In Conversation: Hussein Hallak of Next Decentrum

The In Conversation series is an opportunity for us to speak with the people behind Victory Square Technologies’ many subsidiaries and give you a deep dive inside what it is they do and who they are.

The latest in the series is a conversation with Hussein Hallak of Next Decentrum. Hussein sat down with former CBC Radio host and current Victory Square communications chief James Graham at the Next Decentrum offices in downtown Vancouver to talk education in the emerging tech and decentralized innovation era and the simplicity of his plans for total world domination.

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James: What is Next Decentrum? Because looking at the way Next Decentrum has been presented, it appears to be this massive wealth of information.

Hussein: We want to be the curators of the massive wealth of information out there. However, I believe we need to change the way we learn, we cannot continue to learn the same way we’ve always done, or we are not going to move forward as a society. So Next Decentrum is set up to reinvent how learning and education are done. Education is probably one of the most unchanged disciplines in human history. Everything’s happening the way we used to do it and everyone’s idea of the future is imitating how universities do it, but online!

James: It’s very much taken for granted because people feel it’s easy enough to just do. Here’s a Webinar, here’s a document. No one’s really shown the impetus to obviously invest in changing the game.

Hussein: With the speed technology is moving at and with the speed people need to learn, we need a different approach. We believe there’s a wealth of knowledge out there. There are enough people out there who have the knowledge and have the expertise, who are sharing something of great value. The question is how can we bring that knowledge and the people who need it together. Curation is key. And collaboration is key. That’s where the idea of Next Decentrum comes from.

James: Where does the root of the name come from?

Hussein: Centrum means centre. Decentrum means the lack of centre or the opposite of centre, it’s decentralized. So we’re looking for the next decentralization of innovation, knowledge, and learning. The next thing that’s going to spread the knowledge, spread the wealth, spread the benefits of human existence, that’s the whole point behind the name. Revolutionizing education at the intersection of technology and content explosion. So what we do is we help experts and companies deliver knowledge in a new way. Now, not all experts are educators. You can be an expert and write a great article about the subject of your expertise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it helps people learn and develop the way they need to. There might be a ton of knowledge that people need to know before they read that content or before they attend your workshop.

James: You have to build them up to it. There has to be a base, you know. I can’t look at a paper written by a PHD and immediately be just like, boom, I get it.

Hussein: People want information but the amount of information is overwhelming. And experts who want to tell people what they know don’t always want to go through the effort of teaching up to their level. Adding context. It’s like, why do I need to teach people? Why do I need to build their knowledge matrix up to the level of my content? And yet, I really want people to read my content.

So the next step is: Why wouldn’t I then collect and curate articles and resources from around the Internet that gradually help them get there? Because I’m an authority, I will know exactly what to choose. So I choose the content and curate it. I put that curated content together in a course which takes me no time at all. I can add some of my own content to that. I now have a course that people can go through to build an increasing foundation of knowledge. I can streamline the Internet for them, because regardless of how great Google is, Google doesn’t know the topic the way I do, and how to deliver it. Right now, Google throws millions of pieces of content your way and it’s up you to wade through the sea of material to find what you need. That takes a lot of time and effort. And it can be very frustrating. And people are like: How do I weed my way through this? People want a guide. People want somebody to take them by the hand, say, read this, watch this, analyze that, and this is your path to this point that you want to get to.

James: It’s like Spotify, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the highest played songs on Spotify right now are usually found by the fact that there are people who have curated these things, put together playlists, and that’s where it’s driving the traffic. People need a nudge and they want that nudge.

Hussein: Absolutely, curation is a key component of the modern information age. There is so much content, so many creators. What is needed is the people with experience to be the curators. Help us find what is truly valuable, and what is not. We were starting to focus first on teaching artificial intelligence, blockchain, and other emerging technology to non-technical professionals because these are really tough to learn for the non-technical person and the content is scattered. For example, if you’re a technology company, a regular internet company, a SAAS company, you don’t have to teach people how to get on the internet. You don’t have to teach people about your sector. You just have to teach people about how to use your product. But if you’re a Blockchain company, you have to teach people about Blockchain and the sector and then about your product. Startups in the artificial intelligence, blockchain, and emerging tech space have a massive undertaking in regards to educating their audience. And the non-technical talent they need for the future. So helping them to curate and deliver content and rapidly scale up their education stack is a very powerful thing.

But it’s not just for Blockchain. It could be for trading. It could be for a product a company creates. A service. An idea or concept. An emerging technology. Whatever is interesting can have a curated knowledge sharing experience.

James: Knowledge is power. Can you talk about the sort of a multi-pronged approach you guys are taking? It’s obvious you’re not just doing one thing.

Hussein: At the core of Next Decentrum is CXO, which is our machine learning based education platform. First it helps you collect and curate content with a Chrome extension as you’re going about your day browsing the internet. Or things you come across during your normal business related to your industry or sector that are consequential for example. Then you go to your CXO.ai dashboard to organize content into a structure that works for your audience. You then choose the ways it can be delivered and then publish it as a course. So it’s very simple, very straightforward. CXO.ai is the centerpiece of Next Decentrum. It’s a platform designed to reimagine education and information distribution.

CXO.ai has the ability to meet multiple touch points in an education stack. So for example, a company can use CXO.ai to onboard employees. To keep them up to date with current or cutting edge information about their industry, or the industries of their consumers. They can educate their customers about how their product or service works. Doing this in an engaging way with different kinds of content. Maybe even using content from other business areas where it overlaps or compliments. And they can also help develop talent for the future outside the business reducing the costs of training employees when they get to the job. They can do this on their own and become part of the talent pool by demonstrating initiative and drive.

And that’s just the business side. There are lots of influencers with valuable information. And everyday people who know all sorts of cool stuff that can be structured into a course to help people get where they need to be faster. All using content curation as a focal point and CXO.ai as their delivery system.

James: Talk about your team of superheroes that you’ve brought together. You guys come from a fairly diverse set of backgrounds. I know you’ve got a former financial trader on board, you spent many years working with Launch Academy. Who’s the core team?

Hussein: The core team is five people. The way I selected them is based on a strategy I always use when it comes to working with people. It’s a three-step strategy. Number one, people. I think life is too short to work with people you don’t like so I have to work with people that I like and respect and have some alignment with. We don’t have to believe the same things actually or see things in the same way. We are very different individuals and our perspectives on things couldn’t be more different. Which is of course, the source of our strength as a team. The second thing: we need to align on the vision, the thing we’re going to create, and how the world is going to look like when we are done. And the third thing, we need to be committed to impact, what kind of effect we’re going to have on the world. So the team is number one.

My longtime co-founder and partner in life and in crime, Rama. We’ve co-founded four companies together. We found ourselves bingeing on blockchain and new tech content and videos throughout the past year.

She has a masters in computer science, she’s a full stack developer and she’s a powerhouse of execution. For me, as someone who has vision, I need somebody who’s powering the execution level. So she’s the COO and Co-founder. She actually owns the largest piece of the shares in the company, so technically our company is women-led. The reason why she is there is because of her knowledge, her ability to execute and our love of working on new stuff together.

Shawn is the CTO. I worked with him a number of projects, I believe in working with people through working with people. I don’t look at resumes. It’s kind of interesting to know what people’s backgrounds are, but regardless of the background, I found that the best way to work with people is to jump in and do something. With Shawn, we did several projects before and I really liked his commitment. Most of those projects were unpaid. You really want to see someone’s commitment to something? Give them something that doesn’t give them money, but fulfills their vision or something that speaks to them and see how much effort they put in. And he was amazing in regards to the work. So I actually pitched him the idea, said, listen, this is what I plan to do. He said yes. And we jumped into it and that’s how it worked out.

Tristram is someone I’m also working with. He offered to volunteer for Launch Academy for a project, so I ended up working with him on several things. I love his passion for content, he comes from a diverse background and what I noticed, with him, time is irrelevant. You sit with him and he just tells stories. Suddenly you discover you’ve been sitting for two hours talking stories and it feels like only minutes have passed. He’s a great storyteller and I think one of the biggest things in education is that you don’t want education to be dull, I want to tell stories. Like infotainment. I wanted that as part of everything. He was a trader for a couple of decades so he makes that knowledge and experience available to me and our team. So I use his background to help me strategically as well. So he’s our chief content officer and helps me with strategy.

And finally, Rodrigo is someone who comes from the corporate culture in Brazil. He helped build the innovation awards there and took it from zero to over 10,000 companies right now in Brazil. Innovation, and in particular decentralized innovation across different sectors, cultures, and technologies, is the foundation of the future. And to be successful we need to collaborate and build bridges with industry and academia. Rodrigo comes from that background. So he’s the enterprise innovation guy.

So it’s a very diverse group, but we worked together as well on several projects and that’s how we ended up together. Five co-founders and we do have several additional people that have worked with us from time to time including interns, and some contractors.

James: Why do you feel there’s such a need for Blockchain training and development these days? Why is there such a need for making sure people are educated?

Hussein: Blockchain is one of the areas we used as a starting point because it’s emerging, complex and interesting. But we are developing a platform that can provide a conduit for the exploration of other technologies, ideas, concepts. Our core focus, in addition, is to help your customers understand your product or service so they can maximize their use of it.

CXO.ai is a byproduct of our experience trying to figure out Blockchain, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies. We had to read tons of garbage, go through lots of videos, podcasts and attend a lot of conferences to try and figure out these new technologies. It was tough and very time-consuming. Keep in mind that we are techies at heart and three of us are engineers.

We looked back at all the articles that helped drive our understanding. The great videos. The informative podcasts. We put all that stuff together and curated content that cuts to the heart of the matter in a fraction of the time. All we needed to do is figure out how to structure it and deliver it to make it fun, interesting and useful. So that’s what CXO.ai is for. That’s how the idea came to be.

So the answer to why Blockchain, is because it was this experience of struggling through a sea of content that we came up with the idea. Then we started thinking: what if we could help all those non-technical people that will be needed to help build companies in blockchain and other emerging technology sectors? And so we started there and as we got going the potential across a whole universe of subjects and interests, sectors opened up. Like, we can really change how people learn. We can help fast forward idea and knowledge development. And it can be peer to peer. B2C or B2B. All we need is the aggregation and delivery system.

James: Tell me more about CXO.ai and how CXO.ai is going to be useful for me?

Hussein: CXO.ai is a platform designed to provide every individual or company and education stack. People may have knowledge they want to share and develop. So they can collect, curate and distribute that knowledge and training to the world in a variety of ways: email, text, slack or what have you.

So James as a marketer, you may have knowledge that may be valuable to a group of people. Like how to develop a social media program. You may have interesting insights on how to market and advertise for an investment and acceleration company. How to conduct a killer interview. Right? Maybe you want to help portfolio companies get exposure when they don’t have budget or knowledge of how to do that. So you can curate content that tells a story of how to do these things or about these companies and invite people to take advantage of that knowledge. You do this through CXO.ai and deliver it to your audience.

For companies, they need to educate customers on the why, how and what of their products and platforms. They need to educate and onboard new employees and share the knowledge among team members. They may even want to get executives who are time constrained up to speed in a relatively fast convenient way. CXO.ai gives them the flexibility to do all of these things. A total education and training stack. Again driven by collected, curated and delivered content.

CXO.ai is effortless, engaging, and automated. It’s A.I. driven and eventually will be able to adapt and adjust according to the preferences of the user.  

It’s: here’s a course of things you need to read, things you need to watch to get to a point where you’re ready for whatever the goal is. The result is saving time, energy and effort. Getting to the point as fast as possible with up to date information structured in a way that’s like a story.

Using CXO.ai curators prepare the resources for their target user. Now the user can sign up to it and receive the resources on email or on Slack (and soon other platforms). Nothing to access or remember to check.

James: It’s reactionary.

Hussein: Exactly. That’s a great way of putting it. The key question we asked is: what if we designed it so that it shows up in their inbox?

We know that people are becoming more and more lazy. We’re are living in the notification era where everything is notification based, we open our phone and our attention is immediately hijacked by those red dots to the point we forget what we wanted to do. We’re even waiting for the phone to prompt us and tell us what to do next.

So how can we build on that and help busy thought leaders who can add great value, and can mentor so many, to build a brand?

For example, Shafin (Victory Square co-founder Shafin Diamond Tejani) is someone who’s an influential entrepreneur, but he wouldn’t write if his life depended on it, right? Because he doesn’t have the time. It’s just not realistic considering the demands of running VST and working with its portfolio companies.

However, he has much to share, every time I meet with him, I learn something new that I can use immediately to move my startup forward. In fact, he often shares valuable resources with portfolio companies over email, one email at a time.

So what if he could easily curate those resources highlighting things that are valuable and important to the team and portfolio companies. Then package it into an email course that he creates and shares that reaps ongoing rewards time and time again.

He can also curate and share resources with upcoming investors and entrepreneurs, packages and built on CXO.ai. He can post the link on his Linkedin profile. While he’s busy on his many projects the courses he put together build his personal brand and influence.

VST, for example, can now use that course to extend the reach of its portfolio holdings, mission, and vision. So Shafin can now mentor and add value to thousands more people effortlessly.

Develop a course one time. The return is long term with significant scaling opportunity.

James: So it’s the breadcrumbs along the trail to Blockchain knowledge? I guess the intro to blockchain webinars are sort of getting you on that path, here’s your first step.

Hussein: Yes. I started Intro to Blockchain as a test which took off and taught me a lot about the market and what our customers are looking for.  

The first few were paid to test people’s willingness to pay for learning. Once the test fulfilled its purpose, we open them up for the community for free which allowed us to stay connected with the community. We did some webinars and online courses and our email course continued to perform very well without any marketing. We knew we had something great to build on.

We are very close now to launching CXO.ai and while we started with blockchain, we will be adding many more sectors with our launch. So watch this space.

James: How does one keep up with an ever-growing beast like the Blockchain? How do you stay up on top of things?

Hussein: This is the core problem everyone seems to face today especially in various emerging technologies. How do I keep up? Is this information relevant or accurate? What else do I need to know? Where do I go to find it? And so the next logical step is: Is there someone that can help me with this?

So content is a series of decisions. And those decisions are taxing to all of us. My email is full of things I’ve highlighted for later that fall into the abyss. So the content needs to be compelling. Easy. Something I’m interested in. Structured in a way that makes it easy for me to consume. And content that is very very good so I get something valuable out of it.  

That’s why our email courses are designed the way they are. So they are useful AND used. No point in having content delivered that heads for the abyss. And that is the power of curation. Especially when someone does it for you and delivers it to you. That’s the idea behind CXO, focusing the reader’s attention on the most important information whatever they do.

James: There’s a lot of people out there trying to establish themselves in the Blockchain market. What is it that differentiates Next Decentrum and CXO from the competition?

Hussein: Well, to be clear, we aren’t a Blockchain company. We are facilitators of knowledge about Blockchain and any other subject people are interested in.We’re offering you an opportunity to learn in a new way and from your favorite content curators or experts in any given subject. So we are offering learning on your terms for the individual.

For businesses, we are offering them a way to train customers, employees, or future talent. So we aren’t a Blockchain company. We are more of an A.I. machine learning education-focused company. A facilitator of curated knowledge and wisdom.

James: So it’s less about the content and more about the approach.

Hussein: Exactly. Eventually, the process will be adaptive so you can adjust your experience, delivery method or timing, the complexity of the content or whatever you prefer. So right now what we do is offer two things.

First: here’s the one key piece of content based on this idea…and if you don’t have time, here’s a fast easy piece of content like a two-minute video. That way you aren’t overwhelmed with 5 or 10 links you really don’t feel like getting into and save for the abyss. 2 pieces means the content gets used. Used content is useful content.

Second: is the upcoming adaptive learning part. So you will be able to customize and control your experience to maximize your outcomes, whatever they are. Maybe you are obsessed with productivity and time management. You can make this conform to your needs. More relaxed and laid back? No problem. Whatever way works best for you. Adaptive means whatever works best for you in your world.  

 

James: Why the Blockchain of all things to dive into? What was it that intrigued you about the idea of wanting to help broaden people’s Blockchain horizons?

Hussein: I think we were like most people as Bitcoin got moving and the ICO market was developing. People started coming into Launch Academy with cool projects. The tech sector here was buzzing about it so I dived in. And the problem was: there was lots of content but lots of it was bad. Old. not really relevant.

Then when we started talking to people we realized, there is a whole bunch of people who want to know about this stuff but don’t even know where to start. And they aren’t technical so they are intimidated and feel left out. Some are like: did I miss the boat?

So our mission was to help these people understand the subject by curating material and getting the best non-technical information to help them. There is this illusion that Blockchain companies will need only technical people. Look at the most important tech companies of today, that isn’t the case at all. They have management teams. HR teams. Sales Teams. Legal teams and lots of other non-technical talent. So the mission was to facilitate a way to drive talent development for non-technical people to help them understand the technology and get them ready to scale these businesses when the time comes.

Blockchain is just one topic we diving into. Again we are facilitators of curated knowledge and wisdom. And when we start bringing on partners, businesses and other content experts, the topics will broaden dramatically.

James: It’s a co-operative system

Hussein: Blockchain? Cooperative, yes, as opposed to technology being hidden from you, which is almost all of the technologies that are out there. So I think that’s a very powerful shift in paradigm and in essence, it’s very simple technology. It’s a complex application with a simple premise, a linked database and some regulatory math around it that controls it, but other than that. You know it’s funny, but that cooperative spirit is what embodies our drive to CXO. By people and businesses for people and businesses.

That’s actually fascinating, that kind of paradox. The more you work for yourself, the more you’re helping the community. It’s fascinating to me. So that’s we started with blockchain as we started CXO.

James: What don’t we know about Next Decentrum that perhaps we should?

Hussein: We have not been vocal about the things that we’re doing.

James: Now was this a plan? Or was this simply your waiting for the right time to bash people over the head?

Hussein: It kind of worked out that way. We’re all about the work rather than just talking about the work. We’ve been working on preparing for things and really, we were pivoting a lot. We were testing a lot of things in the background. We want to get some real traction. So one of the things that we’re doing as we partnered with some great people and companies in order to bring new ideas to the market through CXO. So that’s what we’re planning.

But to get back to your question, we are developing things as quickly as possible. Building towards a series of partnerships. Testing parts of the market to make sure our hypotheses are correct. We’ve been heavily involved in the conference space building relationships, networking and telling our story. That gives us lots of positive exposure.

So most of what we are doing so far is in-person networking. Testing. Confirming. Then when the time is right we will come out of the shadows and take on the world.

James: Where do you see Next Decentrum five years down the road?

Hussein: I want us to be the largest platform for learning in the world. And not just the largest, the largest adaptive learning platform in the world. We think this will help facilitate the development and advancement of emerging technologies. It will help anyone quickly develop knowledge that they can apply when they are done. It’s like on the job training from a mentor in any subject you want.

So instead of being overwhelmed in a sea of content or spending a ton of time and effort to find the best sources of information for the thing you want you can come to CXO. Pick the topic you want to learn about. Pick the expert, mentor, influencer or the curator you want to learn from. Pick the level: beginner, intermediate or expert. Pick the delivery method and speed. And start moving. So there’s less impact on time, more choice and faster, giving people faster to be able to take them where they need to go.

If you have the desire to contribute and the desire to create, CXO.ai can provide you multiple paths to do that quickly to able to contribute and help you build something for your audience. You collect your content. Structure it the way you want it and right now we are putting it together for you so you can deliver it to your audience.

James: So what is coming up for Next Decentrum that we can talk about?

Hussein: We are working with various partners like VST, Sports Technology Group, Abelian and some others to develop products on CXO. We are also releasing around twenty-five courses in an email format over the next two months. We’re planning a public launch of CXO.ai in late January. We’ve released the Beta in November to a few groups, working with the team to see where we are right now.

James: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

Hussein: You know, we are actively looking for partners. People and businesses that want to develop curated courses on the platform. Maybe for their customers or their business. That’s on our CXO.ai platform which will be launched in the very near future. We are stoked about that. We are looking for content experts across a range of subjects who want to curate and teach people in a new way and earn some coin. And we are going to help the best content creators get the credit they deserve. The exposure. So we are thrilled about the future. And we are finding ways to deliver the future of education and training through our CXO.ai platform.

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You can learn more about Next Decentrum  at www.nextdecentrum.com

Hussein Hallak is the co-founder of Next Decentrum. Like James Brown, he truly is the hardest working man in the Blockchain business.

James Graham is the communications outlet for Victory Square Technologies. He’s been doing this since Missy Elliot put out her first record.