Marlon Williams is the Founder of Atlanta Blockchain Center, a company that aims to be the catalyst for Atlanta’s emergence as the global premier blockchain innovation hub. He is also the Founder of Starter Labs and Qubicles, Co-founder of Telos, and a Partner at Starter Capital. At 16 years old, Marlon attended Central Florida Vocational School to study computer programming and business management before attending Miami Dade College and Kaplan University to study computer information systems and information technology.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Marlon Williams shares how his career evolved
- How Marlon founded Atlanta Blockchain Center and his vision for the company
- What should developers consider when creating blockchain platforms?
- How privacy impacts brands’ use of blockchain
- The importance of regulatory guidelines in blockchain’s mass adoption
- Marlon’s number one security tip
In this episode…
With the rise of Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency, blockchain has become increasingly common. But its emergence raises privacy and security concerns, particularly with regard to digital assets and transactions. So, what do companies and developers need to consider before adopting blockchain or creating a blockchain platform?
Software developer Marlon Williams says that in order to mitigate transaction exploits, designers need to implement proven frameworks when writing code to consider blockchain’s nuances and lengthy finalization times. Yet when it comes to personal digital assets, privacy remains an issue, so Marlon asserts the importance of federal regulatory guidelines to simplify asset representation and functionality and help companies build privacy features into their blockchains.
In today’s episode of She Said Privacy/He Said Security, Jodi and Justin Daniels interview Marlon Williams, Founder of Atlanta Blockchain Center, about considerations and concerns surrounding blockchain’s widespread use. Marlon shares tips for developing blockchain platforms, how privacy impacts brands’ use of blockchain, and the importance of regulatory guidelines in its mass adoption.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Jodi Daniels on LinkedIn
- Justin Daniels on LinkedIn
- Red Clover Advisors’ website
- Red Clover Advisors on LinkedIn
- Red Clover Advisors on Facebook
- Red Clover Advisors’ email: email@example.com
- Data Reimagined: Building Trust One Byte at a Time by Jodi and Justin Daniels
- Marlon Williams on LinkedIn
- Atlanta Blockchain Center
- Atlanta Blockchain Center on Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Red Clover Advisors.
Red Clover Advisors uses data privacy to transform the way that companies do business together and create a future where there is greater trust between companies and consumers.
Founded by Jodi Daniels, Red Clover Advisors helps their clients comply with data privacy laws and establish customer trust so that they can grow and nurture integrity. They work with companies in a variety of fields, including technology, SaaS, ecommerce, media agencies, professional services, and financial services.
You can get a copy of their free guide, “Privacy Resource Pack,” through this link.
Welcome to the She Said Privacy/He Said Security Podcast. Like any good marriage we will debate, evaluate, and sometimes quarrel about how privacy and security impact business in the 21st century.
Jodi Daniels 0:22
Hi, Jodi Daniels here. I’m the founder and CEO of Red Clover Advisors, a certified women’s privacy consultancy. I’m a privacy consultant and certified informational privacy professional, providing practical privacy advice to overwhelmed companies.
Justin Daniels 0:37
Hi, Justin Daniels here I am passionate about helping companies solve complex cyber and privacy challenges during the lifecycle of their business. I am the cyber quarterback helping companies design and implement cyber plans as well as help them manage and recover from data breaches.
Jodi Daniels 0:54
And this episode is brought to you by love symbols, Red Clover Advisors, we help companies to comply with data privacy laws and establish customer trust so that they can grow and nurture integrity. We work with companies in a variety of fields, including technology, SAS, professional services, and digital media. In short, we use data privacy to transform the way companies do business. Together, we’re creating a future where there’s greater trust between companies and consumers. To learn more, and to check out our new book Data Reimagined: Building Trust One Byte at a Time, visit redcloveradvisors.com.
Justin Daniels 1:36
Are you ready for today?
Jodi Daniels 1:37
Are you ready for today?
Justin Daniels 1:40
Well, you’ve been cold all morning and complaining. Says do cold.
Jodi Daniels 1:44
It’s freezing. Well, I have my winter socks on I had to go outside and sit in the sun to try and warm up.
Justin Daniels 1:49
Yes to our viewers know that your winter socks look like a penguin. Everyone should
Jodi Daniels 1:53
have penguin socks.
Justin Daniels 1:54
I see. Well, today we have a very special guest because we’re going to take Jodi down the ride to the blockchain side. And to do that. We have Marlon Williams here today and he is the founder of the cloud based software service Qubicles.io, a co founder of the Telos.net blockchain and founder of Starter Labs, a leading Launchpad incubator and investor network for blockchain based projects. Marlin is also a partner at Starter Capital and founder of the Atlanta Blockchain Center, an initiative wholly funded and operated by starter labs. He attended Central Florida vocational at 16 years old as his start into computer programming and business management, then went on to study computer information systems and information technology at Miami Dade College and Kaplan University, respectively. Good morning, Marlon. Good morning.
Jodi Daniels 2:52
Good morning. Like that was getting ready. Big popular movie. Yeah. I know. It’s like one line that
Justin Daniels 3:00
I know. Yes. Well, I’m impressed by that you should be given you asked me yesterday. What was that movie when they were asking about Bed Bath and Beyond was
Jodi Daniels 3:07
that I got that there was a line that I didn’t know the actual movie is not the point. We’re gonna go back to martland Can’t be helped. Alright, let’s go. I’m going to ask Marlon to tell us a little bit, we got a glimpse that you started school at 16 and a few of your schools but tell us how you found your way to Atlanta with an Atlanta Blockchain Center. So fill some a little bit on your career?
Marlon Williams 3:33
Yes, sure, I’d be happy to. So as Justin just just read, you know, I got introduced to computer programming at 16 via a vocational course. Business Software applications. And in that course, you know, we studied a ton of programming is half or half of the curriculum. And the other half was spent in business concepts of things like you know, how to launch a business, marketing, and so forth. But what really intrigued me was the computer programming. You know, at that time, I wasn’t even aware that that industry existed, to be quite honest with you. So when I started coding, and saw that what I had in my head from the project assignment, actually responded in the way that I created it. And within inside the computer, I fell in love with it, you know, with the power that it wielded and kind of just immerse myself into computer programming ever since. You know, I spent a lot of time studying and learning about Bill Gates, you know, and this is now late 90s. So Microsoft was at this point where they were, you know, the top of their game very competitive, and then try and try to As lawsuit going on face, and others like Joel Spolsky, you know, just an indie web developer that was blogging, about software development and how to launch a software based startup. So those were really the core part of my inspiration, you know, and after I graduated the vocational course, I remember writing a letter to the instructor saying, now all I want to be as a successful software businessman, and literally set it like that. You know, and by this point, I’m 18 years old. So I joined Miami Dade community college at the time now it’s, you know, fully four year accredited college for computer information systems. And while I was doing that, I started looking for some software development jobs in any field, really, and got hired at a startup, medical transcription startup, which was just about a year and year and a half old. So that was my first job in in the space. And I just, it confirmed my love for software, you know, and because it was a startup, I was employee number two, I ended up doing a lot more than coding. I was coding. And then the features that I wrote, I had to pitch it to the doctor’s offices, many times visiting them to go pitch it. And whenever issues were reported, then I’d have to come back and fix it. So I also, you know, did the tech support calls, from the features that I wrote when they didn’t work? So that was really what kind of started my, my path in, in the space of software and entrepreneurship, I’d be happy to keep going. But I know,
Jodi Daniels 7:07
well, let’s bring it forward a little bit. So in our house, we have a lot of acronyms. The Privacy world has all kinds of acronyms, but we hear a lot of A, B, C, not to be confused with the ones that we’re used to seeing our kids. So can you tell us a little bit more about the Atlanta Blockchain Center? How that came to be? And your vision for it?
Marlon Williams 7:30
Sure, absolutely. Absolutely. So, you know, just just building on the last response there. So I I, which makes makes it a lot more easy to understand why we see exists once once you hear this. But after that first job, you know, I went to another company where it was completely coding, you know, hours and hours a day. My peers were all developers, it wasn’t as interactive and fun like it, like the first job was a startups, I’d have to go visit real people like doctors and physician’s assistants and other humans, not just robots like myself. So I kind of missed that interaction was with with people after I left the company. So I spent, you know, the next nine months building a competitor to my first job, started building a similar kind of platform, launched, it did really well. That brought a lawsuit along with it. And other other issues that, you know, was my first foray into software entrepreneurship. And at this time, I’m 24 years old, going on 25 And pivoted the company and essentially ended up getting bought out because of the decision to pivot, which was a very, very successful pivot in the end. So that led me in around this time now, you know, it’s 2008. A year later, I’m hearing this noise about Bitcoin. You know, we, as a software developer, we knew that most developers are building platforms knew that there would be some sort of currency that would be native native software and platforms versus integrations with other networks, like Visa and so forth through third party processors like authorize, net net, etc. So I just follow along with with what was happening in the Bitcoin space. I got more involved around 2013 And by that time, I was on my second startup, which was a Call Saul. Look Call Center software company still around today. And just kind of started getting more and more involved in the blockchain space. And, you know, in and around 2016 or so, a friend of mine and I in Miami, and by the way, spent the last 26 years building my entire career in Miami before moving to Atlanta, but a friend of a friend of mine and I, we started working on different blockchain based ideas. And we were some of the guys sort of going around in Miami, having meetups and talking to folks about the promise of blockchain, not from an investment perspective, but building in ideas ideation. Well, before Miami became what is now the crypto capital as some would label it as crypto capital of the country. So moving to fast forward to 2021 when I officially moved to Atlanta, for family reasons, I naturally started looking for similar environment, you know, of like minded builders, and entrepreneurs, software developers in the blockchain space. And, you know, between my first true foray into blockchain and then and that, up to that point, I had done a ton of work building systems, you know, co founded blockchains, and worked in blockchain based projects in various capacities. So that’s naturally what I’m looking for, as I moved to Atlanta, and I couldn’t find it in a consistent manner. Right, there were some activities, every now and then, you know, that would be a month, something happens and nothing happens for another two, three months. And that’s why I decided to start the Atlanta Blockchain Center, because I really believe that the blockchain blockchain space, just the technology as a whole is going to have a significant impact on everyone’s lives for the foreseeable future, especially in the next five to 10 years, as we see things like regulation and so forth, become commonplace. But that’s why we decided to launch the Blockchain Center. And in a nutshell, the Blockchain Center is on a mission to, you know, contribute in a significant way to making Atlanta a top location for blockchain innovation. And the reason I think it’s a perfect city for that in the metro Atlanta area, rather, is because of all the things that I’ve learned about it since moving here is just constantly on the top list of things. top engineering schools, you know, top places to live, you know, it’s a FinTech hub, essentially, of the world. You know, Atlanta Hartsfield is the number one business import in the world. I mean, there’s so many amazing things about it, I was shocked that no one put their stake in the ground to help build a true blockchain native community in Atlanta.
Jodi Daniels 13:22
Our kids would like to add number one in traffic blockchain.
Justin Daniels 13:31
I’m hoping that Marlon and I can co develop the Star Trek where it just vaporizes you and puts it right where you need to be. Very good. So Marlon, you know, one of the special things about having you on today is you’re actually a developer. And we talk to delve developers across all kinds of industries. But maybe you can help us from a developer’s perspective, help our audience understand how developers think about developing blockchain platforms. And why security remains such a persistent challenges, from digital wallets to smart contracts, to side chains and that kind of thing.
Marlon Williams 14:12
Yes, sure. Thank you. You know, I’m on my second decade, a little over my second decade as a software developer, and I still enjoy coding to this day. Mostly to make sure the team is aware like they still got it. But, you know, we start out with with specific problems we’d like to solve for and then we focus on coding for those specific problems, right. And there are best practices that were taught, you know, especially coming from you know, the old school were things like cross site scripting, SQL injection attacks, sanitizing data entry is it’s entered by users and not simply a accepting it for face value and serializing that to databases. So those sort of common best practices are in place, including using proven frameworks, as opposed to building your own modules or features and functions from scratch. If there’s something that has been proven, it’s well respected, you know, a framework that you can simply import into your platform, you could, you shouldn’t do that. And that helps reduce the likelihood of bugs and exposure to exploits, right. And so, and, you know, those are the common sort of things that were taught. But those best practices, quite frankly, Justin and Jodi are most likely to be applied and larger teams with larger budgets. Because the reality is slightly different for startups, right? Versus corporate. So startup teams are usually leaner. They’re much less, they’re less capitalized, right? So they don’t have the resources that they need. And they usually have one to three developers. You know, as a startup team, gets gets going, right, mostly in common is the most, the more common is to have one place in your business co founder is, you know, constantly putting pressure on getting the job done, getting to an MVP, getting some sort of tangible site that he or she can start promoting and sharing in the community to help find that initial traction for the first one, and or, you know, 100 100 customer, right. So we mostly build or speed and just enough quality to satisfy that, that that need. I think that’s where a lot of the issues come from, you know, particularly again, with with the startup teams. And by the way, this is just the traditional issues and approaches with with with software development platforms, it’s even more challenging for blockchain based solutions. Because the reality is, you know, a blockchain developer is completely different skill set than a traditional web one and web two developer. You know, there are a lot of things that we need to consider as a blockchain developer, that isn’t necessarily an issue with the traditional software developer. For example, depending on the consensus algorithm, which is, you know, is the game theory that helps the blockchain serialize its transactions has a huge impact on how you write your code, because you have to think about the participants in that network and solve for or try to prevent any gamification of or exploit of your particular product. Right. So the consensus mechanisms that you use in building blockchain based solutions are a huge part in, you know, the software development lifecycle for blockchain based projects. I think another common one is, you know, block finality. And Jodi, what essentially that means is a block needs to be finalized, right before it can be considered valid. If you’re writing, so it’s equivalent to going into Walmart with a credit card, swiping the card at the counter and waiting for the MasterCard or Visa network to finalize the transaction by checking your balance making sure that you can indeed afford that transaction and finalizing it. So the blockchain has the same concept called Block finality. The difference is Visa and MasterCard and other proven networks. They do this quite quickly. Even fast, right? With some blockchains, it can take minutes, you know, and that’s why some of them aren’t even suited for real world payment transactions yet, because there’s no way that you could have a pure Bitcoin card at Walmart that you swipe, and you have to wait, you know, 10 minutes for to say, Yes, this is actually valid, right? So but but the point is that this these these nuances of blockchain, technology affects us as developers, because we have to consider that in our programming. And that new level of consideration introduces different potential loopholes for exploits and other things to occur. The last thing I’d say is the ordering of transactions. Also matters when you’re writing software for for blockchain. If Justin, Jodi, and I are going back to that same cashier knowledge analogy, are in line, you know, it’s less, I skip the line. And you to allow me to do it without me, I have to wait for the two of you to finish before I go. Well, with Blockchain, there’s certain blockchains. There’s a concept called front running, where the transactions, the equivalent of the people in front of you are known in advance, you can kind of see that Jodi is in line and she’s about to spend $50, buying, you know, lemon, Vega go, okay. And then Justin is right behind her, and he’s ready to spend $1,000 on
Jodi Daniels 22:01
mountain biking items.
Marlon Williams 22:05
Right, so I as the third person in line, I can see that, that I could pay the cashier in advance to skip both of you, and place my transaction in such a way that takes advantage of both of your transactions. And those are just, you know, it’s called front running. But those those are different new nuances that software developers have to build for. So, you know, back back to your your question about, you know, help you to how does developers think about blockchain platforms? It’s in that light. So we do apply a lot of the traditional software development best practices that were taught. But blockchain introduces an entirely new set of challenges, where the best practices are just being defined. Now, so we try to apply both where we can with by the way, very little, you know, regard for security in many cases because of financial reasons.
Jodi Daniels 23:20
And pressure to get to market. Does that sound familiar? Yeah, sure to get to market know what Marlons talking about in a certain book.
Justin Daniels 23:31
So now we’re gonna get to the Jodi question that I’m going to ask Marlon, which is, with big brands like Starbucks and college sports, looking at NF T’s for customer and fan experiences that are unique. How do you see privacy issues coming up as these brands utilize the blockchain to market these unique experiences for their customers?
Marlon Williams 23:51
It’s a, that’s a great question. And it’s one that we’ve been talking about, for say the past week is just industry in the ecosystem. For the past two years, I think, in order to understand my response to that, I’ll take you back to a you know, 2012 2013, where there’s a project called Master coin that introduced this concept of a token, right, because the founder wanted to introduce tokens on top of the Bitcoin network without having to utilize his Bitcoin. And that inspired although it didn’t gain a significant amount of traction that inspired Aetherium which the second largest blockchain on the planet to the Inspire the creator of Aetherium to to come up with with that idea. Have a platform that could allow anyone to create tokens and build the ideas and sort of create an operating system of finance on the blockchain. So, the master coin ideas inspired a cerium. The theorem inspired a ton of ICOs initial coin offerings and projects that resulted in the boom that we’ve seen it with NF Ts and d phi, right. And these are concepts that existed years ago. Now, in the most recent Bull Run, we saw a ton of different experience experiments on on the blockchain with regards to NF T’s and d phi and multi multi chain initiatives, meaning there are five different blockchains doing five different things, how do we get them to interact? How do we get systems and the same application to run on all five to kind of bring them all together? So the realization in the industry is that as more and more mainstream adoption takes hold, companies like Starbucks, and the NFL and other large entities are looking at blockchain based solutions to implement in their organizations. Privacy is going to be a huge part of that. Because in a public blockchain, everything is visible. Unless they’re implementing private blockchains, or hybrid where the certain information is flagged as private, that’s stored in a private capacity and other data points can be stored publicly. The need for privacy in a public blockchain is well acknowledged. And that’s why we have projects like Oasis network, for example. And even Flow, and others who are starting to build privacy features into their public blockchains. Specifically, for that reason, to help big brands trust, and obviously their their customers as well, with Blockchain technology without exposing their personal identifiable information and other secure information.
Justin Daniels 27:43
You keep looking at me, yes, because he was talking about privacy, and he mentions trust.
Jodi Daniels 27:49
I know those are all of our favorite words. So in that vein, technology always seems to be behind regulation. So in your mind, what are better regulatory guardrails? Or why are they so important? To move us to mass adoption of blockchain? You kind of just mentioned how some of these big brands will feel more comfortable as these privacy features are added, I think to really move it further upstream and get that mass adoption, you’re going to have even a greater need for this type of regulation.
Marlon Williams 28:27
Absolutely. And, you know, I’m not an aren’t a crypto anarchist, by means. So I certainly think that regulation is important. You know, the, it always takes me back to the the roaring 20s When there were a ton of successful entrepreneurs, creators, builders, in the finance space, right. But along with that success came a ton of bad actors. In arguably, that’s one of the periods in this country where there was just real fraud and other things ran rampant. And that’s why laws like the Securities Act, Justin, as you know, in 1934, and other federal regulation, to govern the financial financial industry came to pass. It was specifically because of all of the activity that transpired a decade earlier. So that brought the pursuing result of that regulation brought in a lot more stability, less volatility, more security. For citizens this country, they see the same thing happening with the blockchain industry, particularly digital assets, because blockchain and digital assets are, you know, related, but they’re not the same. So specifically with digital assets that are blockchain based, we absolutely need that same sort of 1934 Securities Act to, you know, built specifically for this generation, this new idea of what an asset represents and what it looks like and how it functions. That doesn’t. That isn’t just a cookie cutter sort of copied from a almost a century, your old set of laws. So we absolutely need these regulatory guardrails. And, you know, if we look at the last, last four years or so the number of bills and Congress went from, like two to four and 2017, to maybe 10 or so a year later, now, we, you know, we’re seeing 10s of bills introduced in Congress that discusses in some capacity, regulating digital assets. So it’s absolutely critical. I think we need it, we need it faster because developers like me, we’d like that security to know that when we’re building financial products, that includes manages digital assets, we’re not gonna go to jail for it. You’re not
Justin Daniels 31:32
gonna get arrested in Norway. You know, and, you know, sanctioning developers to build a smart contract that violates OFAC. But I guess the thing I’m gonna add Jodi for the benefit of our audience, so when Marlin talks about all of these laws for digital assets, remember in Congress, they’re also competing with the federal privacy law that’s trying to see the light of day. There’s all these other regulations around cybersecurity. So it really in my mind, brings to the forefront. Congress has a finite amount of time. So which laws are they going to focus on? Which ones are they going to pass? And that’s where I think the lobbying or leaders come into play to say, hey, this blockchain stuff is important. But then we have people on the show talk about, hey, the new privacy federal act is really important. We need to pass that, then there’s it’s just, it’s really interesting. And you talk about all these different laws, what’s Congress going to focus
Jodi Daniels 32:29
on? That’s why I call it a crystal dark, Crystal dark. Okay,
Marlon Williams 32:37
that’s a great point. That’s a great point. And mass adoption will never occur without clarity around digital assets and regulation, and also a lot of talent are building elsewhere. They have been for the past few years, versus the building in the United States, we’ve had to incorporate entities internationally, when we work on products that includes digital asset creation, simply because there’s just no laws that gives us the warm and fuzzy that what we’re doing won’t eventually come to bite us in the behind in the long run once we finally have an idea of what that regulatory climate looks like. And I just add one more thing that issues like what has transpired over the past two quarters with Celsius, going bankrupt locking, user withdrawals, and Luna, the Luna of algorithmic stable coin, essentially crashing, losing 10s of billions of dollars in the process that doesn’t make the wider retail investor market who were interested or excited about crypto warm and fuzzy either. I think we do need that regulatory clarity around these things. Including the privacy piece in order to help bring that you know, excitement back that we’ve that we’ve kind of lost over the past few quarters. Your turn?
Justin Daniels 34:33
Marlon, we wanted to ask you as we ask all our guests, do you have a best privacy or security tip that you would like to share?
Marlon Williams 34:40
Oh, yeah, it’s very easy. I always say it’s a it’s an old adage, actually, in the crypto space crypto specifically, is not your keys, not your coins, meaning? Never trust your private keys to anyone ever. And if you can safeguard it offline, you should do so. So at least with offline, you have some existing best practices that have been around for centuries that you can apply to securing physical assets and things that are important to you do the same thing with your private keys. And that’s my number one. You know, that the average person? Ain’t your kids. That ain’t your cheese.
Justin Daniels 35:26
That was you. We’ve had that discussion.
Jodi Daniels 35:28
Yeah, well, maybe he says it better.
Justin Daniels 35:33
See, Marlon, if it comes from you, it’s wisdom. If it comes from me, I have no idea what I’m talking.
Jodi Daniels 35:40
So Marlon, when you are not leading the charge in our community around blockchain, what do you like to do for fun?
Marlon Williams 35:48
Well, I enjoy reading. I’d like to get to a place where I’m reading more than half of my day. I’m not quite there, probably 30%. But I enjoy reading the most in reading all sorts of books. And outside of that, I just love doing things like going to the farm, horseback riding, I was born in the Caribbean. So a lot of the the nostalgic sort of experiences that I get here, especially in Roswell, where there’s a ton of farms and a ton of like, you know, questioning organizations. I try to do as much as possible to kind of detach. While I’m still thinking about blockchain, that part I haven’t figured out yet.
Jodi Daniels 36:35
I wish you luck with that one. Where can people find you and learn more?
Marlon Williams 36:41
@Atlantachain everywhere, @Atlantachain on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, you name it.
Jodi Daniels 36:47
Awesome. Well, we’ll be sure to link that in our show notes as well. We’re so grateful that you were here today, talking about one of Justin’s many favorite topics. A lot of favorite topics.
Justin Daniels 36:58
Anyway, thank you. It was great to have you
Marlon Williams 37:01
anytime. This is amazing. Thank you guys so much.
Thanks for listening to the She Said Privacy/He Said Security Podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes and check us out on LinkedIn. See you next time.