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"Nurture A Desire To Innovate" 13 Crypto Lessons With Shawn Wilkinson Cofounder And Chief Strategy Officer At Storj Labs

We had the pleasure to interview Shawn Wilkinson, Cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Storj Labs. Shawn is the cofounder of Storj Labs, a decentralized cloud storage provider, and the lead author of the company’s first whitepaper. He led one of the first token sales back in the summer of 2014, raising $500,000 in total, and led a second $30M token sale for Storj this past Summer. He created the decentralized cloud storage market, paving the way for many competitors, like Sia, FileCoin and others, who have had some of the largest token sales in history.

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Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your "backstory"?

I came up with the idea for Storj when I was scraping Twitter firehose data while I was in my senior year of college. As I’m sure you can imagine, the amount of data coming off of this Twitter query was massive and I needed a place to store it. I was hesitant to use AWS because of the cost and security concerns I had. At the time, I was a poor college student mining Bitcoin in my dorm room to make a few bucks a day and buy computing resources for my personal projects (I could mine about .5 bitcoin a day with my personal computer) but Bitcoin was still a long ways from reaching $1000 a coin - let alone $10,000.

I got to thinking, “What if I could aggregate all the extra hard drive capacity from my friends and family to create a cloud storage platform that was more affordable and completely private?” And thus the idea for the Storj network was born. In 2014 I won first place at the Texas Bitcoin Conference hackathon with the idea and an early prototype, and started sharing it with the Bitcoin community. The community loved the idea - a cloud storage platform that was decentralized like Bitcoin nodes, completely private and more secure than traditional cloud storage platforms.

From there, I decided to get serious about the project. I drafted a whitepaper with contributions from Vitalik Buterin - who was in the middle of writing his own whitepaper for Ethereum - and a few other community members who joined Storj. We then did a token sale - one of the first of its kind - in summer of 2014. We raised $500k total, which helped us deliver a working prototype.

We continued to grow the team and continued building what is now Storj Labs.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about crypto? Why?

Utility. Tokens are creating new economies through their use.

Smart contracts. The ability to transact in a trustless manner in an environment that would require trust.

Decentralization. Their ability to continue to operate where traditional centralized methods would have failed.

Global Scale. Platforms in this ecosystem are operating at a global scale and creating global economies that are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

Automation. Through crypto projects, platforms and protocols, companies are automating many tasks that were previously thought impossible. Accenture estimates banks and financial services companies alone could save up to $12B a year by adopting blockchain technology and smart contracts.

What are the 5 things worry you about crypto? Why?

Scammers. these individuals continue to plague the ecosystem and have unique power compared to traditional ecosystems where they could easily be shut down. Users in crypto need to be educated and vigilant of the looming threats of scammers.

Regulation. If we cannot regulate ourselves, the authorities will do it for us. Unfortunately a few bad actors could make things difficult for the rest of us.

Unuseable for the Non-technical People. For an everyday consumer to use blockchain technology, we still have a long way to go. Most non-technical people don’t understand encryption technology, let alone how to secure a private key. Industry leaders need to work to educate these users.

Focusing on the Spot Price vs. How Disruptive the Tech Is. It is unfortunate to see the grand majority of media coverage and industry chatter focus on the price of a company’s token, rather than how disruptive that company’s tech is (or is not). Even companies are guilty of pumping the value of their own tokens. If they would focus on making the platform work, rather than the price of their token, their token’s value would likely be much higher in the long-run.

Ability to Scale. Companies in this space are encountering the biggest scaling challenge in the past decade - possibly ever. Solving the scaling challenges on the horizon are essential to long-term success of crypto, blockchain and decentralization.

What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?

Build a network. Blockchain, decentralization and crypto are all built around networks of different types. You all succeed together or fail together, but alone, you will always fail. If I didn’t build a network with highly intelligent people I could learn from, like Vitalik Buterin and many, many others, I would have never made it this far.

Nurture a desire to innovate. In my experience, the people who are the most successful entrepreneurs are those that driven by their desire to innovate - not those who only want to get rich. You have to have passion to recruit your team in the early days when building a startup - that cannot be faked.

Fail fast and learn. In emerging industries, like decentralization, you have to be able to fail. Otherwise you’ll never get a product out the door. Don’t let fear of failure get in the way, but when you do fail, it’s essential that you also learn along the way.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Our team at Storj is in the fortunate place where we’ve encountered our first scaling challenge - something that many of the newer projects in the blockchain space will encounter in the next few years. Storj is now storing more than 30 petabytes of data, which is 30 million gigabytes - enough to store the entire written contents of Wikipedia more than 500,000 times). Our goal now is to get to the exabyte range. To achieve this, we are incorporating a new architecture into the platform, which was announced in January.

How STORJ works

STORJ is an incentivized model where one stands to earn something when they rent out their extra hard disk space. With STORJ, Shawn devised a way people can get paid through coins. A person seeking to rent out their drive registers themselves online and downloads the STORJ app into their computer. The concept is the same as cloud computing with slight differences. Normally, when you store data in the cloud, the reality is that you are storing data in someone’s servers. With STORJ, you store your data in other people’s PCs. The benefit lies in that STORJ guarantees almost 0% downtime. You do not have to worry about some engineer slipping on a network cable in some complex somewhere and bringing the whole network down. In STORJ, you can upload or download your information in various computers using encrypted keys. This increases your security levels and ensures that you are the only person capable of modifying or accessing your data.

The future of STORJ...

Similar to how Binance and other companies in the blockchain space have limited new user registrations after experiencing massive increases in usage, Storj is also limiting new user registrations during this process to ensure that current customers can continue to access the data they have stored on the network.

Creating a decentralized network that can scale is a huge undertaking, but one the STORJ team feels confident to solve, based on their track record, the success they’ve already seen, and the extensive experience they have building these complex networks. This will help STORJ to catch-up to AWS in terms of capabilities and allow them to capture a portion of the massive cloud services market, which Gartner estimates to be nearly $250 billion.

STORJ has hit massive milestones since its inception and the love is spreading. The concept is designed specifically for developers but doors are open to others as well. The competition comes from companies like Amazon and Microsoft. The focus at the moment is on engineering, research and design as well as upgrading the technology to handle the next generation of users. The focus on simplicity, security and easy to use application is of paramount importance to the STORJ team at the moment. STORJ wants everyone to be able to use the product with ease and without fear or being hacked or losing data in any way.

Watch this interview with Shawn re: STORJ

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