GRTiQ Podcast: 174 John Paller

Today I’m speaking with John Paller, Founder and Steward at ETHDenver, and Founder of Opolis. I have been wanting to speak with John for a long time – and this interview did not disappoint.

In 2018, John launched ETHDenver, the world’s largest and most influential gathering in the web3 industry. Yet, his contributions extend far beyond that event. John is also the visionary behind Opolis, a member-owned employment cooperative that is reshaping the traditional employer-employee relationship.

During our conversation, John shares insights into his pre-web3 career and the genesis of ETHDenver, offering valuable lessons from its growth. He then provides an inside look at Opolis, highlighting its role in empowering solopreneurs and independent workers. Throughout the conversation, John shares unique perspectives on values, reciprocity, business, and much more!

The GRTiQ Podcast owns the copyright in and to all content, including transcripts and images, of the GRTiQ Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well our right of publicity. You are free to share and/or reference the information contained herein, including show transcripts (500-word maximum) in any media articles, personal websites, in other non-commercial articles or blog posts, or on a on-commercial personal social media account, so long as you include proper attribution (i.e., “The GRTiQ Podcast”) and link back to the appropriate URL (i.e.,[episode]). We do not authorized anyone to copy any portion of the podcast content or to use the GRTiQ or GRTiQ Podcast name, image, or likeness, for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books or audiobooks, book summaries or synopses, or on any commercial websites or social media sites that either offers or promotes your products or services, or anyone else’s products or services. The content of GRTiQ Podcasts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute tax, legal, or investment advice.



We use software and some light editing to transcribe podcast episodes.  Any errors, typos, or other mistakes in the show transcripts are the responsibility of GRTiQ Podcast and not our guest(s). We review and update show notes regularly, and we appreciate suggested edits – email: iQ at GRTiQ dot COM. The GRTiQ Podcast owns the copyright in and to all content, including transcripts and images, of the GRTiQ Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well our right of publicity. You are free to share and/or reference the information contained herein, including show transcripts (500-word maximum) in any media articles, personal websites, in other non-commercial articles or blog posts, or on a on-commercial personal social media account, so long as you include proper attribution (i.e., “The GRTiQ Podcast”) and link back to the appropriate URL (i.e.,[episode]).

The following podcast is for informational purposes only. The contents of this podcast do not constitute tax, legal, or investment advice. Take responsibility for your own decisions, consult with the proper professionals and do your own research.

John Paller (00:00:18):

2005, I first started talking about the idea of democratizing employment, but I had no idea what that meant. All I knew was that there was a huge sort of imbalance in the power structure between employer and employees.

Nick (00:01:01):

Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today I’m speaking with John Paller, founder and steward at ETHDenver and founder of Opolis. I’ve been wanting to speak with John for a long time, and this interview does not disappoint. In 2018, John launched ETHDenver, the world’s largest and most influential gathering in the web3 industry. Yet, his contributions extend far beyond that event. John is also the visionary behind Opolis, a member-owned employment cooperative that is reshaping the traditional employer-employee paradigm. During our conversation, John shares insights into his pre-web3 career and the genesis of ETHDenver offering valuable insights about its growth. He then provides an inside look at Opolis, highlighting its role in empowering solopreneurs and independent workers. Throughout the conversation, John shares his unique perspectives on values, reciprocity, business and so much more. Our conversation begins with John reflecting on his upbringing in Utah setting the stage for his remarkable journey.

John Paller (00:02:02):

Well, growing up in Utah when you’re in it and you don’t know any different, it’s just normal.3 It’s just whatever you’re conditioned to think is normal. I had an interesting family dynamic. I would not say that my parents were terribly happy people. I don’t think that necessarily has anything to do with, they didn’t have a happy relationship. They didn’t divorce. But I think that the strained relationship was more a byproduct of them just not being happy people. And I did grow up in the Mormon church, but I was always the kid asking all the questions like, “Why this, why that?” And then they got kind of sick of listening to me after a while. “This is the process of belief. You just got to have faith.” So some of the wild stuff that they tell you, you’re just like, “Wait, what? That doesn’t make any sense.”


Gosh, they’re not going to like that I tell this story. But at the end of every year, they do this accounting with you on your personal tithe, right? You’re supposed to give 10% of your wages to the church. And I’m a teenager cutting wands and working at Footlocker and doing all this stuff. And it’s like I’m doing, I guess you could say pretty well for a kid still living at home and whatever. I was somewhat semi-supporting my family in a tangential way. I would give a lot of my excess money to my parents. I didn’t need it. My dad didn’t work for a long time. He suffered from depression. My mom worked the same job for almost 40 years and never made over 65 or 70K, right? And we had four kids in a tiny house. They could use all the help they get. But then when you go to this meeting, what do they call it? Tithing, reconciliation or something where they literally sit down with you with your W-twos and go through all this.


I’m like a teenager, and I’m like, “I’m already given most of my money away to my parents and my family. And it’s like, my parents don’t have any money. I don’t understand this. Why do we have to do this?” And they’re like, “It’s an act of faith,” and all this. I’m like, “Yeah. But we’ve got these big lavish temple things and gold leaf expensive stuff.” “Well, it’s a house of God.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but our regular churches aren’t that way. It just seems excessive. Can I decide where the money goes? So I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you the money. But I want to decide where it goes.” He’s like, “No, it doesn’t work that way.” I’m like, “Well, why not?” And they’re like, “Well, it just doesn’t work that way.” I was like, “Okay. Then I’m not doing it.” And then my punishment for that was they called my parents and I’m just like, “What is this? It feels like extortion. I’m a kid. I don’t know anything. What do I know? I don’t know anything.” I’m just asking questions. I’m curious.


Oh man, they just did not like it. And so I got a big talking to, and I need to stop asking so many questions and all this. And I can’t even say that I was ever really into it. I was born into it, but I can’t say that it was ever, ever for me because it wasn’t. And so then when I went to college and then after that I got out of Utah as quickly as I could get out of college because I only went to college in state because my parents weren’t helping me with anything, and I got a scholarship to Southern Utah. So I went south and we’re only an hour and a half from Vegas, so it’s not really the same Utah as you have up in the north.


It was interesting. And then you get out. And I think perspective as you get older, so what was it like? I think my opinion of growing up in Utah has changed now than when I was growing up in it because I didn’t know any different. I had nothing to compare it against. Utah is a great place to visit. It’s beautiful country. I’m a libertarian by nature. I think that we should have good systems and some level of sort of order to how we operate as humans. It should be choose your own adventure after that. Your decisions should be yours to make, and whatever you get or not out of that is a function of game design and value creation. That’s just not how they operate. So I think now I have a very different view on it. I try not to be overly critical of it because I think a lot of who I am is informed by that experience, and I wouldn’t have an appreciation for certain things had I not gone through that.


Success is a bad teacher. So you go through some challenges and some difficulties that you look back on and you’re like, “Huh, that was sort of formative for me.” But it’s not like I sit back and go, “Oh, my parents taught me all the best things. I love my parents to death.” And they’re both passed away now, but I have very fond memories and I don’t hold them in contempt at all. They were doing their absolute best. But I learned a lot about what not to do from them. Utah’s evolved a lot, it seems like. But there’s still a pretty entrenched sort of social political thing that goes on there, and I’ll never move back there. Denver’s great for that. It’s a great sort of foil to that because it’s the same climate, but we have everything here that you don’t have in Salt Lake City.


Mostly people don’t care what you do. Colorado’s very purple that way. It’s like most people aren’t actually from here. We are one of the highest concentration of destination relocations in the country. So it’s like Texas, Florida, Colorado is where people are coming to from other places. So we have tons of people from the Midwest, Utah, California, the Oregon, Washington area, just a ton. And so when people come here, they’re not so territorial. They’re not like, “Well, where are you from?” They’re like, “Hey, I’m from Wisconsin.” “Hey, I’m from Illinois.” “Hey, I went to Indiana.” “Hey, I’m from Utah.” “Hey, I’m from Arizona.” And so people are just more friendly here and just sort of chill.

Nick (00:07:47):

When you think back on your childhood and growing up, are there some experiences or people that really kind of shaped the way you would approach career and sort of ended up landing you where you are presently?

John Paller (00:08:01):

Not really actually. I was sort of the black sheep of my family. I was very ambitious. I was very enterprising as a youth. That was sort of forced on me by the fact that my parents wouldn’t buy anything from me. I went to schools that had a lot of wealthy kids. So there was a social sort of influence of wanting to have cool stuff like a Nintendo system back in the day, like an Atari system even. “You want that, you got to buy it.” I’m like, “Okay, how do I do that?” “Well, you should mow grass.” I’m like, “Okay. Can I borrow your lawnmower?” My dad’s, right? So I’d borrow his lawnmower and I’d go around getting jobs and stuff so I could earn money to then get the things that I wanted. So most of my entrepreneurism was sort of forced on me.


I obviously had an option to just do nothing. I didn’t have to do that. I wanted more I guess you could say, I just wasn’t happy with just the status quo. Not like I was terribly pretentious about it, we literally had nothing. So the bar was really low. The whole reason why I worked at Foot Locker was so I could get the cool shoes. And then it ended up being like all my friends wanted to work there or have me hook them up with stuff. So then I became sort of cool by proxy because I had a cool job. I don’t know. I sort of just played the game.


Okay. So looking at that, a lot of people would say, “Oh, your parents never helped you? They never gave you anything? Oh, that’s fucked up.” I’m like, “Well, that actually was one of the best things that ever happened to me because at a very young age became self-sufficient.” Now, I wasn’t living on my own. I wasn’t paying rent and utilities and all this other stuff, but that didn’t take very long after I went to college to have to do that because I was paying for everything. But I had a head start. I think I started mowing grass and shoveling rocks and tossing newspapers when I was eight. So really, really young. And then you just kind of get used to it.


And then before you know it, it’s like you don’t really want anybody sticking their nose in. “No, no, no, I earned that. You don’t get to tell me what I can and can’t do, Mom. I bought that bike. You told me if I earned enough money, I could buy a car and that you would help me at least set up the car insurance. But then I had to pay for that. And you said all that thinking that I would never be able to afford it. But here I am.” And then so she had to concede. I always look at things from a you win some, you learn some. So I don’t know. My childhood was great. I didn’t have any majorly traumatic stuff. Typical things, family things. Economic hardship was definitely something that we knew, and I just figured out how to transcend it. I just figured it out.

Nick (00:10:39):

It seems to me that a lot of that independence led to independent thinking, independent action, and as you said, your entrepreneurial spirit. So my question is, would you change any of that? I mean, clearly that’s a difficult childhood in terms of trying to keep up with friends and social pressure and probably wanting to do other things with your time. But would you trade it given what it’s sort of led you to become?

John Paller (00:10:59):

I’m not sure for what, right? I also have a belief that all things happen to you for good reason. I think a lot of people will look back at decisions they made and circumstances that have happened to them and lament or have remorse or regret or anger around things. I don’t find any value in that. So I look for, “Okay. What can I learn out of this? How can I use this to advance myself, maybe to not repeat that mistake or whatever?” Some nugget of learning that I can pull out of a situation. And I’ve also found that holding, whether it’s resentments or anger or grudges, the real victim there is myself. It sort of stunts your ability to move forward and really see clearly the learning opportunities because if you’re spending your time in the past, which is really what those things are, you have very little time to spend it in the future or look forward.


I try to get out of the rear view mirror as quickly as possible and glean the value and the learning and whatever the principle is of that circumstance, and then apply that to my next chapter. I don’t know what I would change it to be. I mean, I was dealt a particular hand. I didn’t go to Ivy League schools. I didn’t have the means to do that. I didn’t have the family that had that influence. I didn’t even know the value of what that would’ve been. Nobody spent any time selling me on the idea of that, and I wouldn’t even know that I could have paid for it. I don’t spend any time thinking about changing stuff. I look at, how can you take the aggregate experiences and multiply that into something positive? Learn something. Have the ability to pay attention to the decisions that you make, the outcomes you get.


There’s a saying in the Christian canon that you’re punished by your sins, not for your sins. So our behaviors, our decisions actually create outcomes in the game design that are undesirable. So it’s like, well, if you pay attention to that, if I steal from a business partner and I get pinched on that, whose fault is that? I stole, right? So I got caught and they’re mean to me and all this. It’s like, “Well, you’re being punished for what you did or by it.” It’s not even for it. It’s by it. It’s like the action creates that outcome. So why are you surprised? Spend your time aligning your talents, efforts, words, and actions with outcomes that you want. I believe in the law of reciprocity, for example. So generosity, kindness, forgiveness, put these things out into the world. This is what I try to do. And what do you think I get back? More of that.


So ETHDenver is a free event, for example. And we get a lot of criticism for, “Well, you guys can make so much more money and blah, blah, blah.” And it’s like, sure, but then you don’t really understand the purpose of doing this. What we’re doing is we’re giving education. We’re giving space in place for people to come be creative without economic expectations or commercial expectations or extraction needs or anything like that. We’re just opening a big tent with a blank canvas and saying, “You come and do you.” Now that generosity, that giving as a community brings that back in orders of magnitude. Now, it’s not always a direct thing. A lot of times it’s even indirect. But the abundance, the generosity that I’ve had come my direction I directly attribute to my intentionality around these things. So again, that’s why I don’t hold on to hostility or resentment or anger or any of that because I don’t want to put that out. I don’t want anything to do with that because I’ve seen what that’s like coming back and I don’t want that. I don’t want that at all. I want positive things.


So you put out the positive vibes and then you get them back. It’s not even a law that I built. I just happened to be aware of it, that the law of reciprocity, karma, whatever, you get what you give, there’s a billion ways to say it, but it works the same way. And what people misunderstand is it’s not a direct line. So if I’m good to you, if I’m generous with you, for example, let’s say I gave you a hundred dollars, that doesn’t mean that I’m getting it back from you at all. In fact, the likelihood that I get that back from you is pretty low. And if I did expect that and you fell short of that, then I fall into resentment, anger, I’m pissed off.


So instead, if you need a hundred bucks, I’m just going to give it to you. Now, if you happen to give it back to me at some point, great. But I’m not going to hold myself in a place where I’m going to expect that because I also know from experience it’s unlikely that’s going to happen. So why hold myself and create an exact situation that’s going to tee me up or tee you up to create negativity? So instead, I just hold onto the act of generosity and kindness, put that out without expectation. And then when it comes back to me needing something, the universe has a tendency just to organize it.

Nick (00:16:01):

When did you realize that that’s the way the universe worked? When did you come to see this?

John Paller (00:16:06):

It was a process. So my father was a very, on the surface, very giving guy. But if you peel down a few layers, he was really insecure. So he was giving, but he always wanted attaboys, recognition. When he got the response from somebody as a validation, he needed that to feel good about himself. I love my dad, by the way. This is not me being critical or mean to him. This is just an objective analysis. But if you really look at what that is, who is he giving for? Is he giving for the sake of the act of being generous or is he really doing it so he can get his feel goods? The answer is the latter. He was totally doing it. I watched this over decades where he was just so dependent on that social validation for being generous and being thoughtful and all of these kinds of things.


So little did I know that when I was doing my self-analysis, I was doing the same thing. So the apples don’t fall apart from the trees, right? And we often end up recreating the very things that we might look at our parents and say, “Well, I don’t agree with that.” But then you don’t even realize that you’re doing the same thing. So once I had that epiphany, this is probably over 15 years ago, I was like, “Huh, that’s weird. I created a not-for-profit that does random acts of kindness done anonymously.” So what this helped me do was I could be generous, but then the act of giving was what got the credit because I’m anonymous, and the whole group of people that I was doing this with were anonymous and nobody knew who we were. So there was no public recognition to take.


So if anybody was going to say anything about it publicly, they’d be like, “Oh my God, this group totally did this cool thing for me and it was so nice and so kind,” I can just feel good that we created good in the world. But it was never about my personal social stock. So once I did that enough and I kind of broke that psychological need to get that social validation, it became really easy. If I decide that I’m going to be kind to somebody or let’s say I do an angel investment… Look, in crypto, most angel investments are going to turn into a big donut. Okay? So I see it as an act of giving, right? I believe in this person, I believe in this… It’s not even usually the project that I believe in. It’s the person. So I want to be supportive of their journey, and I’m going to give them a gift essentially not sure on the other end of that. If they happen to crush it, I get upside. But I’m not expecting that at all.


Now, I don’t write my investments down to zero immediately. But I’m not expecting that to be a home run. I don’t hold onto that because if I were to do that, “Oh yeah, you are a failure,” what, 98% of people then are going to be failures? That doesn’t seem fair. I mean, that’s just the kind of nature of the game. And when you asked me when did I realize that through this process, I started seeing where I would be generous and giving over here without expectation. And then all of a sudden this would show up over here. And I’m like, “Wait.” So I started experimenting a little bit with that, not looking to manipulate the game necessarily, although you can, but just sincerely just multiplying that. And it started multiplying. And I was just like, “Wow, that’s really wild. How would you ever figure this out if somebody didn’t tell you this?”


And then if you even take a mental stance that you don’t believe in it, it won’t work. So you can even give, “Well, that’s not going to work.” And you can give and not expect anything and it won’t work because whatever you believe… My experience is what you believe about it, you’ll receive about it. So you have to have this sort of willingness, this openness to be sort of meta on how the universe sort of organizes its resources and principles. And if you believe in the concept of infinite abundance and that I’m a river, not a reservoir, I can throw my resources and wealth through to other people and then the river continues to flow to me and it just flows through and I’m just a channel of abundance and support like many others, not any better or worse than anybody else, but the same. I’m just practicing the principles more intentionally than probably most people do.

Nick (00:21:51):

You’ve said in a couple of your answers now game or game design. Do you mind exploring a little bit what you mean by that and how you sort of use that lens or that reality in the things that you do?

John Paller (00:22:05):

Yeah. So humanity and our minds are very interesting things. And the concept of reality that we live in is pretty subjective to the person you’re talking to. I happen to have one version of reality, and you could talk to my next door neighbor who has a completely different view of it. So whose is right? I don’t think anybody’s is right necessarily. I think there’s a certain framework of how the universe gives every person the ability to have the domain of their mind to choose how they want to frame their thinking. That’s why it’s fair, because the canvas of our minds is completely up to us whether or not we want to choose to believe something or not. And so as opposed to dogmatic things or even social conditioning where people are trying to get me to do or believe something, I kind of step back from it and I look at life as a set of principles.


And if you were to consider the actions around principles and what the outcome would be if I lived those principles, whichever they might be, what would I get in return? Kindness is an example. Okay. Now, some people would argue, “Well, I’ve been nice to people and they’re just mean to me.” Okay. Well, yeah, but not always. Some people are just angry. If you look at the probabilities over time, if you’re just genuinely a kind person, not looking for validation as a reason to be kind, but just as a principle of being, just be kind to be kind, be generous to be generous, be forgiving to be forgiving. Don’t worry about what the other people are doing because the minute you worry about what their response is, you’re doing it for you, which makes it selfish and not pure. Therefore, it won’t work.


So when you’re being kind and people aren’t being kind back, then I ask, “Well, are you just being kind to be kind or are you expecting them to be kind back? Because if you’re expecting them to be kind back, you’re short circuiting the game.” And they go, “What? I’ve never even thought about that.” “Why are you doing it? Are you doing it for social acceptance? So being kind is socially acceptable. So you think that being kind is going to get you more, well-liked in your friend and peer group, so that’s why you do it. Or are you doing it at a principal because it’s just the right thing to do?” And they’re like, “Huh?” And they’re not even considering what their actual motivation is for why they do it, nor are they being honest with themselves a lot of times.


So it takes time to take a step back and not be judgmental of yourself, not be hard on yourself, not be, “Oh, well, I’m such a manipulative jerk.” It’s like, no, it’s not that. Don’t do that either. You got to be objective about if you look at a game like a video game and, “Okay. Well, if I take this path, I’m going to get killed by the boss. And if I go this path, I’m going to go around and I can sneak past and I don’t even have to fight him,” that’s objective analysis. Like, “Well, why wouldn’t I take this path? I want to avoid that. I don’t want to die. That seems more dangerous, so let me just go over here.” It’s a simple analysis of what’s best for me. And then if you really do that in alignment with principles, it’s also what’s best for everybody else.


So when I meet genuinely kind and giving people, I know it. I get no energy sense that they want something from me. Now, I meet people all the time who are nice to me because they think I have some sort of position of stature and they’re like, “Oh, he’s the founder of this and he did this, and he’s all of this and that.” And they’re nice to me because a lot of times, this is seasonal, so they hit me up or talk to me at certain weird times of the year where it’s like, “Of course I know that you’re doing this to get something from me.” Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not kind to them anyway, but I don’t expect anything from them.


But just because they’re doing that doesn’t mean that it’s not a reason for me to be kind or generous or even forgiving of that. Whatever, I don’t care. They got to live the other end of that. That’s up to them, and they’re going to learn in their own ways and even if that means I don’t give them what they want, and I’ve done that where it’s like, “No, I can’t do that.” And it’s not a punishment. I’m not just giving to everybody anytime they ask for something. There’s definitely a calculus that I go through and a discernment on whether or not I think it’s the right thing. But I make no judgment about what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. It’s just if they have an ask and I feel moved to do it, I do it. And if I don’t, then I don’t. And after I do it or I don’t, I just leave it. It’s theirs, not mine.

Nick (00:27:07):

If we return to your personal story, kind of the story arc of how you got to where you are today, and we talk about university and what you did right after, which is you spent a lot of time in traditional finance and accounting. How do you make sense of that chapter of your professional life and what are some of the things you kind of learned during that chapter?

John Paller (00:27:26):

Oh, well, first off, there’s no heroes. When I was coming up as an early entrepreneur, I was always looking at the older population or the people who had been there, done that, got a T-shirt as somehow having the answers to the test. And people who have been through things can be good coaches to an extent. But when it comes to making decisions for you or discerning what’s right for your project, the only person that can do that is you. So you can’t hire your way out of problems. You’ve got to build a team that can share a vision. And I didn’t do this early on. I was always looking to sort of get out of my responsibilities like, “Okay. Let me hire a CEO. Let me do this, let me do this.”


I brought in this one guy who was a big consultant guy and he had all the answers to the test. Not only did he not have the answers to the test, me giving him control of anything ended up in disaster. He had a completely different perspective and understanding of how things worked. On the surface, it didn’t seem that way. But his life journey was completely not in line with what I really wanted to create. But he was going to fix my problems. But he ended up multiplying them. And it was like, “Wow.”


So I learned many, many years ago instead of looking for answers externally to find them internally. The answers to the test are actually right here and here. How do you unlock that? Meditation, prayer work, whatever, discernment. I don’t know, yoga, zenning out, mindfulness, whatever your flavor is. But that personal quiet time is the most important thing. Being able to quiet your mind to a point where you can hear… I always describe it like this, the human brain is like a beautiful violin concerto being played, but your neighbor’s blaring punk rock.


So you can’t hear the concerto because the punk rock is drowning everything out. So that’s the voices and the doubt and the shit bouncing around our brains. You got to turn that down because the real beauty, the music, the creativity, the authenticity of who you are is underneath that noise. And if you don’t spend the time to discipline your mind, quiet your mind, however that works for you… I happen to do meditation every day. So I’ve been doing this for 15, 16 years now. I literally couldn’t live without it. Even if I go a week without… If I’m running around and I just can’t find the time, it’s like that noise starts turning up. It’s like eating right, working out, anything where you have to train to maintain this.


And so my best creativity, some of my best creations, inventions, ideas have come from turning down the music so I can hear the concerto of that creativity flow through me and I can go, “Oh, that’s a cool idea.” And you write it down and you bring it up in your meetings and they’re like, “Well, that’s… Okay.” And you start pulling on the strings and you start creating stuff and next thing you know it becomes a thing and you’re like, “Wow, that was cool.” But how would I have known to do any of that if I’m just relying on my thinking capacity? Because the thinking definitely has a part to do with it and sort of unpacking things, but that’s a co-creation thing. It’s more of an allowing of expression because normally we’re just too busy and our minds are just jumbled with doubt and junk and fear and all sorts of crap that we can’t actually get down to our authentic creativity, which is really beautiful.

Nick (00:31:13):

If we go back in time, where were you when you first became aware of crypto? And do you remember what the circumstances were in which it was an aha moment for you in some way?

John Paller (00:31:28):

As a process. I think I was sort of in a place where I was willing. I had been through several business sort of challenges, breakups with partners and previous enterprises and just other bad experiences, and I was open to trying different things. And I had definitely some good influence from friends and mentors and people that I knew. I did rely on some of them too much at one point. Instead of just coaching and whatnot, I sort of tried to outsource to some of them, and that’s just not their role. Their role isn’t to do that. Even if they want to do it, they shouldn’t. You shouldn’t let them. And then you have these sort of reinforcing experiences that just validate that this is a more optimal way of things working.


I would never profess to have the answers to everything. If I did, I’d be a multi-billionaire. But maybe that’s part of the journey. You have to go through these steps in these game levels and all of this. And I don’t know. And I’m not even sure being a billionaire would create any sort happiness by the way. I think that the real goal of life is to attain fulfillment. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? But how many people do you know that are really fulfilled, like really? There’s not that many. And you look at the sort of social pressures, you mentioned this earlier around, what are the goals? Wealth, power, stature. None of that’s actually going to make you happy in the end.


So what I’ve learned is when you do an act of authentic creative expression and you are expressing this creativity into the world, and even if it’s hard, even if it’s a caterpillar turning into a butterfly kind of forging alchemy where it’s like time, heat, and pressure and it’s beating the shit out of you, out the back end of that comes butterflies and diamonds. That’s how time and pressure creates diamonds, the cocoon creates the butterflies. It’s a writhing process. It can be very challenging. But I would say that my personal experience in this is regardless of the money, that creative expression in the most authentic way just to create it, not because somebody said, “Oh, there’s a big business opportunity. You can make a lot of money there,” but I do it. And then all of those other things fall in line.


ETHDenver’s become incredibly successful. Opolis is on its way. There’s these things that I’ve built and expressed and created that I look back at and I’m so grateful for these experiences because I feel great about them. I feel very peaceful. I feel fulfilled. My life is great. Is it easy? Fuck no, it’s not that. It’s not like I’ve got some magic wand and I’m just doing crazy. It’s like you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It is hard. It is alchemy, real life alchemy where you are transformed into something new from what you were just like a piece of coal into a diamond. If you lean into the process of creative expression, that’s the gift. So when you get there, it’s not about the money, although that might very well come. That very well might be there and it probably will because if you create that amount of value for humanity, what happens? It comes back to you.

Nick (00:35:08):

What’s the one lesson that you want everybody to know that you’ve learned by virtue of your work on ETHDenver?

John Paller (00:35:14):

I don’t want to start with a don’t, because that’s the wrong way to frame it. I prefer dos. “Do this,” not, “Don’t do that.” I think the most underrated principle that people can lean into is their own personal conviction. And quick anecdotal story, when I first hatched the idea for ETHDenver, I didn’t even own the meetup. I was just part of the meetup back in the day of Ethereum. I became friends with the founders, and we had a very small group of people in the very beginning. But then it swelled in early 2017 to hundreds of people, and it was like hundreds of people on a waiting list. We had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that wanted to come to these meetups. But I just noticed that there wasn’t a lot of building going on. There was a lot of beer and backslaps and pizza and jokes and fun and socializing, but no one was actually laying any code, mostly because nobody knew how.


We took a survey in one of the meetups and said, “Who would participate in hackathon? Who wants to learn how to code Ethereum” And three quarters of the room said yeah. And then when I went to the founders and I said, “Hey, I want to do this hackathon.” “Well, we tried that. Nobody really came and nobody took it seriously. And you’d have to raise a bunch of money for it. It’d probably cost like 20 or $30,000 and all this.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, no. We talk about Colorado as perfect for this, sort of the values alignment of crypto and how it could be a destination of choice for innovation. Well, why don’t we just build Colorado into a destination of choice for crypto?” “Well, who are we going to get to help you do that?” I’m like, “I don’t know. Let’s just do it.”


There was a bunch of, you could call it monkey poo being flown for the next couple of months because I just went and built a pitch deck and I had all this pricing for sponsorships. And they’re like, “What? You’re going to charge $25,000 for a site for sponsorship? What? No one’s going to pay that, dude.” I’m like, “No, they will.” So $500,000 later, we hosted our first ETHDenver with 1500 people in attendance. And people were just blown away. They’re like, “How did you do that?” And I’m like, “Conviction, man.” You just got to be so… Some people would say it’s stubbornness. But I think there’s a really fine line between conviction… Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean that that person’s not going to go build that. Just because you don’t share the conviction doesn’t mean that they’re not going to go build that.


If you doubt, that’s fine. And if I doubt my own project, guess what? I’m not going to build it either. Doubt is the killer of all dreams. Doubt is killed more dreams than any other reason for failure because our minds are not aligned with success. Our minds are actually aligned with failure, and therefore that’s what we get. Now, that might be controversial to some people. “Well, conditions and markets and situations.” Let me tell you, we have been in dire, almost dead circumstances many times. I have personally over 25 years of being an entrepreneur, but I never actually subscribed to the idea of failure. I never gave it any time or energy. Staring it in the face I’m like, “Nope, we’re not failing.” And guess what? We didn’t.


It was tough as hell, and it was forging and challenging and testing of resolve. You’re staring a bull down in the face and it’s like, who’s going to blink? Well, one of two of you is going to. You choose. And it might even seem totally formidable like there’s no way we can win this. But there’s books and movies and all sorts of stuff that have been built on this exact principle where people transcend almost impossible circumstances. And why? Conviction.

Nick (00:39:27):

What can you tell us about the origins of Opolis? What was the seed of the idea? Can you take us back to that moment?

John Paller (00:39:34):

2005, I first started talking about the idea of democratizing employment, but I had no idea what the fuck that meant. All I knew was that there was a huge sort of imbalance in the power structure between employer and employees. And I was running a staffing company at the time, and we started talking about providing healthcare benefits to our employees because of the ACA stuff in the late 2000s, 2008 after Obama got elected. He was talking about it. And then in 2010, they passed it. And it was sort of a topic of discussion throughout the industry, and there was a lot of controversy around how people in the temporary worker space are treated when it comes to benefits and things.


And so we always try to treat people better and we had. But then when the ACA got passed, the whole industry was talking about how to get out of having to provide it, loop holes. “Well, we’re not really shell games,” and all this other crap. And I was like, “I don’t know. It seems like if we really want to treat people appropriately, they would be more productive. And that by itself is a value proposition to our clients who are paying us to provide this labor. Why wouldn’t we want to just lean into this? But we’d have to charge a little bit more for it, but we could do the math and figure out how much more.”


And we ended up establishing it was about 6% more in general that we had to charge in order to cover that across the entire population of our workforce assuming that not everybody needed it or qualified for it in one point in time. So we did this whole analysis. So we raised our prices 6%, and we went in with a whole value proposition pitch on this and how much value creation that will get them, and that’ll be more than the 6% that they’re paying, so there should be a multiplication of value creation and productivity from our workforce.


And we had some data models to support this. And they’re like, “Oh, this is really great, except we want the old price. So yeah, we want higher productivity. But we don’t want to pay for it.” Why? Because the procurement people are incentivized to cut costs, not increase productivity. All they care about is budgets. So any of this inference about creating higher productivity, thus higher profits, they’re not trafficking in that. They’re only incentivized to cut the costs. So they just ignored all of the things that we were saying. And I’m just like, “Wait. So doing the right thing by treating these people first-class citizens, not like second-class citizens, there’s no value in that. And the answer is, “Correct. They don’t care.”


So then I started unpacking game design in general. And it’s like, “Well, we have a misalignment of incentives.” Corporations in this game that we’re playing, temporary labor, are not incentivized, or they’re not incentivizing their teams to focus on productivity. They’re only focused on how much money they spend. Now, do they have to get the job done? Sure. But that’s more of a moving target operationally, and they feel like they can get it done. Plus, they want to bloat their budgets as much as possible so they can maintain the big budgets. So they’re not actually incentivized by cost efficiency either in a lot of ways. So what you could probably get done for half the money, but paying people the really efficient people more money but paying less people to do it, you could get a higher productivity level out of those people. But they’re just doing the Office Space thing where they just have farms of people and eventually they’ll get it done.


So I’m just like, “Wow, this is really messed up.” So I started experimenting with a bunch of tech startups looking to gather efficiency and sort of eliminate various choke points of inefficiency in talent acquisition. And all of those experiments led me to one conclusion, and that is that this power imbalance that we have in employment can’t be designed away in the current framework because it’s a feature, not a bug. It’s a legal relationship between employer and employee. And no matter how much kombucha and ping pong tables you put in the office, that doesn’t change. It’s the same. And so the power sits here, and these folks have no power. They don’t own their healthcare, they don’t own their employment, they don’t own any decisions around their benefits or what they get or what they don’t get. In fact, like that it can go away like Covid or the crash of 2008 where people just go, they rub them and they go, “Okay. You’re gone,” with nothing. We’re like, “Well, you’ll just get another job.” It’s like, “Yeah, I don’t know. That seems pretty imbalanced. Right?”


So Opolis is basically decentralized employment. So we said, “Well, how do we build a platform that actually relieves the employer of all this risk and all this other stuff, but doesn’t just put it squarely on the employee where we can actually through a community de-risk employment, make procurement efficiency and cost reductions happen for them, but then give them the legal ownership of their employment so they own it here, and then their relationship with the former employers is now mutualistic? It’s here instead of here. So now I’m providing services to these guys who then say, ‘Well, as long as you’re providing us high value, we’ll keep you around.'” Now I have incentive to do a really efficient job because I can take on more jobs over here and I can make two or three times the income as long as I’m fast and efficient. I have a statement of work I need to deliver for these guys, but now my incentives aren’t just punching a clock and doing 15 minutes of actual work in one day, “Just enough not to get fired,” if you know the quote from Office Space.


So now the game design is different. So I have incentives to produce value instead of just punching a clock. They have incentives to keep high performing people around, plus they have no risk to manage, so they’re not being overly controlling. And now it’s mutualistic. So we redesigned the legal framework, added a bunch of cool efficiency tech, and now we’re processing 60 million dollars a year in payroll for independent workers who own their own employment, and it’s completely portable to them. So if they move projects or they have four or five different income streams, none of that matters as long as they continue to employ themselves, which we do on a semi-monthly paycheck run. So they have to pay themselves a minimally acceptable payroll. We have to check all the boxes compliance wise. But as long as those low bar activities are hit, they maintain employment. So if they want to go rent an apartment, “Oh, here’s my pay stubs.”


They work for themselves and they’re now proving their income. They could never do this before. “I got a W-two. I’ve got workman’s comp so if I happen to get hurt for some reason, I can make a claim. If I have a disability that happens, I can take that up long term or short term.” And this has never been available to people who work independently. So now the value set of workers has shifted largely from safety and security to freedom and flexibility because they don’t trust the employers anymore that they’re actually giving them safety and security because they’re not. It’s a mirage. So now that people are waking up to that, they’re like, “Well, can I produce my own safety and security?” The answer up till now has been, no, you can’t really do it. You can, but it’s a ramshackle way. You got to cobble it together. You got to figure out stuff. You got to do all sorts of contorting yourself into a pretzel and learning about things that you probably don’t care about too much, except that you need to know it. It’s like necessary evil stuff.


But wouldn’t it be cool if there was a community, a platform, a public utility infrastructure that could provide me these services? And I’m the customer, not the companies who are procuring my services, which is what everything else does. Everything else, the customer’s the companies, the workers are the product. So de-productizing, re-humanizing employment and handing the controls to the employees without demonizing the corporations. It’s just about making business better for them too because the reason why they act the way that they act with these onerous control mechanisms, “We have to be in the office and you have to do this,” is because the incentives aren’t aligned.


The incentives aren’t to be productive. The incentives are to punch clocks. So if they’re doing that from home and there’s no somebody whipping them or some sort of eyeballs looking around to see who’s productive, then nobody really cares about being productive. But if you have a statement of work that says, “I need these things done by this date at this level of quality passing QC,” then I get that done, and I have incentive now to do it as fast as I can because I’m getting a project right now and I can take on five or six projects and I can do all of it concurrently as long as I’m efficient, why not? And the companies are happy as long as they get what they need. And I’m happy because I’m getting paid a really great wage to produce output. The game of employment had to be redesigned or else it will never work.


So anybody who comes and says, “Well, isn’t Opolis like Gusto or Trinad or any of these others that are outsourcing employment?” It’s like then you don’t understand Opolis because the main feature is we’ve redesigned the legal relationship so that people have more fluidity, ownership, and control over how they run their commercial lives, and they don’t have to have permission from somebody else to do that. Now, in the terms of web3 in general, if you have that base layer of employment where I have authorization, compliance and legitimacy to work domestically, globally and my KYC essentially has been done, wouldn’t that be a predicate for a much more fluid world where I could work in DAOs, protocols, gamification, trading, whatever, and Opolis provides that compliance layer that then legitimizes my participation in those things and makes the governments happy too because they get their taxes and I’m doing everything out in the open?


But then I also get my freedom. I get my control. I can do it from where with him and how much I choose. The cornerstone of freedom is choice. And right now we have sort of this faux choice where it’s like, “Well, if you don’t like your job, just go get a different one.” Okay. Well, that’s not really the problem. The problem is the relationship is paternalistic, and it doesn’t matter if it’s this job or that job, they’re all the same. So your optionality isn’t really real. What we’re saying is there’s a way to opt out of that system but not do it at the expense of the company’s like, “Screw corporate interest.” It’s like anybody who talks about this, look, someone’s got to pay for this stuff. The corporations are only playing the game as it’s designed. Okay? If we give them a better game that’s also mutualistic with a solution that we provide that’s mutualistic, doesn’t that realign everybody’s behavior?


The answer to that in terms of game three is yes, as long as that assumption is true that there’s not some gamification that we’ve missed or some exploitation that corporations take on it. But when they don’t have control, they can’t really do that. So anyways, that’s the birth of it. That’s how it happened. There’s a long tale story to it, and it wasn’t something that was obvious in the beginning. It took close to 12 years, from 2005 to 2017 to have the oh moment. I had my red pill moment for web3 in general in 2016, but it took about another year for me to really kind of hone in on how we were going to productize and the direction. And then it took another two years to actually release the white paper after a ton of research and all that.


So that was July 2019 that we did that, and then it took another year and a half to productize, so then that was the fall of 2020. And then we went in our private alpha in the fall of 2020, and then we were public beta in January 2021, and here we are three years later with 60 million in payroll.

Nick (00:52:14):

For listeners, they’ve caught the vision of what Opolis does and they see a connection there, how can they get started? What’s the best place to go?

John Paller (00:52:24):

Our website has a lot of just educational stuff. We try to be not shill-y or any of that because we find that creating a new product category requires that people are educated on why and how. And a lot of people YOLOing their lives in crypto, they’re not professionalized, they don’t have an S corp. They’re just, “I’m just out doing my thing.” And they’re like, “Well, wait. I got to pay tax on that shit. How do I do that?” And like, “Oh, man, I went to go get an apartment in New York. And they’re all telling me I need pay stubs and I don’t have any proof of income. I got my Meta mask. You want to see that?” And they’re like, “What? No.”


So I think just leaning into the educational side. And then if you’re curious, you can email membership at There’s ways from our website to actually book a call with a membership steward if you’re curious. And it’s a non-sales experience. Mostly, they’re just going to feed you full of information, ask a lot of questions, see what you know, see what you don’t know, and try to fill in the holes. Like I said, most of the game of learning about why Opolis is valuable to you is just one of education. Now, once you kind of get the basics and you join, it’s kind of set it and forget it. You don’t need to be constantly learning about all these new things because Opolis will do it for you. So once you kind of set it all up, most of the administrative headaches or, “I don’t know what I don’t know,” kind of go away because we know all of that stuff and we just do it for you. And then we just ship you what you need.


And then there’s still some involvement you have to have in managing your finances and approving things and whatever. It’s not entirely hands off. But it’s for the most part, 90% hands off. And then you don’t have to deal with the necessary evils anymore because you’ve got a community. Community owned, so it’s not just a service provider where we’re looking to extract a bunch of money. We’re literally community owned. So it’s a member ownership. It’s like REI for employment.


So we use a legal framework of a co-op intentionally because there aren’t gray hair old guys sitting in the boardroom extracting money, demanding our stock price go up. Our tokenomics are designed in a way that when we’re profitable, people will want the token because that’s the means by which we determine who gets patronage distributions, which is the co-op’s mechanism of returning profits to the community. It’s like a dividend, but it’s got a securities exemption. So we are not considered a security or anything like that because this is all legal in the framework of a co-op. It’s really brilliant. It’s awesome. This is all the time that we spent doing this back in 2017, 2018, 2019 figuring this out. And so we’ve done that now for SporkDAO, which is the ETHDenver owner. It has a co-op framework that ETHDenver is a fully wholly owned sub to that that’s an LLC. And then Opolis has the Employment Commons LCA, which is the co-op that owns the employment and issued the token, the work token.

Nick (00:55:33):

What’s the one characteristic that you think every entrepreneur must have? I mean, you’ve got all this experience. You talked about the long tail of Opolis and going from a seed of an idea to execution, and clearly things are going exceptionally well. And I’ll put links in the show notes for anybody that wants to learn more. But what’s that one characteristic you think every entrepreneur must possess?

John Paller (00:55:54):

Well, I’ll go back to conviction, man. So conviction is the foundation of persistence, perseverance, resiliency, mental, physical, emotional toughness. If you don’t have that baseline core belief, that unshakable conviction that, “We’re building this,” none of that other stuff exists. So whatever you put your effort into, whatever you put your shoulder into, whatever you decide to contribute your talents to, I would spend time deciding whether or not you really believe in it.


It’s like driving cross country from San Diego to New York. If I’m on the highway and let’s say I’m an entrepreneur and my goal is San Diego, so San Diego for me is a million users and I’m in New York, and it’s like I got to beat up old piece of shit 1976 Pinto. And it’s like, “Dude, I don’t have any idea if this thing’s going to last to get there.” So one, I got to go in the right direction. At least directionally, I have to be going that way. So I might take a roundabout way or kind of go over here or go over there, but generally I have to be going west.


And when it starts snowing or raining or tornadoes or whatever it is, those exit ramps are so easy. “Oh yeah, I don’t know. Let’s just get off right here. Hey, this looks pretty nice. Denver looks great. Do we even care about San Diego? I don’t know. Do we really care about…” No, you have to be like, “No, we’re not doing that. We’re doing that. We’re going to San Diego. That’s where we’re going. How we get there, I don’t give a shit. We want to walk, crawl, ride armadillos, I don’t care how we’re going to get there. We’re going to go to San Diego.” You have to be that convicted. And people around you, it’s infectious. If you genuinely believe that that’s the thing, people will follow it.


You’re also modeling for other people their journeys, right? So when you get to your end game, you’ve also prepared a whole army of people to go express themselves in a way for themselves that might inspire the next wave of entrepreneurs, right? So it’s a multiplication effect. Conviction is the most important thing by orders of magnitude. Ideas are dime a dozen. They always say, “Well, execution matters.” Well, how do you think people who are… I’m smart. I’m not dumb. Okay? I’m a very smart person and I don’t gloat about that. In fact, it doesn’t even matter. I know lots of really smart people who live with just copious amounts of fear and doubt, cynicism about what’s possible or not. And they end up with… Do you think Elon Musk is trading rockets that can self land because he’s doubting that these… No, he’s so convicted that it doesn’t matter how many trials he goes through. He’s just going to keep going and doing it.


So like him or not as a person, you have to admire the conviction. It’s not different from Edison creating the light bulb or anybody else, Tesla creating… He should have gotten the credit for electricity. All of these things come from absolute, pure, unadulterated conviction, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to bring doubt into the mix, including your family who wants to protect you. “Well, I don’t know. That seems really risky. Why would you do that?” Even spouses will do this. They’ll try to dissuade you from doing it, from expressing your maximum creativity into something beautiful for humanity. And you just have to reject it. You just have to say, “No, I’m going to San Diego. You can come along. I want you to come along. Please come along.” But you can’t choose that for them.

Nick (00:59:53):

John, I only have one kind of final question for you before I ask you. The GRTiQ 10, and that’s kind of a lightning round of some fun questions I ask each guest of the podcast every week. The final question I want to ask you is clearly ETHDenver has been a monumental impact on the industry, and it’s activated many, maybe thousands of people interest in the industry, occupation, career path, everything. So my question is, how does that make you feel? When you have those quieter moments, when you reflect on the contributions you’re making clearly with Opolis but with ETHDenver in particular, how does it make you feel to know that you’ve been instrumental in something that’s had such an impact?

John Paller (01:00:34):

Well, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel good about it. I feel a lot of joy about it. I have been very fortunate in whatever decisions I made. I’ve ended up at a place where I feel a lot of joy and fulfillment and freedom, peace. Is my life easy? No. But my intrinsic state of being is very peaceful, and I would want other people to have that experience. Why wouldn’t I? I would be a total if I didn’t want that. What would the world be like if people were creatively fulfilled? Genuinely. I think it’d be a pretty awesome place actually. But we have this sort of duality like I said in our minds and fear and doubt, competing with conviction and belief. And that battle of the mind isn’t always won by the right energy.


ETHDenver has always been, we’ve tried to keep it as pure as possible. There aren’t corporate extractive goals. There’s no expectations. There’s no hostility or standoffish or just weird expectations about what you should and shouldn’t do or who you should be. It’s a big space, a big tent and a blank canvas. And we just say, “Come, you do you. It’s free. Get your ass to Denver however you can. If you can’t afford it, we’ll see if we can help you.” But can’t help everybody, but we put a lot of money on for scholarships. We built a freaking hostel in one of the event centers two years ago for 600 beds, just giving people a place to come. So literally it’s just a gift to the community, to creativity. It’s a gift to creativity. And whoever wants to come partake in that is fine. And we’re not expecting anything in return.


We definitely want to invest in good projects and smart people so we can create that regenerative sort of economic circle. But whether we do or we don’t, it’s not the reason we do it. The thing that matters to me most, I get every week people who reach out to me and say, “You know what? I just wanted to say thank you for you doing this. It changed my life for ABC reasons. I raised capital. I just felt accepted,” or whatever it might be. That kind of humanness, that kind of just authentic appreciation is priceless. And I don’t do it for that. We do it for the sake of creativity, not for the validation of the creativity. The sake of creativity is enough, but when it comes back with that kind of purity where it’s just like people are so deeply moved by it… I’ve had people break down in tears of joy and happiness and appreciation for the things that we’ve built. And you just give them a big hug and you say, “Well, that’s the point.”


Bring your friends next time or make new ones or whatever. And they do. And that’s how we’ve multiplied to be the size that we’re at now, 25,000 people from 115 countries, biggest in the world. And by far from an ethos, there’s nothing like it. You can go to Consensus even, I’m going there tomorrow. It’s not like that. You got the facades and the suits and the corporate and this and that. Everybody’s doing the hustle. It’s like, “Where’s the authenticity? Where’s the creativity? Where’s that? I thought that’s what web3 is about, unlocking that. New game designs, mutuality and reciprocity and regenerative, games and all this.” Web two conference is what it feels like. I don’t know. My vibes, I don’t think I’m wrong, but I don’t want to throw the baby out in the bath water though because I do think a lot of these events are net positive. But they could do so much more and they don’t.


So we’re just going to do that, set the example and yeah, it feels great. But I also try not to let it get to our head. We’re only as good as our latest event and we want to maintain an attitude of our own growth and learning and optimizing for the experience so that we can bring even more people and we can multiply even more experiences because we haven’t got to mass adoption yet. We’re not even close to that. So what does that look like? I don’t have any idea. What I do know is none of the applications that we’ve built aside from retail crypto exchanges that have custody involved have anywhere near retail product market fit. It’s the only thing. That’s not going to cut it.


If we want to see real decentralization of commercial systems, disintermediation of trusted third party intermediaries, if we want to see permissionlessness, if we want to see transparency and self custody and sovereignty of assets, we got a lot of work to do. And so we’re just going to continue to do it, and as long as people are interested in coming, and we’ve got sponsors who are still willing to support it, because again, we don’t charge anything for tickets. We have only a one way street. So we have got to create a lot of value for sponsors as well. So we try to be mindful and appreciative of all of that. And then we’ll just keep going, keep going.

Nick (01:05:54):

John, that’s an incredible answer and I appreciate you sharing that. I now want to ask you the GRTiQ 10. And like I said, these are 10 questions I ask each guest of the podcast every week. And it allows us to get to know you a little bit more. But I always say it invites listeners to learn something new, try something different, or achieve more in their own life. And so John, are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?

John Paller (01:06:14):

Fire away!

Nick (01:06:25):

What book or articles had the most impact on your life?

John Paller (01:06:30):

I’m a big principles guy. I don’t read the Bible for dogmatic reasons or religious reasons, but I’m very interested in understanding even the hidden principles of ancient texts. The Gnostic Bible was very interesting. It’s not widely understood, but it’s more of a mystical… There’s a bunch of books that were apparently eliminated from the original sort of council of Nicaea version of the Bible in 324, and there’s these ancient texts that popped up that you read them and you’re like, “Oh, this is really interesting.” So I’m very interested, like Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, anything that’s got an esoteric ancient wisdom spin to it, I’m very interested in these things mainly because I like seeing timeless principles and action. I don’t think that principles are contextual. So in other words, whatever was principally right 3000 years ago is probably still principally right. So what are those things? And I want to better understand them and then unpack that in my current context so then I can make better choices and decisions.


There’s that. Then there’s also, I’ve become very… I’m not religious at all. I have no need for dogma or checklists or anything like that. I’m very spiritual, and so anything around consciousness. So David Hawkins is an author that I really like, and he’s created sort of a humanistic way of understanding the vibrations of consciousness. And at least contextually for me, it helped me understand the relative nature of people and energy. And when you meet somebody and you just got a really bad vibe about them, they’re putting off energy and you’re reading that, right? So how does that relate to their humanity? What kind of frame of living do they have? There’s probably a heavy dose of fear that they live from. Fear drives bad behaviors or at least bad behaviors in the context of creates a lot of bad outcomes.


So when you make decisions based on fear, it’s not optimal ever. So do I want to be in business with that person? Do I want to socialize with that person? I’m not even trying to condemn that person, but I am not here to fix them. And I’ve only got a certain amount of time and limited resources. Now, I might still include them in something to maybe help them if I can, but I’m not looking to fix anybody or try to rescue anybody. So I’m always interested in anything that’s going to help me understand the sort of relationship between the human experience and the spiritual experience. So this sort of concept of consciousness, even psychedelics, I’ve done a ton of even clinical reading on things like psilocybin, LSD from the sixties and seventies, stuff they don’t want you to read. But even how things like ketamine that were used as anesthesia are very much now being used for therapeutic treatment of PTSD, depression, suicidal thoughts and tendencies.


I’m interested in how to advance the human experience so that we can express these creativities more freely because I feel like when you’re depressed, that’s a symptom of bad feelings, bad energies around past experiences usually or maybe even future thoughts. “Oh, I’m not going to accomplish this thing. I’m a failure.” So you’re not living in the present when you’re either living in the past or the future. You got to live right… So Eckhart Tolle, who I don’t read him as much anymore, but The Power of Now, there is no time. Those are all fragments of memory which may or may not exist because we’re all living from different perspectives. So the only thing that exists is right now. So if I’m living in the future or the past, I’m giving up that now power. So how do we really express creatively if I’m not doing it right now? And the answer is you can’t. So these become deterrents to that full expression.


So any literature I can get my hands on, or even podcasts that talk about this kind of thing, I’m all over it because as much as I’ve come a long way, what got me here isn’t going to get me where I want to go. So I’ve got to continue to sort of forge my own journey and learnings because whatever helped me get here was just to here. And you got to maintain a sense of humility too because the more I learned, the less I realize I know and how much is out there and how tiny… And in some ways we’re all really powerful and very important, but in a lot of ways we’re all very insignificant. There’s what, eight billion people on the planet and somehow I got it all figured out? No, no, I don’t think that’s possible. I think the minute you claim you’ve got it all figured out, you’ve become a megalomaniac, and that’s another dangerous place to be.

Nick (01:11:40):

How about this one, John? Is there a movie or a TV show that you would recommend everybody should watch?

John Paller (01:11:44):

I don’t want to be cliche and be like The Matrix. Ironically, my favorite movie in the past 10 years is Interstellar. There’s some meta spiritual reasons for that. There’s some consciousness reasons for that. The storytelling is insane. The acting’s pretty good too. So the whole execution, the production quality of that movie was really good, and the storytelling was on point. I don’t say that very often.


For metaphorical reasons, The Matrix is one of my favorites. Big Star Wars nerd from back in the day. For other storytelling reasons, metaphorical reasons, I think there’s a lot of sort of life’s lessons that you can learn from the principles enacted. They’re sort of subtly hidden in some ways. They don’t come out and just talk about it. But if you sort of pay attention, you can kind of get down to it. But I think Interstellar is… If you haven’t seen it, if somebody hasn’t seen Interstellar, that’s a must watch.

Nick (01:12:47):

If you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

John Paller (01:12:52):

I mean, it might be Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. I don’t know. It’s either that or Dave Matthews, Under the Table and Dreaming. That’s so cliche though. That just kind of pins me in the era I grew up. Man, that was so good though. G Love & Special Sauce, Lemonade is fantastic. Led Zeppelin IV. I’ll just leave it there. Yeah. G Love’s my sort of off the beaten path one, but I’ve always been a big fan.

Nick (01:13:20):

And how about this one, John? What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?

John Paller (01:13:25):

Shut the fuck up, listen more.

Nick (01:13:29):

What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know yet?

John Paller (01:13:34):

So I’ll go back to some of the stories I was telling earlier about the purity of giving and generosity. It’s a nuanced thing, and a lot of people don’t pay attention to their real motives for doing things. Even in relationships, we say, “Well, I love you, baby. I love this, and I love this about you,” and they give to you. And then let’s say you don’t like what they did and you don’t appreciate what they did. Let’s say I don’t say thank you to something that somebody thought was a big gesture. But then they get bent out of shape about it, get mad. And then it’s like, “Well, why did you do it? You’re expecting my response as a way to validate why you did it?” And the answer to that is, yeah, they did. That’s not really giving. Most people wouldn’t say that.


I’ve been guilty of that. It’s even subtly, subconsciously I’m doing something to get something out of it. If that doesn’t come and I’m upset about it or I’m angry or resentful, then my alignment of incentives, my reason for doing it wasn’t pure. If I don’t care, if I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool. Bless them,” and let it go, then it was. I think that subtlety, it’s really important. It’s really, really important to sort of the healthy functioning of karma, the reciprocity, the law of reciprocity.


I’ve maybe talked to a handful of people in my entire life who actually could have this conversation and understand it. So I usually don’t even have this conversation. I just try to model it. And even then, people don’t pick up on it. When you’re doing things purely, they’ll accuse you of having those motivations. But that’s just projection. They’re assuming that you’re like them. So, “Why would you ever do that if you didn’t want A, B and C from me?” But it’s like, “No, I don’t want any of those things. It’s fine if you don’t do that. I’m not asking for that.” “Well, why would you do it otherwise?” “For the sake of the act because there’s not enough generosity in giving in the world. So I’m just putting it out.” They’re like, “What? Why would you do that?” They don’t understand. It’s okay, but it’s so common. You can’t be upset at people for not understanding that. It’s very obvious once you see it, but it’s not obvious to the average human eye.

Nick (01:16:07):

What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?

John Paller (01:16:11):

That by far, understanding the law of reciprocity and how it works, by far.

Nick (01:16:18):

John, based on your own life experiences and observations, what’s the one habit or characteristic that you think best explains how people find success in life?

John Paller (01:16:26):

I guess it depends on how you define success. So do you want to define that and then I can tell you? Because if you’re just talking about economic success, that’s a different answer. If you’re talking about happiness and joy and peace, that’s a different answer, right?

Nick (01:16:42):

Yeah. And it’s a question that people ask to me when I ask that question pretty frequently. So let’s go with the latter. I think most people are more interested in finding joy and happiness in life. So what’s the one habit or characteristic?

John Paller (01:16:53):

I think the first thing is curiosity of your own sort of gifts and talents, which means you’ve got to have a real curiosity about who you are and why you were made. Life has not happenstantial. Every human being has a latent creativity that’s dying to be expressed into the world in a very powerful way. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it in the context of an elementary school teacher or a janitor even, or a bus driver, an Uber driver. It doesn’t matter. Creativity is meant to be expressed in lots of different forms. So this isn’t all, “Everybody’s Elon Musk,” okay? That’s not how this works. But understanding who you are, that real curiosity to unpack that, to identify your unique gifts and talents, if you don’t have that, if all you’re doing is falling into the prescription of society and, “Here’s what you’re expected to do. Here’s the check boxes,” and you’re sort of tripping through life existing, you’re never going to find that joy.


You have to go on your own personal exploration journey. And a lot of this is intrinsic. You have to pay attention to yourself, listen, quiet your mind, be humble, listen some more, try some things, learn some things, try a little bit more, do a little bit more. And it’s just a constant sort of pulling on strings and refinement of things in a way that just, it’s your own personal curiosity journey, and nobody can tell you how to do this. So having that curiosity to go on and just jumping in and not really caring where it takes you, because you’d be surprised when… I’ve always been surprised. “You really think that I would be expecting to be inventing bufficorns and stuff. And what the fuck are you talking about, sporks and SporkDAO out and Spork marmots and Spork whales and all this nonsense?” Do you really think that this is what I thought I would be doing? No.


To the outside eye, this stuff is really super uncool. But in the world that we’re in, I don’t even care if people have really… I know they appreciate it. But what matters more for me is I feel creatively expressed and seen, and a lot of people really love what we do and appreciate what we do, and that’s all great. And it reinforces the alignment of that expression because if everybody hated it and was like, “Ah,” then it’s like, “Well, what am I missing here? Am I off track?” It’s sort of a cue that you’re on track. But beyond that, I don’t particularly care. But I think that curiosity is where it starts because if you’re not willing to be curious and let go, you’re never going to do it.

Nick (01:19:45):

And John, the final three questions are complete the sentence type questions. The first one is, “The thing that most excites me about web3 is-“

John Paller (01:19:52):

The realization of decentralization in our commercial lives.

Nick (01:19:57):

And how about this one? If you’re on X, I still call it Twitter, you should be following-

John Paller (01:20:01):

Me. Just kidding. No, nobody wants to follow me anymore. I’m in political season, so I have an appreciation for Bobby Kennedy Jr and I love his authenticity. And a lot of people are throwing shade at him for various reasons, and I’ve been a big supporter of his. So there’s a lot of that on my feed right now. But that’ll go away eventually. But I also think you should follow Alaji. He’s got great analytical stuff that he puts out. I think you should also follow people that have dissenting social political views. And I do this more for learning, but Mark Cuban, I used to think very differently about him. A lot of respect for him, but I think some of the way he unpacks his thinking is very interesting to me because I don’t agree with him at all. And his conclusions I feel like are totally off. But I appreciate it and I follow him.


I think the best conversationalist in the world right now is Joe Rogan. Like him or hate him, that man can have a three hour conversation will blow your mind. The most recent Terrence Howard podcast was like, “Whoa.” I’m in some pretty metaphysical sort of spiritual stuff, and I’ve read and heard a bunch of weird, crazy stuff that maybe in the beginning I was like, “That sounds really weird.” And you get there eventually. This was next level. I’m always interested in hearing other people’s life’s experiences and what they’re doing. And you got to do it with an open mind though. Anytime you come to the table with that kind of stuff and you’re not going to be open, you’re just going to dismiss it as, “Oh, that guy’s crazy.” You’re not helping yourself if you’re going to do that.


I try to keep my feet open to not just echo chamber people that I agree with, but people that I’m also… I’m just curious. I want to hear what other people have to say. And I’ll battle test your thought process through game design and incentives. And I’ll try to unpack, “Why are you saying what you’re saying?” And I don’t really see that eye to eye, or maybe I do, or maybe, “Hey, explain this for me,” or I’ll kind of go deeper and ask questions. But yeah, I think that’s it for now.

Nick (01:22:10):

And then, John, the final question is, “I’m happiest when-“

John Paller (01:22:14):

All the time, when I’m breathing

Nick (01:22:24):

What a thrill to have you on the GRTiQ Podcast. And you are somebody that I’ve been wanting to speak with for a very long time, so I’m grateful for your time and really a lot of great insights and ideas that you are willing to share today. So I appreciate that. If listeners want to stay in touch with you, follow things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to stay in touch?

John Paller (01:22:42):

Well, come to ETHDenver. I’m physically available in Denver every year for about 10 days. I live here, so if you happen to come here. But I am traveling around. I’ll be in Brussels for ECC. I’ll be in Istanbul. Not Istanbul, Bangkok for DevCon. I’ll be in Consensus tomorrow and Thursday in Austin. But mostly I’m running around like a headless chicken, those conferences. But yeah, Twitter is @PowerJohn. Opolis is @Opolis, O-P-O-L-I-S. And then @EthereumDenver is the main handle for ETHDenver.


Please support this project
by becoming a subscriber!



DISCLOSURE: GRTIQ is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any other way connected with The Graph, or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates.  This material has been prepared for information purposes only, and it is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, tax, legal, financial, or investment advice. The content for this material is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The Graph token holders should do their own research regarding individual Indexers and the risks, including objectives, charges, and expenses, associated with the purchase of GRT or the delegation of GRT.