You can build amazing technology, but it isn’t a product unless someone uses it. Until you establish product-market fit, you don’t have a product. Writing great code isn’t enough. You need to listen to potential users and meet their needs.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Al Burgio, Founder and CEO of Zytara as well as the founder of DigitalBits, a layer-one blockchain protocol focused on speed and cost savings. Al also founded Console Connect in 2011, the pioneer of software-defined interconnection. He has been a serial entrepreneur for over 20 years with diverse experience across finance and technology. As CEO of Console, he raised in excess of $60 Million in capital from leading Silicon Valley venture capital firms, secured multiple Fortune 500 companies as customers, expanded the company’s platform into over 20 countries and was a recognized innovator with patents granted in the areas of Internet Architecture and Routing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began in the internet space in the late 90s as a teenager. I had started college early and decided to drop out to engage myself full-time with this new and growing e-commerce world. Fast-forward to 2011: I pioneered what is known across the internet as software defined interconnection (SDI) and founded the company Console Connect. I brought Console to over 23 countries worldwide. It was acquired in 2016 by PCCW Global and is still one of the largest platforms in the world. Throughout my career, I filed a number of patents in internet architecture. I attribute much of my success to being able to build a world-class team, a skill I’ve been able to bring to all my endeavors. In 2017, blockchain technology was really taking off, and, as a technologist, I recognized the brilliance of the security, self-auditing, and mathematical design that blockchain brings to the Web. This interest led to the founding of DigitalBits, a layer-one blockchain protocol that prioritizes security, speed and cost-savings, and later Zytara.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I had the great fortune to have been able to share the stage with the late Larry King along with some other industry peers in August 2018. We had an incredible discussion about blockchain on-stage and backstage.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
We are seeing major transformation occurring across society because of the innovations made possible by blockchain technology. The DigitalBits blockchain, of which I am a founder, is a cost and energy-effective layer-one protocol that resolves many of the issues plaguing the non-fungible token (NFT) space today. Most NFTs are presently minted on the Ethereum blockchain, which suffers from a lack of efficiency due to its resource-intensive proof-of-work consensus mechanism. The process of validating the current state of the chain is also incredibly taxing on the environment, and many artists and celebrities who have minted NFTs have experienced backlash for the resulting environmental impact. The DigitalBits blockchain presents an alternative that is designed to be fast, secure, and energy-efficient, dramatically reducing the carbon footprint for NFT mints. As the CEO of Zytara Labs, an NFT studio and production company, I experience first-hand the concerns of brands, artists, and other influencers, and sustainability often tops the list.
How do you think this might change the world?
NFTs are the way of the future. Prior to their invention, it was impossible to ascribe value to digital art and collectibles. The advent of blockchain technology changed that by making it feasible for the first time in internet history to prove the authenticity of digital works by minting these tokens on the immutable ledger that is the blockchain. NFTs have opened a world of possibilities for brands and creatives, including a completely novel source of income and avenue to engage with fans/customers in a deeper way online.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
As the NFT marketplace grows, we definitely need to continue to innovate ways of lessening the environmental impact of minting these unique works on the blockchain. The DigitalBits blockchain offers an alternative to the high carbon emissions involved in proof-of-work blockchains like Ethereum.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
The tipping point that led to the creation of DigitalBits was recognizing the revolutionary nature of blockchain technology, including its security and accounting attributes. Zytara began as a vision for a platform that would leverage blockchain technology for digital banking. We later discovered a particular need for digital banking solutions in e-sports and gaming (I have my son to thank for exposing me to the gaming universe). There are a lot of real, unsolved banking problems in that world that Zytara could provide solutions to. Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic actually resulted in enormous growth in interest because of the increased demand for digital banking solutions.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
One thing that is not focused on enough, in my view, in the crypto economy, is the need for fast, cost-efficient, and secure microtransactions. If a blockchain cannot support affordable microtransactions, it will never achieve mass adoption. Paying a $50 gas fee on Ethereum to mint a five-figure NFT is one thing, but what about NFTs for a $5 product promotion? Or a micro-reward given in exchange for following a social media account? Transaction fees need to be a fraction of a penny in order to make sense in the digital universe.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We have worked with some incredible partners on NFT collections, including Dole Foods & “The Hungry Artist” David Datuna, legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather, and popular Latin Music recording artist Ozuna & French sculptor Richard Orlinski. These unique collections showcase how NFTs can be leveraged to support brands and influencers in deepening engagement with fans. Most recently, AS Roma and Zytara Labs announced that the companies signed a €36M ($42.5M), three-year exclusive product partnership agreement, with support from the DigitalBits Foundation. This partnership further cements AS Roma’s commitment to technological advancement and will provide innovative and unique opportunities to AS Roma fans around the world.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I grew up on a farm and can attribute so much of who I am to my parents and how they raised me to be disciplined and to appreciate hard work. These are key things for having success in building a company. Without discipline and a good work ethic, it’s impossible to keep a company going with only a few month’s worth of capital. I’ve met a number of incredible people along the way, but it began with the foundation provided by my parents.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The future of finance should be more inclusive and provide services that people need in this increasingly digital world. I’m doing my part to make that vision a reality through my work with Zytara, which provides digital banking services for the future today.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You can build amazing technology, but it isn’t a product unless someone uses it. Until you establish product-market fit, you don’t have a product. Writing great code isn’t enough. You need to listen to potential users and meet their needs.
- Work/life balance of being an entrepreneur is difficult to achieve. Being a founder and building a company can be a brutal journey. It has a big impact and it’s very challenging to find that balance. Think through ways to get ahead of that reality rather than being reactive. This ties back to the importance of a great team. If you trust your team, you can have a better work/life balance.
- Tools to enhance productivity are invaluable. With Zytara, we’ve taken advantage of that. In my previous startup experiences, I wish I had had the observation of the quantifiable difference that leveraging all these SaaS tools can make in enhancing productivity in and outside of work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Bitcoin itself created a movement, but there is still a gap that exists when it comes to bringing this technology to the mainstream. We’ve seen eras of blockchain technology’s evolution — from the proliferation of tokens, to stablecoins, to NFTs today — but there is currently a big, open opportunity for a movement to bring the next phase of adoption to blockchain technology. A lot of what we are doing with Zytara is positioning ourselves to support people in entering this realm through NFTs, where NFTs represent a new mode of communication between a brand/personality and their audience.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Steve Jobs often references this quote attributed to Wayne Gretzky, the famed former Canadian professional hockey player: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” It applies to entrepreneurship in that success is dependent on being future-thinking.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Zytara Labs develops innovative products and platforms that leverage blockchain protocols, such as DigitalBits and Ethereum. The company is also a full-service production company and studio that supports professional athletes, musical artists, actors, gamers, sports teams and other brands with the creation, sales, and marketing of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Zytara Labs is a wholly owned subsidiary of Zytara Inc., the fintech company building the digital financial institution of tomorrow.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
To stay up-to-date on our latest developments, visit our website: https://www.zytara.com/
And follow us on social media:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/zytarahq
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zytara
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/zytara/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.