Nick Spanos: The Perils of Being in The Vanguard.

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Nick Spanos is one of the original men in crypto. An early evangelist, he was prominently featured in the Netflix original documentary Banking on Bitcoin back in 2014 and is immortalised forever on celluloid as a result, or at least in digital format. He is personally, in fact, possibly one of the original digital assets to emerge from this industry and this did not happen by mistake. Nick’s biggest weakness is his early vanguard appearances, or so he would have us believe. It is also his greatest strength and this time he is not jettisoning his blockchain zeal for the next big thing: Bitcoin is the big thing.

Speaking at the recent Sri Lanka Blockchain Conference 2018, he opens with a slide on the Tsunami from 2004. As news of the devastating disaster spread across the world, Nick was fast to react. He wanted to send relief and help directly to Sri Lanka. He put out an appeal over his network and was soon inundated with offers of goods, medical staff, even a private plane and he routed money through the Buddhist monks. He tried to link up with registered charities but they said they needed months to put together a rescue plan.

“We didn’t have months, we had days,” he recalls. And with the private plane, he organised help within a week. This action speaks volumes about the man: he is into direct action, does not seek praise and just does things.

That same can-do attitude had him trading Bitcoin in Wall Street, just opposite the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

“Some brokers laughed at me,” he says. “Others got it. For me, it culminated in the feeling that came from knowing I could send money to the other side of the earth without a bank or intermediary.” And here he pauses for dramatic effect. “I believe Bitcoin is the single most important technology development this millennium.”

Nick uses the example of the wheel to try and illustrate Bitcoin. When the wheel first was created, many people would have laughed at it. What could its use be? “See the wheel bouncing down the hill,” he says. “No one could have predicted where it would end up – on a bike, on a car and even in a clock. The wheel, like Bitcoin, was a world changer.”

Other proponents of the Bitcoin blockchain struggle to explain the immutability of data on the chain. Not so Nick.

“Consider blockchain like a family tree for data,” he says. “The current block is the son, the one prior is the dad, the one before that the granddad (or mum) all the way back to the genesis block. Blockchain is DNA for data.”

Nick’s path to blockchain has been a series of early vanguard discoveries. Back in 1978, he built his first computer. He had to use a soldering iron as there were no parts easily available. His first modem was the comparable size (and speed) of an early mobile phone.

Politics has also always been in his blood. Back in 1980, he sold political data in the form of labels. He collected voter preference and demographics and the purchaser would send out printed flyers to the home addresses of their voters. He realised the importance of domain names on the internet, buying 12,000 of them to resell.

He was ahead of the game with accommodation booking. In 1996 he registered NoMoreHotels and GetaRoom with the idea that people could stay in private homes. In 2008 he registered LiveryCab; another great idea as we know now with Airbnb and Uber success stories. But back when he registered the companies, hardly anyone had a smartphone. Great ideas but just too early.

Nick does not believe in asking permission in life. “If we wait to get permission then we are too late or we don’t succeed. Consider the Wright brothers. If they had waited for permission to build a plane, we would not know their names today.”

Next up, Nick went into real estate. He was still only 23 and soon became a very successful and rich entrepreneur.

Then the stockmarket crashed in 1987 and took with it his wealth. It was too painful for Nick to hang around. From successful young Turk to a broken man overnight was more than his pride could bear. He went fishing – literally – he started a commercial fishing business and ran away from what people might say.

“There was a story I heard around that time,” he says. “There was a report that if the briefcase belonging to Alan Greenspan, the then chair of the Federal Reserve, had been wider then we might not have had the crash.”

Nick pauses and looks around him. “Because of Alan Greenspan’s thin briefcase, I had lost all my money and ended up a commercial fisherman. This bothered me, deeply.”

Nick’s response was to get back into politics, this time from the perspective that international finance was not working. Currencies were once backed by gold and were ‘redeemable’ but increasingly this was not the case. It was not just the uncoupling of the US dollar from the gold standard in 1971. Everywhere, fiat currencies were behaving in a strange way. In Zimbabwe, the government printed a 100 trillion dollar note that was worth just 0.80cent. Likewise, Bolivia was experiencing hyperinflation and so too Venezuela.

“I backed congressman Ron Paul for president. Maybe he was too early or I was again. Every time there was a candidate that questioned the US Federal Reserve, they failed. I began to feel dispirited. I felt as though I had wasted 20 years of my life backing the wrong political candidates.”

However, it was at a meetup to support Paul that Nick came across blockchain. People at the meetup were all talking about Satoshi’s white paper.

“This struck me forcibly,” he says. “Immediately I could see the contrast between fiat and Bitcoin, that fiat has an extreme lack of scarcity. I compared the lack of transparency of fiat and what is present in Bitcoin  and I greeted the ability to exchange value without a trusted third party as a revelation as powerful as any road to Damascus epiphany.”

Growing up, Nick and his family lived in a very remote part of the states. His father was a mechanic and, from the age of five years, Nick was his shadow. Often, because of their extreme geographical distance from any city or motor parts outlet, his father would have to build parts from scratch to fix the cars. This experience gave Nick a first-hand education of being self-sufficient and not waiting for someone else to come and fix his problems.

“I embraced the world vision associated with Bitcoin. I became a Libertarian. I wanted to save the world.”

Nick threw away his real estate business and tried like a crazed man to explain to family, friends, anyone about Bitcoin. It had a major impact on his life. His longterm girlfriend left him and his family wanted to commit him. Friends and clients shunned him.

Again Nick pauses for dramatic impact “I felt, and indeed feel now, like I am 12 years old. And I now get into trouble like I’m 12 years old and I don’t give a flying…”

That total disregard for what was permissible led Nick to open his cryptocurrency stock exchange just opposite the NYSE. His Bitcoin centre achieved many things, however, besides trading. They educated people about Bitcoin and these classes were free. Since they were in the heart of NY they often taught tourists and, at night time, they would trade with each other directly.

“But I made no money,” says Nick. “Heck I even paid for refreshments.”

If officers asked to see the back office, and here Nick laughs contentedly, “I told them the back office was distributed all over the world. It could even be under someone’s bed in Iceland. Once, a package arrived and someone had been followed into the office by a policeman who asked to see the contents of a package. I came around the corner and told them that the Fourth Amendment was in the box.”

Around this time, Nick filed for a bunch of patents, some of which are to do with voting. “I’ve got a new project coming up but it’s under NDA right now. Next month you’ll hear all about it.”

Voting is close to Nick’s heart. Working as he did to support Libertarian candidates over the years, he witnessed much corruption. “If there were electronic voting machines in ‘insurgent’ districts then these would mysteriously break down. If the voting was done on paper then ballots from these districts would not be sealed with a wire tie and basically were not even counted.

“I believe totally in authenticating the chain of custody. Every person that takes the time to vote should be respected. My solution is to use a paper ballot but then to scan it and divide the scan between three different blockchains with the final hash saved on the Bitcoin blockchain itself. That would be the anchor vote.”

Nick stops for a moment to take a breath: “People say Bitcoin is a bubble,” he says. “I say everything else is a bubble.”

He lets the trickle of laughter run out of the room before continuing.  “If an asset doesn’t have scarcity, then it is a bubble. Bitcoin is the new asset class that commoditizes trust.

“Consider a traditional, popular stock. A company can legally create more, diluting the stock, and proving beyond doubt that the stock is not ‘scarce’.”

Mass adoption of Bitcoin is as inevitable as evolution. Nick points out that none of us are still using Windows 95. “Same with Bitcoin. Or consider what Henry Ford said when asked how he built the car. If people had been asked what they wanted before the car they would have asked for faster horses. Sometimes, like the invention of the wheel, we cannot see where it will take us – but take us it will.” Nick makes the point that the current internet has security issues but, in the future, the internet will be based on decentralised permissionless blockchain which will solve these issues.

Addressing the issue of ICO fraud, Nick shakes his head. “Fraud has been around a lot longer than ICOs. There will always be some bad actors, that is the nature of the world. The first medium for fraud was the snake.

“Recently, I was at a restaurant and the waiter struck up a conversation with me about Bitcoin. He explained to me that he had come across a site that asked him to send Bitcoin and now he was worried that he might not get it back. Did that mean Bitcoin was untrustworthy?”

Nick’s big laugh is back in play again. “I said to him – if you had been asked to send a chicken and you sent a chicken – would that mean chickens were inherently untrustworthy?”

Back to politics again. Nick is concerned with the way political funding flows. The US Congress sits for two years after which politicians must get re-elected. Typically they will have used up all the family and friends money for the first run in office and now need to reach out to special interest groups and lobbyists for new funding.

“This does not augur well for the ordinary person.”

Nick believes passionately in decentralisation. “If we let centralisation continue we are building a very dangerous place. We will be imprisoned by centralisation.

“We have lost our way. The methods of centralisation may have served us well in the past but now they are the enemy.”

Nick is suffering from poor health which includes failing eyesight. He speaks of this before saying: “I don’t need to see. I walk by faith. That is how I have my clarity.”

Nick was the five-year-old child, the one who learned at his father’s knee how to make parts when needed. Now he has grown up into the 12-year-old who never asks permission and so gets into trouble.

“The future is very bright, very colourful, and very flamboyant” is his verdict. Now that’s a world I want to play in too.

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About Author

Blockchain Advocate, Founder, Conference Chair, Keynote Speaker, Crypto Journalist, Broadcaster, CEO, Writer Jillian has held senior positions with global PR companies in Sydney, Singapore, London and Dublin. She was PRO of Iona Technologies (Ireland’s first company to float on NASDAQ). She changed the law in Ireland in 2014 and is a former European Parliamentary candidate (as an independent). She is a co founder and journalist in the Blockleaders.io. She freelances for Irish Tech News, Irish Central, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. She has her own radio shows on DublinCityFM and EastCoastFM. Her first job after graduating from Trinity College was as a systems analyst with JP Morgan. She is advisor to a number of ICOs, has been named a Crypto Queen by In Zero Conferences as well as listed in the 50 most influential women in the global blockchain rollcall. She is a board member of the US Blockchain Association and of EOS Dublin. She is CEO of Blocknubie. She keynotes and chairs blockchain events around the world – including Kiev, Austin, Muscat, Columbo. Dublin and London. She is a writer and is currently updating her erotica trilogy - Confessions of a Cryptomanic - where sex meets divrorce, repossession, bankruptcy and can bitcoin save the day!

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