Meet Our CEO, Wally Xie

Behind Qchain is a team of dynamic, knowledgeable, and multifaceted individuals with a shared interest in blockchain technology. One of our favorite parts of working on this project together is getting to know various blockchain communities. We’d like for our community to get to know us better, too. This week, we asked our CEO to introduce himself to our blog readers.

What’s your story? Tell us who you are.

Wally Xie: I’m no Indiana Jones, but I am grateful for the productive and educational experiences I’ve had.

My undergraduate degree was in biology and film. I originally wanted to be a film director, before I came to terms with the realities of creating art in a capitalist system and learned several lessons about working in the film world that chipped away at my naivete. I actually ended up taking a stab at several music videos. You can still find those online. They were pretty fun experiences that taught me a lot about leadership and team organization.

Following my graduation, I worked at the Chicago startup Sprout Social, a great company that taught me a lot about ad tech and digital marketing. I am grateful for my boss at the time, Nate Turner, who demonstrated to me what a good leader should do in terms of motivating, disciplining, and trusting his employees. I learned from Nate that, while there are certainly pros and cons to different management styles, a more hands-off, trusting style can lead to more confident and psychologically relaxed subordinates, even when times and tasks get tense.

I departed Sprout Social to pursue further education. I wanted to deepen my expertise in applied mathematics and computing. To prepare for graduate school, I worked at the NIH for two years under the mentorship of the brilliant Dr. Carson Chow, where I tackled computational neuroscience research in a project that investigated whether mathematical neuron models could capture an observed brain computation called divisive normalization. Working with Dr. Chow greased the wheels for further quantitative training at the University of California, Irvine, where I am at now. I am working on climate research under the mentorship of another brilliant professor in Dr. Steven Allison. My climate research project involves evaluation and comparison of climate carbon models using Bayesian statistical tools.

“Our shared appreciation and awareness of the scientific method is something that I feel has heavily benefited the development and execution of Qchain.”

Practicing science, particularly science that benefits our understanding of our environment, is something that is very important to me, and to other members of the Qchain team. Our shared appreciation and awareness of the scientific method is something that I feel has heavily benefited the development and execution of Qchain. We evaluate our business and technical development under a lens of analytical rigor in which we call things into Socratic question at each step and aspire to leave few stones unturned when it comes to discussing potential technical pitfalls and issues that must be addressed in the development process.

In terms of who I am, I would like to seem like more of a person than a corporate figurehead, and mention some issues that I care about so that people can get a better sense of who I am. I consider myself an environmentalist (trust me, I do feel guilty about the carbon I’m contributing while I’m flying for business!), and one of the reasons I am interested in NEM’s Proof-of-Importance algorithm and Ethereum’s transition to a Proof-of-Stake algorithm is exactly because I would like to see reduced need for glacier-melting GPU mining furnaces in the cryptocurrency world. I am also very concerned with rising global income inequality, education access, and digital privacy. For me, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are fascinating to follow because they are tied in with all of those issues.

How did you become interested in Ethereum and NEM?

Wally Xie: My cryptocurrency journey started years back when I heard from my engineer acquaintances in college about Bitcoin in 2012. By the time I was exposed to cryptocurrency, it was already relatively late for me to start mining, and I did not have enough capital to start trading. However, I started lurking on Bitcointalk, which reminded me of the old Internet that was giving way to the corporate friendly “web 2.0.” After that, I periodically kept tabs on the cryptocurrency scene. The first and only coin I attempted to mine was Primecoin, developed by the visionary Sunny King. Primecoin stuck out to me because it was not another Litecoin-scrypt-copy; its unique proof-of-work system involved searching for prime numbers. Unfortunately, it never really caught on, and I got tired of the heat and noise my desktop was generating.

In 2015, I saw the Bitcointalk announcement for the Ethereum ICO. I did not participate in it, as I had not read up on the need for smart contracts and discussions about Turing-complete blockchains. It goes without saying that, like everybody else, I wish I did. Ethereum got my attention when the DAO hack first happened. At that point, I finally started reading up on the technology and bought a small amount of Ether, believing it had pretty good investment potential. I also started looking into other DApps as additional things to invest in with potentially greater growth potential relative to Ethereum. I also discovered NEM while looking for competing blockchain technologies that appeared undervalued and underhyped; NEM’s development team, technical materials, and community really stood out to me in comparison to other blockchain technologies.

“I found the features that both [Ethereum & NEM] blockchain technologies offered to be very intellectually fascinating and original.”

Some time passed where I just kind of marveled at the burgeoning cryptocurrency scene. I started thinking about how I could participate in the scene in a manner other than trading. I wanted to be able to divert my attention elsewhere; monitoring the fluctuation of coin prices was quite anxiety-inducing and stressful. I wanted to pick up some useful skills from the cryptocurrency world. And so, while daydreaming one day in winter, several lines of thoughts coalesced. Did a decentralized blockchain advertising DApp project for websites exist at that point? Digital advertising seemed like something that decentralization could actually benefit. And then, would it be possible to build a DApp that used both Ethereum and NEM tokens for better future proofing and coverage of user wants and needs? I found the killer features that both blockchain technologies offered to be very intellectually fascinating and original, and I liked that both technologies aspired for distributed consensus systems that were more energy-efficient and climate-friendly than Bitcoin’s present Proof of Work slog (Ethereum is planning to transition to Proof of Stake, while NEM already operates on their Proof of Interaction algorithm). Finally, I asked myself, what was stopping me from taking a leap and leading a DApp project of my own, one focusing on advertising and marketing? I had a feeling that some people in my social network would also find such a project intriguing and enjoy the process of building one. I decided to take the leap and start recruiting people.

Why are you working on Qchain?

Wally Xie: Blockchain projects are currently popping up left and right because of the speculative financial hype in the crypto world. There are a ton of gambling and crypto exchange DApps (and then, heh, I guess a ton of advertising DApps now, too), because those are the most direct ideas that are ideal for execution on blockchain technology with their needs for ledgering and decentralization. Insurance and banking blockchain application concepts are also sensible and appropriate; of those because of the tediousness, cost, and time commitment of satisfying government regulators to become state-sanctioned and legally clear. The financial, political, and social capital needed to create legitimate insurance and banking blockchain applications is huge; one needs to find politically influential lobby for their project, and they need enough money to buy enough time while their project is in legal limbo. I view insurance DApp projects, especially health insurance projects, with pillars of salt because of the regulatory minefields that have to be navigated. Then, there are some other ideas that are off the wall where it is hard to see how blockchain technology and centralization could even be useful. For example, do users actually benefit that much from a food delivery service that involves tokens on a blockchain? Does anyone need a “proof-of-calorie” validation algorithm?

I am working on Qchain because I feel that the benefits to decentralization and security offered by blockchain technology is something that offers genuine utility to digital marketing and advertising. Data privacy and security, concerns about over-dominance by central agents, like Google or Facebook, and the need for transaction proofing and ledgering all make blockchain technology very appealing and practical for digital marketing purposes in theory. Perhaps the practice will be different from the theory, but we shall see. Qchain, AdEx, BAT, and adChain are all great experiments on that front. Anyway, I am enthusiastic about the changes we could see in the general relationship between advertisers and publishers once bargaining power is moved away from one man-in-the-middle agent. Will we see ads from advertisers that are more specifically targeted and entertaining and engaging for various subpopulations? Do we see more interesting risks in content on existing websites and more experimental content websites popping up after publishers experience increased freedom from the algorithmic whims of a central agent and can afford to stray from rote patterns and formulas with larger cuts? Who knows. We’re here to find out.

How did you recruit your team? What traits did you look for in assembling your staff?

Wally Xie: I reached out to people very much based off of vibe and previous working experiences. Running a bit contrary to my scientific background, I did not use Moneyball analytics. I wanted to find people that were diligent, reliable, and auto-didactic.

“When moral compasses start shifting, you get cases like Mt. Gox, HashOcean, and whatnot, which screw over employees and investors, and do a damage to the blockchain technology and cryptocurrency scene as a whole.”

But I also wanted to find people with firm moral compasses and great awareness of societal issues. I feel that with the blinding financial promise and anxiety generated by this cryptocurrency rush, moral compasses are all too often eroded, and people get so greedy that they lose context of the connection of the blockchain scene to society as a whole in pursuit of short term gains. When moral compasses start shifting, you get cases like Mt. Gox, HashOcean, and whatnot, which screw over employees and investors, and do a damage to the blockchain technology and cryptocurrency scene as a whole. For the sake of investors, future product users, and my teammates, I wanted to build a team that is filled top-to-bottom with capable, knowledgeable, but also, decent people.

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