“Your Company is Your Soul” with Altif Brown & Wyatt Meldman-Floch
I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the co-founders of Constellation Labs, Wyatt Meldman-Floch, Chief Technology Officer, and Altif Brown, Chief Communications Officer. Constellation is a tech startup working to address the limitations inherent in current blockchain technology — most notably the scalability issues crippling the technology’s chances of being adopted widely by the general public.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
Wyatt: To be completely honest, I did not set out to become a founder — I just sort of wound up in this position. My background is in programming, so at the end of the day, I’m really just a programmer that was passionate about an idea enough to quit my day job. Fortunately for me, I found people who shared in that belief and wanted to work to create and foster the growth of a company that is now spearheading the evolution of the most exciting industry of our time.
Altif: I have a very similar story of how I became a founder. I wasn’t a programmer or working on leveraging distributed systems on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence for NASA — like Wyatt via SETI — but I also didn’t sit down one day and decide “today is the day I start a company.” I was bouncing around from tech startup to tech startup across Silicon Valley, picking up incredible skills along the way, before I decided to take the leap with Constellation. When I connected with Wyatt last summer, and he told me that he was working on a new project — to be honest — I was already pretty burnt out from working at startups, and I was contemplating a move to another industry, or to one of the tech giants, like Google, or Twitter. However, I met with the other co-founders and we discussed more about the project and the vision. I was originally an advisor to Constellation, weighing in on and working on community building efforts and broader communication strategy. Through these circumstances, I ended up becoming a founder of a company within a space that is quite literally changing technology, and more broadly the world, as we know it.
Wyatt: I mean, Altif and I have been friends for years now — we met when I moved to San Francisco, right after college.
Altif: We actually met five years ago at our squash club in San Francisco. We got to know each other over a few dinners and quickly realized we could riff back and forth about logic, philosophy, computer science, esoteric, and metaphysical things. We continually hung out and when he needed someone to help him with his community building efforts he reached out to me.
Wyatt: I approached him because we were a part of the same inner circle, and I knew he was trustworthy, hard-working, and a man of the people, if you will. It really is all about your inner circle. They’re like your extended family.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Wyatt: One of my favorite things about our company is the fact that we are a really close group. Most of the founding engineering team is made up of my old mentors, bosses, and managers, who have helped me to grow and develop. Ultimately, they have all become some of my best and most trusted friends and colleagues. The whole idea for Constellation sprouted from conversations we would have — when we weren’t at our day jobs. In a weird way, it came to a point where we were thinking about, “If we could build something in a perfect world, what would it look like?” That’s the kind of environment that people quit their jobs for in order to join this wild ride.
Altif: Looking at Constellation in broader terms, our team is made up of a very diverse collection of personalities — from archeologists to economists, from mathematicians to philosophers — and yet we can all bond over deep tech and the different use-cases of both our product and blockchain in general, as well as quantum mechanics, and the origins of time. The team is so diverse in background, and with blockchain being so broad, everyone can find something that they can not only be an expert in but educate the rest of the team on. We are not only looking to hire people who are blockchain experts, but from all different types of backgrounds, educations, and experiences. From there, we find a good place for them to fit in dependent on their strengths. It’s a very different kind of recruitment ecosystem, especially for Silicon Valley.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Altif: I used to advise different startups around Silicon Valley, but right now, focusing on building the Constellation ecosystem takes up most of my time (including the hours I should be asleep). I don’t foresee myself being able to experiment with side verticals until after I’m 30.
Wyatt: I have been living the same life — no time but Constellation time! As a company, we’re about to enter into what I would classify as the most exciting period of our project’s timeline. Our development team has been working around the clock for months to deliver something that is truly revolutionary, and the fruits of that labor will be front and center in the coming months as we move from the development phase to the “going live” phase.
Altif: Exactly — the entire team at Constellation, from our developers to our C-suite, have been working on exciting developments, including a new developer portal and our first decentralized application. Orion, a membership portal to the Constellation ecosystem, serves as a platform where the Constellation team, developers, and community members can communicate, share resources, and contribute to the network within a token compensation model.
Wyatt: We also just rolled out our testnet, which demonstrates some of our system’s basic functionality. This is a huge step down the Constellation roadmap — it has been a long and difficult journey, but we’re almost there.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
Wyatt: Although it has nothing to do with my “brand”, or engineering, or tech in the slightest, Iron John: A Book About Men, by Robert Bly, has had the largest impact on my life. Iron John is the deconstruction of the hero’s journey throughout many different famous pieces of literature, historical stories, and religion. Essentially, it decouples how every culture uses the same metaphors and symbolism in order to describe the same things. It’s pretty mind-opening, and it helped me in my own spiritual quest to differentiate self from society. At the same time, it was an onramp to the notion of influence and hyperbole that we use to self-organize in society today.
Altif: I would say Plato’s Republic has made the biggest impact on my life. The first time I read that book I was around 9 years old, and it slingshotted me deep into political philosophy in general, which led to my college degree, career ethos, and basically helped establish the foundation of the man I am today. Interestingly enough, as opposed to Wyatt’s book which taught him how to differentiate himself from society, Republic is a discussion of how a society is an interwoven reflection of the aggregate of souls that which inhabit it. As we move through the world, the ability to build gregarious communities through the lens of justice as it relates to humanity itself is something that was definitely prescribed to me by virtue of Plato’s Republic.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Your company is your soul. If you want it to be successful, it needs to be a part of your body, your mind, and your spirit. You are one with this thing; you have now become a superorganism. Your life is no longer about you — the whole point is learning to become a superorganism, and you have to give your literal soul to do so.
- The most effective thing you can do for your company is remove the panic factor. There will always be a fire burning somewhere — the only way to keep your ship sailing and your employees feeling secure is if everyone believes in some sort of true north.
- Along the same lines as our first piece of advice, the entire company needs to operate like a superorganism; there cannot be any central point of failure. The real measure of success for a small startup is unlocking the potential of the people who have taken the risks to join you and making sure that they are inspired to continue growing both the company and in their own image, as well.
- Use the buddy system. With founders, just double up. Use a buddy for everything it makes sense to have one for.
Altif: We should explain what that means.
Wyatt: Oh, yeah. Often times in regards to major decisions being be made, a lack of communication and having only one person as the decision maker is the ultimate cause for delay. Using the buddy system ensures another person from your organization always has a copy of the decision in question. So if you’re out of the office and something important changes, it makes the process as simple as “something happened, I made a decision, and I’m letting you know.”
5. In the same sense that your company should be your heart, soul, and blood, you cannot forget to take care of yourself. When you start to suffer, everything suffers. Arguably the most important thing — in terms of company culture — is promoting a culture of health first, whether that is emotionally, financially, or scheduling things that are appropriate for your employee’s personal lives. You need to prioritize everyone’s health over everything, both on a personal and a global scale.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Wyatt: Oh man — wow, there are so many options. Altif, can you do yours first?
Altif: Trevor Noah or John Oliver. Their political commentary and willingness to call out entities or individuals who are seemingly larger than themselves, highlighting issues and circumstances that would otherwise go unnoticed for one reason or another is admirable to say the least. They use their platforms as an opportunity to bring varying communities to the forefront. This is one of the main ideas of Constellation and of blockchain itself — providing opportunities for everyone, regardless of class, gender, race, or age.
Wyatt: Okay — I would love to sit down any engineering manager interested in adding a tokenization layer to their technology stack. Constellation is designed to integrate with existing technologies and I would love to chat with them about their integration idea.
-Published on August 2018