Two of the company’s founders spent time in prison for drug dealing, CEO says he “ultimately built a better life for myself.”
Unstoppable Domains has been making waves in the blockchain world.
The company offers blockchain-based domains ending in extensions such as .crypto and .nft. Over 2.7 million domains have been registered through its platform, and the success has not gone unnoticed.
Earlier this year, the company raised $65 million, valuing the company at $1 billion. Pantera Capital led the round, following on previous investors Boost VC and Draper Associates.
While the future trajectory of blockchain domains is very much up in the air, this is quite a turn of events for two of Unstoppable Domains’ co-founders, Matthew Gould and Bradley Kam. About a decade ago, both were in prison.
According to court filings, Gould and Kam have been friends since grade school. That friendship turned into business ventures. One was a real estate company; another was drug dealing.
From 2005 to 2009, they worked together to sell hundreds of kilograms of marijuana. According to court documents, at one point during his drug dealing days, Gould traveled with nearly $260,000 in cash. It was the proceeds from marijuana sales and he was delivering the funds to a marijuana supplier, Gould admitted.
A grand jury indicted the pair in 2010 on federal charges for distribution of marijuana. They faced stiff penalties, but both plead guilty in plea agreements and agreed to cooperate.
Gould and Kam were sentenced to 30 months in prison and recommended to participate in intensive drug treatment programs. Both were also sentenced to four years supervised release upon leaving prison.
Gould served a little over a year of his prison sentence, from March 2011 to May 2012 at FPC Montgomery. He then went to the Dismas halfway house in Atlanta until August 2012, at which point he went into home confinement at his parent’s house until November 2012.
Kam served his time at FCI Talledega from February 2011 to April 2012. From April to July 2012, he joined Gould at Dismas before home confinement at his parent’s house until October 2012.
Both completed a 500-hour drug treatment program while in prison.
Finding employment after prison is difficult in the United States, but Kam and Gould found a willing employer in Curebit, a marketing automation company founded by someone Gould befriended while a student at Georgia Tech.
Both Gold and Kam went to work for Curebit and seem to have excelled there. In fact, Kam was quickly promoted to President and later CEO of the company, which is now called Talkable.
Even though their friend was willing to overlook their criminal backgrounds, their supervised release created problems. They weren’t able to travel internationally freely on behalf of the company. And as Kam moved up the ranks, Curebit’s founder ran into another problem.
According to Kam’s request to terminate his supervised release, Curebit’s founder determined that potential investors in Curebit were “comfortable with a President of the company who has a marijuana conviction, but not one who is still under supervision.”
Both Kam and Gould asked to end their supervised release early. The government granted their motions and ended supervised release in June 2014.
According to their LinkedIn profiles, Gould remained at Talkable until 2016, before becoming an advisor to the company for another year. Kam remained there until 2017. They founded Unstoppable Domains in 2018.
Today, Gould (currently CEO of Unstoppable) took to Twitter to tell his story. He also issued this comment to Domain Name Wire that echoes his tweets:
In my early 20s while in grad school, I got in trouble for selling marijuana. I took responsibility, pleaded guilty, served 14 months including treatment, and ultimately built a better life for myself. I’m remorseful and embarrassed, but my past shouldn’t be shameful.
First off, I’m incredibly lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity to rebuild my life. For decades, this country’s marijuana laws have been enforced inequitably, and most people don’t get a second chance – and they won’t unless we remove the stigma behind past convictions.
After jail, the best decision I made was moving to SF to start over. A friend from college had started a new software company and needed someone for data analytics. I will forever be grateful to him for giving me an opportunity that many others wouldn’t.
I dove into work. I wanted to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I knew the future was software – and that the tech industry offered me a second chance.
This was a challenging time, during which I learned a lot more about myself. I learned to put my health, family and friends first. How to be a productive member of society. And all the beautiful things you can build with your life if you work hard and put your mind to it.
Instead of drinking, I hit the gym. Instead of smoking, I ate right. Instead of complaining or making excuses, I worked hard. While working full time, I dove into the cutting edge of tech. In 2013, that meant working in Bitcoin and blockchain. That next year, I made my first trips to Kyiv and ended up meeting Bogdan Gusiev, who 5 years later would become one of the founders of Unstoppable Domains. Here’s me in Kyiv in 2014, right around the time of the maidan revolution.
I continued to work full time to build up my experience, but at home I became more and more interested in crypto. I ran my own Bitcoin node, attended meetups, and entered hackathons. I even spent my weekends learning how to build with blockchains at incubator BlockchainU. During the day, I quickly learned as much as I could about building a software company. I went from an entry level data analyst barely making enough to pay rent to running a product and engineering team of 20+ people over the course of 4 years. But I wanted to do more.
I started 42 coding school, where I met Braden, another co-founder of what would become Unstoppable Domains, and we set off to change the future.
Laws and public opinion on marijuana have changed significantly in recent years. The Overton window for marijuana is shifting dramatically, with 37 states with some form of legalization. You can now buy recreational cannabis legally from shops that look like Apple stores.
My previous marijuana conviction has no impact on the day-to-day running of Unstoppable and building it into a $1B company. People may try to take my past out of context, and tell a story about me that isn’t who I am and doesn’t represent what I believe. This is exactly what happens to others who’ve made mistakes, paid their debt, and yet still struggle to move on past their conviction. Worse yet, people face barriers to housing, employment, and access to basic services.
Change is a big process. And it takes time. A lot of people either can’t make the change or don’t have the support and resources they need to reinvent themselves. I was additionally lucky that my family stood behind me from the beginning. And that I’m incredibly stubborn.
Kam did not comment.