Faces of Crypto: J.J. Sowers

The cryptocurrency world has sparked large online and offline communities of early adopters fascinated by the potential of blockchain technology. Many investors come from non-traditional backgrounds and have reinvented themselves, found friends, and even become household names within certain circles. Crypto enthusiasts come from all corners of the globe, from all walks of life.

Over the next few weeks, Stayawhile will give members of the community the opportunity to share their stories in their own words.

Today, we spoke with J.J Sowers, a successful 43 year old angel investor who also invests in cryptocurrencies. He has invested in over 30 startups and 12 ICOs. He acts as an advisor for several blockchain-related businesses. His firm, Crypto Specialist LLC, provides strategic advisory services to crypto-related companies and helps them to tokenize their business and conduct token generation events (also known as token sales or initial coin offerings.) Sowers is an advisor to the Stayawhile token sale.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I was born in Seoul, Korea. The version of the story I’ve been told was that I was abandoned on the doorstep of a police station in Seoul. When I was six months old, I was adopted by an American family in Baltimore, Maryland. I grew up in the ‘hood.

I’ve seen your music videos on Youtube How did that happen?

When I was 13, my adopted father died of lung cancer. That’s when I turned to music. I had a used guitar and $10 musical keyboard, and I taught myself songwriting. When I was in high school, I began performing at the Club International in Baltimore, and I was on the public access cable channel. Eventually, I won a local rap contest, and the prize was a chance to perform at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. I performed a rap I had written called “She’s a Tease.” I didn’t win, but it was enough to kick off my musical career.

I worked odd jobs after school and on weekends and scraped up enough money to record a three-song demo at Back Door Studios, a recording studio in Maryland. One of the songs I recorded was played on radio station 92Q’s Basement Jams, a radio show where the performer sang live on the air. It didn’t go that well, but I learned from my mistake, and recorded a second demo set. I played the demo for anybody who would listen to it, and eventually one of my songs got airplay on local college radio stations. That was my big break.

I signed a recording contract with Heartfelt Records, and recorded an album called Struck by Lightning. But the label went out of business, and the album never saw the light of day. I was back right where I started with no money, no job and no label.

I graduated from high school and took a full-time job and saved every penny to form an independent record label. I bought a professional sequencer, and started producing my own album. I recorded what ultimately became my debut album, “Notice Me” which was released in August 2004. My song “Um Sweet Thing” hit #41 on the charts, and “Ain’t Nothing but a Fantasy” reached #27. I recorded two more albums, but the record label that recorded then went out of business and never released the albums. My musical career wasn’t easy, but I kept at it.

Why did you stop?

On the night of March 9, 2012, a drunk driver ran a red light and careened into my car. I’ve spent the past five years recovering from that accident.

When did you start investing?

I began investing in individual stocks in college. I would have ideas about how the world was changing, seeing what people wanted, and I would look for companies with the products that I thought people were going to want. It turned out that I was right a lot of the time. I made enough money investing to fund my music career.

When did you start investing in startups?

I turned to startup investing after the accident. I made friends with some household name VC investors, and just started showing up at Demo Days. I’ve made a few very good investments, and in a short period of time, I’ve found my way into a lot of very good deals. Today, I work as a professional investor.

When did you start speculating in crypto?

About three years ago. I first heard about crypto eight years ago, and I’ve been learning about blockchain ever since. I have a theory that blockchain is today where the internet was in 1994. Ethereum Foundation did a crowd sale in July, 2014, and I had bought my first bitcoin the year before. I’ve been deep into crypto ever since.

How do you select which companies to invest in?

I look for the best and the brightest founders. I have a theory that there is a female equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg out there, and I’m going to invest in her. I especially like working with female founders.

What do your friends think of your crypto investments?

I never talk about my investments with social friends. Outside investment circles, I don’t talk about my investments at all. Warren Buffett says not to talk about how much you invest, so I don’t.

What do you think about ICOs?

Initial coin offerings are often confused with fundraising by the general public. This is a total misconception! ICOs are not just a mechanism for fundraising, but a way of distributing a token to as many as possible in the network. The real reason to participate in an ICO is to own the token of a project you believe is relevant to a specific online economy. In the long term the ICOs where the project token is absolutely necessary for the community and developers to share in the success of the company are the only ones that will survive the hype and bring real world value.

Some of JJ’s music can be heard here: https://vimeo.com/41219575

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