The Big Interview

Atlas City’s Joseph Christopherson: “2017 was a bubble, things got out of hand”

Coin Rivet meets Joseph Christopherson, Chief Marketing Officer at blockchain startup Atlas City

Coin Rivet: Tell us about yourself and how you came to be involved with Atlas City

JC: I’m one of the co-founders of Atlas City. I first met Darren Oliveiro-Priestnall, the CEO, in an online forum for the Oxford Blockchain Society. We decided to meet up for a coffee one day and ended up spending three hours talking about the future of society, the internet, digital money, artificial intelligence and how the world is going to be a radically different place in a few years.

It was clear that Darren knew his stuff when it came to blockchain, so when he mentioned that he was putting a team together to fix some of the issues we discussed, I recognised that he was serious and ambitious enough to give it a go.

At the time, I didn’t realise how well-connected Darren was. When he introduced me to the other people he had in mind for the founding team – like Ed Cole who has a strong background in FinTech, and Chris Justice who was at the time the Head of Europe, Chief Operating Officer at the $400 billion asset management firm Janus Henderson and previously a co-founder of a tech company that listed on the NASDAQ – I was convinced that we could be the team to make it happen.

A few months later I quit my job in a well-respected architecture practice that I had spent six years studying for and changed careers. What most people don’t realise about architecture is that it’s more of a social science than an engineering discipline, so the things I learnt about people and human behaviour have been tremendously useful in my current role. I now lead the growth efforts of Atlas City as the Head of Marketing.

“The proliferation of bad ideas entering the market made the space look like no one was really doing anything valuable because it was a quagmire of over-funded ‘projects’ that weren’t really businesses”

Coin Rivet: Atlas City is about to make an official launch onto the market, having been in stealth mode. Could you tell us more about this?

JC: Atlas City has been privately funded for over a year now, having started in 2017, which was a crazy year for crypto with Bitcoin going up 10x and Ethereum going up more than 100x. The market was hot for this tech and we could have pushed for an early release and jumped on the ICO bandwagon, I have no doubt simply based on the CVs of the team and the whitepaper at the time that we could have raised tens of millions.

One of the reasons we withheld from entering the market at that stage was because of the proliferation of teams and projects, there was so much noise in the space it was hard to tell the good projects from the bad projects. There were plenty of scams, hype and irrational exuberance globally and it seemed like a precarious thing to be involved with at the time, especially with all the regulatory uncertainty around token distribution models like ICOs and airdrops. For us, it was more important that we focused on building the team and writing code.

Having been involved in the space for a few years it was clear that 2017 was a bubble, everyone knew it was a bubble, things got out of hand and it was clear it would pop in a big way and sure enough it has and continues to do so as people lose confidence in the market. We see a great opportunity going to market in 2019 as so much has changed and the landscape is favourable for what we will bring to market.

Coin Rivet: There are many high profile critics who argue that blockchain ventures are offering solutions to problems that don’t really exist. How do you respond to them?

JC: Over the last year or so we’ve seen many teams get funding on the basis of a whitepaper with a vague idea and no real use case. The proliferation of bad ideas entering the market made the space look like no one was really doing anything valuable because it was a quagmire of over-funded ‘projects’ that weren’t really businesses. What the critics had observed was true, lots of solutions to problems that didn’t exist.

Personally, I believe that market forces will drive these projects out of the space. They added ‘blockchain’ to their business plan to raise money. Now they’re spending it to fund a business which is inherently flawed. Already we are seeing a consolidation in the market as teams spend their money with little to no return on investment. I have no doubt the teams with real world application and innovative use cases will show the critics how much of an impact this technology will have and the new opportunities it will enable.

Coin Rivet: ConsenSys’ Andrew Keys recently predicted that 2019 will be a significant year for the blockchain space. What are your thoughts on his predictions and is there anything you feel he left out?

JC: He’s associated with Consensys, so he’s heavily bias towards the Ethereum ecosystem. Which isn’t a bad thing, but he sees things through the lens of what is possible on Ethereum as opposed to looking at the wider tech stack.

He mentions about Web3, but his focus on consumer-focused adoption doesn’t reflect where the real adoption will come from when it comes to blockchains and distributed systems that make up Web3. The way I see it, people won’t be the main users of Web3, machines will.

So, when he puts blockchain adoption in the context of usability from an end user’s perspective like someone using Ethereum for things like decentralised financial services, he misses the bigger opportunity space that opens up when you connect machines to each other. There is a massive wave of information entering the global data sphere from machines which is compounding exponentially and will continue for a while.

His thoughts around a killer ecosystem are valid, and for an ecosystem to truly thrive it’s about connecting to other ecosystems. Lately, the blockchain space has been going through a phase of interoperability, but in a fairly narrow sense of the word. Decentralised applications can interoperate with eachother on the same platform but don’t really interoperate across platforms or even outside of the wider blockchain stack.

Currently, blockchains operate in isolation. To me, an ecosystem needs to interact with other technologies and their needs to be a lot more work in this area. At Atlas City, a big part of what we do is ensuring that what we build is compatible with existing enterprise infrastructures. Coming from an enterprise background at Microsoft, Darren is well aware of the issues businesses face when implementing new technologies into legacy systems.

“What most people don’t realise about architecture is that it’s more of a social science than an engineering discipline, so the things I learnt about people and human behaviour have been tremendously useful in my current role”

Coin Rivet: Where would you like Atlas City to be 12 months from now?

JC: In 12 months, Atlas City will be part of a thriving community of developers building enterprise grade solutions on the next generation web stack. Already, we’re building tools to allow people to do things with distributed networks and ledgers that was previously impossible. Internally, we talk about what we’re building as a decentralised operating system. One that leverages cryptography and consensus to make the internet function more like a globally connected computer. I would imagine that in 12 months, we have offices set up in LA and Hong Kong and have continued to grow the team significantly, attracting some of the most ambitious engineers in the space.

Some meaningful changes will have happened as the next 12 months are key in Atlas City’s life cycle: we will be launching the network, open sourcing the code base and going through our next fundraising round. These are exciting times to be part of Atlas City and we are just getting started. Of course, all of these milestones are not without risk, so we are working hard to build what we set out to achieve when we started this mission.

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