Building the Next Big Thing
From Tinkering to Technical Engineering: My Path to Co-building with Web3 Founders
By Alejandro Ballesteros, Decasonic
My passion for building began as a toddler when I followed my mother to work. She cleaned houses as a housekeeper and I couldn’t carry around too many toys. But I did have a vast set of LEGO bricks and K’nex. I was always interested in how the very simple plastic bricks and beams could result in such beautiful, complex, and sometimes functional structures.
I quickly discovered that building things was magical – it was magical because the final product could be so much greater than the sum of its parts. I could be looking at a mess of rectangular bricks in a plastic box, and a couple of hours later hold a replica of the death star in my hands. I felt I didn’t need any other toys, just LEGO bricks and K’nex. Why would I want my mother to buy me a replica toy car when I could fashion a monster truck ten times cooler in a couple of hours? I grew up quite poor, so the fact that my mother didn’t have to constantly spend money on toys was what appealed to her about my love for these pieces of ABS plastic.
Building practical knowledge with STEM
As I grew up, building with raw materials became my next thing – ramps for skateboarding, intricate tracks for toy cars and RC airplanes. In high school, I helped start the STEM club and built keychains, structures, and architectural models using 3D printers at a nearby museum.
It was around this time that I discovered there were even more powerful tools for building than raw materials: mathematics and science. In order to build in the physical world, it is necessary to understand the laws that govern it. I figured that if I understood math and science, there would be no limits to the inventions I could build. So I dove deep and took every AP math and science course I could take while competing in math competitions during my spare time. Although learning was intrinsically enjoyable to me and I found these disciplines beautiful, what excited me wasn’t studying them for the sake of aesthetics, but for application; building to solve human problems and push society forward.
Embracing building at a world-class university
Studying mechanical engineering at Stanford meant that I could build with the best, with the people who understood how meaningful building can mold one’s life. I loved learning about natural phenomena, but still found it difficult to prototype inventions using the concepts I was learning. I wasn’t satisfied with the lack of prioritization on building physical devices in the mechanical engineering curriculum. What is the use of knowing and understanding so much theory if you’re never going to put it to the test to solve a problem?
It was at this point that I fell in love with computer science. Programming is the ultimate sandbox. You don’t need to spend several thousand dollars to buy metals, woods, composites, or motors, you could simply program a simulation governed by the same set of laws that govern our physical world, build prototypes there, test, and iterate all for free. Suddenly, I understood the power of the digital world: access and convenience. Anything you want is at your fingertips, and if it doesn’t exist, the tools to build it certainly do with few barriers to entry except for passion. Taking as many CS electives as possible, I built some great products during my internships at a marketing firm and biotech startup. I quickly became one of the best undergraduate programmers in the mechanical engineering department. I yearned for and devoured numerical methods problem sets with ease.
In the real world: curious and eager to solve problems
My first job out of college was trading fixed income products for Gelber Group LLC, a proprietary trading firm here in Chicago. I wanted to apply the mathematical and computer science tools I had learned at Stanford to finding alpha in US Treasury markets – likely the most analyzed, liquid, and competitive markets in the world. I figured that the competition would push me to new levels of hunger and performance.
I had some success in my first year of trading, and learned extensively about the principles that govern global macroeconomic markets in the process. Throughout this, I had been executing several of my own trading strategies in the blockchain/DeFi space as side projects while the crypto bull market lured millions of new retail participants and dollars into these markets. Eventually, I became curious about some of the protocols behind the coins I found myself trading. I really loved reading whitepapers about the computer science fundamentals at play, and often thought about the problems they could solve.
This exploration and newfound desire to help solve these problems is exactly why I joined Decasonic. Even in today’s digital economy, there are countless problems that can be solved or improved dramatically with blockchain applications. Frictions can be removed from insurance, payments, gaming, creative content markets, derivatives markets and more.I want to be at the forefront of this effort. We are discovering new problems blockchains can improve every day right now, which makes the space an incredibly exciting place to be for people who believe that entrepreneurship is the key to empowering innovation, as we do at Decasonic.
Driven to deliver value at Decasonic
I consider myself an excellent programmer and engineer. Through all of these experiences, I’ve cultivated my superpower: technical progress; I am constantly pushing myself to dive deep into new proofs, applications, and programming languages. In today’s world this is what it takes to win and to find 100xers, if you don’t learn you’ve already lost.
My programming skills and technical inclination will bring a diverse perspective to Decasonic that will allow the fund to reap the benefits of understanding the newest technology to a level that few do. I believe the fund will benefit greatly from my mindset of continuous technical learning and Paul’s deep knowledge of product and strategy; it’s a symbiotic relationship that cannot be beat.
On the deal side, I will be hyper-focused on investing in and helping build technology that really solves human problems, not aesthetic celebrations of complexity. Deeply understanding the fundamental technical building blocks of the space will allow me to have a better vision for the projects that will succeed and solve societal problems. Additionally, understanding these concepts and being an avid programmer allows me to add value to our portfolio companies in ways most traditional VCs cannot. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines, I want to roll up my sleeves and build alongside the best founders in this space. That vision and the skills required to execute is the value I’m bringing to Decasonic.
I’d love to connect with you. Please reach out to me via any of my channels: