Founders Friday – Shawn Wilkinson

Every other Friday, we sit down with a founder in our space to hear their story. This week we caught up with Shawn Wilkinson, CEO & CTO of Storj.

Some entrepreneurs are made, others are born. At the age of eight, Shawn Wilkinson started a pillow business with some fluff and fabric. He made a couple hundred bucks. It’s not surprising that years later he is still at it. This time he’s on a mission to provide cheaper, more secure, peer-to-peer decentralized cloud storage to the masses. As part of our Founder Friday Series, Shawn shares his story, challenges, and inspiration while building Storj.

What did you do before you started Storj?

I was getting my BS in Computer Science from Morehouse College, working on a college project which consumed a large quantity of data off of the Twitter Firehose. I was storing a bunch of data on Amazon and other platforms, and started wondering if I could use people’s hard drive space to save costs. So I started an open source project that eventually became Storj.

What made you take the leap to set it up as your own business?

I like doing things at my pace. When I was eight years old, I started a pillow business. I used to get some fluff and fabric, then sew them together and make a couple hundred bucks selling them. By the time I was 12,  I started building websites and did some freelancing. I was always involved in some business. While in school, I found a new market I could disrupt with some new technology.

How did it go from an open source project to Storj?

I met all my co-founders online as part of the open source community first. Tome Boshevski is from Macedonia, James Prestwich moved from Japan and John Quinn from Russia. In fact, Tome just got a visa to come here. We started the company even without meeting each other in person.

What makes Storj different from the traditional models of cloud storage? Why do you think it’s a game changer for cloud storage?

The way we store the data. Most companies take your data and stick it in one of their data centers. These centralized cloud services have problems with security, privacy, performance, and price. What we do is we take the data, encrypt it, break it into small pieces and distribute it to a network of computers. You don’t have to build a $600M data center. Instead of having all your data in one location, you end up having it in multiple locations without even one of them having a complete copy of your data. Since the network is distributed, we can provide better security, privacy and make it more cost effective. Also with Storj, users can download an application where they can rent out their hard drive space. It sounds cliché but we are the Airbnb of data storage.

What has been your challenge while growing Storj?

I underestimated the venture. When you see entrepreneurs raise funds and run successful companies, on the surface, it looks like so easy. You hear 99 no’s before you get a yes. It takes a lot of hard work. But the process is fun.

Where do you see Storj two years from now?

I guess we are a startup so, “Stay alive” (laughs). We want to grow the amount of integrations and the tools we have.

What advice would you give to a founder who is just starting out?

Don’t burn yourself out.  We have an open community here. Be transparent. I have seen a lot of startups who protect their ideas as something sacred, but 99 percent of them fail. Encourage feedback and get good advice.


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