The Monkey Interview: Philosophy of WAO
An immersive look at Monkey’s odyssey from corporate America to Meme Lord of Solana to curator of Mad Lads and Backpack culture.
Settle in for an immersive look at the insights learned during Monkey’s odyssey from corporate America to Meme Lord of Solana to becoming a curator of Mad Lads and Backpack culture.
I think part of my desire to join FTX, to join Backpack, was this desire to be in the room where it happens.
This desire to be behind the scenes of the main plot.
What did you study at university? Did it provide a direct path to your current role with Mad Lads and Backpack?
Monkey: When I was in high school I always really liked math and science, so in college I majored in Mechanical Engineering.
Right out of college I went ahead and took a job in the industry, I was doing research on sustainable trash bags [at Clorox].
My project was identifying sources of recycled plastics, evaluating them at our pilot plant facility and ultimately taking the viable sources of recycled material to production.
A year into my job was when COVID hit.
Monkey: By then I was looking at the stock market. I was interested in crypto. Being able to work from home allowed me to have two laptops.
My work laptop and my crypto laptop.
In hindsight, I think Computer Science would have been more applicable.
Monkey: I found myself extremely excited about Solana and the Solana community but I was frustrated that I had no marketable skills to work in this space, or even contribute.
I figured “if I can’t work seriously in this industry, maybe I can just shit post, or make some memes.”
Monkey: I thought it would be cool if the followed me because they were pretty active on Twitter.
They followed a bunch of people so I figured “Hey, while we’re still early maybe they’ll give me a follow".
I started making a bunch of Anatoly memes and I was getting pretty good reception on some of the videos I was making.
Monkey: I realized that there was some demand for these kinds of things, especially during the bull market.
People were like “Meme lords are so important”.
So I set myself out to distinguish myself as The Meme Lord of Solana.
Monkey: The most validating moment I had as a meme creator, this was after Anatoly and Raj followed me.
I had this desire to make a “pump it up” meme and it was one of my most popular. I posted it extremely, extremely serendipitously.
I literally was working on this meme during my work day because I just felt like I had to get it our.
Monkey: Anatoly and Raj were going up to talk with Cobie and Ledger about Solana and somebody was like “Yo, let’s get this meme on the show” and they started blasting the Twitch chat with “watch this meme! play this meme! play this meme!”
Ultimately Ledger DM’d me and I sent him the link.
That’s the best thing that could have ever happened.
Monkey: The two people I wanted to watch my meme just gave me their live review by laughing and reacting.
It felt like such a special moment to me. That was definitely a core moment in my journey. This is before I ever met any of the Solana people.
People knew who I was after that meme.
When did you start working in the crypto space?
Monkey: There was one pivotal moment when I went from enthusiast to like “Okay, I need to do everything possible to break into this space.”
Around August of 2021, I was on Twitter one day and this guy from the Solana Foundation posted an invite to a Solana meetup with folks in Chicago.
I told all my friends “Let’s go to this, this seems awesome.”
We drove up to Chicago, we get to the venue - it’s this nice seafood place overlooking the river - and we were so surprised that we were able to get in.
Anatoly and Raj weren’t there but basically everyone else was.
It was this beautiful sunny day overlooking the river that I realized like “Oh, wow, this is my tribe. It’s so exciting to be here.”
That was when a fire really roared inside of me to do anything possible to break into this space.
How long did it take you to find a full-time role in crypto?
Monkey: There was a time where Solana hit all time highs, I had enough savings to be able to live without a job for like a year and I figured I’m going to actively pursue entering this industry.
I thought to myself “I want to work in this industry full time.”
Why don’t I quit I quit my job so that I feel the pressure of not having an income to push myself towards applying and entering the industry.
So I quit.
I sold all my Solana on November 4th, 2021 which was actually a couple days behind the all time high. So in hindsight, amazing timing, not that I planned it.
Monkey: I applied for the NFT Specialist role at FTX US and to my surprise I was hired a couple of weeks later and starting working a week or two after that.
I was able to succeed in my goal of entering the space full time.
How did you start working with Backpack?
Monkey: It was around March , around five months into the role, when Tristan said “Hey, I’m going to be leaving the US to go to the Bahamas to work with Armani on this new project we’re doing.”
They had the Twitter account called xNFT_, the profile images was just “xNFT” written in text and overall it was a very hype inducing sort of initiative.
They started building the Discord and the community as early as 2022.
Monkey: It wasn’t until September of 2022 when Tristan reached out and said “Hey, would you like to join our team? We’re working on an NFT collection. We need some help in general and we’d love to have you on.”
I remember telling Tristan “I think this is awesome, I just got to the point at FTX where I feel really comfortable with what I’m doing, so this is a bit of a hard time for me.”
He’s like “You sound a bit unsure, why don’t you talk to Armani.”
Monkey: I talked with Armani, he said “Listen, if you’re not 100% excited about this then you shouldn’t join.” I remember when he said that to me.
When he said that I’m like “Oh, yeah, alright I’m in, I’m all in. This is exciting.”
My first experience working with the Backpack team was when we went to Breakpoint 2022. We were teasing the Mad Lads, which at that time didn’t even have a name.
Post-Breakpoint was a tumultuous time for the crypto industry as FTX imploded and changed the industry forever.
Monkey: I remember we had an all hands right after the implosion. That was a pretty scary moment but it was reassuring to hear that our money section was strong.
We’re still going to be able to operate.
It felt like my world was turning upside down. I think that was the feeling for a lot of us. Right after that we went back to Chicago.
Monkey: I’m sure folks reading this recall the Backpack “Saturday, live from Chicago” tweets, those were all at The Pit.
That was the sort of crazy transition we had. Solana was reaching very low prices and people thought this might be the end of the chain.
I distinctly remember how uncertain things were.
What do you remember about the Mad Lads mint?
Monkey: It was around NFT.NYC in April when we were announcing. I think the sentiment was coming back up then.
It was also clear that we had a critical mass of community members who would ultimately be the whitelist minters.
We also had this mentality that “We’re deep in the bear market right here.
Anyone who is around is not a tourist. They’re going to stick around.”
The mint was an incredible experience, a 48 hour experience. We had some delays, the first due to DDOS’ing.
I have a very core memory off when we announced the mint was delayed.
Monkey: We were a little bit defeated. The devs who were in Chicago, a lot of them flew in, they had a full day of fighting these attackers, trying to work around them.
At the end of the night, it was like 11PM or so, we were like “alright, let’s go to a bar, unwind a bit and prepare for tomorrow.”
When we get to the bar we see that there is a headline from [CoinDesk].
Monkey: Core infrastructure including Coingecko price feeds, as well as Cloudflare, experienced downtime because of all the people.
When we saw this we cheered. We really felt like “Okay, this potential failure was one of the best things that could have happened.”
It was clear that if we were to delay the mint further then there would be a severe loss of confidence from the community.
There was a very strong pressure that you could feel that second night.
Monkey: It was a crazy day, I remember spending most of the day working on the video to announce the mint time.
Once the mint started we had this honeypot that Philip created. We refreshed the wallet after the mint ended and he says “the honeypot worked!” and he starts jumping up and down.
We look at the screen and it says like $150,000 or something in the wallet.
Monkey: We were just cheering and that was awesome.
We also saw the unique holders for the NFTs right away on Hyperspace and it was like 7000 unique holders which is actually almost unheard of.
Ultimately we reimbursed everyone who was honeypotted.
Monkey: Mad Lads proceeded to go from 6.9 to 30 SOL, that was the first listing.
So that was a step change that really showed the market confidence in the project and the team.
From there it was an electric time of keeping the fire roaring, getting the Roster built and everything we’ve done since then.
Tell me about the origin of the Backpack Exchange.
Monkey: It was right around a week or two after the Mad Lads minted [in April 2023] that Armani started meeting some folks at The Pit.
I could tell there were some conversations going on but I had no idea what they were about.
About a week after that Tristan said “Hey, would you move to Tokyo?”
Japan has been at the forefront of technological innovation and has seamlessly integrated cryptocurrency into its financial ecosystem.
Tokyo has been home to many cryptocurrency exchanges, including Mt. Gox (now defunct), bitFlyer, Liquid, Coincheck and Binance (before the exchange relocated to Malta).
Monkey: I’m like “whoa, what’s up with the move what’s wrong with Chicago?”
At the time Chicago had just passed some legislation requiring any crypto startup to go through tons of hoops just to be compliant.
So it was very clear that, especially in the fallout of FTX, that crypto in the United States was a shaky dynamic, uncertain future.
At that point it was shared with me: we were going to build an exchange.
Monkey: The partner that Armani had been meeting with had acquired the licenses required to operate an exchanges.
These licenses are non-trivial, they are extremely hard to acquire. Tons of lawyer, accounting and finance resources.
It was with this piece of the puzzle that they approached Armani with the idea of having the Backpack team build the exchange, build the product, have this licensed entity.
I was not expecting it at all, but it made a lot of sense.
There was a big gaping hole in the market for an exchange that was Solana aligned.
The need for an exchange that abides by a new standard.
A new standard that makes it impossible for FTX to occur again.
Monkey: That means daily proof of reserves.
That means building a blockchain to validate those proof of reserves, an internal blockchain.
It was a very surprising thing, but exciting, and it didn’t feel like a turn out of nowhere. It made a lot of sense in a lot of ways.
It turns out that what we’re building is the full experience for crypto.
It's time to put an end to the days of opaque crypto exchanges representing everything our industry stands against.”
It shouldn't be normal to use an exchange with a single point of failure, without proof of reserves, or without auditability.
How did you keep the Backpack Exchange a secret?
Monkey: There’s been so many people working on the project.
I say “so many” but compared to web2 projects the team is infinitely small. Compared to the teams that we’re us to for startups that are tackling problems of this difficulty.
Let’s say that this initially started in April of 2023.
Monkey: I was actually a bit surprised that no Mad Lad holder [guessed]. I saw someone on Discord say it once, but it was a little bit surprising how few people ultimately guessed it.
In terms of how we kept it a secret, I mean it was just material information.
We simply could not allow anyone to know.
Monkey: We were able to really talk about it at Breakpoint, which was perfect timing. This was the first time that a bunch of Mad Lads were going to get geographically, physically together.
Breakpoint was an incredibly special time.
I think people are going to look back and see that as a very significant moment in our culture.
Speaking of culture, does the WAO philosophy translate to the Backpack Exchange?
Monkey: It’s part of our DNA now, right?
I recall this story, I was having dinner with Tristan and Armani when it occurred to me that the community that they had built, they had done something so incredibly special
They had taken this group of people who are early supports and believers. [they] really vetted for them and had a core group of great people who were behind them.
It was these conditions that ultimately led to the creation of the WAO.
Monkey: One day on the Discord that somebody said “We Are One”.
People started saying WAO.
The moment that someone articulated that in the Discord, I think it sort of took off, people realize this is it.
We are one.
We are one.
We are one.
Monkey: Philosophically that saying is super meaningful at so many levels.
In the broadest levels, WAO talks about the notion that us as separate individuals are part of this collective consciousness.
It’s that collective consciousness that is the bond between humans and the sort of connection we feel towards each other and other beings.
To me that just feels like pantheism, the belief that we are all together, this conscious higher intelligence.
Monkey: Which is not something I necessarily believe wholeheartedly but I do think operating in this mindset of we’re all on this Earth together.
This universe together
This ride together.
Ultimately that is a super positive message that resonates with me.
Monkey: Mad Lads are all aligned in terms of having the same PFP but also in terms of resonating with the Mad Lads ethos:
Those who are mad enough to make a difference in this world. Those that have the passion to make an impact.
Monkey: We have a channel in our Discord called WAO. Everyone replies to each other WAO all the time. It’s such a bonding term. It literally means we are collectively aligned. So I think that’s super awesome to scope to view WAO.
From the product side, we have the We Are One app with the full experience.
We are the Exchange.
We are the onramp.
We are the custodial wallet.
We are the applications.
Monkey: In terms of the Backpack team, we are all one team, working on the same mission.
WAO feels like a super core collective alignment that also resonates with our products.
It resonates with my philosophy of how we should treat each other and consider each other in this journey of life.