By Matthew Iles — CEO, Civil
One year ago, I published The First Post — my attempt to explain to myself and anyone listening at the time (just my wife, it turned out!) what I was going to do next with my career.
I said I was driven by 3 high-level ideas:
1. Massive impact — Odds are this venture will fail. So if it’s risk you seek, might as well go for broke! I’m committed to contributing to society whatever skills and traits at my disposal to leave as large and positive an impact on the world as possible.
At Civil, we still have a long way to go before we make a material impact on the world, let alone a massive one. But 8 world-class teammates, 5 remarkable strategic partnerships, nearly 100 newsmakers in our First Fleet pipeline, more than 1,500 people in our community, and $5 million in backing from the world’s leading blockchain company all demonstrate serious momentum.
We’re all really building something now — that much is palpably obvious and highly motivating.
2. Network effects — The majority of massive new ventures today are platforms, a trend that’s still greatly increasing. Network effects — systems where each additional user increases the value of the system for every other user — are the first competitive advantage that’s truly native to the Internet era. Because software is fungible and organizing people is cheaper and faster than ever, a great idea needs to grow as rapidly and sharply as possible. This meant for me personally that I was looking for a business concept to found that 1) had the technical features of a fast-growth platform with 2) the capacity to have a large and positive impact on society while 3) being centered around something where I had a unique vision and perspective.
To me, the most striking thing when re-reading this post is how I never mention blockchain or cryptocurrency. I knew we would leverage these technologies, but I was so early in my exploration of the space that I was hesitant to commit. But is there any more network-effect-driven concept than blockchain? Maybe only the Internet itself!
After immersing myself in blockchain for the past year, my biggest takeaway is that people are at least as important as the technology. We need to build the thing to do the process, but what we really need is A LOT of DIFFERENT people to use that thing A LOT — often in unexpected and ingenious ways.
Ethereum and ConsenSys have both demonstrated that deliberately building community around your work compounds the quality and rate of improvement in that work. Of course, lots of projects have shown this before, but what’s unique is how vital/fundamental I believe it is to virtually every blockchain project.
The early Internet days inspired many with dreams that Linux and Wikipedia were the first of many massively collaborative, anti-corporate ventures to come. Since then, we’ve seen consolidation and monopoly forces prevail more often than not.
I believe blockchain will revitalize the early-Internet pipe dreams in practical ways for two primary reasons:
- Psychographics — Early adopters in blockchain/crypto seem to share a similar psychographic profile: People inspired by decentralization, motivated by fairness and justice but also meritocracies and mobility. To be sure, I’m convinced the blockchain space is significantly over-indexed with “mission-driven” people. This creates a natural bond among disparate parties and projects. It really feels like we’re all building this newer, better future together.
- Economics — Practically speaking, every success story (or failure/scam_ has a direct impact on the overall success of the space right now. Not just in a Fat Protocol sense, but as market signals that the technology and its associated new business models are for real. This will inherently attract more entrepreneurs, more creators and more customers. Rising tides lift all boats.
We’re lucky and grateful for our passionate and motivated community, which reminds us daily the importance of our collective work. Beyond the talented journalists and community leaders drawn to our work, we’re excited to be forging early partnerships with leading tech companies throughout the space as well.
Yet as vital as blockchain is to our goals, we clearly see it as a means to an end. Our mission is journalism, and in many corners of the Earth, the state of journalism is as dire as people’s freedom and safety.
For this reason, we are and must always be motivated not by short-term wins or even economic upside, but by long-lasting impact on people’s lives throughout the world. That’s what makes us and our community tick, and it’s why I think we’ll be so successful for so long.
Civil is simply people working together to make a better society with accurate information, wise analysis and civil discourse. We’re confident there’s a very big market for that.
3. Journalism and democracy — I’ve always had a special, awestruck respect for journalism. It doesn’t have the credentialing systems like law and medicine, but like those professions, there’s an (often unwritten) code of conduct and oath of service that great journalists take seriously. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, granting journalists the right to watchdog the powerful and create safe spaces for people to voice their concerns, priorities, ideas and opinions. I believe a healthy news media strongly correlates with a healthy democracy, and the opposite is also true.
I could write at length about the state of journalism in America over the past year, but there’s enough being done there already.
What’s never been more clear to us and what I think is a growing number of people is this: Journalism is directly correlated to a people’s morale and unity. What’s undeniable is how divided we are, and the wedge is news and information — what to believe, what to discredit, who is right and who is wrong often being conflated with who is good and who evil. It’s all driven by the news people read and who reported it.
People are understandably angry with everything. The government, Big Tech, fake news, but also broader, systemic societal issues like men abusing their relationships with female colleagues in disgusting ways, or mass violence depressingly becoming commonplace.
When we’re angry, it’s easy to recede and turn in to what’s comfortable while also lashing out at what’s different and strange. Unfortunately, our society is experiencing a trend in this direction that seems very likely to get worse before it gets better.
There are many constructive efforts underway to address these issues in America and abroad. We believe journalism is a critical part, but it’s just one part.
That said, it’s moments of reflection like this that I remind myself of simple truths: People are good. Community matters. The future is ours. We can all make a difference.
What we can’t do is hide, hate or give up. We must acknowledge our differences, open ourselves up to criticism and new ideas, and yearn like crazy to understand each other — now more than ever.
If Civil stands for anything it’s this: A world in which we work together, despite our differences, to make a collective and inclusive vision of the future that is more just and rewarding than a world in which we don’t.
One year later, I’m confident that — together — we are all well on our way to a brighter future through trustworthy collaboration, mission-driven journalism and basic human decency.
When I review what we accomplished together one year in, I’m heartened to imagine what we might do one year from now and beyond.
Team & Acknowledgements
Matthew Iles is CEO of Civil.
Lillian Ruiz leads Growth & Operations at Civil.
Christine Mohan leads Community & Partnerships at Civil.
Dan Kinsley leads Data Services at Civil.
Julia Himmel is Product Designer at Civil.
Matt Coolidge leads Content & Communications at Civil.
Nguyet Vuong leads Product Design at Civil.
Patrick Heinz leads Blockchain Architecture at Civil.
- ConsenSys: Civil recently announced $5M in funding from ConsenSys, the world’s leading blockchain company and venture production studio. CEO Joe Lubin and CMO Amanda Gutterman are Civil board members.
- CoinFund: Jake Brukhman and Aleksandr Bulkin are co-founders of CoinFund, a cryptoeconomics advisory team and open research community for blockchain, and also lead authors of Civil’s cryptoeconomic whitepaper.
- Old Town Media: Tom McGeveran, Josh Benson and Katherine Lehr are longtime journalists who teamed up to establish and oversee POLITICO’s state operations, before leaving earlier this year to form Old Town Media, a media strategy firm working to find new models for journalists and publishers. McGeveran is a Civil board member.
- Chris Padovano is a New York-based attorney and the founder of Decentralized Legal. His practice specializes in the legal and regulatory implications of blockchain tokens and distributed software.
- Ed Klaris is former general counsel to New Yorker and Conde Nast, advising Civil on matters of libel, privacy, fair use, technology and the First Amendment.