As Head of Marketing for Fantom Foundation, Michael Chen brings no-BS messaging and a keen eye for ahead-of-the-curve ideas to the Fantom team. We recently had a chance to hear his thoughts about Fantom, the broader crypto community, industry-wide barriers to adoption, and what it takes to launch a successful project.
Thanks for taking time to chat. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background and what got you into this space?
My pleasure. The basics: I’m Chinese and was born and raised in the Netherlands. I’ve always gravitated toward subcultures, which eventually led me to crypto. At the time, I thought it was a small niche community, and I was surprised to learn the crypto space carried such a large market and ecosystem. It became clear to me that we’re at the dawn of a new technological era, and I decided to drop out of college to pursue a career in this industry. I’m absolutely captivated by the idea of adding value to the ecosystem in its early stages, and I’m excited to be part of a project as well-positioned as Fantom to lead the next chapter of crypto’s development.
And how did you get involved with Fantom?
I’d been involved with a few projects in the space, building my network and experience overcoming common problems in early-stage blockchain startups. I was originally interested in Fantom as an investor and community member. As time went by, I got more and more excited about Fantom’s tech because of the incredible talent of the developers, Michael Kong and Andre Cronje. One of the most common problems I’d noticed in the space was that many teams seemed not to understand exactly what they wanted to build and who they were building for. Fantom’s technical expertise, clear sense of technical direction, and ability to actually navigate through challenges as they build toward their goal really set the team apart. I knew I wanted to play a more active role with them.
In your role as Community and Public Relations Manager, and most recently as the Head of Marketing for Fantom, you must be constantly engaged with Fantom’s stakeholders. What do you feel makes the Fantom community special?
Having been on both sides of the token—team side and investor side—I know how frustrating it can be when things aren’t going as well as expected in a project. Most of us in the blockchain space have experienced community hostility at some point or another. The Fantom community is special because that hasn’t been the case—they’re extremely tolerant of mistakes and have the patience and skill to help us learn from and overcome them. I’ve been so impressed with the generosity of the Fantom community and look forward to continuing the productive conversations we’ve been having.
Fantom has lofty goals in how it aims to disrupt technology infrastructure, creating a highly scalable solution for IoT and “smart cities.” What differentiates Fantom from other projects with similar aspirations?
I want to be careful with the smart city branding because I feel like we’re slowly pigeon-holing into that narrative. Fantom as a project is much bigger than that single use case.
That said, to answer your question, I can’t stress enough how much talent we have on our R&D team. This is a project with its priorities straight: tech first. Having seen a lot of projects come and go, I feel that Fantom is one of the few teams that actually has the talent and experience on board to back up our claims and lofty goals. In such a crowded and hype-filled ecosystem, it’s so important to look through the whitepapers and fancy websites and look instead at the people and GitHubs.
As Head of Marketing for Fantom, you are uniquely positioned to craft the messaging behind Fantom Foundation’s mission and vision. Could you summarize your strategy to that aim?
Since taking on this marketing role, my goal has been to expand the view of what Fantom is. What we’ve built—what you see in our repositories—goes beyond FantomPay and smart cities. While these use cases are incredibly promising and valuable, because of the ingenuity of the tech we actually have the potential to give today’s major players (think Ethereum or Hedera Hashgraph) a run for their money.
What excites you most about Fantom’s unique DAG-based Lachesis protocol? How will this consensus algorithm impact blockchain technology going forward?
The Lachesis protocol is one of the cornerstones of Fantom’s technology. I think that aBFT consensus is an amazing concept—it keeps me awake at night, and I think that more teams will start seeing its promise and will try to implement something similar when Fantom garners adoption.
How will Fantom drive adoption to the platform?
This is obviously a major point of internal conversation. I personally feel that the entire space, and that includes Fantom, is pretty far from widespread real-world adoption. This has less to do with the tech than with the cultural shift that digital transformation requires.
Newcomers don’t really want to interact directly with the blockchain element. Wallets and private keys are scary, and the process of entering the ecosystem is still too complicated. Fantom’s mid to long-term goal will be to focus on building out the protocol-level layer of the technology. We will work with the community to spread the word about our technical caliber and attract more developers to start powering their dApps and use cases with our infrastructure.
Can you say more about the barriers to wider adoption, both at Fantom and more broadly?
Currently, we share some hurdles with the wider ecosystem: bad user experiences, complicated entry to the ecosystem, and the lack of concrete use cases that we can plug and play in the short term. Most of our current targets for adoption—such as the internet of vehicles, smart cities, internet of things, payment solutions, and supply chain management—aren’t in a stage where they can be of major benefit to the user. This is especially true where most of our Fantom community members are located, in Westernized countries which have deeply rooted infrastructure and regulatory hurdles to navigate.
To move more quickly toward adoption, we will need to start acquiring a user base in countries with fewer legacy systems and structures in place. Additionally, engagement and buy-in from industries outside the blockchain community will be essential to move the needle at scale.
What advice do you have for other blockchain marketing leaders that might help impact the success of their project?
To be blunt: cut the bullsh*t and be transparent. Your community is not out there to get you, and if you engage them appropriately they can be not only investors and users but also collaborators in overcoming your challenges. Also, feel free to ease up and joke around a bit instead of providing robotic answers and announcements.
As they say, “Underpromise and overdeliver, not the other way around.” I’m going to say Q3 2019 for now, but engines are running at full speed and we might still see delivery in Q2. Michael Kong and George Samman did a phenomenal job on the Proof of Stake implementation so I believe that’s ready to play, and the rest of the development team is working on dynamic participation and root finalization. After that, we also need to go through a security audit and review before we can launch. All said it’s looking quite good from the daily updates I’m getting from the developers.
90% of projects in the space will probably fail. The space is filled with misallocated capital, Ethereum forks and tokens left and right, a lack of vision and understanding of what we’re building towards, and unfortunately some malicious actors. I’m glad to say that Fantom has the right team members and community on board to fight those odds, and we’ll be making big waves as we march toward adoption.
This concludes second of our 1-on-1 interview series! Follow us on Twitter for more upcoming interviews, news, analysis, and events.