One of the things I’ve always been passionate about is building a
team from scratch. When I look back on my career the most fun I’ve had
is assembling wonderful groups of people together and building something
amazing. When the opportunity to join Oneiro and run ndev came, one of
the most compelling reasons for me to join was that I’d have the
opportunity to do that again. After a year of working on this, I can
honestly say, the ndev team is the best team I’ve ever worked with.
When you build a team from scratch you obviously need to think about a
lot of different things and identify the type of culture you are hoping
to build. However, I try very hard to not hire a bunch of people that
are very similar. You need diversity. Diversity of strengths creates a
There were only two traits that we required from everyone we hired:
One, they had to be critical thinkers. Critical thinkers tend to be
problem solvers. And for this project, we need problem solvers. The ndau
protocol is complex and many of the technical challenges we faced
required creative problem solving.
The second thing we required of all hires was they had to have an
open mind. What I mean by that is people that have strong opinions about
how to do their work, but those opinions are loosely held. They are
willing to look at new data and change their minds about things as new
data presents itself. That’s an aspect that is shared not only on the
ndev team, but everyone involved in the ndau project. This concept of
seeking the the right answer (despite preconceived beliefs) is
definitely a guiding principle for ndau.
Something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about is how the CTO role
and VPE roles interact and collaborate. Sometimes there’s little
difference between the two, sometimes it’s hierarchical, often times its
contentious. I’ve often come across people that can play both roles.
When I started ndev I knew I had to have a VPE rockstar that could solve
a series of difficult technical challenges, all with production quality
code, lasting design and FAST. I don’t mean fast as in the code runs
fast, I mean a prolific developer cranking out a lot of code, that could
also lead a team and put out fires. That’s why my first hire was our
VPE, Kent. No one fits that bill better than him. Kent’s one of those
rare individuals who’s good at thinking at scale, but also in the weeds.
His designs tend to be simple at the detail level but able to solve
complex problems at scale. He can architect, design and code with the
best. He can contribute at any layer of the stack. He sees solutions
before people are finished explaining the problem.
With a VPE in hand, I turned my attention to figuring out exactly
what we needed to build. Essentially, ndev’s job is to take the vision
set forth by the ndau collective and the Blockchain Policy Council and
make it real. We were given a lot of great guidance in the form of the
ndau white paper, guiding principles, and specific deficiencies in other
digital currencies that we wanted to address. The job of understanding
what the ndau collective and the BPC gave us and turn that into
technical specifications for the desired capabilities started to take
the shape of the CTO role. We needed someone that had deep tech chops,
but also could think system design, but also someone that understood how
to design incentives into a system to align the behaviors we wanted. In
stepped Ed. Ed used to run the Lotus Spreadsheet engineering team… back
when 1-2-3 was king and Excel was trying to catch-up. Ed was the CTO
& VPE at One Laptop Per Child. Ed also designed the contests at
XPrize. XPrize is a non-profit that “creates incentive competitions to
entice the crowd to take action, and bring us closer to a world of
Abundance. The solutions to the world’s problems.” Sounds perfect right?
I have to admit that I’ve known Ed for about 40 years, and when I first
started to realize what we needed for a CTO, Ed was literally the first
person I thought of.
I won’t bore you by going through each team member, but I can tell
you it’s an amazing assembly of talent. Besides critical thinkers and
open minded individuals, we also looked for people that got shit done.
Like most start-up, timing is critical. Oneiro, being a traditional
VC-backed start-up, we’re not sitting on millions from an ICO. We’re
using an A-round to build an amazing product. But time is money and we
had to move quickly. Therefore, we needed people that knew how to ship
products. Every person on the team is willing to put aside their ego for
the sake of the product. The best ideas win. What I’ve found is that a
smart, egoless team, that’s building off a good foundation can solve
almost any problem they run into. In past projects I’ve been part of,
there was at least one (usually several) technological challenges that
hit us along the way that dropped our momentum like a 2×4 to the head.
I’ve been blown away by how many times I’ve seen our team encounter
these, and as I brace for a multi-week hit to the schedule, hours later
someone comes into my office and says, “we figured it out.” Usually
figuring it out entails members of the team talking out the problem
until a simple solution starts to form. And then they work on that
iteratively until the solution is obvious, the code base is left better
and simpler than it started. I cannot tell you how rare that is. Often
solutions to these problems tend to add complexity to the system, not
make it simpler.
Lessons Learned from ndev
As we got close to announcing ndau, one of the things I thought would
be fun would be to ask the team the biggest lessons learned from the
project so far. Realize that for many on the team, this was their first
exposure to blockchain. Here’s what I got:
- Don’t sit in your ivory tower trying to figure everything out ahead of time. Be Agile.
that we’ve done looks simple but has major complexity in the design
process. We’ve learned a lot of ways to not make a lightbulb.
- Learn from what has worked in the past, especially in other disciplines.
hidden problems that have not been solved for so long that they are
currently being ignored or accepted as “just the way things must be.”
are immutable. That makes traditional “build and iterate” tricky. We’ve
been able to abstract out some of the variables that the BPC may want
to change. But blockchain development requires more upfront and complete
thinking than web app dev.
- Read, but don’t try to read
everything. Stay up to speed with what’s happening but don’t get
paralyzed. There’s just an awful lot of amazing things happening in the
- Know what problem you are trying to solve. Don’t try to solve the other ones.
who your customers are and build for them. Meaning, we’re very early in
digital currency. We don’t need to build for the mainstream right now.
- Momentum is more important than being right. Move, even in the wrong direction, and then course correct.
- Be open to feedback
Chris Quirk, CEO, ndev