Co-Founder & CEO, Netki
Like probably most Bitcoin insiders, Justin Newton grew up with a seemingly natural penchant for the math and science that undergirds so much of the computer world. He tinkered with computers as a child, with one oft-told family tale about a technician coming to the house to install a system and Justin pointing out, with all his ten-year-old authority, how one line of code in particular simply wasn’t going to work.
“Yeah yeah, this is adult talk here,” he remembers his father, an electrical engineer with GM at the time, saying.
Only thing was, the kid was right; that code wasn’t launching anything without serious adjustment.
“I’m not one to be shooed away easily,” Newton muses, many years removed now from his childhood tinkering but no less confident in his discernment abilities, which are now directed to helping the Bitcoin world find its way through the challenges still facing it. The challenge for him currently is to help simplify the arcane language and protocols that dominate conversations and procedures in the blockchain space. His goal is for regular people to be able to use bitcoins with confidence and the all-important security that will be required if mass adoption is ever to take place.
He and his business partner and wife Dawn Newton, looking to repeat their successes at NetZero, are putting that and associated goals into practice with Netki, a digital wallet naming service that, among other attributes and more still to come, does away with the impossibly imposing wallet addresses requiring 30-40 characters of mixed letters and numerals, upper and lower case, in favor of a simple customized address such as: wallet.JustinNewton.me.
Sure, you can forgive yourself for thinking, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” The fact that Newton did—and then had the technological chops to make it work—stands as just one more testament to his pioneering role in helping to make the obscure, obtuse and strictly academically oriented Internet into the most transformative mass technology since the printing press. And he’s done it all along with the grace and humor revealed in his company’s website, with its simple navigation, clean language and design, and photo blurbs of the “Team” that includes the group’s three dogs and their important titles: “Chief Building Security Officer,” “Chief Morale Officer,” and “Chief Warning Officer.”
“I always gravitated to computers but went to college at Northwestern with the idea of becoming a physicist,” he says. “I wasn’t yet convinced computers would be transformative, and I was looking to make an impact. But a mentor there, Phil Draughon, who contributed to key Internet monitoring standards, caused me to reconsider. He showed me that just as the printing press democratized information, the same thing would happen with the Internet. It’s just too difficult for tyranny to develop in the face of the free flow of information. I realized then I could be more impactful with the Internet than anything I’d be doing in the physics lab.”
So off from Northwestern he went after three years, since academia could not possibly adjust its knowledge base and course offerings as fast as things were changing in the industry itself. Newton distinguished himself almost immediately by proving his mettle in both the wonky engineering side and the public policy side of the Internet. As an engineer, he helped to build the “backbone of the Internet” in crucial positions with AboveNet, Digital Gateway Systems, Erol’s Internet and NetZero.
On the policy side, at age 23 he co-founded what became the largest trade association for independent (non-telco) ISPs, the Internet Service Providers Consortium, where he served as a board member and public policy director. He parlayed that role into carrying the torch for critical early legislation that included the ten-year moratorium on taxing the Internet (including taxes on both ISP services and online sales). The first part of the act is still in existence today.
Newton is now bringing those same multiple perspectives and skill sets to the Bitcoin world, which he sees as a transformative technology in finance wholly on par with the Internet’s
disruption of information.
“Bitcoin felt right away to me like the early days of the Internet,” he says. “Literally everything we do in the future will be affected by what the blockchain brings to our lives. What’s impossible to know is exactly how it will manifest. The things we’re doing now in technology would have seemed like science fiction not long ago. The key for everyone is to build flexibility into our systems, so we can support the trends no matter which direction they go.”