Nov. 19, 2021

164: John Wu from Ava Labs | Blockchain, Web3 and Building on Avalanche

164: John Wu from Ava Labs | Blockchain, Web3 and Building on Avalanche

John Wu is president of Ava Labs, an a16z-backed technology company building the next-generation blockchain platform, Avalanche. In this episode, John shares insights on bringing passion to projects, building teams and communities in Web3, the sheer joy of bringing hundreds of companies onto Avalanche this year, insights on opportunities and rapid growth areas in Web3, and what makes a great Web3 project.

John Wu joins Pete Townsend on this episode originally recorded as part of the Techstars Web3 Convo Series of fireside chats powered by the Launchpool Web3 Techstars Accelerator program in Ireland.

This episode of MoneyNeverSleeps is sponsored by Philip Lee, one of Ireland’s fastest-growing corporate law firms and expert advisors at the heart of the Dublin and London start-up, fintech and crypto communities.


John Wu on his modus operandi carried forward from his formative years:

“As a kid, I had two real passions - I loved team sports and I loved technology, and as I grew older and tried to choose a career, I realized why.

“With sports, I love people and getting to know people. I love sharing what I knew, I love leading teams and I love helping everyone be the best version of themselves. When I was able to do that, I felt like I became better for it as well.

“With technology, if I literally looked down deep into it, it was innovation - and not just in technology, but also in marketing and how to do things differently, innovation in business development. Blockchain is the ultimate way to innovate going forward, in my opinion.”

John Wu on how to think about Avalanche and Ava Labs:

“Think of Ava Labs like Apple, the company, and iOS - the operating system - is similar to Avalanche, except that Avalanche is an open and permissionless operating platform. The Ava Labs goal is to know the Avalanche community [extremely] well.

“If there's a need for something in the Avalanche community, one path is to develop that technology internally within Ava Labs.  The second path is to incentivize third parties to develop and base the company on top of Avalanche.  The third path is this: can we find the next great startup that needs help?  This can be funding, building their marketing and their community, helping them from a tech perspective to integrate onto Avalanche, or just a business development relationship.”

John Wu on supporting the hundreds of projects that have come into Ava Labs this year alone:

“On a macro level, this is really about a company in hypergrowth in a hyper-growth industry. Being able to handle this volume starts with people. When we look at hiring people and taking on projects, we're looking at people who have a few characteristics.  They have to be very good at whatever they're doing, whether it's marketing or biz dev or technology, but they also need a flexible mind.

“So, if they’re very good at something, they can use that framework and work in an environment that's constantly changing and iterating to go to the next level. We want to bring in people who are very passionate about Web3, blockchain and crypto, so it can really be about their passion or love more than just about doing a job.

“The next thing you do as a leader or an operator in this space is to give people some sort of process so that they don't jump into each other's lanes too much. If I do my job well in building this firm and hiring people, then the amazing thing is that if you get the right people, they start building their own processes and they make my job even easier.”

John Wu on the trends with people coming into the blockchain industry:

“When I talk to technology developers or biz dev or marketing people, all these young, brilliant minds coming into blockchain, they do not want to work on legacy systems. They're motivated not only because it is a good job, but they're motivated because they feel like they're on the cutting edge of an industry that can change other industries.

“The number one trend I see is that people want to work with passion.  There are functional and vertical trends, but the common thread through all of these trends is the passion and the belief that they're doing something that's special.”

John Wu on what investors are looking for in the Web3 space:

“The experience is becoming more and more important in this space. Three or four years ago, you can get away with just being a great crypto-native coder and throw something out there, give it a shot, and see if it sticks.

“But now, the bar is being raised, and you can’t just do that anymore.  Say you’re super smart and you’re young, but you have no business experience or domain expertise, but I have another team that has your talent, and they have business experience and domain expertise.  If you're a venture capitalist in the traditional Silicon Valley sense, you're looking at the latter, not the former.”

John Wu on the importance of building a community in Web3:

“The community that you're developing is not just users of technology, but also developers and all of the stakeholders in the ecosystem. Once you get the right mindset, you have a constant dialogue with your community, and you can listen to them. You can give them feedback and they can give you feedback.

“It is an environment where if you do that well, and you're constantly getting that feedback from your community pushing you for different features and new products, then the distributed governance means you can [go in a new direction].”

John Wu on the opportunities and rapid growth areas in Web3:

“Obviously, DeFi is a big part of all ecosystems, and I continue to love to see the innovation there with young, smart people creating products and services that used to only exist in traditional finance for certain groups of people and institutions.

“The amazing thing I'm seeing right now, from Ava Labs' perspective for Avalanche, is gaming. There is a new group of gaming ideas, projects, and companies that are taking advantage of the instant finality aspect of the Avalanche blockchain.”

John Wu on when the ‘aha’ moment will happen for institutions in the context of blockchain:

“Ironically, I think we're past the ‘aha’ moment. We are working with a whole bunch of large well-known enterprises to help them create blockchain solutions, whether it is a private blockchain, or allowing them to figure out ways to create applications on top of the Avalanche permissionless blockchain.

“Their struggle is not necessarily the ‘aha’ moment with the thought leaders inside their firm.  Their struggle is getting everyone in the firm to have that same ‘aha’ moment. All of these large organizations have the ‘aha’ people, but the people who need to be invested in this movement have obvious reasons why they can't because they are basically disintermediating themselves.

“[Disintermediating themselves] is something that's very hard to do. It's easier for a small company, but for large companies that are the proverbial ‘milking the cash cow’, it’s very hard to do. That's the advantage for entrepreneurs, and that’s always been their advantage - the David and Goliath story.”


Follow John Wu on Twitter, check out his blog, and learn more about Ava Labs and Avalanche

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John Wu

President, Ava Labs