By SGN | 22 Sep 2022
Growing up, Jamilia had always dreamt of exploring the world and experiencing different ways of life.
While attending college in her home state of Connecticut, she was intrigued by an overseas job opportunity and flew to Hangzhou, China, to teach English for a summer.
“At the time, China was a great mystery to most Americans,” she recalls. “But what I found out was that in spite of language barriers and cultural interpretations, the world is simply different iterations of the human experience.”
This first taste of life overseas left her craving for more. Some years later, she went back to China to kickstart a global career as a tech lawyer, a move that opened her eyes to how the country was embracing technology and led her to become fluent in Mandarin along the way.
Her subsequent journey as a citizen of the world included multiple relocations between China and the US, as well as two stints in Singapore: from 2013 to 2017, taking on an APAC role in legal compliance with United Technologies, and from 2020, as head of data and privacy operations at Standard Chartered Bank.
Traversing the globe as a family
Accompanying Jamilia around the world are her husband and four children – two boys (15 and 14) and two girls (6 and 3) – who have grown accustomed to leading an itinerant lifestyle and adopting an international outlook.
“Our family is very multicultural, and the world is our classroom,” she says. “One of my daughters was born in Singapore, at Mount Elizabeth Novena, and the other was born in Shanghai.”
Jamilia says Singapore was a particularly safe and conducive environment for the family. “There are definitely a lot of pros to life in Singapore. You can connect with cultures, experience cuisines and participate in community activities from literally any part of the world.”
Singapore was also where she met her husband Nemanja, who hails from Serbia and has an academic background in organometallic chemistry. At the end of 2021, the entire family relocated once more – this time to Dubai – although their business interests and networks remain strong in Singapore.
Entering the world of Web3
When Jamilia left her position at Standard Chartered Bank, she intended to continue working in data privacy but began connecting with clients that had compliance concerns in crypto and Web3.
Blockchain may promise transparency and the elimination of intermediaries, but Jamilia says it’s a misconception that legal expertise is redundant.
“In blockchain, smart contracts are simply sequences of code that trigger transactions when certain conditions are fulfilled, but they cannot replace legal contracts, which have to do with disclaimers, limited liability, mediation and arbitration, and so on.”
The lack of legal literacy in Web3 has given rise to issues such as compromised user protection (e.g. inability to recover funds when businesses go under) and abused intellectual property rights (e.g. NFT artists not being properly compensated).
“Like a toddler learning how to walk, Web3 is experiencing its share of falls and mishaps,” Jamilia says, “but with sound legal counsel and support from regulators, it will gradually find its footing and we can get it to a point where it’s safe and stable.”
This growing interest in Web3 compliance prompted Jamilia to launch ByteBao, a legal startup that brings her expertise in regulatory compliance into the world of Web3. The name of the company signifies data protection, with ‘bao’ (保) meaning ‘protect’ in Chinese.
Although ByteBao was set up in the midst of the pandemic, Jamilia says doing so in Singapore was a breeze, since all processes could be completed online.
Two streams of clientele
Given the borderless nature of Web3, ByteBao’s clients come from across the globe. They include Below Bored, a metaverse comedy club (located below the Bored Ape Yacht Club), and WOW Pixies, a Singapore-incorporated DAO that supports women-led projects.
Jamilia helps these clients sort out the legal and ethical aspects of interacting with NFT holders, including data protection and whether there’s a reimbursement or replenishment policy in the case of a wallet hack or phishing scam. She guides founders to decide which jurisdiction to incorporate in, and to clarify whether NFTs and other tokens are deemed securities – this affects financial reporting requirements and could potentially incur hefty fines.
At the same time, ByteBao also serves brick-and-mortar businesses seeking to incorporate Web3 technology. Consumer brands today – from beauty to beverages – are using NFTs to drive engagement and foster loyalty, strengthening the consumer connection by offering exclusive privileges and ownership of rare collectibles.
“One of my clients is in health and wellness,” Jamilia shares as an example. “They have a global membership, presented using an NFT, that offers priority access to luxury facilities around the world.”
Education is the biggest gap
With ByteBao, Jamilia is building Web3’s first legal ecosystem, not just providing legal advice and services but also nurturing a community of Web3-conversant attorneys.
“Education is the largest gap, yet it is a powerful multiplier,” Jamilia says. “Right now, there is a general lack of understanding about how digital and virtual assets integrate into legal systems.”
This is why one of ByteBao’s key pillars – currently headed by her husband Nemanja – is digital education. The principal offering is an 8-week bootcamp led by Jamilia which familiarises attorneys with legal issues in Web3. Bootcamp graduates then form a global talent pool of Web3 lawyers that are eligible to serve as contractors under ByteBao. In addition, attorneys can connect with each other, share best practices and list their services on the ByteBao app.
The company is also in talks with educational institutions in Singapore to explore how curricula can be fortified with Web3 knowledge. In the long term, Jamilia hopes ByteBao will be a source of trusted expertise advising state authorities on the drafting of crypto and blockchain regulations.
Peering into the future of Web3
As Web3 overcomes its growing pains, Jamilia remains hopeful about its future prospects. “Companies that haven’t been ethical or legal are falling out, but that leaves the good ones, and hopefully clearer regulations will bring greater stability to the market.”
Through her work at ByteBao, she hopes to dispel the misgivings that many have regarding the legitimacy of Web3. “One of our main challenges is creating awareness, because the general public is sceptical of Web3, and attorneys are the biggest sceptics in the room.”
Nonetheless, she sees Singapore continuing to grow as a hub of high-value innovation in Web3. “With a sizeable tech-savvy audience and a transparent regulatory framework, I’m betting it will be a major hub in Asia for NFTs.”
“We will likely see more businesses come in and attempt to set up, because what everyone is really looking for is safety, and in that respect within the region, Singapore stands head and shoulders above the rest.”