Today we are talking with the co-founder and CEO of SpaceChain, Zee Zheng.
- SpaceChain is a community-based space platform that combines space and blockchain technologies to build the world’s first open-source blockchain-based satellite network, allowing users to develop and run decentralized applications in space.
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?
So I would say there are two things actually.
One is video games. I spent a lot of time playing games when I was in junior high and high school, and it was so fun. The other one is basketball, and I spent a lot of time playing and watching the games, and still watch a lot of basketball and practice whenever I can. So these are the two things which have made up my routine for most of my life.
So in terms of happiness, although I'm doing business and am quite busy from doing interviews, managing the company and doing a lot of development, I still love playing basketball as work is kind of wild at times. Doing this really brings me back to high school days, and I still feel like I'm a kid whenever I play, so I love it.
2) Who were your biggest influences growing up, and why did they have such a profound effect on you?
I would say that my parents are a huge influence on me. They would encourage me to pursue my interests and to create learning experiences out of everything I did.
This influence extended to my interest in blockchain as well. When I got involved, it wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is now. It was just this random internet money thing that I was just looking at it, but I decided to dive into it more and see what the potential is. I then began to learn about Bitcoin, Ethereum, and everything to do with blockchain, and that's actually how I started my career in this space, and I thank my parents for this as they encouraged me to always make something useful or valuable out of anything I spend my time on.
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?
One of the toughest times I can think of was during my college application.
After high school I became a pretty good student, was the president of my student union and was getting straight A's and everything. But because I went to a British school in Shanghai, it was surprisingly tough to get into non-UK schools, despite my good grades. But instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to make something out of this, and off the back of some research I identified good schools in Hong Kong, Australia and that would more readily consider a student with a UK background. I then applied and got accepted by the University of Toronto, and had an amazing experience there.
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 would take the question from a slightly different angle.
I sometimes go to conferences where I mentor some very entrepreneurial people who want to do their own startups, and the question I often get is, “I'm a business major, a psychology major, an art major, and I’m really interested in blockchain, but don't feel like I can get into that.” That’s the question I get most often. So given how I'm actually a psychology major who is running a space company within the blockchain industry, my advice is that if you are passionate about something, don't think too much. Don’t think about whether you can or cannot do it, just give it a try, and in your own special way, because if you look at Google there are marketing people and business people in the company, so there's always a way you can get involved with things you're interested in. Just try to talk to people, try to learn about what exactly is happening from whatever resource you have. This is the best way to approach it, however, I totally understand that when you are young you tend to overthink a lot of things, and get scared which prevents you from moving on. But moving forward is and will always be the best solution.
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 think the strongest part is definitely navigating the unknown, and I think me and my company are pretty good at it. When we started the company, the blockchain space at the time was full of crazy ongoings, and some people thought we were just another scam because there were lots of crazy projects at the time. But we never let this bother us as we always had a very clear vision and believed in what we wanted to do, and no company were doing anything even close to what we were doing. So we believe we know what is required to navigate the unknown, and part of this relies upon bringing the best resources and talents together.
So we were very fortunate to form a very strong team, and me and my CTO Jeff gathered together a lot of awesome team members, advisors and some strategy investors to push us forward. So we're two years in and we have launched three satellite payloads and have a few more launches happening in the next 18 months. So I would say we have come a really long way and definitely want to continue leveraging what we are good at, and keep pushing forward.
6) What would you say is your most controversial opinion as regards to blockchain or the crypto space?
I don't actually share that much because I truly don't like to share things that I've not thought of. But one thing I have found is that many, many entrepreneurs in the space are not very careful when it comes to managing a business and the funds that they have raised. So quite often, you’ll see people raising funds and starting businesses without having had previous experience in managing businesses or budgets of a large scale, so often people won’t do this in a very mature way. I even try to challenge a lot of my friends who are also founders in space, and sometimes I’ll feel that what they are doing isn’t the right way of doing it, and we’ll then share ideas and solutions off the back of this.
Another strong opinion that I have is that a lot of projects in the space are not solving real issues, or issues that are actually worth solving. This is problematic as they will raise credit funding for it, and this to me is a big waste of resources which can potentially slow down the whole industry. So a lot of projects think that blockchain is the ultimate solution for too many things, but I believe it should only be implemented in certain criterias, and is not the ultimate solution.
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?
I try to constantly think about what the source of my stress is, and whether it is because of me or external situations. I tend to think like this every time I don’t feel comfortable, or whenever the company is facing some issues, because this allows me to pin down the cause so I can then solve it. Quite often I will witness people rushing to solve their problems, and they are not solving the issues that actually need to be solved. So yeah, what works for me is carefully thinking about the source of the stress and pressure, and this allows me to find solutions.
8) Outside of crypto/blockchain, what is your favorite thing to do?
Meeting people from various cultural and geographical backgrounds is also one of my favorite things to do. I also do a lot of business travel, so whenever I am in another country I try to interact and spend as much time as possible with the locals as I really enjoy finding out what they care about and how they think. This I find is the best way to learn because you are being shown different perspectives which allows you to understand why they're thinking differently or in a similar way to you. So regardless of the source of information, if it is original and authentic, it's valuable, so this is another thing that I enjoy doing.
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?
So my colleague and co-founder Jeff was the third ever Bitcoin developer who worked with Satoshi at the very beginning (remotely of course), so is a real O.G.of the industry, and one thing that really surprised us both was when someone launched a token called Elite 888 Token. I remember them having a huge disclaimer on their website that basically said, our token is useless, but it's expensive and there are only 888 tokens, so if you buy one you can show it to others and people will know you are rich. We both found this to be really really funny, and I don't know if they did it in a sarcastic way, but it just goes to show the extent of the madness you can find within the blockchain space.
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 that you don’t have much time at all, so make it a good one.
So I would ask him, what has been the happiest moment in your life, or when do you feel most happy? This is also a question I ask a lot of people when I try to get to know them better, as I think their answers to this question really helps me to understand what they value the most. I believe people don't live on constant time, but live on many moments. If you think of 20, 30, 40 years of your life, you don’t think about every second, you just think of 40 moments probably - the ones that really stand out. Those moments are the things that you actually value the most, and this could be your family, your career etc. It could be anything, right. So I'm definitely interested in knowing more about someone like Satoshi, and finding out what he values most and what brings him the most happiness.
11) Can you give three policies you'd enact if you became the president of a country tomorrow?
For the first one, I’d want to implement a policy which promotes STEAM education, so science, technology, engineering, arts and math. When I was a kid, I remember that becoming a scientist or an astronaut was the coolest thing, but talking to the younger generation (people who are like 5, 10, 15 years of age), the answers that I get are very different. So having studied science, technology and math myself, STEAM courses are very important to any country because they form the backbone of economies and their productivity, and they also bring actual utility to people's life.
The second policy I would enact is adding blockchain into any kind of voting so we have more transparency. This doesn’t necessarily have to be just for political voting, but it could be for any kind of voting. I feel this lack of transparency is actually more embedded and impactful than we realise, and I feel that this has actually caused many people to speak on different platforms, so people don't focus on the real issues anymore, but whether there is corruption or not. So adding transparency to those kind of things actually will change a lot of the landscape.
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 SpaceChain community unique compared to others?
So I would say our community is really special because we are comprised of crypto enthusiasts, a lot of futurists and also a lot of space professionals. So one of the goals we try to reach at SpaceChain is we try to educate crypto people about space technology, and space people and futurists about blockchain technology. So we have been doing a lot of different workshops and education courses, and also meeting all the space people just to share knowledge about what blockchain is and what it does, and we always do this in a rational and non-pressuring way so they can choose to believe it or not. The reason being is because space is such a traditional industry, so they tend to be slightly slower and more conservative when it comes to adopting new technology. But so far we have actually received a lot of good feedback about blockchain, and this has actually resulted in many space people becoming community members. By the way, I am not addressing the community members who you’d expect to find in a regular crypto telegram group, but I am addressing our community in a larger sense - people who actually care about us and follow the project in different ways.
So I'm really fascinated and excited about this because we're trying to bring open source to space, and not just the technology application, but also the philosophy behind blockchain and how exactly we do international collaboration, how exactly we can work together and how exactly we can share a lot of protocol. So everything I mentioned is actually applicable in the space industry, but people just don't do it because the traditional space industry is dominated by big companies and government agencies, and people don't think commercial forces and open source communities can contribute, so that is why we are trying to change the landscape and attract more people to communities.
13) Personal project aside, what are some ‘communities’ in the space that you admire and why (this is not an endorsement)?
I'm still a fan of Bitcoin maximalists (so people who only like Bitcoin) because I think they're interesting and I also used to be like them, however having since done research and studied different potentials, I now think there are also other ways to go. But the original Bitcoin community will always be really fascinating to me because in just eleven years, it has become this massive network which is building consensus, and so many innovations are being created there.
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 am on Twitter and Telegram, but I'm not very active. I do use it to keep up with industry news, follow certain media outlets like the New York Times or Bloomberg, and keep up with colleagues, advisors, and other members of my ecosystem.
However, I think the current system ensures that people are focused on tiny little bits of unorganized information, rather than more in-depth information about.
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?
100 percent because I think the world is evolving - it’s not about mainstream or non-mainstream anymore. Things don’t work like this anymore. It's all about passing the power of authority along. To use an example, 20, 30, 40 years ago, the people who owned the biggest Internet companies weren’t today’s business leaders, they were probably one of the startups. So when you look at things now, the business thought leaders are the past startups like Microsoft, Google and Amazon, etc. So if you look at the crypto and blockchain community, the current thought leaders in the space have the potential to have a bigger share of the economy in the future, so this means they also have the potential to become thought leaders in the mainstream.
So I would say the more blockchain has a fair share of the economy, the more of a voice the community will have.
In our penultimate section we are going to ask you a question regarding SpaceChain.
16) What do you feel sets SpaceChain apart from your competitors (that is if you have any)?
We do have some potential competitors, but I would say the most important thing which sets us apart is execution. So 4 or 5 years ago we actually did some research and found that people were already talking about blockchain and space, blockchain and satellites etc, but found that a lot of them just kept talking about it rather than actually doing anything to make their ideas a reality.
When it comes to SpaceChain, we are only two years in and have already launched three blockchain-enabled satellite payloads. We have also done the in-market testing and other important developments, and have more launches coming up, whilst having partnerships with more than 30 space companies. We also very recently received funding from the European Space Agency, and this is the first blockchain related grant they’ve ever given out. So I would say compared to our competitors, we have the right tech mindset and are making actual change happen.
In terms of technology, we very much have a vision on the combination of hardware and software. So whilst many other competitors are working purely on software, but we are working on the even deeper infrastructure side of things, and want to build a decentralized satellite infrastructure for the industry because all the current basic infrastructure for communication, call service, and everything which pretty much uses the Internet, are all centralized. But if we're building in decentralized economies based on that, it doesn't really make sense, so we need a decentralized infrastructure, and we're not saying we're going to replace the centralized system (it never works that way), but having this backup will provide a huge leverage for all decentralized projects because even the centralized infrastructure can shut down. So having this other option is super valuable, and I think our competitors don't really make any moves on the hardware-based infrastructure side of things. We also have one of the top adviser boards and talents in the industry, so we're pretty confident.
At the same time I actually want to encourage more competitors coming out because It's such a niche space to work on, and more people and projects working on this will actually help the whole ecosystem and give us more ideas. So we definitely want to encourage more people to check out how space and blockchain can work together.
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?
Off the top of my head, there are three points I can think of.
The first is scarcity, and this is where most of the value comes from. So Bitcoin is actually one of the first mathematically proven assets in the world to have scarcity, and if you look at gold for example, there's no mathematically proven and transparent way of seeing how much gold there is. All the data is sadly dominated by certain governments, certain companies or even certain individuals, and quite often they actually don’t want to share how much gold is in their holdings. So if you look at the value of gold, it is actually based upon the consensus that gold is limited and always scarce, and if the economy is unstable, a lot of people buy gold for security because everybody simply believes in its scarcity; there is a consensus on this. But this consensus on gold is actually formed on some very limited information, but with Bitcoin you actually have substantial amounts of accessible information if you do enough research, so I would rather choose something where I can check the code and understand exactly what it does and see exactly how much there is of it.
The second point is I believe a decentralized economy should have its own very special place, because even if we agree that only 1 percent of the economy should be somewhat decentralized, there are still people who have this kind of consensus, and who would rather choose a decentralized economy instead of a centralized one. We have actually seen different financial institutions making investments in Bitcoin (for example) in their portfolio as one of their options, and the way I see it, even if we have a 1 percent decentralized economy vs a 99 percent centralized economy, we're still possibly looking at a 100X larger economy in the future. I am making up the numbers of course, but that's kinda my mindset as I truly believe there are people who are going to want to use this decentralized form of money.
The third point is I’m a big fan of open source, and I think the reason the blockchain industry is moving really fast and building consensus is because of the benefits with open source. So unlike many other IP based technologies (where if one company develops something, you then need to figure out exactly how they did it and then be forced to build something similar to them), when open source communities build something really cool, all you have to do is read it and then build something upon it. This creates a really good dynamic of learning functions and building upon someone else's good work, and I believe this is why all these awesome open source innovations accumulate really fast. So that's why I think the industry is gonna be stronger and stronger because there are so many open source resources available, because even if you are new to the industry you can read all about the technology, and the core technology is already readily available for anyone to just build upon.
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