On August 10, the Maker Foundation Board appointed Sandy Khaund, Vice President of Blockchain Products at Ticketmaster, as a non-Foundation Executive director. Sandy joins non-executive directors Tonya M. Evans (Board Chairperson) and Shefali Roy, who were appointed in April, Foundation directors Rune Christensen (Foundation CEO) and Steven Becker (Foundation COO), and Cayman Island directors, Eduardo Silva and David van Dunyhoven.
As a serial entrepreneur with extensive blockchain and board experience, Sandy will prove invaluable in helping to fulfill the board’s remit of providing oversight of strategic and financial direction for the Foundation, while its leadership team concentrates on day-to-day operation.
We recently sat down with Sandy to discuss his background, interests, and what the opportunity to contribute to the success of MakerDAO and Dai means to him.
Maker: You began your career designing data transmission systems for NASA satellites. After that, you moved on to Microsoft, Intel, and Time Warner, before founding UPGRADED, a system that converts traditional event tickets to digital assets using smart contracts. Less than three years later, UPGRADED was acquired by Ticketmaster. Is there a thread that runs through your interests and expertise?
Sandy Khaund: Like many people, I’m a fan of exciting new technologies. But I think what makes me unique is that my focus has been on the pragmatic application of technologies for radical change in how people operate in their everyday lives. My engineering background allows me to appreciate the technical marvels, while my MBA helps me consider the commercial aspects. I’ve always been proud of keeping a balance.
At Lockheed Martin, I worked on GPS and DIRECTV satellites that are household names today. Twenty-five years ago, getting hundreds of television channels through a small satellite dish seemed absurd, as did the possibility of a mapping device embedded in a phone. Today, those technologies are widespread and essential to our lives.
At Intel, I worked on chipsets for the Pentium microprocessor, which played a critical role in the proliferation of the PC and the internet. Microsoft gave me a chance to help introduce the world to .NET and ultimately promote open source.
In my last couple of roles, I got to work on sports technologies and in-stadium experiences, which culminated with identifying the use of blockchain technology for event tickets. And that’s been my focus for the last five years.
MakerDAO appeals to me because of its brilliant engineering and implementation, as well as its efficiency and emphasis on stability—pegging Dai to the US Dollar. The practical application of Dai as a critical tool in global financial markets makes me think this could be the most impactful product that I’ve been engaged with yet.
Maker: When did you first encounter blockchain technology, and what potential did you see in it?
SK: About seven years ago, I was recruited for a CTO position at a bitcoin company. While I had a high-level understanding of bitcoin, I needed to do some research before interviewing. I remember reading one particular book and thinking, “If this ever takes off, it can truly change the world.” I didn’t get the role, but I did buy bitcoin. So I like to say it’s the most profitable job I never got.
Years later, I saw how blockchain could solve fake ticketing issues, given how it manages the double-spend problem. If blockchain technology could be used to secure billions of dollars of currency, it could certainly handle a ticket to a Foo Fighters concert. That realization spurred UPGRADED and changed my life.
Maker: What do you see as the most significant challenges to the adoption of blockchain tech, including the Maker Protocol? How ready is a traditional-minded world for a system designed to bring financial stability and transparency to the global economy?
SK: There are some concerning issues around cryptocurrency. Specifically, how can it be taken seriously as a transactional currency with its insane volatility and what I like to call the tulip problem, where people describe the value of any token as irrational because there’s nothing behind it (similar to the 17th century tulip boom). But after reading the MakerDAO white paper, I realized that the Maker Protocol solved some of the key problems while still delivering so many of the values of cryptocurrency.
That said, one of the biggest challenges that I had with UPGRADED was that I disappointed a lot of purists by doing some things that put pragmatism over any purity test. I can’t tell you how many people wanted me to do an ICO and incorporate a token, even though that wasn’t what the primary decision-makers in the industry wanted. Ultimately, I was more concerned about adoption of the technology then I was about staying true to the original premise, so I ignored the so-called experts. I think the MakerDAO team has taken that same pragmatic approach to decentralized finance, and I think that’s why it has gained—and will continue to gain—so much momentum.
Maker: You were pushing open source technologies at Microsoft in the early 2000s, a time when that was viewed as an anathema by the establishment. What did that experience teach you, and did it affect the way you now approach the task of helping to shape the future of DeFi
SK: The world owes so much to open source software, but it was misunderstood by so many in the early days. Much of my effort was on education and touting the benefits of open source to affect change and ultimately benefit Microsoft customers. We worked closely with the developer community and cultivated internal and external advocates to help us champion the cause. But it wasn't until years later that open source gained full acceptance at Microsoft. Its cloud services leverage everything from Linux to NodeJS, and the company even purchased GitHub, which is a more prevalent version of an open source site I co-founded while at Microsoft called CodePlex.
Resistance was inevitable because meaningful change rarely happens without some pushback. They say the arc of history bends towards justice. I believe the arc of technology bends towards the optimal solution. It’s what ultimately happened with open source, and I’m confident that the same will happen with DeFi. It’s about building great products, educating people, and growing the community in a meaningful way. The MakerDAO team knows that. My goal is to help them continue that mission.
Maker: You’re involved in a volunteer capacity with Women’s Audio Mission and Inventors University, two California-based educational technology projects for women and girls. Why and how did you choose to assist those organizations specifically?
SK: Engineers and computer scientists are defining the future. As long as we have a gender equity problem in STEM fields, social progress will be stunted. Today, for example, less than 5% of people working in the music production and recording arts sectors are women. By supporting girls and women, particularly those of color, who want to enter technical fields through audio engineering, we help create a better, more diverse world.
Women's Audio Mission is an organization that has been around for 16 years. Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, it provides young women and girls with hands-on audio engineering training, career counseling, work experience, and job placement in the music, radio, film, television, and web industries. I’m honored to be a board member, and humbled by the organization’s amazing work.
Inventors University is a personal effort, as I co-founded it in 2017 with my two daughters, who were 11 and 8 at the time. It, too, has a gender equity in STEM goal, but with a twist—my daughters teach the classes. I wanted them to learn about those who aren’t as fortunate and empathize with them. I wanted them to be in service to those who need their help. The school started with a group of eight girls from low-income families. Each was given a Raspberry Pi computer and taught that computers could be instruments in production, not consumption. Every Saturday morning for three months, the girls gathered at the local library to geek-out on fun coding projects for a couple of hours. My eldest daughter taught Python, while my youngest taught a visual language from MIT called Scratch, before switching to 3-D modeling last year. My wife was also heavily involved. Unfortunately, the coronavirus scrapped our plans for 2020.
Maker: In April, you tweeted, “I usually save the good scotch for especially great days and especially hard days.” When was your last Macallan, and why?
SK: I love this question. It was in late-June and in honor of a great day. I’d just completed the first session of the Weiji Summer Foundry, an effort to find opportunity from the pandemic through some talented college entrepreneurs. In April, I was set to speak at Cornell University, my alma mater, about blockchain tech and entrepreneurship. The Coronavirus canceled my plans. I was disappointed, but the students had it much worse—many had their internships rescinded. I wanted to help, to provide some of those students with enough cash to start their own businesses over the summer. That’s how Weiji was born.
Dozens of students applied, and we ended up with six outstanding entrepreneurs—half of them women, half of them black, and half of them immigrants—across five exciting businesses. We’ve met every Sunday morning and follow a program I created with Sean Branagan, a good friend from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and my youngest daughter. We host guest speakers, who all started businesses in their early 20s, and hold one-on-one mentor sessions. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.
I don’t have too many moments where I feel the need to pat myself on the back, as I always worry that success can be the enemy of ambition. But on that night of that tweet, I poured a glass of Macallan 15, and allowed myself to appreciate what I had done, especially in the middle of such a difficult time for the world.
Maker: You’ve been a keen runner for 25 years. How often and how far do you run, and what’s your favorite runner’s app?
SK: I run a 10K (6.2 miles) two or three times a week. I don’t have a runner's build and I no longer run as fast as I used to, but I can handle the distance and it keeps me in shape. I’ve been using Nike+ for the last 14 years, and I’m nearing 11,000 miles. Given the pandemic, running has been a nice way to maintain my sanity and guarantee some time away from a screen.
About the Maker Foundation Board of Directors
The Maker Foundation Board of Directors regularly reviews the progress made by the Foundation’s leadership in achieving its strategic objective, and provides appropriate oversight of strategic and financial direction for the Foundation. The board may also seek advisors and visionaries with expertise in operating open source projects and implementing/operating financial inclusion programs to assist in its work.
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The Maker Foundation publishes educational and informative content on the Maker blog and its social media channels. The MakerDAO Forum is a major hub of grassroots community-written materials and activity, and the starting point for in-depth discussions regarding the Maker Protocol and Maker governance.