Let there be layers. Image by William Topping.

Meet the Community Manager — An Interview with Stuart James.

Stuart James
Jun 20, 2018 · 7 min read

Stuart is now the COO at decentralized justice protocol Kleros and co-founder of Stroax blockchain marketing consultancy.

He first discovered bitcoin when it was $5 and had the sense to buy in when it was under $40, which felt expensive at the time. He’s mined Litecoin, Ethereum and Dash when it was still Darkcoin, and is a 2x BAFTA winning music producer in his native Scotland.

You can read more in the ‘Meet The Team’ series about our CTO Clement in this interview.

When did you start in crypto?

Sometime around mid /late 2011. The first crypto related email I ever sent is dated February 2012 but I knew of it before, much before in fact and still kick myself for not mining Bitcoins in the early days. Everyone has a ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ crypto story however. It’s part of the culture.

Why were you attracted to crypto?

I’ve always had an issue with banking systems and their hegemony over most facets of human life. Growing up I felt a certain disdain to their practices despite never really having a reason to do so. It wasn’t until later in life I started to realise why I had this intuitive dislike for monolithic systems.

I liken the experience of visiting a bank to that of a dentist, you just want to get it done and leave.

When I first met Bitcoin and thus crypto, it was very much the allure of interacting with this nascent system maintained by a small band of cypherpunks, cryptographers and libertarians that excited me. Bitcoins came and went, some were spent, others lost to the digital abyss, S̵i̵l̵k̵ ̵R̵o̵a̵d̵, a failed Butterfly Labs order ( yeah, scammed) or formatted hard drives.

Their dollar value was merely an arbitrary number at the time but buying some tangible product with this crazy new tech always felt exciting.

Tell us some stories about your crypto experience? Did you mine? When did you start?

I’ve mined on a number of occasions although never on an industrial scale. My first ever setup was a so called ‘poverty build’ where I found cheap second hand parts (and one Radeon 7990 I bought with what seems like a scary amount of BTC now) which were put together with the idea of getting the cheapest most powerful miner with the quickest ROI.

I was mostly involved for the fun of building a budget yet capable little rig, as opposed to the profit or financial gain.

I started in mid 2012 with a good friend mainly solomining Litecoin along with some generic shitcoins at the time (Terracoin! Anyone remember that? ). I had a bunch of Anoncoin and also Darkcoin (now known as Dash) which was fun to crack blocks on too.

What’s your history in technology? Were you a gamer or hacker growing up?

My first interactions with computing were in primary school at the age of 7 or 8. I remember using old BBC computers to play very simple games and learn about basic programming. Although, I was never competent enough in the mathematical side of things to ever flourish as a coder. I became far more interested in hardware as a youngster and have built, maintained and repaired many computers systems over the years from basic desktops to enterprise grade servers.

I’ve been an avid gamer all my life from playing early ZX Spectrum games on tape, till today, where I still try and play a few of my favourite RTS games when possible. Best ever gaming experiences come down to Zelda(SNES/N64), Goldeneye(N64), Command and Conquer Red Alert(PC), DayZ(PC) and Supreme Commander(PC). Even in old age I don’t think I’ll ever put away the gaming.

Where do you think crypto ecosystem will be in 3 years?

This is a tough one to answer but I think the next year or two will be pretty tame in the cryptosphere. We have a lot of building to do before anything meaningful can happen in terms of mass adoption. Daily crypto user numbers are still tiny despite the huge BTC pump of December 2017. Since then, we’ve seen a very similar retrace to the 2013 $1000 ATH and more importantly, user numbers have decreased with it.

Until we have working products, more trust, and less saturation in the markets, I think crypto will remain volatile. There is the elephant in the room of a very obvious ICO bubble which needs to burst. The vast majority of ICOs are needless and only serve to dilute the quality of those that are necessary (like Kleros for example).

What’s the biggest challenge for crypto to become mainstream?

The crypto space hit its biggest milestone during the 2017/18 ‘Great Bitcoin Pump’. Although this was mostly the cumulation of many speculative price rises joined by a furious bandwagon of first time buyers, it did have the desired effect of cementing the name ‘Bitcoin’ globally.

Now everyone and their mother knows what Bitcoin is and that can only be a good thing. In some respects, you can argue it has become mainstream and took less than a decade to do so. We may sometimes overlook the amount of time it took the Teslas, Amazons and Netflix’s to really bring viable products to market. However, actual real world cryptocurrency usage is still minuscule in regards to the potential market size.

I don’t think we’ll see true adoption by the masses until the whole ecosystem is completely simplified to allow entry by even the most simple tech user. Since its inception, the internet has become more and more a ‘walled garden’ where the majority of users visit a tiny number of sites daily. YouTube, Facebook , Google et al with little else in the way of cyber adventures outside this sandbox.

In my opinion, crypto can’t become truly mainstream until I can teach my Mum how to actually use it. At the moment, the thought of explaining the idea of private and public keys (let alone why one’s wallet address is a random selection of hexadecimal characters) to her seems like a long way off. The same reasons crypto is so fundamentally powerful (holding your private keys, for example) is the same reason explaining it to the masses is a challenge.

The above is just a triviality which will clearly be solved as we progress through time. For current and future generations, the aforementioned wallet address ‘issue’ will seem completely normal.

Although the early years of the internet are often used as a comparison (and rightly so) for blockchain tech and its adoption curve, I like to think of the jet engine as another with valuable similarities.

Developed in the late 30's and 40's by the likes of Frank Whittle and Hans Van Ohain, the jet engine was initially a high maintenance, low efficiency, expensive and dangerous machine. In the same way that early jets were often plagued with safety and reliability issues, crypto is plagued by hacks and 51% attacks.

Early tickets for jet travel were reserved for the elite who could afford the exorbitant fees coupled with low passenger capacities. Over the next 50 years, the jet (and encompassing industry) developed into a highly efficient, safe and inexpensive method of travel. Now, you can book a ticket for as little as £10, fly halfway across the continent and back again without breaking a sweat.

This huge global ecosystem of planes, airports and passenger numbers took less than 50 years to develop into what we know today. That’s a growth from less than 100 million passengers a year in 1970 to 3.7 billion in 2016. The jet engine hasn’t changed in any fundamental way, it’s just had time and a lot of work hours spent on it. Blockchain will probably follow the same path towards mass adoption albeit, in far less time.

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