The Catalyze podcast: SEVEN Talk, by Naimul Huq ’08: “The Un-blockable Chain”
Today’s episode is a recording of a SEVEN Talk from the 2022 Alumni Forum. This talk, given by Naimul Huq ’08, is entitled, “The Un-blockable Chain.” Naimul is the senior vice president of operations at VaynerNFT, a Web3 consultancy.
More about Naimul
Naimul Huq ’08 is the SVP and head of operations for Vayner3, a Web3 consultancy. Founded by entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk in 2021, Vayner3 guides enterprises, blockchain startups, and nonprofits into the next era of human interaction through NFTs, cryptocurrencies, mixed-reality experiences, and the use of decentralized protocols.
Prior to his metaverse obsession, Naimul built the Data and Analytics practice at Precision Strategies, working alongside President Obama’s former campaign managers on progressive political campaigns and international public affairs. In his free time, he was the CMO of RentCity, the first apartment-level review site in NYC. Before that, he led Analytics and Planning for Lippe Taylor Group, an award-winning media and advertising firm specializing in consumer brands. He honed his research and marketing interests over many years with Real Chemistry—a global PR agency focused on healthcare.
After leaving Carolina pre-med with a bachelor’s in English, Naimul worked in Humana’s Innovation Center and realized the world-changing potential of Web 2.0 through the advent of social media. Naimul was raised in Omaha, Nebraska, where he waited for faster internet. You’ll find him online at naimul.com. Naimul lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Neha, a pediatrician and so much more.
How to listen
Catalyze is hosted and produced by Sarah O’Carroll for the Morehead-Cain Foundation, home of the first merit scholarship program in the United States and located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can let us know what you thought of the episode by finding us on Twitter or Instagram at @moreheadcain or you can email us at email@example.com.
How are we doing? The first time I visited the metaverse, I was twelve. My dad upgraded our dialup modem, and I was connecting from Nebraska to America Online. I begged for months to join the revolution sweeping the nation, and at last, I got mail. The early internet was slow, but it was alive. Instant Messenger was the new agent of human connection, one that got killed when my mom picked up the phone. I learned to type quickly to get my thoughts out because I could ride them beyond the edges of Omaha, exploring infinite knowledge. That protometiverse, the first immersive persistent digital market of ideas, captured all of my attention and grew into the gigantic, multisensory social ecosystem we now live in. Now, rather than get kicked off when I picked off a phone, I fall straight down into it. Our internet, the live streaming global engine of dance moves, has revolutionized culture, while addicting us to the most sophisticated dopamine triggers ever engineered. We read and write, expressing opinion with every click, seeing more of what we like and less of what we don’t. Billions use it. We can’t live without it. It’s everywhere, always on until it’s not.
In the past year, governments in 34 countries have shut down the internet 182 times to silence dissent. The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have. So where do we go from here? The year I graduated from Carolina, a paper was published that introduced bitcoin. Of its many innovations, it solved for what’s known as the double-spend problem. In cashless economies, a validator is needed to confirm that a digital token is not being spent over and over. Typically, a bank does this, verifying that money is there, and then transferring. But banks can close down. The paper described a trustless, cryptographic secured network of computers that work together to verify transactions. This is the blockchain, a decentralized ledger designed to be unassailable and immutable. Supporters in this network are incentivized and rewarded with tokens that store value. And even though we already had a good system for file sharing in BitTorrent, torrents weren’t great at storing value because, like most computer files, they can be copied. Bitcoin’s other major shakeup was introducing digital scarcity. There will never be more than 21 million bitcoins. This is governed by math that rewards these tokens until they run out. Their value defined by a free market rather than a central bank.
So, on my birthday twelve years ago, a guy traded 10,000 bitcoin for two large pizzas, pricing a bitcoin at half a penny. Today, after decades of consensus, that dinner would cost $200 million. Bitcoin was made to store value. What it wasn’t built for is proving how cool you are. For that, you still needed Lamborghinis. So, a few years later, this cool guy and his friends invented a new blockchain called Ethereum. Ethereum can execute lines of code based on certain criteria. They turned the blockchain into a computer and started building apps called smart contracts. From digital gold, we now had an internet computer, and that meant banks without bankers, exchanges without Wall Street, businesses with millions of equal partners. And along the way, we discovered that blockchains could authenticate anything: art, concert tickets, collectibles, even identity, through NFTs. A non-fungible token is unique. It’s made to convey ownership of something legit. The token points to a unique item and says, “That’s real, and this guy owns it.”
In ancient England, the Saxons sought to kidnap the sororal nephews of rival kings rather than their sons. And the rationale was that the king’s nephew was more likely to be a member of the ruling family because the King’s sister was blood, and the Queen might have a sidepiece. Art historians call this provenance. We assume the Mona Lisa is authentic because the Louvre says so. The first time I heard about art NFTs, I thought, “Why can’t I just right-click save this thing?” Because without that token, I couldn’t prove how it was mine or why or since when.
Human interaction is all about emotion. I can tell you that there’s tech that makes web through revolutionary, but there is a magic that can’t be explained when you have a relationship of the mind with a member of your tribe who selected and embodied a character with the same finite collection as you. Bound by that scarcity and story, you explore your shared fears and wonder without ever knowing their name. But in seeing their transparent actions, the honesty of their commerce on an open ledger, know that the artifice and posturing of life can fall away in this space to reveal the secrets of who they really are. It’s cars and coffee. It’s ComicCon. It’s Alumni Forums on the grandest scale.
Web3 is the next evolution of human interaction. When you buy a house, you’re watched over by a signature wizard called a notary, who asserts the validity of your agreement with a rubber stamp. Last week, somebody sold a house through an NFT, replacing the wizard and bank and the stamp with one click. We’re witnessing a cultural and technological renaissance in every sector of life. The unbanked have upward mobility through DeFi. Scientists are building capital in shared wallets to invest in issues pharma won’t touch, like longevity and psychedelics. Children’s hospitals are receiving charitable donations in perpetuity for the sales of donated digital art. All of this is happening today, without permission, because blockchains tell the truth. When we reduce the friction of mistrust in our lives, we can be more present. If we stop debating what happened, we can solve problems together. We are already members of the best club in the world, but we meet so rarely. So to help you join me as we build the new internet, you’re all getting a seed, a free token of my love for this room that I promise we can grow into something of purpose if we do it as one.
So get out your phones, open your cameras and scan the code, and then put them away in honor of the next speaker. I’m here all weekend to help you set up your wallets and mint the memory of how it feels to be together.