This is a talk I recently gave at the 2018 MIT Bitcoin Expo. It has been modified to make sense for a wider online audience since you’ll be reading it instead of listening to it. 💖
I’m Taylor Monahan, the founder & CEO of MyCrypto. Previously I co-founded MyEtherWallet but we had a little brand-fork about a month ago, so here we are.
This talk is about how I got to where I am, but mostly about why the decentralized future is people. People like you — everyone reading this today — that are building, using, and improving this decentralized future.
My hope is that this sharing of knowledge will enable you to be part of something remarkable… whether it’s today, tomorrow, or in the coming years.
The blockchain will revolutionize many of the established systems today. It will knock down borders and topple the centralized rent-seekers.
And we, together — the people — will be the ones who transform this idealistic vision into a reality.
Let’s take a step back and take a look at what we are doing, or trying to do.
First, we need a “why.” We need to find the purpose for what we are doing. Something about Bitcoin or Ethereum or the blockchain has intrigued you, inspired you, and driven you to do something, even if that something is simply reading this.
Once you are inspired, once you have fallen down this rabbit-hole, you need to share, collaborate, cooperate and work together.
And then, and only then, will we be able to successfully have a lasting impact on the larger world around us.
I want to point out that this concept of “changing the world” doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Changing the world can be large or small or anything in between.
Improving a singular experience is in fact changing the world in its own little way. And that matters.
So, let’s start with the purpose. And that starts with the question “Why?”
Why are we all here? Why are we all working so tirelessly to usher in this decentralized future? Why does it matter? Why are we building this?
When I say “build” I don’t necessarily mean “develop” or “code.”
Building this future takes writers and educators and artists and sharers just as much as it takes coders and engineers.
Building an ecosystem takes all types of people, doing all sorts of things.
Everyone who has spoken [at the MIT Bitcoin Expo] over the last couple days has done so with passion and with a purpose.
Even if it doesn’t look the same up close — we have all these different talks and subjects and approaches — at the end of the day there are overarching themes.
We have heard folks talk about open services and protocols and how powerful and valuable incentives can be.
We have heard folks talk about how centralized services are inefficient and stifle creativity and innovation.
We have seen how cooperation within societies encourages for faster progress than competition between a limited amount of centralized services.
Some of you who invested in the last 6 months may think we are at this point (Figure A), and you may be thinking “oh shit I got in too late.”
You are not too late.
The technology is not the market and the market is highly speculative and irrational right now. Do not conflate the two. Ignore the price of crypto. It makes your life way less stressful. Focus on the technology.
More likely, we are here (Figure B). It is still the very early days and we still have a long way to go until the true value of these systems are realized. We are in the infancy of blockchain technologies.
Connecting people in the world is unfinished. The adoption of the internet and smartphones has done a lot, but it isn’t perfect yet.
The Ubers and Googles and Amazons who did so much to improve the experience of the internet, traditional taxis, indexing of information, and book stores are now slow-moving, centralized giants who cannot compete with decentralized systems that allow for anyone to participate and contribute.
Most of all, I believe wholeheartedly that the world can be — and should be — better than it is today.
I believe that decentralized, open, trustless systems will make the world better, faster, and stronger than it is today.
Now, onto “Share & Collaborate.” Again, I want to encourage all of you to talk to each other. Work together. Connect with people online, at meetups, and beyond.
But since you are all here… reading this… I’m going to take this opportunity to share my experience and my knowledge with you. Hopefully it will be helpful and you can take it with you on your own individual journeys.
So… how did I get here?
When we put together the first version of our product back in 2015, we weren’t trying the change the world. We solved a small problem by building a wallet generator that didn’t require the command-line.
My journey is not your typical journey, especially in this space. I’ve been building for two and a half years. There’s a codebase being used right now. But it all started because we saw a problem and decided to build a solution.
You only have to solve a small problem to meaningfully change the world. If we all solve small problems, the impact will be huge.
We started out by building something simple and sharing it with the world.
It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t work perfectly 100% of the time. But it existed and people started using it. And that is what matters.
Because this is such a new and emerging space, we thrived. We built this product for ourselves… and that was okay because we knew what people wanted because we knew what we wanted.
Without even realizing it, we created solutions for various problems that we personally encountered.
As the space grew and evolved, we were growing and evolving with it. We were pushing it forward.
Later, after the DAO and hard fork, we built the DAO withdrawal interface. We hid all the complicated contract interactions behind a single button and people used it because the other options were too complex and took too long.
Again, the solution doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t require a ton of thought. It just has to work better than the other solutions.
Believe it or not, this is how you start changing the world.
No matter what happened, we never stopped building and improving and iterating. The most recent thing we’ve done is rewrite the codebase and release it via the new MyCrypto Beta, which you can read about here.
Listen to your users and customers. Live with them. Be on the forums and part of their journey.
Take their feedback. Ask them questions. Make the experience better again and again and again. They will tell you what they love and hate, whether you want them to or not. It is up to you to listen to them and learn things, make adjustments, learn more things, and repeat.
Do not build in a silo. Do not wait to share your work until it’s “perfect.” You can build the most beautiful product in the world but if you don’t share it, it is literally useless. Don’t be useless!
Oh and also! This one is really important! Don’t die.
If you are building, sharing, iterating, and trying to solve problems for people, it will be hard — especially in this fast-moving space. Things will not go as planned. You will feel pain. You will doubt yourself and question everything. I’ve learned that this is normal. This is the struggle. This is how you evolve.
Never forget: Sleep is necessary. Food is necessary. Hanging out with people who live “normal” lives and don’t understand what you are doing gives you balance. These are all valuable and yet it is so easy to forget them.
When you are solving hard problems and growing fast, everything requires more time and energy than you think you have.
I was never prepared for the next onslaught of traffic or the different types of people starting to use our product.
It’s easier to give up, but it’s unremarkable (at best). The struggle is what will make you and your product amazing and end up making a difference in the world. It will force you to be the best version of yourself. This is where the magic happens!
Don’t worry about the money up front. Put your people and your product first.
When we were starting out, money was the last thing on our mind. How did we survive without an ICO?
- We were free and open-source, so we put up a donation address.
- We gently reminded people again… and again… and again… that we were free and open source and to donate.
- We added affiliate links to Ledger and TREZOR hardware wallets.
- We partnered with Shapeshift and Coinbase, and implemented their revenue-sharing programs.
But, most of all, we spent as little money as possible and just went for it. By solving a small problem and doing it ourselves and focusing on building, we were able to grow.
Focus on your people and your product first, and then figure out the money.
If you start by making decisions based around money, you will quickly lose touch with your people and your product. And that won’t get you anywhere.
Which, obviously, also means: stop wasting your time doing token sales and ICOs!
A white paper is not a product. A dude who is going to flip your token next week for max profit is not a user.
You will need a whole team of lawyers, accountants, paperwork from various countries. You have to stay up to date on all the regulatory hell before you even build a single thing.
Most of all, if you ICO before you build — before you have a product or a single user — you will have people expecting things of you, demanding things of you, and your journey will be infinitely harder. It’s much better to bootstrap it, build it, and trust that the money will follow.
This one still gets me today. A lot of time, especially when we are disrupting the current systems and building new worlds, we like to try to think about every little thing that could possibly happen in the future and account for it and build in anticipation for it.
Avoid that as much as possible.
- First — it’s a waste of time to overthink things that may or may not happen.
- Second — you will have more information that will help you overcome the situation when it indeed happens.
- Third — you will be more prepared when the time comes. Every day that goes by in this space is like a month in the traditional world.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Each and every day you grow and become better — both personally and professionally.
However! This doesn’t mean you should be willfully blind or operate with your eyes closed.
I took far too long to start hiring help for support. By the time we were onboarding our first education & support genius, I was an absolute wreck.
I consistently chose “trying to help one more person” over “a few more moments of sleep.” And there was always one more person to help.
I should have spent that time hiring people to help me, and help our users.
So, while you don’t want to plan for things that may or may not happen… please keep your eyes open enough to address them when they do happen! Find the right balance.
Lastly, but certainly not least, love your people!
These are the people who you will lean on when you are trying not to die.
These are the people who will make your product better and your vision a reality.
The most rewarding part of building MyCrypto hasn’t been the features we coded or the milestones we reached.
It was the connections we made and the people who were always there to make this journey a little bit brighter.
- People on my team today
- Random commenters on the Ethereum StackExchange who you end up meeting inadvertently at conferences like this
- Developers in this space who are also building remarkable things
- The people who gave us feedback in 2015 and urged us to keep building
These people are what will get you through the hard times. They will be there for you at 4am when things are going wrong and they will give you strength when you need it most. They are why you will build and be better. Value those people. Love them.
Because… the decentralized future is people!
As much as we love to talk about all this fancy tech and think about the product and the code and the blockchain, we cannot forget that at the end of the day, the decentralized future is people.
We need people like you, people like me, all of us working together. We need my mom or your professor and everything in between.
We need researchers so that those who have the expertise can use their advanced skills to advance the systems.
We need the teachers who know the technology inside and out to teach others.
We need those who have the perfectly accessible analogy for everything to help introduce new people to this space.
This space is so new and we are at the cusp of seeing really, really, really amazing things being built that will revolutionize our world.
But we have to work together because we are building this for the world.
And in order for the blockchain to enable a better world, the people building this world need to reflect the world.
The people need to be global and diverse. We need people of all demographics. We need people of all ages. We need people of all upbringings.
The perspectives of everyone — not just one demographic — are needed in order to make the products, solutions, and communities accessible and appeal to everyone.
So often people come up to me and tell me “I can’t do this…” or “I don’t know that much about the blockchain…”
Screw that. If you are reading this, you are an expert compared to the 99% of the world who doesn’t even know what the blockchain is.
Accept that. Shift your thinking.
The next Google may very well start out of a dorm room today. The next Facebook could be a drawing on the back of a napkin at a bar right now.
Stop talking about what you can’t do and start focusing on what you can do.
- What makes you unique?
- What skills do you have that will help usher in this decentralized future?
- How can you make this ecosystem more robust or stronger or more accessible?
And, with all of that, we are now changing the world. Typically those who change the world don’t always set out to do so.
All it takes is a decision to do something today, do it a little better tomorrow, and to not stop doing it… ever.
Start small. Solve a problem. Work with people. Love people. Make mistakes. Overcome challenges. Become better.
You never know what you can accomplish until you try. So get out there and build something.
I hope you can carry these ideas with you as you go out and build and create and help usher in this decentralized future.
Thank you to the MIT Bitcoin Club for putting on the MIT Bitcoin Expo.
Thank you to the students who traveled from near and far to listen to this (and to those of you who are reading this online!).
Thank you to the busy thought-leaders and developers and researchers who shared their knowledge on the MIT Bitcoin Expo stages.
But, most of all, I want to thank each and every one of you who is reading this right now. I want to thank you for believing in this future and coming together to help build it.