Get to know the people pioneering the crypto, blockchain and DLT space like never before
|CryptoMurmur||Nov 1, 2019|
* Today we are talking with Mike Dudas who is the founder and CEO of The Block.
* The Block is a leading media and information brand in the blockchain and cryptocurrency ecosystem, and has received critical acclaim for its unique blend of deep dive journalism and research.
We’d like to kick things off by asking you a couple of questions regarding your formative years.
1) Firstly, can you tell us the things which interested you the most throughout your childhood and teenage years, and what brought you the most happiness?
Growing up I lived in a small town in Connecticut with 15,000 people, but was fortunate enough to live only two hours from New York.
We lived in a neighbourhood where we really knew everyone, and there were around six to eight families who we were really close with. The lovely thing is I still have friends from back then who I’m really close with, and from time to time they come into the city and we enjoy going to Yankees games together.
I was also fortunate enough to go to private school, which meant that from seventh to twelfth grade, I got to leave my immediate town and go to the city for high school. As a result, I got to meet people from all over which was very eye opening, especially coming from a sheltered and not super diverse town. It was also a prep school environment with very high achievers, and a lot of them had tremendous ambition, so it was really inspiring to be around these people.
I was also super fortunate that my dad was an entrepreneur who ran a family business when I was growing up, and it was wonderful to watch my uncle and my father build a business. It was the fruits of my dad’s hard work which allowed me to do things like travel the world, and this in turn exposed me to sports like soccer which I really loved playing, and still love watching today. So growing up, I was really into education, sports and meeting tons of people.
Lastly, I’ve always had a weird obsession with maps. As mentioned earlier, I got to travel a lot when I was younger, and one of my biggest memories from my childhood was my parents buying me maps and taking us on road trips. It’s hilarious looking back because I haven’t had a car in twelve years since I moved to Manhattan, but as I get to this age and now have kids, I think I’m gonna buy a car pretty soon (or at least lease one), and I can’t wait to start road trips again.
2) Who were your biggest influences growing up, and why did they have such a profound effect on you?
In terms of negative influences, the Catholic Church. Growing up I was an alter boy, and I remember never being able to understand all these fables, nor did I agree with the ones that I did. So this really confused me.
In terms of positive influences, it was people with a huge amount of ambition. So if you go to books it was the Hardy boys, and as I got older I was really inspired by Bill Clinton. I’m a Democrat, which I know isn’t very popular to say these days, but I just remember Bill Clinton being so polished, well spoken and very presidential right when I was coming of age.
Fun fact - I went to college with Chelsea Clinton, and the secret service were living in my freshman dorm.
3) Teenage years are often a turbulent time for many, so on this note, can you name a time which was tough for you, and how you managed to overcome it?
When I was very young (ninth grade I think) I wrote an essay about reverse racism which I published in the student newspaper, and it was very insensitive, especially coming from a white kid growing up in a non-diverse environment and not really knowing anything about the world. Furthermore, I hadn’t really talked to my very diverse classmates before writing it, so this actually led to something really positive at a town hall meeting where we discussed this word. So using a really charged word at a young age really taught me a lot about using a word that I didn’t really understand, and also about thinking outside of my own head in terms of how I talk to others.
4) If there was some advice you could give young aspiring individuals, advice which you would really have liked to have heard yourself as a young person, what would it be?
Don’t waste too much time on a formal prescripted education, or a formal prescripted path. What I mean by that is don’t be boxed in by ‘I have to pay two hundred thousand dollars for college’. In my case it was the right thing as I went to a good undergrad, but I also wasted 120 thousand dollars in two years going to the Kellog business school. That’s one thing.
It’s also important to pursue the things you love.
For example, I love soccer, so I’m learning the teamwork aspect whilst also reaching some awesome highs through it. So my advice is to seek these amazing highs and learning experiences without harming others, and then to fight against people (I don’t mean fight physically) that would stop you from doing the things you love; so long as they’re not harmful things like drugs or something like that.
Looking at society today, I think we are moving towards an individual era where it’s the wrong time to be a drone following people into big companies like Goldman Sachs or Capital One, and the world is starting to fight against this traditional narrative. People who are still following this traditional narrative are struggling to differentiate themselves and be successful, so my final piece of advice is just be you, and let others know the extent to which you are confident with who you are.
We are now going to ask you some questions which will hopefully give our readers something to go on regarding you as a person.
5) Firstly, what are the particular strengths that you feel have made you successful in your field (don’t hold back)?
One is I work tirelessly. Working hard is often looked upon as something that you don’t have to do in order to be successful, which is hogwash. Everyone who is in a successful position and says it was easy, is lying.
Two is that I respond to inputs from others. If you follow my Twitter persona, it seems like I'm either battling or not doing things which are too productive, however most of it has a strategy behind it if you understand the underlying motivation behind it.
Three is I always try to be a good person, and I don’t screw people over. I also don’t always try to win every negotiation. People give me s**t sometimes, but when I enter into a new negotiation with somebody (or with an entity), I’m always like what’s the total we could get ‘together’ versus what’s the total I could make from this person.
I’d also add that to be successful, you also need to have a well rounded life. For me, I couldn’t find happiness until I had a family, good friends and lived in a place of my own. Having a happy family and a happy living space really allows me to put on the blinders and shut things out, so when I leave Twitter or the office, I can pretty much shut if all off.
6) What would you say is your most controversial opinion as regards to blockchain or the crypto space?
That the extreme dogma around what Bitcoin is and how it should be perceived by the most extreme Bitcoin maximalists, is actually a significant inhibitor to the growth of Bitcoin, and the growth of money and technology.
Additionally, people who have spent years and hours learning about Bitcoin need to listen to fresh perspectives. This isn’t a priesthood where you can read the same scripture over and over again and somehow have the ultimate truth. This is technology, and as technology moves and the events around us move, a fresh perspective is needed.
7) In the course of your day you can become under the most ridiculous pressures and stresses, what is your particular way of dealing with this?
It’s getting away and finding space. So as we speak, I’m watching a Liverpool game in a bar.
Two is doing things that are joyful - whether its exercise or spending time with my kids and my wife. I work hard, but I also ensure that almost every day I find time to have quality time.
I also don’t commute! Commuting is one of the things that was really too stressful for me in the past, so nowadays I only have to walk ten minutes as I live in Tribeca and also work in Tribeca. If more people did that they would be more productive, inspired, and more successful.
8) Outside of crypto/blockchain, what is your favorite thing to do?
These days I spend time with my kids, my wife and my parents, and I'm really enjoying doing things that I did when I was younger, and doing things in the city as opposed to the country.
In terms of leisure, I really love sports!
We are now going to ask you some creative and humorous questions, and we are sure people will love to see you what you can come up with.
9) What is the most humorous thing you have seen or experienced during your time in the crypto/blockchain space?
The true answer would be something that’s too personal, but I would say the funniest recent one is the whole ‘I have a kidney stone so the Chinese government won’t allow me to travel back to America, and I apologise that I ever thought I could have lunch with Warren Buffet’. This was the funniest recent one, but there are loads of other good ones. Over beers we’ll have to talk about it sometime!
10) If you somehow managed to meet Satoshi Nakamoto (that is he is a male person in this scenario) on his deathbed, but only had time to ask him one question, what would it be? Bear in mind you don’t have much time at all, so make it a good one.
Are you disappointed that we haven’t achieved the vision that I was really excited about and what attracted me to Bitcoin in 2012, which is basically zero friction and low cost, global censorship resistant peer-to-peer payments? That’s what I would ask him.
I believe we will get there by the way, but I do think that’s what the creator of this currency would have wanted, which is why these maximalists drive me nuts, because they’re obsessively preaching how store of value is what it was originally intended for; and by the way I would agree that store of value is what it is becoming. But I do think that whoever created it, whether it was one person or many, did believe that it would be easier to create peer to peer payments.
11) Can you give three policies you'd enact if you became the president of a country tomorrow?
So one is affordable healthcare for all. Two is that transportation and city infrastructure is a priority, and three is that city and services infrastructure will be valued at the highest rate of any country in the entire world. So in other words, give more to teachers, police and firemen, and folks that we completely under-value in the United States.
Communities are often an important backbone for many crypto/blockchain projects, so we’d now like to get some personal thoughts on the community side of things.
12) Project aside, what are some other crypto/blockchain communities that you admire and why (this is not an endorsement)?
I do admire the broader Bitcoin community of course, because despite some of the things I have said about maximalists, it’s so broad a community that I think the vast majority of people in the Bitcoin community aren’t even aware of them, they’re just heads down building; whether it’s a network, scaling services or privacy related things. There’s just a million things that people are building.
I also have a deep respect for the Ethereum community as they’re very developer oriented. However, I do think that they really struggle with the money aspect, and I think it would probably be better if they bring some more finance folks into their community. But I really respect what they’re trying to do by recognising the technology challenges that is in front of them, going from 1.0 to 1.5 to 2.0, and doing it in an adversarial way. They've definitely gotten better at fighting on important stuff.
Now when it comes to locations, I respect the New York crypto folks more than the SF crypto folks (or any others) as I think they’re just realistic, pragmatic, and diverse in terms of background. You get a mix of Wall Street, engineering, and global people who come from Europe. Geographically, the New York crypto scene is the one I like the most, but there are also some others that I’ve started to learn about and enjoy - the Japanese and Tokyo scene, the Seol and South Korean scene, and the Taiwan scene just to name a few. But right now, it’s just the Bitcoin, Ethereum and New York crew.
13) What social-media platform do you like most and why, and are there any improvements which you feel can be made to these platforms for an even better community user-experience?
The first external one is Twitter, and it basically helped me to build my business as I was able to share my thoughts whilst learning what’s going on early on. It also helped me to find like-minded people and people I disagree with, so when I started the business, it allowed me to share what I was doing and find investors. Once the company was up and running, it also helped with recruiting, and now that we have a team to help us, it’s also a pretty big source of traffic, referrals and customers.
Number two is Slack as it really helps us to stay relatively connected internally, and has multiple conversations going on across our different channels.
So Twitter and Slack are two of the most important ones for us.
Then I obviously use LinkedIn for sales and marketing, and reaching out to new prospective partners, whilst also connecting with people who want to join the team and apply.
Out of all three, Twitter is the one that has basically become (and you hear this constantly) a very extreme platform, and as a result, the silent majority and many rational people aren’t really engaging anymore on Twitter. So it’s a real problem.
In terms of Slack, it’s a little bit of information overload, so it needs a little bit more fine tuning so it's not a constant distraction, and also so it reminds people that it’s not an inbox.
LinkedIn is kind of a dumpster fire these days. I think there’s a generational divide these days, and I work with folks primarily under the age of twenty seven, and they don’t use it nearly as much as I do, and I’m a forty year old.
14) With the endgame being mainstream adoption, do you think crypto/blockchain communities will still have an important role to play in a post-adoption environment?
Yeah I think so.
There's no question that the more adoption there is for pure cryptocurrency (I’d even go so far as to include things which are more digital forms of existing currency), the more you start getting away from non-state money as more people start to use it, and this has caused governments like the U.S to become really interested in regulating, and also the Chinese as we’ve seen just recently.
So for distributed forms of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Monero, the communities are going to be really important in maintaining and rallying the troops. It’s almost like any protest, and as you can see in Hong Kong, you have hundreds of organisers who can rally millions onto the streets, and as the attack on cryptocurrency increases and you move from people who just want to steal money to more serious state actors (obviously this does not include state actors like North Korea and other state actors who have been pilfering cryptocurrency, and literally trying to wage attacks on the networks themselves), that’s when you’re going to need that strong technical core community to rally.
In our penultimate section we are going to ask you a question regarding The Block.
15) What do you feel sets The Block apart from your competitors (that is if you have any)?
I like to say that our competitor is somebody who is interested in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, and even generally Fintech companies that are starting to dabble in digital assets. So our competition is anywhere else where people get information, and that goes all the way from mainstream media to dedicated industry specific media. So that can go from the New York Times, Bloomberg or the Wall Street Journal, to Coindesk, Cointelegraph or Decrypt, and even medium publications and individual blogs/free sites, and things of that nature. The competition is really just retention of the user, and becoming a trusted source of all kinds of information that they need, from news to deep research.
Where we differentiate is that we provide both news and research. We have as many researchers as we have journalists (actually more), so I would argue we dig quite a bit deeper, and we release almost 2 to 3 research pieces per day which is almost unheard of. They’re not your equity style ‘here’s a price prediction’, but we are looking really deep into protocols, projects, people, markets, and doing a much deeper dive where you have economists, technologists and really deep subject matter experts who are participating in these communities; like Matteo Leibowitz in Ethereum, Larry Cermak across the entire ecosystem, Stephen Zheng in Bitcoin, and Ryan Todd in financial market structure, and Matthew Yamamoto on public companies which are dabbling. These guys go really deep in a way a journalist can't, and journalists would quote our folks as sources, and they actually do. So our journalism and research team actually work arm in arm, and that's what differentiates us.
We also have a really strong voice publicly, which is unusual for media information companies, and I think it's keeping in spirit with the ecosystem. But we also have to be careful that we are not too antagonistic, and we are informative and don't become seemingly biased, and keep that objectivity and let facts and objective analysis drive the day. But we have an advantage in terms of our folks being natives in what they are writing, so it's all about keeping that advantage and really effectively spreading that message. If we do that, I think we are going to be in a really great position in five to ten years.
Well that just about does it, but before we end this interview we’d like to ask you for something which we believe will say a lot about your belief in the industry, and which may inspire those who are reading.
16) Can you come up with a short argument for our readers on why you feel cryptocurrency and blockchain (or just one) has a bright future?
I think that both have a bright future.
Let me put it this way.
We’re entering an era where we are going to be fighting technological warfare, and it’s going to be a lot different, and obviously technology has always been important in warfare, but now technology applied to money is absolutely going to become a form of warfare; and you’re already seeing it. The New York Times wrote an article about terrorists using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to solicit donations, and sanctioned countries like Iran and Venezuela have also done similar things. These are still very small and on the fringe today (although there were rumours that North Korea acquired two billion dollars in hacks, a small percentage of which was from cryptocurrency), but I think we will see the cryptocurrency elements grow.
We are most certainly moving towards a world where most of the world population lives under communist or authoritarian regimes, and money becomes something that isn’t necessarily going to be separated from the state. So having alternatives to save money becomes really critical to people, particularly in some of these authoritarian regimes that begin to become unstable. So I think cryptocurrency will unquestionably become important, and I think Bitcoin will absolutely become important, but I don’t know what else will be (if it exists today or not), but there will definitely be digital money. Blockchain technology won’t have the same societal implications, but blockchain technology - to the extent that it enables digital money without a trusted or central intermediary - is critical.
Moving beyond that to these more generalised forms blockchain technology, or what people refer to as enterprise or permissioned blockchains, is a glorified form of the database where you can get permissioned access to more than one entity at a time, and there’s a certain subset of processes where this makes sense (where you are trading off speed and other performance vectors so that you can share a global distributed state of information). So there’s going to be incremental improvements in this regard. It’s also interesting to note that psychologically, there's kinda this rebranding of basic technology that has the potential to get archaic systems (I'm just talking really broadly) like the medical healthcare industry in the U.S digitised. So if this sexy new word can get some of these companies to work together to put people’s information on the blockchain where they can’t control it, I think that could be very powerful. I’m not sure when this is going to popularise, and I think this will take time (I am less certain of the societal impact), but I do think there will be some interesting use-cases. You can see it already with some big companies piloting stuff, and although they are starting with basic use-cases such as money transmission and some gaming things, I do think we’ll see more and more blockchain pilots.
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