Have a willingness to shed legacy structures. Consider Uber which completely reimagined ridesharing.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin Johnson.
Freeport offers shares backed by fine artworks in the form of security tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. It is the first company of its kind to complete a Regulation A review with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to launch a crowd-ownership blockchain platform for investment grade art. The platform is a major disrupter in the art industry — by offering fractional investing options backed by high value assets, fine art is now accessible to the masses. Colin Johnson is the CEO and Co-founder of Freeport.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The art world is mature, established, and slow to change. The crypto world is the exact opposite. We’re looking to utilize new technologies — in a legally compliant way, with SEC qualification — to bring a new generation of collectors into the art world. At its core, fractionalization offers the opportunity for people to come together and own a piece of something that has been historically targeted to a specific group. That, in and of itself, is game changing. Taking it even one step further, to represent the value on blockchain opens up new methods of bringing communities together around their shared ownership. It’s a whole new ball game.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Some would consider this funny, others, mightily painful. About 14 months ago we set out to raise a certain amount; we almost doubled it within a week and then stopped raising on the assumption we would just do so later. Then, to the surprise of many, the bottom fell out from the market entirely. We could have probably raised 4–5x what we originally did without much effort.
It’s been useful to train our muscles to err on the side of caution, but the lesson is clear — always take advantage of potential funding during strong markets, and always prepare for the downturn.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have my brother, Jeremy, as one of my key advisors. He is ambitious, he dropped out of Princeton to start his own companies — one of which went public — and is absolutely fearless in the face of adversity. He taught me that you’ve never lose so long as you never quit, that you have to roll with the tide of the market, and that there’s no better time to start a company than right now (he convinced me to leave Apple in so doing). We’ve also had incredible support from our two early investors and advisors in the art world — Michael Haber and Jane Holzer.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption — in the positive sense — occurs when a group of people decide to take definitive action on some sort of inefficiency or corruption in a system; or when they create a product that’s so much more valuable than what previously existed that the last iteration almost feels like corruption. In these cases, disruption moves humans forward to make us more efficient as a species.
But then there are scenarios where disruption can be catastrophic. Facebook and Twitter disrupted legacy channels of communication, allowing everyone to access a megaphone. I think we’re learning that — while freedom of speech is important — perhaps not everyone should have a megaphone. That disruption was lionized for many years, but the long tail impacts are now starting to be revealed.
Can you please share 5 ideas one needs to shake up their industry? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
You need to do a few things to shake up an industry:
- Have a willingness to shed legacy structures. Consider Uber which completely reimagined ridesharing.
- Always use first principles thinking. Consider SpaceX, which decided that reusable rockets were necessary to drive costs down.
- Ignore the heat from those who disagree. Consider OpenAI, which most thought would have a hard time making a breakthrough by focusing on LLMs.
- Clearly paint a vision that others want to follow. Consider Tesla, which made environmentalism sexy. Who wouldn’t want to work on that?
- Focus diligently on what the customer wants. Everyone needs feedback, but the only feedback that truly matters is from the customer.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
More financial products that expand on the utility of our offerings, although we can’t share them quite yet. Stay tuned!
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Zero to One by Peter Thiel. Kahneman reimagines the fundamentals of how humans think. When you realize that people effectively have two brains acting in unique ways, you can start to adapt your leadership style accordingly — and better understand how your customers will act. Zero to One hammers home the importance of nonconformity. You’ll come out of reading it feeling more empowered to take risks.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are correct.” This is a foundational quote for understanding what it means to believe in yourself — perhaps the most important quality a founder can have.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Respect for truth. We’ve begun to remove the foundational anchors we used to build our communal understanding of reality. The more we can shed our group mentality the faster we’ll be able to remove the shroud of fear, mistrust and hate that’s become all too prevalent over the past decade. Then we can focus on the problems that really matter.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Meet The Disruptors: Colin Johnson On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.