Marlon Williams, Founder and CEO at Atlanta Blockchain Center
A business and community leader with a passion for innovation and philanthropy, Marlon has technical, business, and nonprofit leadership experience that serves his companies and their leadership teams well. He is the founder of cloud-based software service Qubicles.io, a co-founder of the Telos.net blockchain, and founder of Starter.xyz, a leading launchpad, incubator and investor network for blockchain-based projects. Marlon is also a partner at Starter Capital and founder of the Atlanta Blockchain Center, an initiative wholly funded and operated by Starter Labs.
Some of Marlon’s past experience includes chair of the inspector general office for the WAX blockchain, board member of the South Florida Digital Alliance, STEM Advisory board member for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and President of the Society for Information Management (SIM) SFL.
Connect with Marlon on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The origin story of the Center
- The goals of the center
- ATL for blockchain technology
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio brought to you by on pay Atlanta’s new standard in payroll. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:24] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Atlanta Business Radio. And this is going to be a fun one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor on pay. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on Atlanta Business Radio, we have Marlon Williams and he’s the founder and CEO of Atlanta Blockchain Center. Welcome, Marlon.
Marlon Williams: [00:00:44] Hi. Happy to be here.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:46] Well, I’m so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us before we get too far into things. What is the Atlanta Blockchain Center?
Marlon Williams: [00:00:54] Sure. The goal of the Atlanta Blockchain Center is to be the catalyst for Atlanta’s emergence as a premier hub for blockchain innovation. I believe Atlanta has a lot of core pillars and its infrastructure that warrants it being on top of the list for blockchain innovation. And our purpose is to help bring that out of the city.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:20] Now, is the center an actual brick and mortar facility or is it a virtual online meeting place?
Marlon Williams: [00:01:27] It is. It is. It’s actually a physical location. A couple of minutes down from the Atlanta Tech Village in Buckhead or across the street from House Steak House. I heard that it’s one of the best places for steak. I haven’t tried it for myself as of yet.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:45] One day. One day. Now, tell us about your kind of vision of the center as a meeting place where folks interested in blockchain will all come together and kind of collaborate. Is it a co-working space? Is it places for events or all of the above?
Marlon Williams: [00:02:01] Yeah, all, all of the above. So it’s going to be a a membership based community, but we will operate it as a DAO, which is a decentralized, autonomous organization. I’m sure it’s something that we can tie discuss further in the future, but it’s going to be a DAO co-working space, which means that the community gets a voice in how we operate the facility. We’re going to be inclusive, diverse. But the idea is to sort of birth and nurture future developers, founders, executives in blockchain, and just have a co-working space that serves as the home for a group of students or enterprises and anyone with some sort of interest in blockchain, whether they’re building the next Google on blockchain technology, or they’re just an enthusiast who is interested in blockchain investments. The purpose of the center is to provide that that home for those individuals. We’re also going to have a consistent number of events on a weekly basis. There’s going to be discussions around cryptocurrency, investing. Blockchain and the general use of blockchain and nfts and a plethora of topics that covers the technology and just being that one one stop blockchain resource in Atlanta.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:33] Now, for folks who aren’t familiar. Crypto and NFT get a lot of the headlines when it comes to blockchain. But we’ve been at Business RadioX, we’ve been talking to folks in the fintech side for many, many years, and blockchain has has been very important in the fintech community outside of crypto and nfts, just in the way that they do what they do and in supply chain and things like that. Can you share maybe some of the maybe not so obvious to the layperson ways that blockchain is being leveraged by business, big and small, and it’s been been being used for many years. This isn’t like new to them.
Marlon Williams: [00:04:14] Sure. Sure. And you’re absolutely right. I think when people hear blockchain, they think bitcoin and cryptocurrency and nfts and believe that that’s all to it. But it’s much more than that. You know, Atlanta has one of the top cryptocurrency payment processors called Bitpay, which kind of falls into that same narrative of everything being sort of related to finances and investments. But there are applications of blockchain for real estate. Right. There are a few companies that I know of in Miami, like Prop Tech and others that you property and others that are trying to streamline the process of buying a home. Right. And providing just innovations around or experiments, rather, around how titles are issued and just how the entire real estate transaction sort of happens in the future via blockchain technology. There are other experiments with with voting because one aspect of blockchain that’s a benefit is the transparency and trustless ness of it, meaning you can trust the technology, there’s no intermediary that requires you to sort of get their permission or be censored. It’s pure technology. So there’s some experiments with with voting on blockchain. Some other governments are looking at the performance feasibility studies for how do we improve digital identities in a way that allows us to run programs like, well, welfare programs, Medicare, etc., Medicare like programs utilizing blockchain technology.
Marlon Williams: [00:06:21] So imagine if you’re a welfare recipient that currently gets cards and so forth. Imagine that being much more streamlined and managed digitally and being accepted across vendors. Seamlessly. I mean, there are a lot of ways to improve just inefficiencies in many systems. There are evaluations of blockchain technology in health care and how that can help improve, provide accurate and up to date data for physicians and their patients. Right. Again, streamlining an antiquated sort of industry that has been somewhat struggling to innovate over the last 20 years from a technology perspective. And I know because I spent a little bit of time in health information technology, royalties is another area. You know, there’s a huge issue with creatives and receiving proper payment and timely payment with their providers and partners. Right. So if you’re creating a movie or music and film, etc., any sort of artistry that requires royalty, blockchain technology can streamline that and pretty much guarantee your payments. Your royalty payments will be received in a timely manner without any sort of human intervention. And the list goes on. But there are a lot of various experiments with the technology well beyond financial applications of it.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:14] Right. And then the I mean, I think it’s a double edged sword in that the headlines are on crypto and nfts and things that seem to be in some people’s minds as is this for real? Is this a fad? Is this a trend? Is it real? I think that people feel confident in blockchain as a technology, but any given crypto coin or token or NFT individually, you should have some skepticism.
Marlon Williams: [00:08:43] Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I, you know, don’t promote the financial sort of aspect of of the blockchain of blockchain technology because there is just a ton of information out there about it. However, I do think that there’s an opportunity for. Four proper sort of investments. Right. And taking advantage of it while while it’s still a very small asset in most of our portfolios in terms of allocation. Right, there is an opportunity to earn utilize in the cryptocurrency and nfts, etc., but you’ve got to be extremely diligent about it. You’ve got to go in thinking that you could potentially lose whatever you put in. So I always tell others never invest in cryptocurrency more than what you’re willing to lose. And I also recommend investing in the large what we consider the large cap coins like Bitcoin, Ethereum, the ones that are sort of the pioneers of the space that are highly utilized and have have sort of gone through a lot of the vetting, even approval by the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as being there’s not being a security that they’re crypto, that you can actually invest in trust loosely, you know, without any sort of third party manipulating it or you have some influencers promoting it because they have a huge bag that they dump on you. That’s sort of what’s playing in the industry now, particularly with the smaller low cap coins, but I rarely recommend those, only recommend them if you’d like to just gamble because that’s essentially what what it is if you’re not supporting Bitcoin or theory and some of the larger projects that have kind of led the space over the last 12 years.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:09] Now, you mentioned that you set the Atlanta Blockchain Center up as a DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization. Can you talk about kind of the thinking behind that and what does that mean for the members moving forward?
Marlon Williams: [00:11:24] Yeah, I’d love to. I think part of our goal at the center is to demonstrate what a future C Corp or SE Corp or LLC would look like when blockchain technology is applied. There’s one such experiment called a decentralized autonomous organization where individuals who own, let’s say, a token, a membership token or an NFT would be granted access into this community. And the community collectively is the one sort of making decisions about, you know, things like what sort of what’s the next location we should open, you know, should we change the artwork on the facility? You know, should we change this? The model for how the facility is is operated daos are essentially a decentralized means of bringing people together to run a community organization or entity. And that’s why we’re going to operate the center as part of as a partial DAO. I call it a partial DAO because someone has to pay the bills, right? Someone still has to get things going. So there is going to be a centralized authority and decision making for some key aspects that we’d like to eventually decentralize and place into the hands of the community to decide.
Marlon Williams: [00:13:10] But being part of the center would give you at least some semblance of what a DAO is, even if it’s on a very basic level, that that instruction, I think, is very important for what I believe a lot of organizations will be organized as in the future, where paying our staff in cryptocurrency stablecoins. I know a lot of folks listening who may know Stablecoins don’t want to hear that word right now because of the recent disaster with Terra USD, but the stablecoins that we offer our staff for payments as you as the USD coin, which is backed 1 to 1 by US dollar and other real assets. So it isn’t an algorithmic stablecoin that can destroy, you know. Hard, hard, hard earned money. But again, the idea is to introduce the. Concepts and various applications of blockchain as part of our operations at the center so that members can get a one get an idea of what that could look like in the future and just become proficient in the technology, which is what part of what we’re we’re out to do.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:40] So now when you decided to go that route and they use Stablecoin as a way to pay your folks, is that go, you know, on the other side too? Are you paying your vendors with stablecoin as well? Or like you have to only work with people that are kind of bought into this, this kind of stablecoin as a currency. Like are you paying like your coffee folks in Stablecoin or when you’re buying coffee for the center?
Marlon Williams: [00:15:04] Well, that’s the idea. I would tell you, we’ve been renovating this facility since March 1st. And the the only vendor I’ve been able to convince to receive pay in crypto so far is the artist that did the mural on the wall. You know, the contractors, the guys coming in doing painting and floors. I mean, they are so far behind. But I believe we’ve succeeded just in the process of working with them and talking to them about it and just saying, Hey, guys, this is a way that you could you could have received pay. And here’s why. It is something that you should look into in the future. So there was a very educational process that was kind of conveyed on various painters and floor guys and other handy men and women. So I think it wasn’t all in vain, but the physical workers we weren’t able to convince.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:11] But I mean, but it goes to the mission of the center is the more activity you do and the more you kind of walk the walk, then eventually you’re going to win some of them over, if not all of them. Absolutely. Like, it’s not a hypothetical. This is you’re doing it in real life with real people and their real livelihood. So, I mean, good for you. I mean, kudos to you for this.
Marlon Williams: [00:16:35] Thanks. I just think it’s very important technology. And I got to I got to tell you, when I when I moved here from Miami, I’ve been here officially a year, but I’ve been sort of back and forth since 2019 evaluating whether we make the move here. And in Miami. It was, you know, every time I go back, which is once a month, there’s a ton of activity happening. I mean, there’s so many that because I was part of the community as it was building up the crypto scene years ago. So every time I go back, there’s just so much to do. I’ve got to decide who, which thing am I going to go to while I’m here? And then I come back home to Atlanta and it’s complete opposite. There’s like maybe something happening in three weeks. Maybe this is going on. You know, there’s talks about this. There’s like the technology is too important for city to not have a, you know, at least one or more entities that are being the community leaders promoting it, getting folks to wake up and realize that this is Web 3.0. You know, this is email when everyone said that no one was going to be sending emails, you know.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:58] Yeah, I’m from Miami as well. And I’m pretty and I’m pretty I’m aware that in Miami, the mayor has gone kind of all in with crypto and has really made an investment and has been pretty vocal about it where but I noticed that you’re not you went blockchain, you didn’t go crypto. And I think that that is plays to the strengths of Atlanta because Atlanta is is about finance a lot of it and a lot of technology and blockchain is the umbrella that everything is underneath. And I think that that’s that’s a great strategic move.
Marlon Williams: [00:18:34] Absolutely. I agree. Because, again, it’s a lot more than than just crypto. And we need to educate everyone on that fact. But I started looking at the data just studying Atlanta from an economic perspective. I’m realizing it’s, you know, consistently in the top ten, while Georgia is a top ten state producing as part of the GDP in the US. Right. I think last year it was the top eight most performant economy in the US. Looking at the educational infrastructure here, looking to the community, looking at the fintech, you know, presence, the fact that there’s really 70% of debit and credit card transactions goes through the infrastructure in Atlanta. I mean, that’s that’s just nuts. You know, when I started looking at those stats, I said, why isn’t there larger presence of blockchain? There are a lot of things happening, by the way, just in silos here and there, but just not to the degree that I thought it should be. And that’s sort of why we open the center.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:51] Well, if somebody wants to learn more and, you know, become part of this adventure, where do they go?
Marlon Williams: [00:20:01] Well, you can visit us online at ATL. Blockchain Intercom. And that sort of gives you a pretty good overview on who we are, what we’re doing, and how to contact us. So that’s the best place to reach us.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:19] And then is the center open? Is it open for business right now or it’s opening soon?
Marlon Williams: [00:20:26] We’re opening June 13th. We’re going to have our ribbon cutting ceremony, 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 13th. We’re going to have Mayor Andre Dickens come in to give a greeting. I’ve got a few friends in what we call OGs in the space coming to Keynote and talk about why Atlanta is ripe for blockchain innovation and going to have food and drinks and music and people can tour the center. Take a look at the art on the exterior, the interior and some of the stuff that we’re that we’ve got planned.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:06] And then can you go online right now and become a member? Like, is there a fee to join? Like what? What how does that work?
Marlon Williams: [00:21:14] There’s no fee to join. You can go online and become a member at the website. Blockchain, etc.. There isn’t a fee to join for the remainder of 2022. So our focus is really just on launching and getting traction and things going. 2023 They will most likely be some sort of membership fee to be to reserve space at the center. And again, those are decisions that we’ll make as part of our decentralized organization with the early adopters. So that would be a good time to to become a member and with very little upfront investment.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:57] Right. And and that’s ATL Blockchain Center dot com is a website.
Marlon Williams: [00:22:03] That’s correct.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:04] Good stuff. Well, congratulations on all the success, Marlin. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Marlon Williams: [00:22:09] Thank you, Lee. I appreciate.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:11] All right. This is Lee Kantor will see y’all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
About Our Sponsor
OnPay’s payroll services and HR software give you more time to focus on what’s most important. Rated “Excellent” by PC Magazine, we make it easy to pay employees fast, we automate all payroll taxes, and we even keep all your HR and benefits organized and compliant.
Our award-winning customer service includes an accuracy guarantee, deep integrations with popular accounting software, and we’ll even enter all your employee information for you — whether you have five employees or 500. Take a closer look to see all the ways we can save you time and money in the back office.