ecosystem/regional deployments such as Mwale, all the way to enterprise-level partnerships, which you’ll hear more about in the coming months, when it comes to utility-level payments and integrations.

The better the partners, the tighter the integration and scale; the more ways we can bring best of breed tools and services at a low cost to our user base, all helping to ensure the value of the Akoin token now and over time.    

How does Akoin compete with the well-established cryptocurrency choices out there such as Bitcoin or Ethereum?

Bitcoin and Ethereum are built for their business models and we’re built for ours, which is about providing massive utility-use cases for our users to use Akoin for a myriad of value-creation activities. In addition, we’re built on the open financial infrastructure Stellar, which was a strategic decision based on their focus on rising economies such as Africa and developing countries in Asia and their extremely low-cost, high-speed transaction capability. 

Stellar’s anchor network also brings in major partners in Africa, each of which provides their own tools/services and stable currency options for every country, which can all be integrated into the Akoin ecosystem, bringing even further value to our users.  

Where do you see Akoin going in the future and how will this cryptocurrency be applied further beyond payments within Akon's planned sustainable city in Senegal?

When you look at our Akoin ecosystem and Akoin roadmap, you’ll quickly see where Akoin extends into the future. We plan to go well beyond payments, into an entire suite of entrepreneur-building and enterprise-level tools, services and education for our Akon users and ecosystems. 

While interoperable with major cryptocurrencies and a wide range of fiat currencies, you must be an Akoin token holder to enter this rich world of opportunity, whether coming in through our public AkoinWallet or through one of our many Akoin regional/city deployments. 

With our partners –  be they cities, regions, ecosystems, enterprises or DApp/App partners –  we all grow together, and we don’t work without each other, each party valued equally and fairly based on contributions. These are the proving grounds that get us to Akon City in Senegal.

And by proving and improving the value of the platform every step of the way, so that it is firmly established by the time we reach Akon City, all within an Apple-style gateway into world-class DApps and Apps. 

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