Thinking Outside of the Box With Senior Community Manager Benjamin Bateman From TON Labs

🔥Crypto Fireside #6 — Interviews with crypto people.

A black and white photo of the interviewee Benjamin Bateman
Benjamin Bateman

🔥Crypto Fireside #6 — Interviews with crypto people.

🔥Hello! Who are you and what do you do?

B: Hey there, so I’m Ben, senior community manager for TON Labs, the team who brought Free TON to life from the ashes of the original Telegram project. On a daily basis, I’m active in a number of our sub-governance groups — specialised think tanks for various working aspects of the project — which leads to an incredibly varied schedule!

So, for example, right now I’m working with groups building Esports platforms, human and social impact ventures, education, social media marketing, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in the grand picture. There are at least 20 separate sub-governances on Free TON currently, each with its own area of focus and specialities.

Illustration of a Free TON blue Crystal
Free TON Crystal

🔥I’m sure many people know the Telegram story but for those that don’t, quickly explain what happened.

B: The SEC essentially deemed the original Telegram project a security. So despite already having developed an incredible product, they were forced to return all funds. Rather than waste their efforts entirely, they open-sourced everything. Enter TON Labs.

🔥What’s your backstory and how did you come to be involved with Free TON?

B: Well, my crypto origin story isn’t as exciting as some. I have a daughter. She’s 11 years old now, and back in 2017, I managed to gather together some savings for pretty much the first time in my life. I was looking for a way to put some of this to one side and grow it, for her future. After getting frustrated at the options available, I stumbled into the Bitcoin rabbit hole and haven’t looked back. I got involved in communities, telegram groups, made a Twitter account for the first time, and the rest followed on from there really.

How I got involved with Free TON, is at the start of 2021 as part of the Dune Network merger. I’d been working with the Origin Labs team since the network launch, and it was in December last year we became aware of what Free TON was doing. At the time, it was a crossroads for us, on one hand, we were (and still are) proud as punch of all we built on Dune. However, as an indie platform, the hurdles we had to overcome in becoming a serious competitor in such a crowded and highly-funded market were stacking up, particularly with regulatory factors. So, after much deliberation, we put forward a groundbreaking proposal to the Dune and Free TON communities, the world’s first decentralised M+A process.

Of course, through the proposal and voting processes, I became integrated with the TON Labs guys and was immediately inspired by the passion they have for the power of decentralisation. I mean, seriously, everything is painfully decentralised here! And while this brings challenges, it stands in direct alignment with my hippy ethos of making the world a better place!

Often, friends and family will ask if I mind working seven days a week at my desk, and I always tell them the same thing — “Do something you love and you never work a day in your life”.

I’ve had a real variety of job roles prior to crypto. So whenever I ever think I’m working too hard, I think back to my days as a chef. Hot kitchens, bad attitudes, and worst of all, for me at least, the fryers. Going back to a life of arriving home at midnight, after a 12-hour split shift, smelling of oil and sweat all in my clothes and hair, it’s enough to make me remember how blessed I am to be in this industry now.

🔥Take us through the process of what it is that Free TON does.

B: In a sentence, Free TON is the chaotic power of putting decentralisation first. It is the fastest, most powerful blockchain you can use. Period. Any potential variety of decentralised applications imaginable can be built here, and it will be usable. DeFi, NFTs, social impact, and everything in between, you name it and it’s coming on Free TON.

This is, in part, the reason why partner projects like worldchess.com and many others are flourishing.

On a technological level, Free TON already does everything ETH 2.0 is promising to be able to do over the next few years. It is the first infinite dynamic blockchain in existence, with the capacity to handle more transactions than most other chains combined. Blocks are every 0.2s at the moment, and this is effectively a throttled version of what it can do ahead of such initiatives as the Rust Cup heading to mainnet. I challenge those who really are ‘in it for the tech’ to take a look at Free TON and not be blown away!

So, tech is one thing, but as I touched on, Governance is the really exciting thing here. Free TON puts decentralisation above anything else. To take part in contests and subgovs, you first need to sign what is dubbed the ‘Declaration of Decentralisation’. It’s not a legally binding doc or anything like that, of course! It is a moral obligation that everyone here undertakes though. And the essence of this message is a meritocracy. If you have the expertise, Free TON welcomes you with open arms, and I’m sort of proof of this!

Free TON + worldchess.com partnership image. Illustrated image showing chess pieces and free ton crystals.
Free TON + worldchess.com partnership image. Credit: freeton.house

🔥How did Free TON launch?

B: As I say, I joined the mission this year, but the network officially launched on May 7th, 2020. There was no ICO, no private investor seedy seed backhand rounds of investments, no pre-mine, etc etc. All tokens are held in what is known as the ‘giver’ account, and for them to be released into the circulating supply, a partner or use-case must come forward in the form of a proposal. Proposals are scrutinised by the community and then voted on.

This is how I came to be here (through the Dune merger), how every sub-gov launches, every partnership forms, and every TON Crystal is distributed. Even the websites are community built and developed via a series of contests!

While I wouldn’t be so bold as to sit here and describe it as a perfect system, it is pretty damn close to one in my humble opinion. And the real beauty of the ecosystem can be found in its constant evolution through debate and community engagement. There have been mistakes, there have been triumphs, and I’m sure there will be plenty of both to come in the future, but each one has been a lesson and Free TON continues to grow in strength and scale.

🔥Since launching, what has worked to attract and retain users?

B: Well, we only celebrated our first birthday last month, but we must be doing something right. It took 9 months for the first 100k wallets to be opened, and less than three months to reach 200k! It’s huge really, and the exciting thing is we’re still very much in the background. When the wider audience opens their eyes to what’s going on here I think these key performance metrics are going to blow skyward.

There are two main reasons I’m so confident in this: partnerships and meritocracy.

The model here allows for us to step away from the parochial effects of the crypto markets. Partnerships can be formed based on the value and use case they bring to the network, and ultimately it is the community that has the biggest voice in what ‘value’ means. And the way in which TON Crystals are earned in this meritocratic sense means they have inherent value. Proof of passion you could call it maybe? This means those who join the project and bring something to the table tend to stick around!

🔥How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

B: There are loads of exciting milestones arriving very soon which I can’t wait for, but for now I’ll just name two.

The Debot Browser contest is something I’ve written about several times now, but I can’t understate the importance of this in building a true, decentralised web (WebFree as we’re tentatively calling it for now, although it’s not very googleable!). Amazon Web servers and other such providers are a point of centralised censorship in what should be the people’s information highway! Bitcoin brought financial freedom, Free TON will restore internet freedoms.

The other one I’m shouting from the rooftops is the partnership with HumanVenture. I’ve been talking with Anton, HV’s CEO and founder a lot, and they already have a working solution for alleviating extreme poverty and food insecurity which helps over 3000 families a month. Now, they’re moving to pilot their Free TON blockchain-based solution in the United Kingdom, my home, and the potential for this is bigger than I could begin to describe. The hippy in me is coming out again, but we’re working for a better world, right!?

🔥Do you ever worry that these broad blockchain projects will thin their potential out or do you think that the broad-scale actually allows for an environment for use cases to grow and hence grow adoption?

B: We discussed this on last week’s TFIFT podcast actually. “Too many Blockchains?” was the title. There’s some debate among the community, but the majority lean toward the idea that the cream will float. The projects and platforms which offer the highest level of functionality and usability will thrive, while the ‘MySpaces’ of the space will fade away. It’s just evolution.

🔥Through starting the project, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

B: I think the ongoing implementation of decentralised governance 2.0 is a big statement for us with this. Of course, anything revolutionary won’t be perfect from the get-go. Even Bitcoin had some teething issues in its early years!

From a personal perspective, I would say I’ve learned that no man is an island, and only a fool thinks they can solve the world’s problems. It’s tempting to try and do everything, striving for perfection every step of the way. It’s what society tells us we should do. But perfection only serves to impede progress. What I focus on nowadays, is small, manageable chunks and tasks, almost like blocks of Lego. If I combine my bricks of work with the bricks of others, the structure gets built a lot taller and faster than working alone!

🔥What platforms and or tools do you use in your day-to-day work?

B: Aside from the 500+ Telegram groups we have!? Well, I’m a fan of open source tooling, tools like GIMP always trump Photoshop for me. Open office over Microsoft office, etc. I suppose it comes back to the inner hippy in me, but why support big corp when you can work with projects built by people whose morality and passion are in line with my own?

🔥What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or people?

B: Well you’re opening a can of worms here! I was actually published in my first anthology book earlier this year, so it’d be remiss of me not to shill this, ‘Home — Hundred Word Horror’.

As a non-fiction writer though, I’d say I’m inspired by Hunter S Thompson and Ernest Hemmingway more than any others. They both had a style that resonates with me.

And podcasts, I love comedy above all else I’d say. I’m trying to reach out to several at the moment, including the Doug Stanhope Podcast and the Bad Crypto Podcast.

And one more shill, Mitja Gorochevsky (TON Labs giga-genius CTO) and I have been hosting a grassroots podcast with the team at Free TON house. It’s a lot of fun, drinks, debate, and bad taste jokes, usually at my expense!

🔥What advice do you have for other creators, entrepreneurs, and developers?

B: Well, my first bit of advice is that if you’re building in the decentralised space, build on Free TON!

In more general terms though, listen to the market and stop chasing bandwagons. There are some 4000 projects on CMC now. If you don’t have something new to offer, then why bother? That isn’t to say there aren’t original use-cases and ideas out there, I’m trying to say there are! Think outside the box and do something for the love of it first and foremost. Starting a crypto project is neither a quick nor easy way to get rich!

🔥Where do you see this entire space going in the next 5 to 10 years?

B: Up only! I joke, of course, but I mean, we’ve made it this far, right? China has banned us more times than Peter Schiff has cried about his gold investment tweets. If crypto hasn’t gone away by now, it isn’t going anywhere. We’re part of a movement, hell, look at the news from El Salvador this week. And with Free TON, the potential to expand this movement to the next level is here, today.

🔥Where can we go to learn more?

B: So many links I could give you, but I’d say the best starting place is simply to join the community and say hello! Either Telegram, Twitter, or our own forums will all start your journey into the rabbit hole!

https://freeton.org/discover

🔥 Thank you, Ben!

Want to know how you can support Crypto Fireside?

Sign up below. It's free and easy 🔥.