Exclusive: ASKfm CEO Discusses Mount Everest Incident, Media Coverage

"The death of a person is a tragedy and should not be speculated on to gain readership or create news."

We recently reported on a cryptocurrency publicity stunt which went tragically wrong, when some cryptocurrency enthusiasts climbed Mount Everest and buried a wallet at the summit. Unfortunately, one of the team’s Nepalese guides died during the climb.

The climbers were sponsored by ASKfm, which found itself receiving the wrong kind of publicity.

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Finance Magnates reached out to Maxim Tsaryk, CEO of the company, to hear what he had to say:

Firstly, please explain what happened in your own words.

The Ukrainian expedition to Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse was organized by the Kuluar Alpine Club who hired the services of Seven Summit Treks, an organization responsible for employing Sherpa guides.

Since we were sponsoring the climb, we were not actually present where these tragic events occurred, but we have spoken to all the parties involved, the climbers themselves, and the local Sherpa community, to help the investigation.

Maxim Tsaryk

We’ve also conducted a more thorough investigation, but in short, from what we understand – the team, along with three Sherpa guides, reached Mt. Everest’s peak but had to quickly descend as weather conditions deteriorated. Between reaching the summit and the subsequent descent, the three Sherpas, who were descending together as a group, fell behind the mountaineers who were trying to quickly avoid rapidly worsening weather conditions.

All of the mountaineers reached camp four after facing a critical situation during the descent. Two of the Sherpas that were coming back together made it to camp 4. However, the news of the missing Sherpa Lam Babu was not discovered until the next morning. The two remaining Sherpas on this leg of the expedition were the last people to see the Sherpa that subsequently went missing.

All inquiries related to the rescue efforts should be directed to Seven Summit Treks, which employed and insured the missing Sherpa Lam Babu.

Most media outlets have called the climb a publicity stunt. Do you agree with this assessment?

We sponsored an event like many other big companies do, although it didn’t go well, and we are saddened and horrified by the outcome.

Companies that choose to sponsor extreme sports and events are always taking a risk, as these events are, well, extremely risky. We can argue about if this was a good marketing ploy, but we can’t argue about the fact that anyone’s life being taken is horrible, even if it’s someone who is working daily in a high-risk environment or choosing an extreme profession.

Has ICO marketing gone too far?

I don’t believe that the ‘standard’ marketing is much different from why ICO projects are doing in this area. They share the same principles, and interesting promotions and stunts occur everywhere nowadays. People want to be surprised and shocked, that’s why advertising is aiming to reach these goals.

Think of companies in the traditional sector like RedBull, GoPro or RedFox. They are well-known for their sponsorships of extreme sports and teams; these events have casualties as well.

Condemning these companies for tragic turns of fate that unfortunately sometimes occur with athletes and professionals doesn’t make a lot of sense, because regardless of sponsors, parachutists will still skydive and F1 racers will still burn their wheels on race tracks.

Google actually sent an expedition to Mount Everest in order to take ‘Street View’ photos, just for people to have fun with it, which eventually resulted in the death of a Google Engineer.

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Other than the fact that this was a sponsored event versus a company event, I don’t see much difference between both cases, and of course, both are extremely tragic.

How do you respond to the criticism that your company has attracted?

We have been the subject of many speculative and inaccurate reports recently. Many traditional institutions and mainstream media outlets are skeptical about cryptocurrency, blockchain products, and ICOs.

Many of them took advantage of this unfortunate event to mock us and didn’t take the trouble to investigate the facts or provide them to their readers, as journalists should.

The first article that was written about the case was tagged under a section called “ICOmedy.” They were using the death of a person on the Everest to push an anti-ICO/blockchain agenda, in order to make this appear as a more ridiculous case, which is a bit sad.

A headline that talks about a death of a person and tarnishes someone’s reputation can bring much more traffic than a carefully conducted investigation, but it’s understandable that for the mainstream media, it’s not about facts, it’s about a controversial story.

Anyone who can conduct a simple online research can see with their own eyes the spread of unchecked information that is being circulated in the media at this very moment. Headlines like “the first ICO death” have come across – that’s like saying that a biker that was killed in a Red Bull sponsored competition was the “first energy drink death.”

Do you intend to take down the YouTube video encouraging people to retrieve the wallet from the summit?

We have stopped the promotion of the video and will not promote it internally or externally anymore. We weren’t pushing for anyone to actually go and find this ledger, this was more of an entertainment kind of thing. The mountaineers that went up there were professional climbers, they were going on an expedition with or without our sponsorship.

Would you describe the media response to the event as fair?

Taking into account that the topic of blockchain and ICO is trending across media channels, it’s needless to say that the story was picked up very fast. Nevertheless, the death of a person is a tragedy and should not be speculated on to gain readership or create news.

We stand by our point as decentralization enthusiasts that information should not only be open to the public but also fact-checked.  Otherwise, it starts to transform into speculation and sensationalism. Quality of content is among the main assets for our upcoming ASK.fm ICO project.

Is it fair for a reader base to read through [an] unproven piece of information that has been published? Or tagging the story as “ICOmedy” which they changed and apologized only after the community started pointing it out?

We can argue if ICOs are good or bad, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but using a case like this to push your anti-ICO agenda is indeed hypocritical.

Would you do anything differently if you had the chance?

It is an interesting question indeed. Honestly, If I had a chance to go back in time and change the course of events I’d probably do so. Of course, from a PR view, this event progressed in the wrong direction, but more importantly, this is tragic and horrifying. If I could have avoided putting the name of the company on this expedition knowing that someone would lose their life, I would have chosen not to do it.

What’s next for Ask.fm?

We have a community of 215 million registered users in 168 countries that we are obligated to serve. It is our responsibility to provide them with a new take on high-quality user-generated content that is based on a decentralized distributed network. We are aiming to bring together professionals, influencers, educators and people seeking for better quality content, providing value for both questions and answers with the possibility of delivering better education to everyone in an easier format.

Some may say that the process of decentralization and transferring such a big society to a blockchain protocol is an impossible thing to do, but as Nelson Mandela once said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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