Tell us a little about your story and background, as well as what you work on now.To keep it short: I’m a multi-racial man, from a world of hurt, and I’ve got a pocket full of diverse dreams. I come from poverty, but I’ve never let that be an excuse to keep myself and others close to me from self-actualization. I discovered bitcoin in late-2012 while downloading torrents in college, and started learning about it right away; once I had a firm grasp, I started writing articles about it on a tech news site I self-owned and did on the side in college (it was called Slash Gadgets). After about a year of that I was educated enough to try to apply my tech and business acumen to the space effectively. I dabbled in mining with a group of friends I met while working at the Apple Store, while in college, a small operation based in Kentucky; did crypto-writing for numerous publications and contract work for outside firms (Uphold back when it was called Bitreserve, and Expresscoin); R&D for PoS and community building for Blackcoin; learned crypto markets through groups on IRC; graduated college and moved to SF; did some frontend and marketing/design contributions; started a news publication/podcast (BlockChannel); attended some hackathons -- all before finally landing a job full-time in crypto at Purse doing Growth and Product Content, and generally doing a bit of everything. I stayed at Purse a little over a year and half before starting to work on our hybrid crypto fund, Amentum, once I felt the industry had matured to a point for me to pursue my vision further.
What do you look for when you make a blockchain investment? Walk us through your mental checklist.Our fund operates and invests in assets and token-based projects and protocols based on a few key factors (more on that here from our recent recap of ETHDenver): Interoperability, Sustainability, Security, and Diversity. Each facet of our focus serves a purpose in generating sustainable returns, and creating a healthy, enriched ecosystem. Diversity, of the teams and assets that we opt to invest in. Interoperability, because its important these protocols and DApps are extendable and enable new use cases for continued growth; helping to ensure the longevity of the protocols we invest in. Security, in relation to the code, mechanisms, and an adherence to secure best practices for the teams building the project (to reduce risk and ensure success). And finally, projects that improve the Sustainability of the protocol itself; whether it’s through the creation of new tools/utilities, or technologies that promote stability in the crypto ecosystem (and in some cases, the ecological benefit of a project, and considerations around that given the project’s focus, i.e. Proof of Stake).
Why did you create Amentum and how/where did you meet the rest of the team?I didn’t previously have a background in hedge or venture investing (I studied Information Systems & Technology); it was an interest of mine that grew out of necessity. I had been in the crypto space for 5+ years, and felt I had accrued enough experience, skills, and a large enough network to do something new. A year or so prior to starting the fund, I created a group chat with Boyma Fahnbulleh, Chris Russ, and Kyle Forkey - all of our Founding Partners. I said I wanted us to start a group to discuss and share information to take advantage of the booming crypto markets (they were the smartest people I knew, and they had exposure into crypto in various degrees, and I wanted us all to grow together, quickly). Candidly, I told them I could make us some decent wealth if we worked together, given our combined skillsets -- my assumption was correct. Fast forward almost a year, we had decided that a hybrid fund of sorts could be something we could do really well given our various expertises (more on that and our backgrounds here). I immediately started researching funds, structuring, and a high-level strategy too for our general thesis; Chris Russ was an Investment Banker at Credit Suisse at the time as well; Boyma was working at Chain on low-level protocol engineering; and Kyle had just started an ICO consultancy. We iterated, built relationships, and now we’re here. A bunch of techies/nerds turned crypto fund managers.
Why is blockchannel, a blockchain technologies podcast you created, different from other podcasts such as Unchained or Epicenter?BlockChannel is actually fairly old. It started as a community resource so I could lead folks to videos and links to get educated on crypto when I was always inundated by friends and connections. Overtime, that expanded to launching a publication for more long-form educational resources (news.blockchannel.com, I love writing a lot), and we added a podcast as well (after enjoying co-hosting on TheBitcoinPodcast.com, those guys are awesome). BlockChannel actually existed prior to Laura Shin’s Unchained podcast, but I think Epicenter beat us to the punch. We differentiated by focusing early on Ethereum projects, ZCash, and Bitcoin development by lining up a great pipeline of developers and entrepreneurs to discuss their upcoming projects and tools. Our audience is mostly for the 20-34 age range of developer and entrepreneurs, and also features curated hip-hop/rap music with each episode. We’ve established a very diverse, and professional audience, and we’re really proud of it.
How did you get involved with both Spankchain and Cent.co? What about their technology do you believe in and support the most?Spankchain was started by my previous roommate and good friend Ameen Soleimani. When he moved in he mentioned he had this idea for a adult-cam streaming company using micropayment tech that he envisioned (with a heavy emphasis on scaling Ethereum’s infrastructure), I signed on to be the first advisor, and the rest was history. It’s been a wild ride since, but a ton of fun working with one of the most technical teams, I believe, in the Ethereum ecosystem. Cent.co was almost a year or so ago as well. I met Cameron Hejazi and Max Brody, the founders, at a coffee shop in SF. They explained their vision and showed me an earlier prototype of their vision. I immediately saw the potential given my experience working with the Yours.org team (before an unfortunate team cultural issue drove a wedge between us). I had a lot of experience in product, fundraising, the technical limitations, and a passion for gathering knowledge. It was the perfect fit, since then the project has been live on mainnet since August, earning individuals ETH for their contributions; Cent was one of the first use cases working on mainnet as well. They’ve got a big revamp upcoming and have secured funding, and I’m very excited for what happens next.
Can you explain why CryptoKitties and CryptoPets are useful to the blockchain community and ecosystem?In short, people love collectibles. There’s an inherent intrinsic value that persists owning something digitally unique, and self-owned (pets are appended to your keys, so you keep them forever). The advent of ERC721/821 has been a huge boon for the space in creating use cases around unique digital, provable, scarcity. CryptoKitties was the first to showcase non-fungibles as a serious new standard, and CryptoPets takes it a few steps further with some key differentiators. More info will be out on CryptoPets soon, though.
What resources do you use now to stay updated (podcasts, books, blogs, etc)?Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, and most importantly, Twitter. No, but really...Medium posts from top developers/crypto-economists, BlockChannel (I learn while I write/edit); our very robust network from over the years and my partners, Reddit, Github repos, and attending hackathons (important to know what developers are excited about building on to know where the industry is headed). Oh and Twitter.
Where/when did you first hear of cryptocurrencies?In November/December or so in 2012, while I was on break from school and downloading torrents. I came across the word “bitcoin” when I saw someone asking for donations in it, and I had to investigate what it was. That sent me down a rabbit hole that persists to even today. Complexity and systems thinking excites me -- so much to learn!
If you could meet one person right now in the crypto space, who would it be?I’ve been blessed and had the opportunity meet a lot of really awesome people (Andreas Antonopoulos, Vitalik Buterin, Vlad Zamfir, Joseph Poon, Joe Lubin and many others), I’m all over the place and have been involved in many projects/initiatives over the years. BUT, I’ve never actually had the pleasure of sitting down and having a private conversation with Nick Szabo; he’s a brilliant polymath and I think we could have some very engaging discussions on the social implications of crypto. I’ve got a lot of intellectual crushes in this industry, it’d be my dream to have them all in one room for an afternoon just to see what happens.
What are your high-level thoughts on how blockchain technology will change things? (Gaming, money transactions, community, education, etc).Blockchain-based technologies are still in their nascent stages I believe. We only just recently realized the deep importance of crypto-economics and the incentive mechanisms present in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, and we are only just now experimenting on how to best implement them into smart contracts/token designs in innovative and novel ways (i.e. Non-Fungible tokens). We’ve already seen a slew of first generation DApps and ERC20 tokens that opted to expand on crypto’s dormant potential; but 2018 is the year I think we buckle down on cryptoeconomics and finally start to realize the true vision of cryptocurrencies as scalability improvements continue to come to fruition.
I am personally focused on the social impact of crypto, and how we can best use these technologies to disseminate power and opportunity for those that have the hustle and means to deliver for the rest of humanity.