Web3: what I'm doing next
As I wrote before, I ended my startup journey in November and started looking for a job. A lot has happened between then and now. I've spoken to tons of people, looked at a broad range of options, and decided to join one early-stage company.
It felt weird to announce on Linkedin that I am looking to join a company now. But in my experience, the most exciting jobs never get published as ads. Furthermore, many of the exciting things one could do might start as a blurry list of problems, and a role description only gets written if there's a realistic chance of getting the right person inbound from that ad.
Anyway, I expected to get 10-15 emails, but the post and my email inbox attracted an unprecedented amount of interest. Over the next four weeks, I talked to people from about 40 companies, most of them headquartered in Tallinn, and I was amazed at the sheer amount of action in Estonia. A real startup & VC boom is happening, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but never before have there been so many ambitious, credible teams here.
Getting into Web3
Of the people I talked to, a couple worked in "web3". If you don't know what that is, think of the cluster of things described by the word "crypto," which most people associate with its financial applications. There's a store of value, there are speculative assets, there are lending platforms, etc. I've never been able to get very excited by financial products, but you can do much more than pure finance with blockchains.
One of the new things is digital ownership. We take for granted that you can own things in the physical world. The keyboard I'm typing on is mine; I could sell it on Facebook Marketplace for maybe 50 euros, at which point it would belong to someone else.
But digitally... what do you own? Your Instagram handle can be taken from you, your posts removed or down-ranked, your artwork copied. There are subspaces where ownership is clearly defined, like rare items in games, but you don't own these items in any way outside of that platform. You cannot use them on another app or sell them on eBay. Indeed, selling in-platform goods for real dollars is often a bannable offense.
While many parts of crypto are crucial to digital ownership, I want to highlight one: non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Technically, an NFT is just a record in a shared database. But the meaning of that record is of a deed: it represents ownership of some asset, virtual or digital. Quoting from the definition of the NFT standard, ERC-721:
We considered use cases of NFTs being owned and transacted by individuals as well as consignment to third party brokers/wallets/auctioneers (“operators”). NFTs can represent ownership over digital or physical assets. We considered a diverse universe of assets, and we know you will dream up many more:
* Physical property — houses, unique artwork
* Virtual collectables — unique pictures of kittens, collectable cards
* “Negative value” assets — loans, burdens and other responsibilities
In general, all houses are distinct and no two kittens are alike. NFTs are distinguishable and you must track the ownership of each one separately.
I have a blurry vision of the direction I want the future to take. It amalgamates several seemingly different trends:
- remote work enabling location-independence;
- more people using this independence to travel or move farther from cities;
- social life somewhat suffering under lack of in-person meetings, and online tools (like video chats, games, or the metaverse) replacing some of it;
- true online ownership becoming possible and necessary because people spend a much larger % of their time online – the demand for digital goods;
- creator economy enabling more people to directly sell what they create on the internet – the supply.
I know this is vague. Over time the picture will clarify and possibly change, and the chance of this happening is not 100%, but it's a future I want to work towards. A future where you can choose where to live based on the climate, nightlife, nature, citizenship, taxes, distance from family, or whatever else matters to you. A future where making a living doesn't correlate to where you live.
And that's why I joined NFTPort, a company that provides NFT infrastructure, as VP Product. It's not the only reason – I love the team, and web3 is an exciting space – but it is the dominant one. It should go without saying, but we're always looking for great people, so if you're interested, let's talk.
As the first dedicated Product person, the core of my job is making sure that what we build is worth building. In principle, that's just like my role at Veriff. But there is an immense amount to learn: getting to know the industry, the customers, and the technology. And since the company is small and growing fast, every person on the team needs to grow constantly. (If you couldn't tell already, learning is a perk for me.)
If you're wondering how to get involved with Web3 yourself, the good news is that a lot of it happens in the open! If there's a project you're interested in, there's typically a public Discord or some discussion forum where you can learn and contribute. Or you might know someone personally already working on some Web3 project – there are at least three I know of in Estonia and tons more across the world.
Or, if you're entirely new to crypto – if you can't explain the difference between a block and a transaction – I recommend reading the classics like I did: the original Bitcoin whitepaper and Ethereum whitepaper. Before having even skimmed them, I was afraid of finding tens of pages of math, but far from it. The Bitcoin whitepaper is a 10-page document that lays out a problem and solution in simple human language, with diagrams and all. The Ethereum whitepaper has a few more technical details but is also easily readable, especially if you have any programming knowledge. And to motivate that with a high-level vision, I recommend consuming talks, podcasts, or blog posts by Balaji Srinivasan, Chris Dixon, and others.