Navigating Web3 With Fresh Eyes — my interview with Jackson Dame

This interview was first published in Plumes With Attitude ( 🇫🇷 ), my personal newsletter on the benefits of writing, on August, 2021.

After winning the $WRITE race in June, Jackson Dame was the first person who helped me take my first steps in Web3. He jumped into the crypto bandwagon this year and became the Content & Community Lead at Rainbow. He’s become one of the voices that influence me most in the space, especially when it comes to making Web3 more inclusive and accessible to all.

Note: This interview was recorded on August 12th, 2021.

Hi Jackson! I’m so happy to have you as a guest. I first heard about you when you wrote a wonderful article about how you fell in love with crypto in March 2021. Since then, a lot of great things have happened for you and we'll get back to that later in the interview. But before that, can you tell me about your background before you decided to enter the crypto ecosystem?

Before I got into crypto, I worked as a marketer for SaaS companies. The thing is, I never truly believed in their mission or felt a deep connection to their products on a personal level. Back in March, I left a job at a traditional tech company because I realized that it was not a good fit for me anymore. Around the same time, I had been sort of playing around with crypto in my free time. I've always been very passionate about technology and using it in ways that will benefit my life and that of the people around me. But I didn't ever feel like the traditional tech industry was doing that to the world. I even thought it was harming people more than it was helping them.

So I started to think that this crypto thing and what they called “Web3” was maybe a chance to start fresh and try to build a better model for the future. Then I sent a tweet saying out that I was looking for a job in this space. Within hours, I got lots of people sharing it and referring me to people working in the industry. And within a week, I ended up getting dozens of interviews without even submitting a resume or an application anywhere. This resulted in me having three or four job offers and then accepting that of Rainbow.

Congrats, again! What’s even more impressive is that you did A LOT of things since March. Besides having the job at Rainbow, you won the $WRITE race and launched your publication on Mirror, you experimented with creating NFT projects and social tokens, you joined some DAOs... What a ride! (laughs) But before getting involved in crypto, you probably had some preconceived ideas about the industry. Some of them may have turned out to be true, others probably turned out to be wrong. How has your perception evolved over time?

That's a really great question! In a very short span of time, I sort of made a dramatic shift in how I perceived and related to crypto. Before this year, I've been following the ecosystem from the sidelines. I didn’t get involved in crypto earlier mainly because the public perception of it was controversial. I felt this space was very dominated by tech bros and Bitcoin maximalists. They are not really the kinds of people that I can relate to. I perceived crypto as being a space for them, then not a space for me. I was also biased by the headlines and the occasional “drama” that would occur on Twitter. Back then, I also thought about crypto as being a big homogenous thing.

I don't know what shifted in me exactly. But over the last 12 months, I started opening myself up to the possibility that there was maybe something else going on here. Then I read and watch videos on both crypto and blockchain. Once I started to understand how that technology works, I realized that it was both radical and for everyone — not only tech bros. I was also very surprised to learn that crypto was actually very heterogeneous. There were many types of blockchains, many different projects, and so many things going on under the surface — far away from the headlines. I also noticed that the people building these things were more diverse than expected. Besides, it was very global and not US-centric only. Then I started realizing, wow, maybe this space is a place for me, a place I could call home.

That’s fantastic! I had a specific question regarding your mission at Rainbow. There is this famous quote by Chris Dixon, “the next big thing will start out looking like a toy”. And I have this feeling that on Rainbow, crypto feels like a game. Sure, it definitely helps when it comes to making it more accessible and inclusive. But let’s not forget that it’s a game that involves money, risk and potential losses. Companies like Robinhood may have democratized financial investments and stock trading, they also received a lot of criticism for encouraging — and making money on — risky behaviours. So where do you plan to place the cursor in terms of narrative on the subject of the risks associated with crypto?

I love that question. It's something I care about because I share a lot of the criticism and concerns that people have over Robinhood. I think that the experience of investing and interacting with crypto should be a fun experience, not something difficult and burdensome. It was the same approach for Robinhood, except that it fell into the pitfall of getting a lot of its users in trouble. Some people borrow money on margins for options trading and end up spending amounts they can’t afford to lose. And of course, Robinhood made that part very easy, while in the past there were lots of barriers for people not being able to do that — and for good reasons.

At Rainbow, we are aware that crypto has a very large knowledge gap that prevents new people from getting into the ecosystem. We want to make things fun and easy by using gamification, but most importantly education. We’ve started to create accessible and non-technical resources that people can understand and relate to, with everything they need to make wise financial decisions on their own.

The other big difference is about transparency. Rainbow is a non-custodial wallet, which essentially means that our users are 100% in control of the money and assets stored in their wallets. Those are protected by cryptographic keys generated on a user's device. Even our team can’t access anyone’s Rainbow wallet. So unlike Robinhood, we will never use people's money on their behalf since we made it impossible by design.

Putting the emphasis on transparency seems essential to create trust between newcomers and crypto overall. But there is another pillar of the crypto education that I consider often overlooked. It’s about the mental load associated with navigating in the Web3 ecosystem, especially for newcomers. Every day, you hear about new drops of NFT or social tokens, new DAOs to join, new versions of protocols… There is a lot of information to process and a lot of FOMO to handle. I guess you can also feel pretty quickly “addicted” to crypto. How do you personally deal with all this?

First, FOMO is usually a bad signal to rely on when making a decision. It’s also extremely powerful. It sort of blinds you and makes your rational mindset vulnerable. It fueled some decisions in my past and I had been overwhelmed before because of it.

I’ve developed this sort of mental model that says, “okay Jackson, if you're feeling this, then you probably shouldn't move forward with this decision”. I've actually chosen not to get involved with many popular NFT projects simply because I had this feeling of FOMO. Overcoming it played a big role in my mindset in this space and it’s helped me navigate it pretty well so far.

Second, what you said is true: new projects are dropping every day. But it’s very comforting to me because it signals that there are endless opportunities. I've actually learned to become content with missing out, since I know that there's always going to be another great project dropping soon. This feeling of overabundance actually makes it easier for me to say no to things.

It's also a sign that it's never too late to get started. What bothers me about FOMO is that it's not only toxic for yourself, but also for others. There's this dominant narrative in crypto that pushes you to always be "early" when you join a project or when you buy an NFT. And to me, that has the effect of dissuading a lot of people from investing or being interested at allwhich of course only increases the inequality between insiders and outsiders.

I agree with you. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years before getting into crypto: “Is it too late?” It’s also the first thing my friends and family ask me when considering to start investing or getting involved. I can now confidently say that we're still extremely early in crypto and that there’s an abundance of opportunities.

Your very recent entry is a perfect illustration. You have also become one of the most influential voices calling for more diversity in the ecosystem. As a non-binary person who lives in South Carolina, you're the opposite of the profiles found not only in crypto, but in tech overall. What's your favorite argument for convincing underrepresented people to get started?

It's a really important conversation to have. This space may be less conventional than traditional tech, it still does lack a lot of diversity. And yet, I’m convinced that underrepresented people like me have an edge in crypto. Web3 requires a large mindset shift in comparison to the traditional web. And I believe that because we have fresh eyes, we're well-positioned to help shape this new ecosystem in ways that are going to better impact the whole society.

For a long time, technology has been marginalizing people like me because we weren’t part of the establishment building it. So it's critical that we don't let Web3 be shaped in the image of those who were already there to build Web2. And the only way to avoid that is to make sure that more underrepresented people like me can get involved and claim space here for ourselves. Web3 is going to have much greater outcomes for everyone if a wider and diverse group of people will have a say in how it looks.

Beyond underrepresented people, I think that your analogy is especially true for artists — the majority of whom got screwed with Web2. But there is a lot of hope for them at the intersection of the passion economy and NFT, with seemingly endless opportunities to showcase and distribute their works. We had a great talk about this with Patrick Rivera. He told me that the possible business models for the future could look like 1% of the people funding the 99% others. This is directly tied to the concept of whales that is prevalent in free-to-play video games and keeps gaining ground in the crypto and NFT ecosystem. But I often wonder whether this is truly a really desirable model for the future. On the one hand, that's still a lot of power and impact concentrated in the hands of a few people. And on the other hand, I can’t help but have this image of whales in video games in which I imagine isolated out of touch people. So I get the point of such business models, but I also have mixed feelings on the subject. What does this perspective inspire you?

You made a lot of great points about the dynamics that are going on. Though crypto offers the opportunity of a fresh start, the slate hasn’t been wiped totally clean. We are building on top of what was set before us by institutions, investors, and people with lots of money. But I'm hopeful about the fact that there are a lot of great things that are built by more diverse groups of people. After having people from Harvard create successful Web2 companies, we're starting to see underdogs building popular crypto projects and emerging artists selling NFTs for millions.

And in turn, we see the whales of venture capital and other institutions suddenly taking notice. It's almost like these promising things are suddenly coming out of corners of the universe that they never expected. But while lots of money from venture capital has been flowing into crypto and Web3 projects, they are going to gain more influence and power over them — which concerns me.

My biggest hope is that crypto has enabled lots of new diverse funding models. Plenty of projects have never received any VC money at all because they were able to bootstrap the funding completely from the community of people that support them. And the same is true for artists. One of the first big crowdfunding projects that took off on Mirror was $NOVEL by the writer Emily Segal. She ended up raising 25 ETH from people who were very captivated by the idea of funding a novel on the blockchain. I am aware that this is a roundabout way of answering your question (laughs). But I am convinced that more diversity in the funding models will lead to more diversity in the projects launched.

Yeah, that sounds like a great point. Since we're almost at the end of the interview, I'd like to go back to your own background. In the beginning, crypto was just an interest for you. Today, you're a Rainbow employee, a creator, but also an activist calling for more diversity and accessibility in the ecosystem. And it's all happened so fast in such a short time... So I was wondering: what are your long-term goals?

Honestly, my initial goal was to explore and take advantage of the financial opportunities that are emerging with crypto. I grew up in a modest environment where my family didn't have a lot of money. A lot of the people that I have met in this space come from very well-off backgrounds. Then crypto is kind of just a continuation for them having money. But for me, it's all very new. When I first got into crypto, I was a little bit timid about it. I tend to be very conservative with my money. Taking risks on crypto was out of my comfort zone. But I felt it was an opportunity to overcome certain economic barriers that I faced in the past. And I’m now more confident about both my current situation and my future.

My next step is to assist as many people as possible at navigating crypto so that they can have more economic freedom and power — especially those who have historically been marginalized by the traditional capitalist society. I also want to put a significant part of the money I’ve made back into the ecosystem. I love to fund the creators I meet on Twitter without any gatekeeper saying otherwise. It allows people who didn't use to have a lot of power to suddenly be able to create a better future for themselves and feel part of a vibrant ecosystem. That's also why I want more underrepresented people like me and more diverse groups of people to come into crypto. It's a huge opportunity for us to sort of reclaim a lot of the space that we've been pushed out of for so long.

Wow! I truly hope that this narrative will gain ground in the coming years. For now, it’s a wonderful conclusion to this interview. Thanks a lot Jackson for such a great conversation!

  • She256: “An organization that aims to disrupt the blockchain space with diversity.”

  • Astrocryptids: “Cute and mysterious algorithmic pixel art NFT.”

  • Mint Fund: “A community-owned and funded initiative helping BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ crypto creators mint NFTs.”

Read my other interviews:

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