My Conversation with Ali Khan

My talk with Ali about a wide range of topics – starting a company, moving to another country, being an architect and blockchain.

Video Transcript:

I’m still in Switzerland. This is my third week in Switzerland, the longest I’ve been in one place since 2014, so in roughly four years. And people keep asking me if I’ve got a little sick or now that I’m thirty if I’m just gonna stay in one place and settle. But no, that’s not the reason.
I am working on opening the Zurich DFINITY office.
And so it just makes sense for me to be here, be able to touch base before architects, landlords, and various other players while I’m here to move this process forward as quickly as possible.
I’m still here, I’m still traveling, my next trip is starting in, I think, about 10 days. So, I have a few more days here in Switzerland to get stuff organized. And with that, welcome to Inside DFINITY Episode Number Three.

Inside DFINITY Episode Number Three

[Music] So, in this episode I’m gonna cover something that’s not specifically DFINITY.
Even though the vlog is titled Inside DFINITY, I’m still gonna react and work with other concepts and thought experiments and people that I meet along the way. And I want to share some of their ideas as well, some of the interesting stuff that I come across.
But of course, the majority of this vlog is going to be about DFINITY, behind the scenes, the Q&As;, answering questions, tutorials, and so on and so forth as we’re getting closer to our launch.
But in this episode, I want to share my conversation with Ali Khan.
Ali is someone who I have originally connected with about four years ago. He is a Pakistani citizen. He stayed in Pakistan for first 25 years of his life, became an architect, was extremely hard-working and at twenty-five suddenly said, “There must be something else out there.” And so he moved to Dubai and became very successful there as an architect, built his own business. A few years ago he moved here to Switzerland with his wife and has since been living in Switzerland.

What I enjoyed was to see how he went from being someone who cared a lot about money and prestige, and he was always hustling to make it to now someone that to me seems like very wholesome human. But I mean that he seems very balanced, he seems very intelligent, very smart, and very thoughtful. He’s approaching his 40s, so he’s roughly 8 or 9 years older than I am which is always a great opportunity for me to learn from someone and their experiences that they’ve gone through.

Opportunities by Blockchain Technology

We cover a bunch of stories; how I started my first company, how I came about that he moved to Dubai, and how he lived there. But and also we talked about how education could be improved by blockchain technology. Ali currently works when I startup idea as well on how to make the world a better place with blockchain. We’re both very passionate about this idea. So, as we mentioned in the video, please reach out to us in case you want to get involved, in case you want to take on a project in the education space.

I’m here to help, support from the DFINITY side. And last but not least, had over to his channel he recently started producing videos as well. I really enjoyed watching.
And without further ado, enjoy my conversation with Ali on a wide range of topics.

Convo with Ali

Actually I had a very good professor. He’s a crazy guy in a good way.
The guy came up to me, he said, “Ali, come in.
Do you know about Bitcoin?”
And I’m like, “Yeah, man, I know about the dark web in Bitcoin.”
This was like, “Well, I didn’t know much about it.”
This was like, “Okay, I’m gonna send you a couple of things.
It’s a white paper by Satoshi, do you know Satoshi? I say, “No.”
It’s a white paper, I’m like, it’s like so there you have these two days.
Go and have a look.
And then he just got that thing into my head.
And I came back and suddenly I was like, I just don’t understand anything.
And it was like that Matrix moment, you know.
When I watched Matrix for the first time, was like, mind blown, like, wow, you know.
So still not very clear what the blockchain is, to be honest.
It’s getting clearer, but it’s still up in the air.
It’s like, I’ve heard some very good definitions, and I’ve heard some very weird definitions, and then there’s this wishful thinking of what I believe it could be.
Yeah, I think there are so many layers to explain.
I think the problem why we all perceive it to be something more complicated than the Internet and more sophisticated is that if I ask you what’s the internet, you would say, “It’s the technology that enables email, and web browsing, and Skype.”

Crypto Technology

That’s how we perceive technology.
It’s where they have an impact or an interaction with our day-to-day life.
You wouldn’t say, “Oh, it’s this incredibly complicated protocol, either UDP or TCP,” and then, “Packets are being routed through the border control protocol, and that’s how replicates data, and how it’s redundant.”
We don’t even appreciate it. I think, with the blockchain space, I think within the next two years we probably gonna see the first applications.
I think that’s my timeline, like there’s a lot of interesting infrastructure projects coming online now, like EOS, DFINITY is working on it, a few more Ethereum is working on, more scalability.
And I think once you have more solid infrastructure, then it will be easier for people to launch cool applications on top of it; that will have an impact.
Now, what will those applications be, we’ve talked about this offline for quite a bit.
And I did a couple episodes on the the Vlog project.
I am very passionate about what it can do for governance, what you can do for identity, what it can do for education, because, I think, all three are somewhat connected.
Those are like the fields that, to me, just seem like it needs to happen there, like there’s no wait, there’s not gonna be, blockchain is not gonna have a huge impact.
Now whether it’s gonna be in the next two years or the next ten years, that’s always hard to judge.

Crypto Education

I don’t think Switzerland will be the first place to overthrow their current education to show and replace it with something blockchain, right?
But once we do see it in places, like, Estonia is very forthcoming there, there are a few South American places that invest heavily, or Dubai, actually Dubai wants to become the city that runs on a blockchain. Yeah.
It’s gonna be interesting time to see what’s gonna happen, how it’s gonna happen, and also what kind of weaknesses we discover a long way.
Maybe we can come up with an idea of how we can do the blockchain on education, something concrete that we can actually go and present, while we’re going there.
And because you know the future foundation in Dubai is basically an organization that was set up by His Highness.
And the whole idea was that it was the first 3D printed building in the world, probably. How they have 3d printed the whole thing. So, Dubai is very, very, very progressive in that respect.
The ruler, right from there, the leadership is very progressive, yeah, because they realize, like, there is no sustainable business model, “You have to be sort of innovate, and you have to be on the cutting edge and get the best people in”.

Education Opportunities

Maybe we can also make a call here, like, if someone wants to, as we have this idea like identity connected to education. I believe that education can be the big equalizer of the 21st century.

If we manage to give everyone in the world the same equal opportunities to educate themselves from an early age on , then we create a more equal world, and I think that’s always that’s something we all want, right? It means, less war, less misunderstanding. And if someone is also passionate about them, just reach out to us.
Um, I think this could potentially wants the DFINITY or any other platform is there. I think, it’s all a matter of like coming up with the concept how it actually works, and I’m convincing someone to give it a test run. So, I think it’s, it’s…
You need to have a laboratory condition for that, yeah, right now because education itself, it’s like one of those protected things.
I was reading about your profile and you said that you were 14 when you started your first company.

Sparkling Idea for Starting Company

So what was that about? I did not want to start a company and I did not think I would start a company. It was 2002 and I had broken up with my first ever girlfriend.
I was devastated, yeah, tough love. Fabian was a graphic designer. We knew each other through the Boy Scouts. Ever since I was 7, I was going to the Boy Scouts and I was in his group.
He was my group leader, he’s four years older, so he was 18 at the time and he was, like, “Hey, we should build a website for our Boy Scouts group. Can you help me? I can do designs, but I need someone who does decoding.”
I had spent so much time in front of the computer, he just assumed that I would probably know how to do that. We got together on a weekend and did it. Then, we published it and everyone liked it. Even though, I mean, he was a very basic website, you like then, but, like, it was cool to have a website back then. Then, we did the same thing for like friends and family, and like friends of friends, yeah. And after about a year, I think, we came up with the name “MediaSign” and we printed business cards, although there’s no business yet. Yes, sure, that’s what you do.
Yeah, like, we did websites for, I think, if there were, like, 500 bucks or whatever, spent our weekends and evenings on it. I was going to high school; he was still doing a full time job as first as a graphic design, and later as a radio host. And it took two or three years until we decided to actually turn it into a business. We had gotten quite a few clients. He wanted to leave his job at the radio station. I had done a year at the Air Force, there was about to go study at ETH we were, like, why don’t we start, like, why don’t we make this real?

Creative Skills

And also we realized…
I’ve learned photography a lot from my physics teacher I had at high school.
That’s interesting.
And we realized that images were such a big part because 2002 was around the time when ADSL became widespread.
So, suddenly instead of just plain and simple HTML you could have, like, these background pictures and also, when you do brochures, like, you realize it gets all about the images. Yeah, yeah.
So we decided that we wanted to have a photo studio set up constantly somewhere, and having our own offices obviously gave us that opportunity. Plus…
Back then, he was working with someone who was a contestant in the Miss Switzerland contest that year; and we had supported her and a few of her friends with photo shoots and websites, and stuff.
Three of them got prizes; the first prize; the second prize and some special prize.
So, of course, being like an 18 and a 20 years-old guys, we were, like, oh, this gave us an opportunity to meet beautiful girls.
Let’s make sure we can do this next year, yeah. So, for a few years than we supported the Miss Switzerland contest. That’s how it started.

Sustain Your Idea

It was never meant to be a business; also in order to actually buy my share in the company and took a loan from Fabian’s dad. I think at the time is worth 25 grand, which, kind of, put me at minus 25 grand, yeah, and I mean, we didn’t have a budget until I think our fifth or sixth year.
It was all very organic; we were in a situation where we felt like there’s a lot of pull for what we were offering. And then the next few years while I was studying during the day, he was selling and doing design during the day. Then, in the evening at like 6 or 7 I would come to the office and we gave high-five, and I would work on whatever he had sold.
Sometimes he sold stuff that was that we could actually do.
More often than not, he sold something that I had no clue how to achieve. It was a time when I got used to having very, very little sleep.
What is one thing you would like to leave with the audience?
Blockchain is understood as a very exciting space everywhere – all across the world. So, you need to get out of that geographic-location thinking. Even in Pakistan, right now, the government is investing in huge startups for the same thing. So, everywhere all across the world diversity is something that you should definitely look
at. And, yeah, just get people from all across the world, put them in the room and talk about crazy stuff and, I’m sure, like, you know, something exciting can happen.

Sharing Personal Experience

What about you?
Leave something on the table for people who are designers, for architects, who want to see that there is future beyond just being a graphic designer.
Well, first, I was gonna say, if you’re interested in how blockchain could change education and you’re so passionate about that you want to have an impact, reach out to us.
We have plenty of ideas we need more people to help us forward.
If I was gonna talk to architects, designers and so on, I think, blockchain and cryptocurrencies and all the moving pieces in that ecosystem are gonna have an impact on almost all our lives.
So, if you haven’t yet figured out the way for yourself to invest into knowledge, into that space, whether its buying a few coins and then following it, or buying a book, or coming up with a thought experiment of how it could improve your industry, like, that would be my ask from your audience.
Thank you, sir.
All right, man.
And we’ll talk soon.