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“There must be a marvelous business model, like the one of internet search advertising, that will be born during the wave of blockchain revolution” this is one of the most impressive statements from Duran during the interview.
Duran Liu is the co-founder of Atlas Protocol, the head of Nebulas Labs, and a former senior engineer of Google Headquarter. During his tenure at Google, he led multiple machine learning application projects at Google Play and Cloud Firebase. He was also a senior engineer at Free Wheel and helped produce the earliest mobile video advertising products. Additionally, he worked in IBM as a software engineer at the development lab. Duran graduated from Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
The fast development of blockchain has attracted more and more Internet veterans to join this industry. After the era of “getting super rich overnight” is gone, Duran still decided to stay in the industry. What has been his experience in blockchain?
A Utopian Experiment
In 2009, Duran Liu was still a Software Engineer in IBM China Development Lab and first got to experience Bitcoin because of his curiosity towards new technology. At the time, the general belief towards Bitcoin is that after ten years–either bitcoin will become very popular, or it will be worthless. Duran only took part in this “Utopian Experiment” as a participant, but he did not realize the value of this new technology at the time.
Just like the plot in the drama “The Big Bang Theory”, Duran received some free Bitcoins through community, and also tried to mine Bitcoin on his personal computer. But because the computer that had stored the information of his wallet was formatted, he lost what could have became a huge fortune in later days.
“Even though a few years afterwards, when I heard about the steep rise and fall in the price of Bitcoin, I still believed that blockchain was a big bubble, until 2017.” Duran said.
It was the time when smart contract ICOs became popular in the blockchain industry. On the one hand, the price of Bitcoin kept climbing up and started to fork, media coverage was everywhere. On the other hand, blockchain project teams started to present their technology work and build up their communities. The discussion about blockchain technology and digital currency got more and more popular in Google.
“Nebulas was one of the earliest teams from China to present blockchain technology at the Google headquarter in Silicon Valley. It was my first time getting to know the core concept of Nebulas–Nebulas Rank, after having seen a technology introduction post from Nebulas in Google’s internal forum. I thought the Nebulas Rank sounds similar to Google’s famous PageRank searching algorithm, which was interesting.” Therefore Duran decided to reach out to the Nebulas team.
Right then Nebulas co-founder Hitters Xu was having a discussion about innovation of blockchain with Professor Shoucheng Zhang from Danhua Capital at the coffee shop by Stanford University’s golf course. After having listened to their discussion, Duran highly agreed with Nebulas’ technology concepts. The internet is an information network. PageRank algorithm indexes and ranks information, while blockchain is a value network that can do similar work. Nebulas Rank offered a measuring standard of blockchain’s multi-dimensional values.
Why Join Blockchain?
“When you see a space shuttle, don’t ask what seat you will get, just jump into it.” Duran said , “This is what Google’s early employees all agreed.” It is no surprise that he was amazed by blockchain’s fast development. In less than ten years, the whole digital currency market has already reached multi-billion dollar of worth, earlier this year its value even surpassed Google’s market value.
When hearing Hitters Xu’s speech in Stanford University, Duran was very excited. He could see the opportunities and challenges in blockchain. It was at that time that he decided to go all in on blockchain in the coming five to ten years.
Google and Facebook were both interested in blockchain and have established a dedicated department for this technology. However, for a public chain project, technology, community, and token are all required. Big publicly listed companies, like Google, face a lot of constraints in the newly developed blockchain market and are not flexible enough to get into communities and tokens. They can only get involved from the technology perspective, and therefore they will have a limited scope of success in this new sector.
The seven years spent in Google were more like another college experience for Duran: living condition was self-sufficient there, and it was a purely technology community. “You could just focus on technology and do not worry about anything else in Google. But maybe because I spent too much time there, I felt a little bit of disconnection from outside world” Duran said.
When Duran realized the opportunity was very precious and exciting, he decided that it was time to leave Google.
When talking about the reason why he has joined Nebulas, Duran said that it was because he was convinced by Nebulas’ technology vision.
He expressed his willingness to go into the blockchain industry when he first met Nebulas co-founder Hitters Xu. “Hitters suggested that I should buy some crypto assets first to experiment.” Duran took the advice and bought some cryptocurrencies. He thought that if his thoughts towards blockchain were not correct and that blockchain was not the future, then the financial loss will be considered a lesson learnt. It turned out that in less than a week, the market plummeted, the cryptocurrencies that he had bought lost a significant amount of value.
It was from this moment that Duran started to truly understand blockchain. He started to read white papers and to learn programming in blockchain. He was amazed by its core technology, the spirit of geek, and passionate communities. Blockchain’s true believers do not mind the price fluctuation between digital currency and fiat money. He thinks that based on the current trends, the blockchain industry will become even stronger in the future.
After having talked to Hitters Xu, Duran deeply felt the similar idealist mentality that he shared with Nebulas’ founding team. “As a serial entrepreneur in the blockchain industry, Hitters had financial freedom long time ago. But the whole team still work very hard. This is because they deeply believe in the future of blockchain technology” Duran said.
Therefore he decided to dive into blockchain without hesitation. After joining Nebulas, Duran participated in the architecture design of Nebulas version 1.0 and then led Nebulas Labs to incubate projects in Nebulas ecosystem and extend cooperation among different blockchain ecosystems. Duran has experienced the expansion of the Nebulas team from 10 employees to more than 100 employees. The lifestyle is drastically different from the time at Google, but he never regrets it.
Original Blockchain Interactive Marketing
The main idea of the Atlas Protocol (ATP) project comes from a lot of pain points in the industry that the team has experienced. For a blockchain project team, there is no effective technology platform in the market for marketing and promotion. Traditional Internet advertising channels have closed doors to digital currencies and blockchains. If no one like Atlas Protocol (ATP) does anything now, these ideas will still eventually appear in the future. But as a blockchain visionary, the Atlas Protocol team has spotted the opportunity in advance.
The Nebula Labs, along with the XGoogler Blockchain Alliance (XGBA), were able to put together a team of former Google colleagues to create the Atlas Protocol (ATP) project. As the co-founder of the project, Duran really appreciates the opportunity to create the future with the team. He believes that in the wave of blockchain revolution, there must be a wonderful business model similar to internet search advertisement.
According to Duran, the marketing needs of blockchain projects have to be addressed with blockchain solutions. This is not the same as Internet marketing. And there is no need to impose a blockchain’s mindset on an already existing Internet marketing system. The CPM/CPA of “classical” internet advertising, tracking conversion and ROI model are not directly mapped into the world of blockchain. Because there is a huge difference between the Internet and blockchain usage and applications and there is a big difference between offchain and onchain target users, even if we try to apply Internet principles to blockchain, it will hardly be effective. It is not a zero-sum game and the Atlas Protocol and the current traditional digital marketing market can co-exist.
Some people consider that the current blockchain advertising market is relatively small. Just like 8 years ago, when FreeWheel started making mobile internet advertising video products, it was also widely believed that the iPhone was too expensive, 4G was difficult to get to mainstream, and smartphone application market was too small. Therefore, we should look forward and believe in the future potential of blockchain.
Over the past year, many technology professionals from the top mobile Internet companies have decided to join the blockchain industry and to embrace the changes that the blockchain technology brings to the world. “Investing in cryptocurrencies and getting rich overnight is a very partial interpretation of the blockchain industry. Blockchains rely on technology and algorithms, it is a restructuring of social relations and redistribution of value made possible by technology.” said Duran.
For Google, the evolution of the business model from PageRank algorithm to AdWords and AdSense is natural. Similarly, from the Nebulas Rank to the Atlas Protocol will also be natural. Duran strongly believes that the Atlas Protocol is the future direction of the original blockchain interactive marketing.
“This is also the idealism that we believe. No matter how much turbulence and impatience the industry experiences, we will never forget our original vision.” Duran said at last.