How does one go from dropping out of law school to lecturing at a law school a decade and half later? Samson Williams, a blockchain ‘troubadour’, shared his journey with me. Samson has been vocal, always emphasizing the need for actual, real-world use cases for blockchain and crypto. He shuns amplifying hype and promotes the potential application of DLT technologies, not as they currently are, but as they’ll evolve over the next decade. He helps newcomers to the space build their profile while being unapologetically black. One of his favourite social media pastimes is ‘mansplaining’ in his own style, whereby he does his bit to lend volume to women's voices seeking gender equality.
Using a group text message as an analogy, Samson explains blockchain as a distributed ledger of immutable data. “On a group text message, data (photos, memes, addresses, words, etc.) is distributed and immutable.” To see this in action, try sending an inappropriate message to a group chat. It’s distributed because everyone on the group can see the photo."
Samson feels we should not bother kids about blockchain. “That would be a waste of time, money and resources.” In his opinion, what kids need to learn is the basics of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). When kids acquire STEM skills, they will be in better positions to apply them to whatever emerging tech is in vogue. “Blockchain isn’t stagnant.” Yes, in three years from now, blockchain would no longer be all the rage, it won’t be new, and it won’t be novel. By then, blockchain will be like Wi-Fi, the internet, or 'the cloud'. “No one will care, but use these amazing technologies so often that they are taken for granted. The future may be one of blockchain, but only for a decade, because new tech is always emerging. Blockchain isn’t the be all end all, it’s just the latest chapter in Digital Transformation.”
Young Samson was (and still is) a curious nerd whose interests lay in acquiring skills for the future. Even now, nothing changes. He has no interest in being the best or knowing the most about history. “'Cause once something is written down, it's history.” A lot of people want to master a thing, but gone are the days when being a master at just one thing was advantageous. “In today’s competitive environment, mastering a historical tech or skillset might be a good hobby but won’t prepare you for the automation, AI, and digital transformation of tomorrow. For instance, if you’re learning to drive a truck, how useful is it when, in 20 years, the majority of commercial transportation will be automated?”
Charity, they say, begins from home. Samson’s flame of curiosity is probably thanks to his “trying being intelligent with a smartass mouth, with two gangsta-ass parents from Los Angeles and growing up in a small east Texas town of 2000 people.” Although his dad was an OG from Compton, California, and his mom a Chicana (Mexican) from Watts, California, Samson prefers to refer to himself as Tejano, because he was born in Texas. Being born to entrepreneur parents instilled in him, from an early age, the spirit of endless hustle and ability to navigate racism head-on. Even though his family was poor while he was growing up, they never missed a meal. With two brothers, one sister, and 90 cousins, he is the first in the family to graduate from college and grad school. Proudly a mama’s boy, Samson credits most of his willpower, drive and tenacity in life to “my mama’s blood in me.” This was evident in his brief stint at law school, from which he later dropped out, only to come back a decade later, precisely in January 2019, when he will begin to teach at it. He also once attended, and dropped out of, PhD school and now he facilitates classes for people at PhD level.
Nerdy adult Samson first crossed paths with Bitcoin and later on blockchain in 2014, during his time with Fannie Mae. “Learned about blockchain from Anthony Johnson, the Chief Information Security Officer at Fannie Mae in 2014. Then read a bunch of books.” His first activity was Bitcoin mining, although, then: “people just didn’t talk about it as there was no money or interest in it.” As Baby Chief of Staff (Deputy Chief of Staff) for Fannie Mae’s Operations & Technology, Executive Office, he was living the American dream. He had the typical corporate finance job, with 6000 employees in his division, five Senior VPs, 35 VPs and 150+ Directors. The bulk of his time was spent leading and inspiring team leaders, to lead and inspire their teams. These days, though, Samson spends his regular time yelling at startups, for free.
Getting ahead in today’s world of dynamic innovation and automation necessitates having a particular mindset. “Be curious. It’ll take your career further and put more money in your wallet.” The best part about being curious is that: “curious people don’t need to ‘know’ something, just be interested enough to find out. Smart people, they already think they know everything. Dumb people think they know everything and are worse than the Smart people when it comes to innovation, new tech, emerging tech and accepting and acknowledging its impact on culture.” More reason for you to be curious, is because: “technology evolves so rapidly that all the Smart and Dumb people will find themselves unemployed and poor, simply because they were not interested in keeping up their skillsets to adapt to tomorrow’s realities. Be Curious. Never Stop Learning.”
“As an educator, my intention is to educate, open your mind and then inspire you to pursue your dreams. And not just inspire you but to mentor and cheerlead for you along the way. We’re a planet of seven billion and counting, so competition is fierce. My goal is to be like a ‘futbol’ coach. I may never take the field but my players and team are best at what they do. When one of my students achieves greatness, I achieve greatness. So, what will be the impact of my efforts and dedication as an educator and thought leader? Generations of global competitors and winners. You ready to win?”
One of Samson’s brothers, Matthias Williams, is also into blockchain, managing their Latin America projects from his base in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. His other brother, Diamond Williams, isn’t directly in the decentralized space but is on the cutting edge of IoT (Internet of Things) and corporate blockchain implementation. He’s a great wealth of insights into the future of automation.
For a space that prides itself in decentralizing participation by leveling the barrier to entry, those in minority groups have always made reports about subtle marginalization. Samson says, growing up as a fat kid and having folks always being quick to judge him had insulated him against such treatment. “So I’ve always used my smile to disarm them, my words to box them in and my wit to slay them when necessary.”
Passionate about innovative technologies, here is how Samson describes what he does in the decentralized space: “I teach strategy. Think of it like chess. Just because you learn how to make chess pieces or even how they move, do you understand the game? No. Learning how to build blockchains is like learning how to make chess pieces... now what? You still don’t understand the strategy. So you’ll see lots of people looking to learn how to build DLTs, but having no clue how to implement them or scale them or what business purpose they serve.”
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Putting others above yourself is the summary of Samson’s philosophy on the kind of people he works with. Imagine it in this formula: “We > Me.” As for projects, they “need to be simple. If you claim to have a ‘revolutionary’ thing, how simple is it? 'Cause, the real revolution is simplifying what currently exists to make it faster and easier. So, how simple is your project? Note - Simple is hard AF.” Other than being able to raise millions in the shortest time possible, for Samson, “ICOs are great because they’re a blockchain awareness, education, and adoption campaign.” Aligning with the things he is most passionate about, Samson's favourite industries to work in when it comes to blockchain projects are those in the healthcare and education sectors.
A 24-year-old who starts his first business at that age, only to lose it four years later, has sure earned the yelling rights on advising startups. This experience was Samson paying the iron price for his education and wisdom which he has chosen to share with a variety of startups. He advocates that all the time shouldn’t be spent on drafting sleek proposals and business plans or jetting off for one conference after the other. “Here is the first bit of advice to get your readers started. How are you going to make 1 dollar? Now, go sell a good product or services to make that very first dollar. 'Cause if you can’t make the first dollar, making the other $999,999.00 is gonna be a bitch. Most entrepreneurs think their business is to seek funding, look for investors and attend conferences. Make your first business objective to make 1 dollar. There is nothing like revenue to attract investors. And if you sell enough of whatever it is that you’re selling, you will never need to go beg investors.”
Don't you find it funny or near ridiculous that Samson, who has lived most of his life in the United States, is the Irish Ambassador for Crowdfunding and Alternative Finance to the EU? “I was born in Texas and I'm mostly Mexican, so it's funny.” That's just one of the interesting ironies of life. “I have developed a Certified Fintech & Blockchain certification course for the London School of Business and Finance and I'm developing a Blockchain Certification Program for an American law school. But I do not ever refer to myself as a ‘blockchain expert’. At best, I’m trying to figure out WTF I’m doing. Starting in January 2019 I’ll also be a professor at the law school, teaching a class on Tokenomics and Cryptocurrency Regulations. Which is funny, as I dropped out of law school in 2004.”
“Follow www.chainhaus.com and influencers in the space and then determine what you want to do,” is Samson’s advice for those looking to launch a career in the blockchain and crypto space. He further advises that, like him, newcomers should put their “focus on the Human element in technology, blockchain and digital transformation. I get the tech but soon, with Machine Learning, Big Data and AI, those processes will be automated. Sorta like when websites first became a thing. You needed to know HTML to code one. Now, you cut and paste a website in ten minutes. So, too, with blockchain. Creating a blockchain takes about six minutes nowadays. It’ll get faster. The real challenge will always be adoption. Adoption is a Human issue, 'cause Humans are unpredictable and complicated. So, pick where and how you want to be in the ecosystem.”
Samson hopes to start his legacy with the writing of his first book: “Guide to your first $100k.” For the rest of his legacy, he says that will happen “when I have kids, see my students achieve their first $100k and build dynasties for themselves.” In the meantime, he will keep working on “coaching smart people into being brilliant people. As I say: I’m a devious thinker whose application of common sense is often mistaken for genius. If I have a talent, it's helping smart and amazing people be even more smart and amazing. All We Do Is Win”