Politics, race and religion could all be fair game for dinnertime conversation with John McAfee, but if you’re a blockchain skeptic, you might want to keep your mouth shut.
McAfee, the computer programmer and businessman behind the once-multibillion-dollar software company that bore his name, fiercely believes that cryptocurrency — as well as blockchain, the technology that allows most cryptocurrencies to work — will completely upend life as we know it.
Blockchain is a platform that can securely verify transactions and identities through a network of multiple decentralized records. It’s a new way to interact with others because the platform can both securely verify who you’re doing business with and track the origin and path of whatever it is you’re exchanging. This is true whether you’re exchanging cryptocurrency (such as bitcoin), trading commodities such as soybeans or authenticating designer handbags.
Over the past decade, a string of bizarre events shrouded McAfee in controversy — from murder allegations in Belize to a short-lived U.S. presidential run. He’s now propelled himself full-force into the blockchain world, and he charges $105,000 per tweet to promote different cryptocurrencies. McAfee has advised or worked with about 17 cryptocurrency companies, but his most recent project is Docademic, a company aiming to provide free virtual access to doctors worldwide using artificial intelligence and blockchain.
Entrepreneur spoke with McAfee about cryptocurrency, blockchain and what he believes entrepreneurs should know about the future of business.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you believe in the future of cryptocurrency?
Generally, the crypto field is on the leading edge of everything. It’s not just medical science, but you name it: social media, self-help, everything. I was even contacted by a collection of professional sex workers who founded a company called PinkDate who wanted to create their own currency just for prostitutes and sex workers. I thought, “Well, that’s a great idea,” so I’m working with them. Every field of life is being enhanced, bettered, made cleaner, safer, more convenient and cheaper with cryptocurrency and the blockchain.
In five years, there will be nothing that’s not on the blockchain. This is equivalent to when the internet first came out and companies started getting their own websites. People said, “This is a fad. It’ll never last.” Show me a single company today that doesn’t have a website. It’s going to be the same thing with cryptocurrency, but cryptocurrency, rather than enhancing existing businesses, will totally transform them.
In this potential new space — no matter what industry you’re in — what are some ways that you can stay ahead of the curve instead of just following in other people’s footsteps?
First and foremost is educating yourself. Unfortunately, the blockchain and cryptocurrency is so new that we don’t have a “crypto for dummies” or a “blockchain for dummies” that actually works. But we do have the internet, which is the fundamental source of all information on this planet — where you can learn anything you want if you’re willing to take the time. Once you’ve obtained the essentials, there are thousands of groups — blogging groups, investing groups, you name it — that you can join, and the people are more than happy to advise you, answer your questions and point you in the direction to enhance your knowledge. That’s number one.
My advice is this: Don’t start a business saying “I’m going to build a car-washing thing.” Forget it. You’re going to fail, because in this day and age, people are going to come up with that concept through the blockchain without even knowing that’s what they were doing, and they will be a 100 years ahead of you. Their car-washing will be insanely more efficient. You don’t just sit down and say, “I’ve got a great idea for a new carburetor, let’s build it.” Forget it. You will fail because the competition will have the new carburetor automatically pop out of this new process. And they may think, “I hope we wind up building sailboats because I love sailboats,” but instead, a carburetor pops out.
You get to build whatever comes out of the process. And what comes out of the process is going to be dependent upon the people you choose to join in this process. So you get a bunch of really smart people together, you start and you don’t know where you’re going to be building a new car or a rocket to the moon or a new set of loafers, but you have to be a willing to build whatever the synergy comes out with. If you cannot accept that — that you’re no longer in charge of your business life — then you won’t succeed in the cryptocurrency/blockchain world.
In your eyes, the “business idea” is dead?
Even in the old world, an idea is worth exactly what you put into it, which is nothing. Do you know how many ideas people have come to me with? “Here’s my idea … Give me a piece of the action.” It’s like, “Have you lost your mind?” Every man, woman and child has a great idea 100 times a day. The ideas don’t mean anything. It’s the implementation, the organization and the work towards that idea, and even then, what you come out with sometimes is nothing close to what you originally intended. That should give us a clue. But with the blockchain, you don’t have an idea. You simply get the people together and see what comes out.
Do not start a business thinking you’re going to create something, design it, give it to people and then have them implement it. That’s what happens now, but if you do that you will be the last in the competitive line. The people who understand there is no boss, central authority or central design will be making hundreds of millions of dollars, and everybody else will fail. If you still have the concept, “I’m going to start a business and tell people what to do,” don’t start it. Go out and shine shoes. You will fail because there are competitors like me who understand it fully. Nobody works for me. Nobody works for anybody. “Oh, I have an idea, let’s implement it” — scratch that shit. That’s not going to work anymore.
Can you elaborate on what you think blockchain will do to existing power structures?
You have to unlearn everything about “I’m the boss, I make the rules.” In the blockchain world, nobody makes the rules. The rules evolve from the process of distributed interaction. This is a hard pill to swallow because the mind can’t conceive how that would work.
The blockchain is taking the existing power structure of a top-down organization and distributing it throughout the world. I’ve never met most of my full-time employees — I’ve forgotten where some of them even live. You must be prepared to forget everything that you have ever learned about business, money transfer and marketing — and the process of building products, selling a product or supporting a product. Because this is all changing, and there is no central control.
Now, if you don’t understand that and fully grasp that to your heart, don’t even try to get into crypto. You will end up like everybody else with a hat on the street corner begging for money, because seriously, it is changing the world that much. There are no more bosses. What a nonsensical concept. How can one man make decisions in a universe where the questions are infinite?
This weekend, we had people from Chicago, Ecuador, not enough room for people to sleep, and yet we did more business in a 48-hour period than any company in the world in a one-year period because we came in knowing there’s no boss or decision-making process. When we started, nobody had a clue what we were going to do, what the outcome would be or what the process would be from moving to point A to point B would be. That’s because we didn’t have a point A and a point B. We are using the mindset of the blockchain to distribute the decision-making process, the planning process and the strategy process among all of us. Our day-to-day operations give the “boss” title to the person most appropriate for the process.
How do you think the world of blockchain will affect social media and the tech giants that just released their earnings reports?
They’re going to have to realize that Mark Zuckerberg is no longer a CEO. He is just like a janitor. He makes no more decisions. He gives no more orders. End of story. That’s number one. Do you think he’s going to do that? No. So Facebook will disappear. The same thing with Twitter. There are very few companies with the self-awareness and the courage to abandon what we have lived with for 5,000 years of human development — to abandon that and realize that there are no bosses.
The other thing about cryptocurrency and the blockchain? It’s accelerated. People go, “Oh my God, cryptocurrency! You’re getting 5,000 percent gains per year!” Well, of course we are. We’re in an accelerated universe. In five years, there will be no Facebook — not in its current form. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg who have not abandoned their positions and restructured their companies so that there is no structure — they will be out of business because someone is going to come along with a blockchain version of Facebook and Twitter.
Five years from now, you believe cryptocurrency will have taken over. What will everyday life look like as far as purchasing power?
There will not be a single bank. The U.S. government and every government will have had to figure out how to maintain their nation without getting income taxes because you won’t be able to collect them because you will not know where the money is, who has it and where it’s been transferred to.
You don’t have to go down to the bank to do a wire transfer. You open up your wallet, and 30 seconds later, you’ve done it. You don’t have to do anything related to a bank because your wallet does it all now. It astonishes me that people put up with these banks — to go into the bank, to drive two miles, stand in line for five minutes and drive back home to send money to another country. Do you realize how insane that is in a world where I do it in 30 seconds while I’m still in bed? Number one: Life is going to be easier. Will there be cards and things? Of course not. Why deal with that stuff when all I do is take my wallet and scan it? Everybody will pick a cryptocurrency that they like; however, the transfer between them is going to be instantaneous and virtually free.
What will retirement look like?
There will not be such a term. The difference between business and personal life has already disappeared for me. If you live the blockchain, personal life and business life are the same thing. Retirement is a concept that means nothing — it merely means that, as things are happening, I don’t feel synergistic because you guys are trying to get money, so I’m going to go next door where they’ve got a blockchain about golfing. Maybe tomorrow it’s going to change into shooting and the next day sailing. You might want to call that retirement; I don’t know. But nothing changes. It’s just the collection of people that you choose to hang with.
For someone with a general understanding of the concept of blockchain who hasn’t been able to dive deeper, how could they dig into this?
Someone gives a demonstration for a new design for a rocket. We all think about it in the middle of the presentation. All of a sudden, it’s “Forget the rocketship. I have a new design for a rocket engine.” Then someone says, “It’s not a rocket engine. It’s the fuel system.” So now we’re building a fuel system, and someone else says, “You know what? It’s actually not the fuel system. It’s the special fuel that we have to use.” Someone says, “Wait a minute — it’s not the special fuel. It’s how you refine it.” We went from a rocket ship to an oil-refining business. You get your friends together and just see what happens. And instead of just doing that, think: Who are some really smart people in this world that I could sucker into working with me? You contact them, and you invite them over. Then, they have smart friends. Then maybe the smart friend you thought was smart isn’t smart and doesn’t contribute because they’re still in the old mindset: “I have an idea. Let’s do it.” That’s not going to work, so you throw him or her out and get somebody else.
You don’t start a business going, “I’ve got an idea.” That’s nonsense. You start a business saying, “I know some clever people.” We have been in business here for less than a year. We have changed our focus so many times I cannot count. From supporting coins to creating a better coin market cap system to creating a better wallet — I never had this idea when I started. These are things I would never have thought up, and yet that’s what we’re doing.
If you’re continuously changing the focus of your company, how do you ever have a new product or something new to offer the world?
So we’re building a rocket, and in the process it changes to the rocket engine, which changes to a fuel system, which changes to an oil refinery, whatever. It happens in real time. You don’t think of it in advance. We are enormously successful. It’s embarrassing how much money Team McAfee makes. It’s embarrassing.
There is no final product. You don’t really have a direction. You have nobody who’s in charge. We’re talking. Everything that happens at every moment in your life is the blockchain. And if you don’t snatch everything that happens or follow it, then you’ve lost out and you should not be in business in this new world. It’s not ideas — it’s the willingness to drop your ideas and simply see what is happening here and now and to be part of it. And the “here and now” is constantly changing. Once we say, “We are an oil-refining business,” we’re back to the old mindset, and we will die. We’re following the present moment as the present moment evolves. There’s no past. The past is just a memory in your mind. There’s no future. That’s merely an anticipation of what you think might happen. In the business world now, there’s no planning. There’s just now as applied to the blockchain, which is that element that takes the “here and now” and creates an immutable ledger of that.