Episode 93: Interview with Atari CEO Fred Chesnais

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Episode 93: Interview with Atari CEO Fred Chesnais

In this episode, we talk to Atari CEO Fred Chesnais and get nerdy with him.

Fred Chesnais shares the history of Atari—how it was created, how it survived bankruptcy, and where Atari’s current business lines are focused.

He provides context as to the reason why Atari is doing crypto—the company’s motivation to provide opportunities to people with a good Internet connection but who have no bank accounts, to be able to work and get paid. He further shares why they partnered with Litecoin.

Fred Chesnais also breaks down why Atari employees in the US—who have access to the US dollar—choose to be paid in fiat, and then the company using crypto to incentivize. In addition, he talks about the global economy, and why he believes the system is going to change.

Fred caps the episode with the Atari Token—the company’s plan for the token based on their timeline, and what you can do with it.

Check out the Atari chain here: https://www.atarichain.com

Time Stamps of Topics Covered:
5:15 The History of Atari
11:28 Why Atari Is Doing Crypto
14:31 The Atari and Litecoin Partnership
16:35 Getting Paid in Crypto
25:37 The Atari Token

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TRANSCRIPTION

Episode 93: Interview with Atari CEO Fred Chesnais

 

Hey friends, we’re glad you tuned in to this episode of Beards and Bitcoins, a Crypto Podcast for the man’s man, and all you beard-loving ladies. In this vast kingdom of nerdy incels, two men stand out as different from the crowd. BitBoy and JChains were both voted least nerdy in high school. Join them each week as they discuss all the hottest topics in cryptocurrency as well as the fan favorite segment Manspreading. So, make sure to hit subscribe and turn on those downloads. Here are the dudes, Ben and Justin.

BitBoy: Hey everybody, welcome to the Beards and Bitcoins Podcast, Crypto Podcast for the man’s man and the ladies who love them and you’re certainly going to love what we got for you guys today. We got something very exciting. I’m your co-host, BitBoy along with my other co-host JChains. Chains, tell them what we got on the show today.

JChains: Dude, we are super excited. It is just a strange solo interview episode with Fred Chesnais. He’s the CEO of Atari. It’s the video game system that you know, possibly love. Getting ready to love because they’re coming out of the new system, super excited about this man. It’s an interesting interview. What do you think?

BitBoy: Yeah, it’s definitely he’s a man’s man. I got the impression, he seems like he’s a normal guy. I think we were expecting kind of a maybe like video-game-centric, nerdy episode, we were ready to get nerdy with it. But yeah, he just-

JChains: Nah, he’s a dude. He likes crypto, loves crypto. He’s a rocker on the guitar. He’s just a dude.

BitBoy: Absolutely. So, let’s check out what Fred’s guys say about Atari. We’re also going to be talking about Litecoin’s partnership with Atari. So, you guys enjoy this episode.

JChains: Hey, guys, we are super excited about today’s episode. We’ve got Fred Chesnais, the CEO of Atari on and we’re going to talk about all sorts of fun things like nostalgia and Litecoin. Obviously, Fred, we are super excited, like I said to have you here, how are you doing?

Fred: Yeah, good, I’m very well and you? So very excited.

JChains: Excellent. Well as both children of the 80s, Ben and I, we are absolutely no strangers of the name of Atari. It certainly brings back the nostalgia of being a child and all these memories. But question for you, how has been in movies recently like Blade Runner or even like Ready Player One, really helped to bring you guys in some new fans from a different era?

Fred: Well, it is very interesting because it really showed that the brand was very much alive. We were in the first movie, we were one of the few brands but so high basically, it was a curse that we say other first movie because you had Bendheim, TDK and Coca-Cola did survive. But you had couple of brands we didn’t make it. So, we made it and it was very good to be able to reconnect with a prior or an older audience and also be trying to stay relevant with a new audience. So, it did help a lot. The same with Ready Player One, the book, the epilogue, great writer, great story, and the movie, did epilogue as well. So it was very cool.

JChains: Yeah, I mean, the video of the movie, gives you more of the visual but I myself, this was the first time that’s ever happened to me but the audio book was so much better than the movie was.

Fred: Yeah, it is. Maybe the written book.

BitBoy: Yeah, that’s right. I’m good at reading tweets, as I get no time for no books, okay, so as you can tell. So, I thought the movies pretty good, but it’s really cool you guys are involved in that or you guys have any other kind of movie projects you’re involved with in the future?

Fred: Well, we’re not really involved, we license the brand. Right now I’m in conversation with some studios will be set to try to make a broader license, just like you have had, you know, Hasbro and Transformers is you have someone that be willing to make a movie about Asteroids or Missile Command and maybe, maybe not, you know, we’re having conversations but especially with the virus, things have slowed down so we say in Hollywood, so it would come when the time is right.

BitBoy: Yeah, definitely I mean, things have grinded to a halt everywhere. So I live in Atlanta a lot of places from LA or starting talking about or from Hollywood are talking about coming out here to Atlanta because we’re not locked down out here, but okay, so let’s go back to the, I really want to hit on this, the history of Atari because, I remember playing Atari when I was a kid, my favorite game, I liked to play was the cowboy game. Yeah, the two cowboys on the sides. One moves up, ones down, you got like a stagecoach in the middle, you got to shoot, try to kill the other person. You guys remember that game?

Fred: Everyone has their favorite game.

BitBoy: Yeah, so that was when I love playing. But so, there’s certainly other video game companies that completely went out of business, you guys have managed to survive. But at that time, you guys were like the prime, you guys are the godfather of video games pretty much. But what kind of happened between then and now to where you know, like, you have these other companies have kind of moved out in front in terms of console gaming. And to follow that up, do you guys have any plans to try to get back in that race at some point or anything like that?

Fred: So, I’m making sure, right.

BitBoy: I know that’s a big question because there’s so much but I’m so interested in this.

 

5:15 The History of Atari

Fred: I could do talk for hours. So, the company was created by Nolan Bushnell. Hi Nolan, thanks again for everything you’ve done. And what’s not really known is that he did like a very interesting crew initially because Steve Jobs was an employee of Atari. Steve Wozniak for instance, is credited with being the designer on Breakout, the brick-breaking game. So, like it was a very interesting company back in the day, mid 80s went bankrupt, with the console and a downturn in the market and basically the brand stayed silent for 15 years and ended up with Hasbro. And how did I become involved? It was really funny because I was advising a French company back in the day, Infogrames and Infogrames bought the interactive division of Hasbro. And inside was the Atari brand we knew, it was there, it is why we were buying the division. But there were other assets in there such as RollerCoaster Tycoon, for instance. So, we renamed the company Atari, the French company Atari, we just changed the name. And then in 2007, Bruno left a hedge fund to cover BlueBay and then six years later, the hedge fund blew up, really blew up and eventually went into liquidation. The hedge fund put it into bankruptcy, took to 11, here in the US, the company had 1 billion euros of revenue and what 31 million euros of debt in early 2013. And I had kept some consulting gig with the company. So he called me back saying, ‘Yo, it’s a disaster, you have to come back. If you want it, it’s yours, but just cover us’. So to say. So I came back early 2013, again, 1 million euros of revenue, 30 million euros of debt and took me basically two years and a half to go through bankruptcy to survive, to redeem the debt, two or three years, roughly, and then three more years to relaunch and you know, so then your late 2020. So what we’re doing today is very simple, because we are at no more debt. We do games, of course. So compared to the big boys, Infogrames was pretty comparable, if you look at the beginning of the year 2000, 2001, 2002. We had the matrix back in the day, we were doing close to a billion dollars of revenue. So, we were quite comparable, but then what happened is like over 10 years, no hedge fund and just basically a downward spiral. At the same time, the other guys talking Activision EA, were growing like crazy. So right now, you have like big and entertainment being multimedia giants. And we’re just rebooting. So, what we’re doing, we’re doing gigs. But we can’t compete and we don’t have the means to compete against the big boys. So, for the moment, we’re focusing on mobile games, free-to-play games, especially in the simulation genres, such as RollerCoaster Tycoon. So that’s one thing that we are doing, also doing some casino games in Africa. I’ll come back to that when we talk about cryptocurrency. Second thing we’re doing, we’re doing licensing. Everyone immediately thinks about the T-shirts. But the big money generator today is more like arcade gaming machines for the home entertainment.

BitBoy: Those are getting really popular trying to see those everywhere.

Fred: Yeah, we do that, we work in one app. So here we are licensing, right? We’ve run the company early in 2003, we were 2500 employees roughly, so today we are less than 25. Everything is distributed, everything is outsourced, right?

BitBoy: Yeah.

Fred: There’s no point in trying to recreate a big company. With a virus, it’s, I think it’s just a proof of concept and forth, I would say, unfortunately. So, you have licensing, you have the plug and play devices, you have the home arcade gaming machines, for instance, the T-shirts, all of that. And then the third business line is the new Atari video computer system, the console. It’s not a console, it’s a computer system. It’s a personal computer. But we’ll be out this year. We were supposed to launch it in March, but of course with the virus, China going into lockdown. So, the thing has been delayed. It would be released when the supply chain is back to a, I would say normal conditions of pressure and temperature which is not the case today. But it’s coming back. So, with the games, licensing, and the new video computer system, it’s a computer system. You should check it out on AtariVCS.com. It’s pretty cool. You can adapt it, you can increase your memory, basically it’s a very flexible machine. It’s a nice PC for 300 bucks.

JChains: Nice, I was looking online, and it appears as originally Atari was going to launch the system as VCS but it came to market as what we know is a 2600, is that right?

Fred: No, no, no, it is a video computer system. It bets the name the Atari 2600. No, we’re not using that name. It looks like the initial 2600 with some wooden design, but it’s a computer system.

JChains: Okay.

Fred: Very open. You can download, you can install any operating system. It’s very flexible and it does a section inside a curated services section which is basically like a console. So Atari VCS and then we do crypto. So, which is a big-

BitBoy: Yeah, that I mean, that’s what we do here. What a coincidence? Oh, you do crypto. Wow, we do too. So yeah, let’s talk about that. So Litecoin has gotten involved, you guys now have partnership with Litecoin. We talked a little bit on the podcast last week, we want to get your perspective on it, kind of how did that come about? How did you guys choose Litecoin? And, what’s that relationship all about?

 

11:28 Why Atari Is Doing Crypto

Fred: So, let me just make it just a short intro, why are we doing crypto? I’m a strong supporter of blockchain and any cryptocurrency for many reasons but mainly because I believe this is clearly the future and here, I think in the US or in Europe or in France, no one really understands why you need a crypto. It’s very simple. ‘Why?’ they don’t understand it is because we all have a bank account. We all have a passport and ID, you have an AMEX, 5 business cards, 5 credit cards, five I don’t know, 10 debit cards. It’s not the same in many, many countries. So, for instance, as I’ve said, we do casino games in Africa, and who are really at the forefront of mobile money. Everything that’s wallets are basically mobile wallets. Cryptocurrency in general. So, I’ve always been a very, very strong supporter of blockchain and crypto in general, and for us making an Atari token. So, it’s a project we started two years ago, we were granted a license to a team, the team did not deliver. So, we took over, and we took back the rights early 2020. But what we want is to create a crypto which is a utility token that can be used inside games but also across the ecosystem of the video game industry or industries and I mean by professionals, because today our industry is completely distributed, so they say. If you look at RollerCoaster Tycoon, you have a studio which is in Canada, you have testing, which is sometimes in Canada, sometimes in India. In other games, you have other people doing animations in Thailand, Vietnam drawings in environments in Korea, so it’s just all over the place. And that’s why I believe there’s going to be a lot, a lot, a lot of small platforms, blockchain, smart contracts in our industry. And the second trend which is very important to me is that today you have basically 4 billion, to make it simple, 4 billion people who have access to the Internet. Tomorrow with all the systems that will be launched and they will be launched, right? You have the Google one with the balloons, Facebook, not Facebook, you have SpaceX, you have Amazon, your all these systems, I think is going to jump again, big numbers, but it’s important to set some parameters from four to a billion people having a very good quality high quality connection to the Internet. These guys will never have a bank account because they have no ID, right? They have no address. And I travel a lot in Africa, for instance, you go to Kinshasa, they have no address, just like they have no ID. So, you only wait for these guys to come out of poverty, so we say is to go online work. And I think we can do a lot of work in our industry. So, there will be a lot of people that would be interested to work in the industry. So, we see why we’re doing the token.

 

14:31 The Atari and Litecoin Partnership

Fred: Now, back to your question about the Litecoin. I think what’s interesting at the end of the day is that you all want to have as many users as possible, you’d be successful if your currency, your utility token or whatever is as widely used as possible. And if you go back to for instance, before the war in the USA, you had what? I read more than 2000 different dollar notes.

BitBoy: Yeah. Before the Civil War.

Fred: Yeah, before the Civil War. You had more than– it wasn’t one US dollars you had like, lots of US dollars. So, if you think about it, I think the way I see it a little bit is you’re going to see some very small platform who spot smart contracts and you’re going to be using on that platform, you’re going to be using the Libra, you’re going to be using your Atari token you’re going to be using, just as you have the Japanese Yen and after that, you will be able ‘Okay, I’m working here I’m making this money. I’m spending my money there. But I just need to, you know, to exchange my crypto with another crypto’ and at the end of the day, this is what’s going to happen. So, this is why Litecoin for us is not a competitor. We’re all pushing in the same direction and being able to offer use cases to like which is ‘A, if you want to buy your Atari tokens with a Litecoin’ great. B, ‘if you want to buy the new Atari video computer system with the Litecoin, were more than happy to give a discount, so we make a further announcement on this, we have not given the exact date or the exact amount of the discount, but the fact is, yes, we’re going to give you a discount’ because it basically helps the promotion of the cryptocurrencies. But the big thing for me is 4 billion people today, 8 billion people tomorrow, they have to work and the only way for most, I mean, the most efficient way for them to come out of poverty is to go online, work online, be paid in crypto, and find a way to swap the crypto into their local currency. It’s going to happen for sure.

JChains: That’s great.

 

16:35 Getting Paid in Crypto

JChains: Now, do you guys have any of your employees that say, ‘Hey, we’re so into this, we’re believers, can we get paid in crypto versus fiat?’

Fred:  So no, not in the US. But what I think I’ll try to do is to incentivize based on some crypto but right now, it’s like in the cable system, right? It’s the last mile, so let’s say you’re in any country, you have crypto, let’s say you have a Bitcoin, right? Your guy down the road, around the corner is not going to accept the Bitcoin, not necessarily to pay for food, right? So how do you convert? So basically, the crypto to the local crypto Fiat, right,  or whatever is accepted down there. And I think your question, you will have a lot, a lot, a lot of answers positive answers once that last mile, we said, the ‘last mile’ or the ‘last stairs’ issue has been solved, right? For me, that’s the most important. You have crypto, it’s super easy to open an account. So how do you convert that into a Congolese front? But no one today, I mean, no one. It’s obvious today, take Venezuela, if the guys had purchased crypto instead of keeping the bank note there would be much better off. Let’s take Zimbabwe, you look at Iran, right, you have hyperinflation in these countries. I’ve thought you’re better off holdings of bitcoins.

BitBoy: Certain people are afraid there, though, I mean, I actually have a girl that works for me from Venezuela, she does a lot of my social media stuff. And I asked her, we were doing work through Upwork that’s how I get, a lot of my people, and she had an issue on Upwork. So, she was like, you know what? you know, I got to move out of Upwork you can pay me in PayPal, whatever. And I said, “Oh, you’re in Venezuela, like, what if I paid you in Bitcoin?” Because I know, like, their currency is super hyper inflated and stuff like that. And she’s like, ‘Oh, no, it’s illegal here. I definitely can’t take that.’ I was like, very curious to hear, you know, to hear that response from her. And then that’s a reason why people haven’t done it in those countries is they’re literally afraid of their governments, clamping down on it.

Fred: Yeah. Maybe it’s going to change in for the moment. Well first, even if it’s illegal, right? How do we catch them? I don’t know, it must be quite difficult. But at the end of the day, either you die or you try to do something, you lose everything, so to say, you don’t die initially but you lose everything. Or you try to adapt and try to see if there is something more stable. Because you don’t have access to the US dollar, right? I mean, you have access but just like crazy, the crazy rate of exchange, I’ve traveled to Indonesia, I can tell you I was there in 1998 when there was a big crisis. They were all trying to get the US dollar or any dollar from Singapore, they were just trying to sell the Rupiah. It’s going to change. It’s going to come, it’s going to come.

BitBoy: Yeah, I really like your comparison talking about the introduction of bank or the ‘introduction’ introduction, ‘introduction’ that’s not a word. You guys like that word? You know, basically back before the Civil War when they were using banknotes and then they had the introduction of one banknote. That’s what happened. That’s how we moved on to the dollar bill basically, because I’ve talked about that a lot because, one of the main reasons why they change that system was because of counterfeit. It was so easy to counterfeit back there. One time they estimated, it’s a crazy number, I think it’s like 60% of all bills in United States were counterfeit.

JChains: Wow.

BitBoy: Yeah, it was nuts. And that’s one reason why we switched over to the Federal Reserve System and having one banknote, but with cryptocurrency, we don’t need that because it’s a trustless or completely trustworthy system, there’s no trust needed because it’s all internal with the code and stuff. So, I really like that comparison that you made talking about that because that’s the way the world used to work, is with all these different currencies and you have all these people saying that, Bitcoin Maximalist, Altcoins or Die and all this stuff. So, sounds like you’re in favor of definitely multiple coins surviving and flourishing.

Fred: I’m not really in favor. I’m just looking at trends. And I’m looking when you have 8 billion people, first, look, I’m in New York City, you’re in the US, we have access to the US dollar, right? It’s an exception. If you look at the population on the planet, most of the guys do not have access to the US dollar. It’s impossible for them. So, it’s not like I’m in favor or no, I’m just looking at the big trends. And basically a lot of people who don’t have access to the US dollar, like the major area of people to beyond the planet will never meet any criteria for KYC-AML to an American Express, if you have an American Express card to put a banking on with JP Morgan. I don’t even know the systems at JPMorgan could handle all of that.

BitBoy: Yeah.

Fred: So my point is not like I’m in favor, I think it’s an, I am not sure it’s a choice I’m not saying, guys, that it should be here, it’s an obligation and I’m more saying, I am not sure if there is a choice, government allowing all these digital currency. There a will be a set of regulations. Is it country by country region by region? I don’t know. I think it’s very important to have at least some guidelines and safeguards because just like to your point, the money was counterfeited before the Civil War, you can have scams also in the crypto world. So, nothing has changed. It’s more of the same on that front but I think you can have, you have more tools today to fight. But at the end of the day, I think this is a big trend. So better you know push and if you like it, there are facilitate also, you know, the evolution and facilitate access for people to use currency. It’s not an obligation, you can always go to your local currency. Look at you know what’s the best for you? Maybe for you don’t need crypto? What’s interesting I would say is that if you go to countries like emerging countries, again back to Africa, it has been shown that the last bill that will default on is the telephone bill, the mobile one, that we’ll always pay no matter what.

JChains: Yeah, that’s a good point. You gotta be in contact.

Fred: They will default on is the phone bill because if you have no phone, we have no basically economic life, and we have we are not part of this the new systems. Which is a big problem because it means that if you don’t access to hardware or if you don’t have the money, the most important is access to the phone today and access to the Internet. If you go to Kenya for instance, you can make an online payment. For those of you who are not familiar basically everything is on the phone, right? Some people use banknotes but more and more you have a mass side people, they go to the market and to buy deli food, they will pay with your phone, right? So what’s even interesting is that even if you have no credit, no voice credit, no second, no need to talk, you can still make a payment because we’ll give you access to the phone and to the online payment system in the payment system, even if you have no minute to talk, just because we know it’s super important for you. So that’s a trend.

JChains: Wow.

Fred: I think we’re just we don’t see it because we live in a system where you know, have a passport, I don’t know, two credit cards. I’m not even using them but I know I have access to accounts and I passed the KYC AML test. If you think about the population on the worldwide level, I think it’s an exception.

BitBoy: Yeah, I think…Go ahead.

JChains: No, I was going to ask a question about the guitars in the background. I see you got some guitars back there. What’s your favorite genre of music to rock out to?

Fred: I like you know, classic rock. So, Springsteen, and then-

JChains: Nice.

BitBoy: There you go. Nice. Nice. Last question. I just want to ask, when is the Atari token? Cause it’s not out right now, right? What’s the plans for this? And how can people if they’re interested in loading up on some Atari tokens? How would they do it?

 

25:37 The Atari Token

Fred: So, we’re doing step by step right. Right now, we serve as a website called Atarichain.com. We have a channel on Telegram. Thanks for asking. It’s an official channel and you should be able to see it when we release the podcast maybe as an insert. So, we’re just doing the, you know, it’s a long-term project. It’s not like a ‘hit and run’ one. So, for the moment, we’re working on the private sales, we’re working on teaming up as many partners as possible. And we are working on the public sale, which should take place by the end of the summer, that’s the plan today. We just want to do the right thing. So, we’re just checking the boxes one by one.

BitBoy: Yeah.

Fred: As I like to say ‘things always hit the fan.’ So, we just, you know, take them one by one as we come ‘one down, and one down, one down’ a vision, yes, vision, timeline because having a timeline is basically the difference between a dream and a project. So yes, there’s a timeline because it’s a project. It’s not a dream. Having said, that we may be early, we may be late compared with these milestones, we communicate as we come. On the atarichain.com website, you’ll find a timeline. This is definitely the objective. Right now, that’s the goal. If it changes, we’ll let you know. And we’ll let the users know as soon as practicable but right now, this is the best system that we can give. So, we keep working into that.

JChains: And people have understanding of that, obviously, with timelines and stuff with kind of the fate of the world changed over the last couple months.

Fred: I’m not sure

JChains: They should be.

Fred: Well, you know, I’d like it but you know, especially I’ve run a couple of listed companies and I try not to be too much on Twitter because, I am on Twitter, I’m not even answering because I can tell you, I can show you tweets like, ‘hey, Fred, where is the blah, blah, blah? AtariVCS was it supposed to be here in March?’ And you’re like, ‘Dude, do you understand what’s going on in China?’

BitBoy: People are clueless.

Fred: People are dying. So, yes, most of the people understand. But as always, the most vocal ones are the ones that everyone remembers. And they’re like, ‘Oh, look at this. They are late’ Yeah, people are dying in China, and, like what? Unfortunately in this country we have what, we’re going to cross the 100,000 bar for the death, which is super sad. So, yeah, so nothing is back to normal today. Everyone is working, I can tell you the team is working from home. There’s no limit, right? It’s just like you go to work. And I made a joke the other day. I said, ‘Hey, guys, it’s Good Friday, so everyone can leave the office at 2pm.” But everyone was already home.’

BitBoy: That’s funny.

Fred: Yeah, we’ll see, look, we are as transparent as we are ambitious, we’re bold, we are also as transparent as possible, so people should just check out the website and Telegram. And if it’s early, it’s early. If it’s late, it’s late. And if it’s on time, great.

BitBoy: That’s it.

JChains: Well, Fred. It was a great talking to you.

Fred: Likewise, thank you so much for the opportunity. Keep safe.

JChains: Absolutely.

BitBoy:  And good luck. We’ll be looking forward to see how Atari Token does.

Fred: Yeah. And watch the take-off tomorrow, please.

BitBoy:  Yep.

Fred:  Take off this SpaceX.

BitBoy:  Okay. Awesome.

Fred: Most important thing tomorrow.

BitBoy:  Awesome. All right, Fred, thank you so much for joining us.

Fred: Thank you. You’re very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity. Bye.

 

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Episode 93: Interview with Atari CEO Fred Chesnais

 

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