David A. Johnston
Founder, Decentralized Applications Fund
In March of this year, at 29 years old, David Johnston founded his seventh company, the “Decentralized Applications Fund,” which is dedicated strictly to providing venture capital for worthy open source projects needing a boost to enter the cryptocurrency world. If you are wondering how he managed to do so at such a young age, it may help to know he began his incorporating ways at the age of 16, when he launched an online publishing company in his native Maryland and then managed to get work release time from his high school to report to himself as his own supervisor.
He was inspired, he says, at an even earlier age by a grandfather and uncle who were successful entrepreneurs, an outgoing mother who home-schooled him from grades K-6, and a learned father who regaled him with books on quantum physics and assorted other intellectual endeavors throughout Johnston’s childhood. “I took a few classes in college, but dropped out to start a renewable energy company that raised $6 million from investors,” he says. “I was 21, and I really enjoyed digging into new things. College really wasn’t for me. I learned how to be an autodidact from my parents.”
Johnston also breaks the mold as a venture capitalist who is heavily involved not only in funding projects, but in providing ongoing intellectual capital for the cryptocurrency world and the entire decentralization movement that undergirds it. “I may be the nerdiest VC you’ll ever meet,” he admits. His white paper, “A General Theory of Decentralized Applications” is regarded as a watershed in the field, helping both to define and expand the genre as a clear road map for the future of commerce, economic activity and more.
The white paper also gave rise to a maxim known as “Johnston’s Law,” (johnstonslaw.org) which is picking up traction in the field. He jokes he’d be happy to have it as the only thing he’s remembered for when he leaves this world: “Everything that can be decentralized, will be decentralized.”
Check Johnston’s Twitter page and you’ll see him self-described this way: “Christian, Husband, Father, Entrepreneur, Investor, Technologist,” and so on. The ordering of those, like everything in his life, is not haphazard. “I very much value my faith,” he says. “I grew up orthodox Presbyterian, but now attend a non-denominational church in Austin with my wife. It’s not only the values that appeal to me, but I’ve studied enough of the history and extra-biblical sources to convince me that it’s a real history, with events that really took place.”
He’s been married three years to wife Cayla, whom he met at an “Ultimate Frisbee” competition. “We were guarding each other and started talking about monetary policy and fractional reserve banking, and then when she knew what fiat currency was, that was it,” he laughs.
The couple experienced heartache last year when they lost their first child, a son, an occasion that compelled him to list “Father” as one of his identities ever since. “I couldn’t bring myself not to honor that life,” he says. “These things happen—a lot more often than people talk about them.”
Happily, he and his wife are expecting a second child in March. It’s on the way to “maybe a dozen children,” he says, “but we’ll adopt at least half of them.”
If one were to glean from all this that Johnston is not among the doom-and- gloomers bemoaning the state of modernity while cowering in an underground bunker, one would be right. “I’ve seen and learned enough to know how incredibly lucky I am to live in the time and place that I do. Considering something as simple as food, I eat better than any king of Europe ever did in terms of variety, diversity, quality and basic sanitation. We have the Internet pouring forth all our accumulated knowledge to anyone with a phone, and we’ll build more and more systems that compete to make it all better. I see it as inevitable. We live in an amazing time that people tend to take for granted.”