Mattias Hjelmstedt was once one of the world’s greatest gamers. But being the best at Quake and Counter-Strike wasn’t quite enough. In the mid-nineties, he helped build streaming services that allowed online gaming to become a reality, as well as building messenger services that would go on to be used inside game franchises like Battlefield. Today however he’s turned his considerable talents to blockchain and his startup, Utopia Music. Its aim is to help recover billions in lost royalties each year by using smart contracts and big data. Below we talk about some of the hard lessons he’s learned and why blockchain builders should beware of building technology for technology’s sake.
How did you first get into blockchain and the decentralized web?
I’ve been working in the internet space since 1994. I took part in creating the proxy servers in the nineties that made decentralizedstreaming for computer games a reality. More recently, I helped develop a fully decentralized, cryptographically-encoded streaming solution called Voddler, where 45 different patents were filed for various decentralized technologies. Blockchain was a natural progression and I got involved with it in early 2010, but didn’t start developing technologies on it until around 2016.
When did you get involved in the project you are currently working on?
I founded Utopia Music in late-2016, having established the headquarters in Zug, the heart of the Crypto Valley in Switzerland. Over the past two years, I and my co-founders have continued to grow our team of multidisciplinary and multinational technology innovators, unified by a passion for music and technology.
When I was young, I used to be one of the best computer game players in the world. I went undefeated for a very long time playing Quake and was also a member of one of the best teams in the world.
What need does it serve?
Utopia Music is an open platform that seeks to unlock the massive and untapped potential of the inefficient music industry for all stakeholders. We believe there are an estimated €45 billion of uncollected royalties. We want to unlock that by giving record labels, artists and promoters access to big data that can help them gain better insight into their fan bases.
One of the greatest challenges has been to make people understand that it’s seldom the technology that transforms the world, rather how you apply it so it makes sense for the industry that you are trying to change.
Can you give us a summary of your career thus far, how did you get here?
I have successfully founded and sold a number of technology companies since the early 1990s. I was one of the pioneers in designing the first social platforms for games and creating software still used today to power some of the world’s largest games, like Battlefield. I was also an early architect of VOD (Video on Demand) for the film industry. (Read more about how blockchain is shaking up Hollywood, here.)
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this space?
The blockchain space reminds me of the previous waves in technology in that it has formed a strong community and is gathering a lot of talent and attention. However, as with other emerging technologies, early adopters can be naive. One of the greatest challenges has been to make people understand that it’s seldom the technology that transforms the world, rather how you apply it so it makes sense for the industry that you are trying to change. Also, it’s fundamental to recognize that it’s not the be-all to end-all technology, but rather an important component of your technology stack. So yes, it’s an important piece, but not the only piece.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given when it comes to being an entrepreneur in this space?
Always be thorough. Blockchain relies heavily on regulation and it’s also a space where the community invests its time for the benefit of the technology. If you run before you can walk and don’t do all the checks that are necessary, you might create a big problem for yourself down the line.
What advice would you give to someone setting up a business in the decentralized web?
I would advise someone to really do their research, so they’re solving real-world problems, as opposed to creating technology for technology’s sake. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have mentored many entrepreneurs through one prevalent issue that always arises. There tends to be a heavy focus on the solution, so much so that many people forget to verify that it’s something industry players actually need. It might be the best piece of tech ever created but if it doesn’t improve the lives of industry stakeholders who are the ones who will be using it, it will never succeed.
What project or projects are you most excited about?
Within the blockchain space, I’m particularly fascinated with how blockchain can decentralize most of the systems that today require massive administration. Blockchain can create a more efficient and transparent solution that can be applied across industries. I’m also a massive fan of tokenization, in how it will bring exclusive investment opportunities to the masses.
There tends to be a heavy focus on the solution, so much so that many people forget to verify that it’s something industry players actually need. It might be the best piece of tech ever created but if it doesn’t improve the lives of industry stakeholders who are the ones who will be using it, it will never succeed.
What is (or what will be) blockchain’s ‘killer app’?
I believe it will have to do with securities. It’s a trillion dollar market today which is only open to accredited investors. Blockchain will unlock the market for the masses so anyone will be able to invest in music, real estate, securitized shares, art and anything else where demand exists. It’s democratization, which will also not just benefit those who want to invest, but also those who create and currently have no way into that investment cycle. Once proven, it will give blockchain systems the full credibility it needs to be embraced by other industries.