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Decentralised Investment Group Founder Haydn Snape On Why Dubai Will Become The Crypto Center Of The World Haydn Snape, founder and CEO of Decentralised Investment Group (DIG), on his commitment to creating innovative products that instill the values of "decentralization, financial independence, and individual liberty."

By Tamara Pupic

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Haydn Snape, founder and CEO of DIG.

"Web3 is a blank canvas right now, and we want to be lead painters," says Haydn Snape, founder and CEO of Decentralised Investment Group (DIG), a Dubai-headquartered multinational blockchain technology conglomerate. "In 10 years' time, I want DIG to be seen as the company that pioneered and funded this industry, and evolved into a web3 merchant bank of sorts. We want to create a legacy that is actually valuable, to transform people's lives, and to actually bring about financial freedom and greater individual liberty."

Snape put this vision in motion in October 2021 when he founded DIG as a holding group that includes Miami-based GameFi company XYZZY, which serves as an umbrella company for the decentralized community gaming network Black Magic Network, play-to-earn gaming NFT collections Original Myths, Kart Race League, play-to-earn online role-playing game Realms of Ethernity, and the NFT collection, The 44 Club. DIG also holds Green Arrow, a DeFi company for building decentralized financial apps, mobile dApps, and DeFi protocols, Wild Thunder, a web3 gaming studio in Vietnam, and a blockchain development company in Avalor, India.

When asked why he chose Dubai for the group's headquarters, Snape is confident that the UAE will become the crypto center of the world in maximum 10 to 20 years' time. "The fact that Dubai has managed to attract so many people and key leaders in this blockchain space is a huge indicator that incredible things are coming," he says. "It is a given right now that Miami is the crypto hub, and has established itself as influential and important in this ecosystem, but it's not come without some hurdles. In the UAE, we have the opportunity to do things differently, to learn from some of Miami's lessons and carve our own course, becoming an alternative crypto hub for founders and investors, a true safe haven."

Related: Entrepreneur Middle East Publishes A Special Report Looking Into The Crypto Universe

Haydn Snape (right) with Jordan Belfort at a DIG event in Dubai. Source: DIG

According to Snape, one can expect an explosion of Web 3.0-based startups, jobs, and investment opportunities in the UAE. The strong foundation for this growth was laid in 2016 with the Dubai Blockchain Strategy by the Dubai Future Foundation, while the UAE as a whole showed its commitment to blockchain in 2018 by launching the Emirate's Blockchain Strategy 2021, which requested 50% of all government transactions to migrate to decentralized technology by 2021. Not so long ago, cryptocurrency exchanges also started receiving approvals to operate within the UAE's financial free zones (although cryptocurrencies are still not licensed by the UAE Central Bank).

Such developments thus paved the way for Dubai's "test-adapt-scale" virtual asset market model, with the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) having been recently been turned into a comprehensive zone and regulator for virtual assets and crypto, including digital assets, products, operators and exchanges. The Dubai Virtual Asset Regulation Law and its Dubai Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA) has also since come into existence, with it being linked to the DWTC and applied throughout Dubai, including special development zones and free zones, with the exception of the DIFC.

At the moment, DIG is in the process of obtaining its crypto license through one of the above mentioned financial free zones, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), and Snape's first piece of advice for crypto entrepreneurs looking to relocate to Dubai is also to get all the legal fundamentals right from day one. "If you're in the UAE, you need to understand what you will need to be successful here, you need to understand the way companies need to be structured," he says. "Don't make the mistake of not understanding the rules and regulations before launching a project. Do your due diligence."

Related: How Dubai's Blockchain Advisor ConsenSys Is Creating A Community For The Emerging Tech

Source: DIG

Secondly, he urges everyone not to underestimate the importance and power of partnerships, but also advises being cautious and selective. "There is a lot of capital in Dubai that's ripe for the picking, so raising money is not an issue, but be selective about who your partner with, and who you take money from because the wrong partnerships could hurt you down the line," Haydn says. "Be smart and think long term." Meanwhile, MENA entrepreneurs looking at starting up their Web3 projects can count on the DIG team as their trusted partners.

"For us as a company, if we invest, we do more than just give money, we are not a VC," Snape explains. "We coach, we mentor, we incubate, we accelerate. We advise on things like the project economics or token economics or structuring the project. Traditional VCs focus too much on the small details and judge people for not having things like marketing plans, financials, user acquisition costs, and so on in place, but by doing this, they miss the big picture. The key to finding exceptional founders is to understand who they are, their history, why they got to the point to start this project, if they are in it for technology, and if they have a clear vision of how it can be transformational, and if it all aligns with the themes we see in the market, then we want to work with them."

One example of this approach is in DIG supporting Dubai-based serial entrepreneur Jumana Al Darwish whose ventures The Happy Box and The Happy Studio focus on community engagement by engaging with children and families, while her first foray into NFTs, The 44 Club, does the same by forging stronger ties among like-minded adults. The 44 Club is an NFT collection of 8,888 hyper realistic, human-like, culturally and racially diverse avatars that will allow its holders to monetize their digital identities and take part in a play-to-earn game with returns. "That's why Jumana interested us, because The 44 Club is her brainchild and we are powering it through our GameFi subsidiary, XYZZY," Snape explains. "Jumana envisioned this secret space hidden on the blockchain, where NFTs are more than just digital art, and where their long term objective is to make financial freedom accessible to the masses, and we related to her visionary approach."

Jumana Al Darwish, founder of The Happy Box and The Happy Studio, and the creator of The 44 Club. Source: DIG

Another member of the DIG family, Realms of Ethernity is a World of Warcraft-inspired open world that is built on blockchain and allows players to earn real cash from their gaming experience. "When we were assembling the team that would build this incredible game, we were looking for people who wanted an opportunity, people who felt they missed the previous wave, but are very much visionaries and motivated like us," Snape explains. "We like to take gambles on people like that, knowing we can help them with the more traditional stuff like structure, financing, marketing. We're looking for the people with the talent and the ideas. We'll take care of the small details and business admin side of things for them."

And for those who still consider themselves newbies to blockchain, Snape advises them to first understand the technology and look at common problems that this technology can solve, rather than thinking of ways to make money in this new space. "Consider the user experience, and how we can achieve mass adoption," he adds. "Identify the problems, and then build the web3 products that offer solutions. Always, boil things down to first principles, and understand the technology first and foremost."

When receiving guidance, we all prefer to be advised by those who speak from experience, and Snape embodies that since he too -like pretty much everyone out there- was not too long ago just a beginner in this space. "After studying economics and finance, the start of my professional career was in financial services in London, very much the centre of the industry," he recalls. "I worked in that industry for 10 years. Then, I came across the world of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in the period between 2013-2015, and its ideas fascinated me."

In 2016, Snape started a consultancy that offered services to traditional businesses that wanted to understand blockchain technology, but only two years after, he felt that it was time for something different. "I had the realization that my offering was not suited anymore because the technology and the construct of distributor ledger technology was not fully understood and there were not many use cases given the space was very much in its infancy," Snape says. "Once I considered that, and realized that this is a space that's so quickly moving and evolving, I wanted to pivot to someone who builds in this space, and become more of a technologist and innovator. Soon after, DIG was born."

With today's attitudes towards blockchain often being compared to the gold rush, Snape adds that the rapid increase of adoption of NFTs at a retail level resulted in entrepreneurs panicking and thinking they were missing an opportunity. "Businesses now know that they need to get on board," Snape concludes. "And to keep their finger on the pulse, I'd advise them to have presence on relevant social media platforms, because Twitter, for example, is a real time ongoing meeting with some of the smartest people in the world, communicating to you their ideas and where they see this space going. Follow these people and listen to them so you can recognize opportunities for what's out there."

Related: In For The Long Haul: Binance Founder And CEO Changpeng Zhao Is Going All In For Crypto

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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