The Man Building Web3 for The Mask Network

Suji Yan is building Web3 for The Mask Network and funding it, in his hopes to someday decentralize the network and leave his role behind. This Q&A is part of Future of Work Week.

In an unlikely moment of triumph four years after leaving the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Suji Yan pinned a tweet to his profile.

The tweet was for the Web3 Drop Out Scholarship, an effort Yan founded that offers $50,000 to people who leave big companies or universities to enter Web3. The Thiel Fellowship created by billionaire Peter Thiel, which provides university dropouts with $100,000 over two years to pursue other work, is similar because it is.

In 2017, Yan thought that by doing rather than learning, he could offer the world more. He applied for a Thiel Fellowship but didn't get it. He still dropped out and started his own business as an independent journalist. In addition, he is working to create new tools that would "decentralize" social media with figures like Jack Dorsey.

Yan said that the Thiel Fellowship's resources are limited, and that the opportunity for renegades and outsiders (including Vitalik Buterin) now seems "more traditional."

Yan believes that Web3 will have a significant impact on the world in the next 20 to 50 years. The scholarship, which distributed tokens to three out of 40 applicants in its first year, is a way for people who are otherwise unable to get funding to start creating.

Related: HashKey Back $2M Round in Twitter Privacy Tool Mask Network, Balaji Srinivasan

Mask Network, which uses open-source browser extensions to add privacy and Web3 tools to social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, has had its financial ups and downs. It is now part of Twitter's secretive Bluesky project working to open source social media algorithms, and it is transitioning into Web3's community ownership model as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO).

"In the next 10 years, I will definitely not be a CEO," Yan said. "If I am the CEO still running this business, it's definitely bad."

CoinDesk spoke with Yan as part of Future of Work Week to discuss why he thinks Binance and FTX are too big, the digitization of everything, and at least one way to "make it" in crypto.

You were a journalist before getting into Web3 and crypto. Do you think journalists should learn how to code?

Coding is a tool. I think it's definitely something important for journalists to learn. It's not saying they have to learn calculus or machine learning, which are fancy and complicated. Coding is generally very helpful, like driving a car or being able to cook for yourself.

How did you become involved with Jack Dorsey's Bluesky project?

Bluesky was announced by Jack at the end of 2019 on Twitter. A year and a half later, Jay Graber, who had been involved in Bluesky from the start, was appointed as CEO. I met her online because she was from the Zcash community. I was lucky that when I was in college, Andrew Millerwas a young professor at UIUC [University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign]. He is also co-founder of Zcash, president of Zcash Foundation that's how I know Zcash.

For related information, see: Twitter Picks Crypto Developer Jay Graber to Run Bluesky

When the Bluesky Network raised funds, we started to donate to other decentralized social networks, which also connected us to other Bluesky teams. At that time, it was a very small world. So we were all connected with each other back then. Later on, Jay created this Discord group that later became a more serious group with people from Twitter and the crypto community in it. 

After Jack left Twitter in 2021, Bluesky became more independent and Jay became CEO. We're still trying to figure out what's the next thing we're going to do, but overall I think that no matter what changes-like with Web5 and Web6-it doesn't matter. Whatever it is doing, we'd love to help. We've been involved for two years already.

How does Mask Network bring privacy and benefits from Web3 to social media like Facebook and Twitter with an open-sourced browser extension? How can we be sure that Facebook or other social media companies won't block access?

We do not use APIs (application programming interfaces). There is no server interaction or middleware. One common mistake is to assume that [Facebook] can block us, but they can't. We learn the technology, but we don't rely on any of it. There's no way to stop us.

You left the University of Illinois. Why?

I am very concerned about maintaining my privacy. I really like this community, so I wanted to see what I could do with a pure online anonymous identity without revealing who I am, where I'm from, or what college application I submitted.

I had to drop out of college, since I couldn't afford it. I bought ETH and BTC in the early days, so that was lucky for me. And while I did get a lot of help back in 2017, as a crypto founder, no one offered me a fellowship. But now that I dropped out and got funding from VCs to start my own business, things are different.

What are you hoping to achieve or encourage by providing the Web3 Drop Out Scholarship?

When I was in college, I did not have the opportunity to receive a donation like this. The Thiel Fellowship is very traditional, so they can't offer much for Web3.

In the next 20 or 50 years, Web3 will open up a lot of opportunities. We want children to be able to help themselves. They say: "I have this dream; I just need some money to start it." No matter what kind of dream you have, as long as it makes sense to us, we'll help you. And if you need further funding or referrals, we can provide that for you. We have connections with everyone.

What do the three successful applicants have in common?

They all share a passion for the decentralized world. They all think that staying in college or large companies is not a necessary routine they have to follow. They all have enough knowledge or are willing to learn to achieve their dreams. Some of them do not have a tech background but want to learn stuff. One of the winners posted proof of dropout.

You regularly talk about Web3 and crypto in China, moderate panels, and give speeches. What are your thoughts on the development of Web3 and crypto in China? And more broadly, in Asia?

Asia is a huge market. We will not leave just because the Chinese government or anyone else says it's not legal; it's like a gray area. I remember when bitcoin was first created, everything was a gray area. Whatever people want, that's what we want to build.

Related: 3 Incorrect Paraphrases About China's Crypto Ban | Saying (2021)

It's hard to ban something if people need it, and that's why the government shouldn't do it. If the government thinks that just because they don't like something, they can just ban it, they're wrong. Bitcoin emerged from a gray area in cyberspace, where there was no law or regulation.

Could Web3, if it were built on open protocols, break China’s "great firewalls"?

Once they are released, they will not only destroy the "great firewalls." They will break every nation-state border. That's what I believe. That is also one reason why the Drop Out Fellowship logic exists: You don't need to be educated by these colleges that are certified by governments. They won't, and can't teach you how to do revolution. They're part of the system. But it will take years.

In your Twitter bio, you say that you are anti-996. What do you think about the work culture in crypto?

We are in the process of converting from a company to a foundation, and eventually, into a DAO. For now, we're still running as a company, which means that I'm the CEO and people get paid by me. The Ethereum model or Bitcoin model is successful - it's like members become volunteers. That really excites me every day.

If I wake up in 10 years and find out that I’m still CEO, it would be a terrible thing. Founders of large public companies have been CEOs for too long. Ten years ago, they were the CEO, and after 10 years they are still CEOs. A lot of businesses can become communities, like decentralized exchanges.

We have a DAO to form an organization for the DAO members. The labor union is the first version of DAO. If our employees are in other DAOs, I'm really happy with that. But for now, we're still a company. Our goal is to make sure in the next 10 years I will definitely not be a CEO. If I'm the CEO running this business it's bad. 

What advice would you give to someone trying to succeed in crypto?

You will see a lot of big whales or big companies playing games, but try to remember that the fundamentals of the industry is to evolve in a decentralized manner and cross nations' borders. If you believe in that, if you follow that path, you're going to be successful; otherwise, not. You're wasting your time.

In the past cycles, I learned that you shouldn't trust large companies and big organizations. Yes, you should talk to them, but don't believe that they're the ones who will make history. It's not the CEO who will make history.

Binance and FTX are amongst the biggest crypto companies in the world. However, their size has become a problem. This industry's fundamental logic is that we're pushing people into a digital life while forming new communities, staying together, with decentralized tech. We're seeing that happen.

Future of Work Week: More Pu

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