Mainframe’s Mick Hagen on the Importance of Censorship Resistance and Charitable Endeavors [PART 2]
Mick Hagen, Founder and CEO of Mainframe
CEO and Founder of Mainframe, Mick Hagen, has had his share of ups and downs. Recognizing that it’s not always a straight path to success, before working on the censorship-resistant network, Hagen learned a thing or two about failure. How to overcome it, what lessons to take from it–and that, from now on, he only wants to focus on world-changing ideas.
In the second part of this interview, Coin Central’s Steven Buchko and Christina Comben dig deep into Hagen’s motivators and ideals. They also touch on what plans the Mainframe team has for the rest of the year ahead, and why they chose China as the very first place for their physical airdrop. In case you missed it, check out part one of the interview here.
CC: Previously, you talked about Undrip and mentioned that it was the hardest period of your life when that company failed. Could you tell us a bit more about that – what lessons you took away from it and if it helped you with Mainframe?
MH: Undrip was a content discovery and social media mobile app. It actually got started because I wanted to learn mobile development, and it was a problem that I was feeling. This was six years ago or so. Social media was just at its peak and super noisy.
I wanted a tool that could help filter out the most interesting content from all the junk. And, that was what Undrip was. We raised about a million dollars, and we had a team of five or six people – pretty small. It was really hard to get product-market fit and build something that people wanted.
We had a decent group of users, but it was hard to compete with Twitter and the normal social media outlets that people would go visit to discover information. There was no good business model as well because, in social media, you need a big audience to be able to monetize through advertisements.
Ultimately, the product failed. We decided to pull the plug. It was hard coming off of a successful venture with the next being a failure.
One of the biggest things that I took away from that was that I wanted to just be working on crazy, ambitious, big ideas. That idea was not that big. It was a nice little app for filtering social media, but it was not a big, “change the world” idea.
From there, I had to work on something bigger. I had to try because, if I failed at going after something sufficiently epic, I would feel a lot better about giving it a go. I would feel a lot better about the journey and the experience, and I would be fueled by that passion and possibility of changing the world.
One of the biggest things I learned from leaving that experience was that I wasn’t going to work on any simple little app ideas anymore. I was going to go after something big because YOLO – you only live once.
You’ve got nothing to lose, and if you fail, which the possibility is still very high for any of these projects, you’ve at least gone after something really big. You’ve left it all out there, you put it all on the line to make it happen. Failing at that idea pushed me to think bigger and to try to go after something as ambitious as Mainframe. Maybe if I didn’t fail there, I wouldn’t have pursued Mainframe as I have.
What’s your biggest motivator for Mainframe?
I’m somebody who loves to just solve problems, and I love to create things and products and services that hopefully can make people’s lives better or more productive or more efficient. I enjoy the process of creation. I enjoy making and building.
With Mainframe, we’re trying to build a platform that can help developers build rich, decentralized applications that provide privacy and freedom as a first-class citizen.
But at the end of the day, I really want to be solving problems. I want to be solving problems for developers so that they can build these decentralized applications, but I also want to help these developers solve problems for whoever their customers are.
I’m passionate about that. Like I said, I do a lot of angel investing and even now, I do a lot of investing in great founders and great entrepreneurs. I love entrepreneurship, and I love building things. Working on Mainframe facilitates this passion for enabling developers and entrepreneurs to solve problems out there and help people’s lives become better.
Certainly, a lot of the applications that get built on Mainframe probably will be Crypto Kitties and similar apps. That’s okay. There’s certainly a place in the world for entertainment and for fun.
Hopefully, as we mature, evolve, and improve the platform, there can be amazingly rich, decentralized applications that will make a difference. Not only is Mainframe changing the world, but we’re facilitating other entrepreneurs and builders to change the world that they operate in with their customers, their industry, and their users.
That’s what motivates me, that’s what fuels me. Just trying to solve problems.
Certainly, I care about privacy, and I care about freedom, but I’m pragmatic. I’m not going to try to be a martyr for that cause. I don’t want to go to jail someday because I’m going against some government who doesn’t agree with it.
I want to be diplomatic here. I don’t know if I’m ready to be exiled to some embassy in a far-off place. That’s not who I am. I want to solve problems, and I want to build great products.
We were recently watching a video of your physical Airdrop – an absolutely amazing idea. I’m curious how it went in Beijing. What made you choose China? Did it have something to do with the fact that there’s so much censorship in that country?
Yes, certainly. That’s at the edge of our comfort zone, but we did want to make the statement. We wanted China to be the first place that we went for that very reason.
We had to be somewhat careful in the language that we used in some of the speeches that we gave. None of us wanted to go to jail. We’ve got families.
We wanted to communicate, in that country especially, that this stuff matters. Privacy matters, freedom matters, and that we’re building technology that can hopefully, in a way, provide greater freedom for the people there. I think we can, and we’re on our way to doing that.
How did you come up with the idea for the physical Airdrops?
That’s one of those things that people ask us, and I wish I could say, “Oh, it was so and so’s idea.” We got in a room with probably four or five of us and it’s one of those things where you start brainstorming and throwing out ideas. One idea is this, and then we riff on that idea, and that evolves to a new idea. Pretty soon we’ve got this whole idea – we’re going to do an Airdrop.
Some of the earlier ideas were like a treasure hunt where we’d put tokens somewhere in the city and give people clues so they could go and find them. Then, we thought that if we’re going to be in the city, we should do a meetup instead. Let’s get people there and talk about Mainframe. We considered combining these ideas too.
And then, someone said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did an actual Airdrop?” So, originally we were going to get some drones, put tokens in them, and then drop the drones. We realized, though, that it might be unsafe with a bunch of drones flying overhead. Finally, we got to the balloon idea. It was just one idea that iterated to another idea and ended with what we have today.
I especially like the Proof of Heart airdrop idea, that’s going to be incredible.
We’re really excited about that. One of the things that I did with Undrip was make a rap video to try to raise money. Then, we became known as the startup that does rap videos.
So, we decided to do another rap video to raise money for a few small businesses that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. It was a really cool experience. One was a bagel shop, one was a silkscreen printing shop, and another one was a restaurant. It was an awesome, fulfilling experience to raise money and help those businesses get rebuilt.
I’ve always enjoyed giving back. I’ve always enjoyed the charitable aspect of business – not just doing well but also doing good in the community.
This industry has a lot of people who are speculators and people trying to get rich quick. There’s a lot of unsavory behavior and attitudes out there. We thought the Proof of Heart was a great idea to try to channel some of that less than savory behavior into something really positive – good causes and nonprofit organizations.
That’s what we decided to do, and we’ve raised a good amount of money. We didn’t raise a hundred million like some projects have, but it just seemed right that we should use some of that money for charity. It just felt like a good thing to do, especially in this industry where there’s so much greed and speculation.
I’ve always wanted that to be a part of our culture, having an attitude of giving in our company, and hopefully, in our community as well. Not just for the team, but the for people around us as well, I want giving to be an important value in our larger community.
It seems like through the Proof of Heart and even through the Proof of Freedom as well that you’re really making an effort to make sure that the people that hold your tokens truly believe in what you guys are doing and are aligned with your mission. Why is that so important to you?
It’s important because we know that there are going to be people out there who don’t want our technology to exist. There are going to be people out there who don’t want to see us be successful.
For Mainframe to be successful, it’s going to take a lot more effort and energy than just the team of 12 or 13 people, however many we have now. It’s not going to work if it’s just us. We really want this to feel like a project for the community. We want this to be bigger than any single person or founder or team.
So, we’re doing our best to try to attract the people who can help push this forward, who can help carry the flag of freedom no matter what happens to us. Our hope is that this can be built and supported and pushed by the community. We understand it’s essential that we have a community of people who are in this for the long-term and who believe in the values of privacy and freedom.
That’s why we’ve tried to give the tokens away to the people. It’s not perfect. We know a lot of people still do things just to get free tokens, but we’re doing the best that we can to try to give the tokens to the people who seem to care about the project and the mission.
You mentioned music videos earlier. And, you’ve talked a couple times about how hip-hop is influential in your life. Can you speak more to that?
I’m half Guatemalan. So whenever we get together with my mom’s side of the family, especially growing up, we would have these parties and would dance. Dance was a fun part of the culture – feeling the rhythm and feeling the beat. I grew up enjoying music that allowed you to have a good beat and dance. So, I enjoy hip-hop.
I didn’t do any formal dance or anything growing up, I mostly played sports. But, when I was a freshman at Princeton, they had all the organizations in this big auditorium trying to convince you to join their group.
As I was leaving that gymnasium, a girl taps me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you dance?” I said, “Yeah, I enjoy dancing but I’m not like a trained dancer.” She gave me a flyer and said, “Well, you should come try out for Body Hype. It’s a hip-hop dance crew.”
So, I ended up trying out and joining. I was on this hip-hop dance crew.
Basically, I just enjoy good beats, good music, and with hip-hop, as it relates to the lyrics, I enjoy witty and brilliant wordplay. It’s fun when artists are able to use words in a way that makes you think. What you’re hearing is not necessarily what they’re saying in a way that’s very clever and I like that. I like clever wordplay, and so I enjoy good artists who use interesting words to make you think and keep you on your toes.
It’s something I enjoy, but I don’t know if it translates to anything with Mainframe other than that music is what fuels my productivity.
What’s on the roadmap for 2018?
A few things. One thing is to tighten the narrative so that people understand that Mainframe is so much bigger than just messaging and communication.
The second thing, which is probably more important than the first, is to actually deliver on use cases. Get Onyx better so that people can be using it censorship-free, surveillance-free. Work with other partners, some enterprises, some governments, and some scrappy young developer entrepreneurs to get great applications built and shipped. That’s something we were talking about earlier today as a team, and that’s what we’re going to spend the rest of day talking about as well.
I’m fine if CryptoKitties wants to get built on Mainframe, but we want to build things that solve real problems and that help people or companies be more secure, more private, more connected, and more productive. Our focus is to continue to get the platform to a point where developers and partners can ship those great experiences.
Whatever it is that fuels your productivity, Mainframe aims to be an integral part of it in the near future. Thank you again, Mick, for taking the time to speak with us and giving us a peek inside the Mainframe story.
It’ll be interesting to see what 2018 has in store for the Mainframe team and the creative projects that are built on the platform.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christina is a B2B writer and MBA, specializing in fintech, cybersecurity, blockchain, and other geeky areas. When she’s not at her computer, you’ll find her surfing, traveling, or relaxing with a glass of wine.