Today we are talking with Nick White who is the co-founder of Harmony.
- Harmony is an open infrastructure with a revolutionary high-throughput, low-latency, and low-fee consensus platform designed to power decentralized economies of the future.
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?
I live very close to the beach and the ocean, so I always loved surfing. That was my major past time as a child which continues to today. Surfing is about taking time away and getting space, and I find I get some of my best space when I’m out in the ocean catching waves. It’s also about being in the moment, and I find it’s almost like an artistic expression when surfing as you’re kind of dancing with the water. So surfing has always been my creative and athletic outlet.
2) Who were your biggest influences growing up, and why did they have such a profound effect on you?
I think definitely one influence I had growing up was Steve Jobs, mainly because I was watching a Ted talk on youtube and came across Steve Jobs’ commencement speech which really moved me and stuck with me. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan in the same way that other people are, but I really do think that as a philosopher and as someone that forged ahead and pioneered new ideas, I really admire him.
I would also say my dad. He’s an architect, and he’s not into technology or anything like that, but what I admire about my dad is that he’s such a good person. He’s always true, and his level of his integrity is unmatched in my eyes. I really aspire to become more like him - someone who is dependable and responsible and stands up for what he thinks is right, and always has other people’s best interest at heart.
So in my opinion, it doesn’t have to be famous role models that you need to look up to, but people that you know personally that inspire you on a day to day basis.
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 growing up I didn’t really fit into a single friend group. In some ways I was very nerdy, into maths and science and did really well at school, but at the same time I was athletic and a bit rebellious too, so I also hung around with the cooler kids and that crowd.
I was also a surfer, but surfing wasn’t a recognised sport at school at the time. I was kind of a drifter, someone who didn’t really have a clique to fit into (especially in eighth grade). There was a time when I really felt like if I didn’t have a clique, I didn’t fit in. It was a really tough year for me, and I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was definitely unhappy which resulted in me being more rebellious to my teachers. Luckily I came out of it, but it was definitely one of the harder times of my life which made me value friendship. You definitely need a strong group to support you, and you need to feel a sense of belonging, which is something I really value these days, good old friendship.
To add to the last bit, there was actually a longitudinal study by Harvard about what makes people the happiest, and it turns out if they had a very rich social life, happy marriage and lots of friends, they were very happy. Too often we tend to sacrifice that aspect of life, especially if you’re working really hard on a start up as you can potentially lose sight of what’s important, and what will actually bring us happiness.
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?
I think I was too shy growing up, and I didn’t put enough faith in myself.
Schools these days put kids in their place, which can make you feel less capable than you really are. I wish I had been bolder and more ambitious when I was younger, as I tended to be more shy. It took time but I slowly realised that I could do a lot of things that I maybe didn’t expect. So the more I pushed myself, the more I realised what I was capable of. That was the rebellious side of me coming out. I feel like you get stuck as a kid with the mentality that school is everything, but there is a whole world out there and that world is going to be yours one day, and the rules you have at school don’t apply in the real world. Just keep an open mind, there’s a lot more to look forward to once you’re out.
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)?
I’m lucky to be part of a team that is so talented. The main thing behind Harmony’s success is that we’ve been able to find team members that are so passionate, and each of us brings something different to the table. As far as I go, in the context of the Harmony team, what I bring is a combination of technical knowledge, having a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering, and having studied the industry on a technical level. So I really understand the blockchain and how it works. At the same time I think I bring emotional intelligence where I can explain and connect with people. That kind of bridges the two worlds. Technology is key, and without technology there wouldn’t be anything called blockchain. But at the same time, as important as technology is you have to be able to explain to people in a simple way how the technology works, and why they should believe in what you are building. I really enjoy taking that role within the company - taking all the insight and knowledge and translating it in a way that can get that message out to people.
6) What would you say is your most controversial opinion as regards to blockchain or the crypto space?
We’re building a scalable blockchain at Harmony, and this consequently means people are so ready to debate and fight over which scalable techniques will work and which won’t. I think it’s important to find the best technology and build it. However, the most important thing by far is the social aspect.
I liken starting a new blockchain to starting a new country, and as a founder you are like a founding father. It’s a social contract, you’re making a promise to everyone and saying this is our vision, and this is our constitution. So you go out and you find the citizens to work on it with you, and you find your first users and developers and convince them that they should be on this journey with you. It’s really about the social contract - do they believe in you and what you are saying, are you good for your word? So building the technology is hard in and of itself, but even more tricky is maintaining a social contract that makes people believe in you, and to grow it to a stage where you can step away. The founding fathers job is to therefore put things in motion and then disappear. This is what I think is beautiful about Satoshi, he put everything together and he got the critical mass going and then he knew that his time was over and it was time for it to fade away. That’s what I think is so beautiful about blockchain, and I think people are too focused on the technology.
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?
My way of dealing with stress is pretty straightforward. I make sure to do a pretty vigorous yoga routine every morning, and that really clears my mind and makes me calm for the rest of the day. Of course I can still get stressed, and I do get stressed, but I think having that consistency every morning and starting out on the right foot gets you in the right state to start your day. I also think it’s important that we have a supportive team at Harmony.
I really feel like the Harmony team is like a family. Whenever we’re facing something difficult we come together and support each other. You can be in a really difficult situation with a friend, and as long as you can laugh together then it makes everything easier. To add some colour, we intentionally work out of a house. An office feels too corporate and cold and sterile. It allows us to feel at home and safe, and we even eat our meals together. The family bonding is real, it's not just something we talk about.
8) Outside of crypto/blockchain, what is your favorite thing to do?
I really love the outdoors. I can hike for hours and hours. One of my favourite things to do when I’m at home in Hawaii is to go out without a backpack or water, or even without shoes and just hike the whole day. It sounds kind of crazy, but I really enjoy it and it allows me to clear my mind. A lot of philosophers talk about how the best ideas come to you when you’re walking. It just reminds me how beautiful life is. So most weekends I try to get some hiking in. That’s probably the only other thing apart from surfing that I really love to do.
Also, every afternoon the Harmony team shoots some hoops. I never played it growing up, but I picked it up with the team, and it’s a way to leave the office and allow different conversations to happen. It’s really a team sport. Even if you’re having a bad day, you can make a few hoops and you feel like hey it’s not such a bad day after all!
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?
That video of that guy, what’s his name - Carlos Matos? That video really made me crack up. On one level it's really easy to laugh at him and the whole bitconnect thing because it was a scam, but what I take away from the video is that the guy was so passionate and able to communicate that passion in such a formidable way. That’s a very powerful skill, even if what he was standing for was a scam, you can’t help but be drawn in by his energy which is really underrated in today’s world. Blockchain being a social movement and having that energy and enthusiasm is what is going to bring people to follow and believe in you. It’s definitely a funny video (but also sad because they abused people’s trust), but I definitely take some learning from it and would love people to be as pumped up for Harmony (for the right reasons of course).
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.
I think I would ask him if Bitcoin played out in the way he envisioned and intended, or if it totally took him by surprise as the way it went. I think in many ways it has been more wildly successful than he could have possibly imagined. I also wonder if he thought that bitcoin would be like digital gold. I don’t imagine the founding fathers could have imagined that the United States would become what it did. I’m sure his answer would be no, but on the other hand I am sure there are many other elements that did come to fruition as he imagined. I would also ask him what he believes in, and what he thinks that blockchain and crypto can bring to the world aside from just Bitcoin. I think everyone would love to know his perspective on the entire industry. In some ways he is the founding father of everyone. Every new project starts with Bitcoin.
11) Can you give three policies you'd enact if you became the president of a country tomorrow?
I guess it depends on the overall context of that country's situation, but as a crypto entrepreneur I would definitely enact policies that would enable people to innovate within the blockchain space without fear of the hammer of regulation coming down on them. At least in the United states they have done a poor job of making it feel welcoming for entrepreneurs. There is so much friction on the legal front. Even if you are trying to do it in the right way, it raises the barrier to entry so high that it excludes a lot of people from even trying.
I would also pass something along the lines of GDPR. I really feel strongly that we need to pass new regulations surrounding privacy and the internet. I recently read Edward Snowden's latest book, and I find the level of online surveillance really frightening; not just in China but all over the world. The US and the NSA are really a part of that, as well as corporations like Facebook and Google that are constantly collecting data about you. I have concerns about where that will lead us in the long run as individuals and organisations that know everything about you are omniscient, and data nowadays is so powerful. That's not a future I want to live in, so I would try to do something about that.
In terms of a third policy, I think I would try to push digital citizenship, like in Estonia. I really want to push countries towards the digital age, and I think that the blockchain will help that. Physical borders will start to have less and less significance, and as more and more of our lives shift online, that’s where the jurisdiction will be- digital and not physical. So I would do something to create a digital nation as that’s where the future is.
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) What do you feel makes the Harmony community unique compared to others?
It kind of starts in the name itself. Harmony is a name that means many different things coming together and having a resonance. Singing in harmony is about having different notes that match with each other and create a more beautiful sound than they do on their own, and Harmony as a community really has that mentality. It’s a very welcoming community and is so diverse. We have people from every corner of the world, from China and Southeast Asia, to Africa, and I think that diversity is a huge piece of our community.
On top of that, the Harmony community stands for kindness and values. We have been attacked quite a few times from other competing projects, but we try to rise above that and stand for something more. Our community also has humour, and we try to have fun with each other, I think that’s important as it can’t all be about business. Of course, it’s about hard work, but at the same time if we don’t have the time to bond and enjoy each other’s company and laugh, then people won’t want to come back and engage. It’s important that people want to have fun with us.
13) Project aside, what are some other crypto/blockchain communities that you admire and why (this is not an endorsement)?
Another community I really admire is the Ethereum community. They have such a great technical and developer depth that I think it's the envy of a lot of other networks that are trying to launch right now. The quality of thinkers and doers that they have attracted is outstanding.
Aside from that I also really admire Matic. What I admire about them is that they have really developed a very strong and loyal community. It’s not just about the fact that they are able to be in Telegram and able to make people feel welcome and appreciated, but at the same time they are able to push out really good tech and business development. I know their team personally and they don’t have many people, so they are firing on all cylinders and it’s really impressive. At Harmony we value the exact same things, we try to do more with less. So as a relatively small startup, I admire people that are able to achieve that level of momentum with fewer people.
14) 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?
I think the best social network by far is Twitter, but just to point out I’m not a social media guy, and I stopped using Facebook eight years ago, and originally I thought Twitter was laughable so I always dismissed it. But when I got into blockchain, I realised that’s where the conversation was happening, so I started following people and learning, and for me it was the best resource to get up to date with what was happening, and also to get to know the individuals that were talking about philosophy and technology; as well as just personal humour and stories. Twitter is where the conversation is when it comes to blockchain.
The way to improve it is a little bit harder. I feel like it does a good job in forcing people to be concise. 144 characters kind of forces you to be a poet - you really have to pare down all your ideas into as few words as possible, and make that idea as punchy and catchy as possible, otherwise people won’t get it. It’s definitely a craft and I'm practising and learning from other people who do a good job at that. It forces you to clarify your own thinking. But I do wish there was some edit ability because there are times when you make some really small errors, so maybe you should be able to delete and replace a couple of characters. So I think there should be a character limit to the edits you can make, but another good idea is being able to completely change the tweet, but people can still see the original tweet if they want to. It’s pretty irritating when you make some small typo, but it’s already out in the wild and to take it back is to kind of ruin it.
On another level, we at Harmony have talked about how Facebook (and social media in general) does not allow users to get the benefit of all the data they are handing over to these companies. Social media can be improved if we build a Blockchain social media where people were compensated for the data they provide to the network; whether it's Harmony or another blockchain network that supports this application.
15) 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?
I feel like the blockchain protocols have to have a rich community running them. There needs to be governance and an interplay of all the different stakeholders. On some level people talk about blockchain governance and coordination through the chain itself. Going forward it's important that these communities stay strong and there is communication. The blockchain is really only as strong as the people that are running it. So post-mainstream adoption, community becomes even more important in my opinion.
In our penultimate section we are going to ask you a question regarding Harmony.
16) What do you feel sets Harmony apart from your competitors (that is if you have any)?
Obviously our USP on our technology is that we are scalable and low cost. We are all about enabling people to build the next wave of decentralised applications because so many developers are frustrated with Ethereum (and other platforms) because of the limitations of throughput, latency and cost. The core of what we are building is new technology that takes blockchain forward. It comes back to our philosophy - we value and stand for true decentralisation. You can see that in some of our initiatives such as Pangaea, where we had people all over the world running a Harmony node - many of them first-time node operators. The true value of blockchain is that no one runs it or can shut it down. We know that in the long term decentralization is what matters the most.
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.
17) 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 it’s pretty clear to most informed people that we are entering an age where increasingly, we can’t trust the powers that be to have our best interests at heart; whether that’s financial institutions like banks, or even internet giants like the Facebooks and Tencents of the world.
Also, more and more of our lives are being conducted in the digital realm, and the digital world is having more power and importance than the physical realm. Blockchain gives individuals sovereignty over things like money and data - the two things we are losing control over. So if you believe that people have fundamental rights, rights which should be carried over into finance and data, then blockchain has a bright future because that is exactly what blockchain does.
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