I reached out to over 30 CEOs running blockchain startups across the world. I wanted to ask them a couple of simple questions.
- What are you most excited about right now?
- What advice do you have for a young 20-something who wants to work in the industry?
I asked these questions rather selfishly. I’m fascinated by blockchain and I’m a young-20 something. I wasn’t expecting anyone to respond, but almost everybody got back to me.
Pioneers in the Wild West are — perhaps not surprisingly — open-minded and willing to share their experiences and ideas.
I got some short responses and some long ones, too. Many of them were inspiring. All of them were thoughtful. I heard ideas that made me think. They were refreshingly clear words that cut through the fog of the opium-like exuberance that we saw earlier this year.
These are just a few insights from people who are changing the world. For the hungry and eager to learn amongst us, it’s a glimpse (and perhaps a head start) of what’s to come.
Here’s what I learned.
I. Where are we?
“The epic 2017 bull runaway and 2018 crash have gone (we hope!), trust is getting back, serious blockchain projects are moving forward. We are moving to a new phase of adoption while worldwide experimentation and local regulations are accelerating. Main finance and banking players are entering the market, as well as prestigious institutions (Yale, MIT), and VC funds like the Silicon Valley leader Andreessen Horowitz.
Pundi X announcing this week the first decentralized smartphone let imagine that we can expect a lot of disruptive innovations coming soon. We are no longer in the excitement phase but, as the Gartner Hype Cycle would define, getting out of the peak of inflated expectations and entering the disillusionment phase.”
— Pierre-Alexandre Picard, Co-founder at Predicoin
1,000 Flowers Blooming
“Blockchain is in the “1,000 flowers blooming phase” of its development. Like the adoption of cloud computing or the early move to the Internet, the initial tectonic shifts in the market (and in attitudes) is met with a lot of resistance and some really loud naysayers. The economist Nouriel Roubini recently devoted 37 pages on a rant decrying cryptocurrencies and blockchain as overhyped and criminal. The fact that establishment thinkers are so moved, means the cultural shift for a high-trust, low-friction age is coming about.”
— Dante Disparte Risk Cooperative, Founder
“Industry leaders, innovators and regulators must come together to establish a standard that everyone can agree with adhere to. We cannot operate outside our economic and political systems. The blockchain is indeed here to stay. But it wont be able to survive if we (and I mainly mean the tech innovators) refuse to understand or educate themselves about the economy and the policy. They will simply be dead in the water before they get anywhere.”
— Yassine Anadam, Co founder, Credits
“In Bitcoin we have both segwit and the lightning network’s growing adoption, which will decrease transaction fees; In Ethereum we have sharding, plasma and side-chains that basically enable infinite scalability. From an economics perspective what still lacks are proper incentives, so I would say what excites me the most is the development of better incentives and reward mechanics for crypto-users.”
— Pedro Febrero, Founder @ Bityond (blockchain for recruitment)
II. What Does Success Look Like? (hint: it’s not just about the money)
It’s easy to read a news article and make a quick judgement on the state of blockchain without understanding a thing about it. It’s easy to be a cynic. But we don’t see what’s going on behind the curtains. There are thousands of people pouring blood and sweat into a new industry that will shape our future. Don’t let one negative news article skew your opinion — these pioneers are in it for the long haul.
“I would consider my projects successful if I managed to convince someone out there that it is time to change our monetary system. The tools are finally here for us to change the world and help create a better future for everyone.” — Graeme Conradie , CEO, DNX Community
“Success for me is when I look around and see that a positive change has been made in the world due to the efforts of the URAllowance team, our partners, and our community.” — Chris Butler, CEO, URallowance
“Focus on the long-term impact, instead of near-term price fluctuation and speculation” — Simon Zhu, CEO and Co-founder at BitMovio
“Don’t rush things” — Reputation takes hard work and time to be achieved. Your track record will precede you always. Focus on delivering. The world needs Do-ers. If you do that, success will be the natural consequence.” — Paulo Rodrigues, CEO, Stealth Mode Blockchain Startup
“The road to success, consists of a combination of joined efforts. The following are the success recipe ingredients; Desire, Faith, Specialised Knowledge, Imagination, Organised Planning and of course Persistence.” — Bogdan Maslesa, Founder & CEO at UniversalCrypto.org
“…the blockchain space is a huge enabler for the financial services industry. It provides the ability to help micro enterprise as well as large multinational businesses. It is non discriminatory and helps the wider population to participate at the same level as the large financial institutions. Naturally we are most excited about tokenising securities and bringing a new future and opportunity to businesses both locally and internationally.” — Michael Kessler, CEO, Tokenise.io
“At the end of the day, we consider ourselves successful if we managed to make life easier for our users.”
Industry Success (And a Vision for the Future)
This echoes what a lot of others have said and provides a good summary of what success could look like in the long term.
- A worldwide currency that has the stability of a solid fiat currency and no inherent inflation, eventually used as the reference for prices and exchanges. (The ability to maintain fairly stable prices allows the currency to be used for loans, mortgages, salaries, invoices, etc.)
- A currency that is used as electronic cash, not taxed by transaction fees.
- A wallet that is useful to the unbanked of the world, as it is a savings account accumulating interest and proceeds, allowing them to acquire credit and trade with the rest of the world.
- A wallet that is secure and unhackable, as it is hosted in the user (dual environment, biometric) device.
- A Distributed Operating Environment, that allows the easy and secure development of distributed applications, without limits on the amount of data exchanged and without the cost of smart contracts.
- The creation of a solid base for the blockchain applications of the future.
- The realization of superconnectivity: A world where things happen for and around people automatically, immediately and without loading the blockchain with transactions.”
— Giuseppe Gori CEO at Gorbyte
The Future is in the Hands of the Challengers
“Like that other foundational technology, the internet, a future where blockchain and scalable high-trust low-friction technologies redefine markets is all but certain. This future is much less in the hands of established firms, for whom status quo, asymmetry and friction have been very kind, but more so in the hands of challengers. The creative destructive cycle of economics has always been propelled by challengers. In this sense nothing has changed, except that challengers are now armed with a new powerful tool in blockchain.”
— Dante Disparte Risk Cooperative, Founder and CEO
III. It’s Business, Stupid!
Most startups fail. Building a company is hard. Hardly anybody I spoke to exclusively mentioned financial success (although it’s important), but instead emphasized steady progress over the long term and all the various factors required to run a successful business. Grinding it out. There are no overnight successes, and despite the ridiculous valuations and ICO’s we saw in the past couple of years, the dust is settling, and only a few will remain. It’s important to keep in mind that while blockchain is disruptive, it’s bound by the same rules as most businesses. They need to find good talent, build strong cultures, get their hands dirty in real work, and add actual value.
“Many blockchain professionals in this space lack the business fundamentals such as valuation models, people management skills and Agile project management best practices which then hinders them into being commercially successful.” — Daniel Santos Co-founder, DARA
“I think that in today’s world everyone expects instant results — especially where new technology is concerned. The reality is that even if the technology is lightning fast and appears to offer new solutions (as blockchain does for example) we can’t forget some of the fundamental basics which have served the business community for centuries. In other words, success does not always come overnight. From our point of view, success comes from building a long term sustainable business that is not dependent on hype or feeds solely off a speculative bubble.” David Honeyman,CEO at Lendo
“Remember that blockchain is not the be all and end all, it is an enabler, but there are other things out there that need to be considered and you must look at concepts holistically rather than through blinkered vision.” — Michael Kessler, CEO,Tokenise.io
“It’s better to try and work with the financial/business establishment rather than against it. There will be some ‘crypto anarchists’ out there who will disagree with me, but once you adopt any fixed point of view about anything, you will generally limit your opportunities rather than increase them.” — David Honeyman ,CEO at Lendo
“…make sure that your use case is real before throwing yourself at the opportunity. I think that once the dust settles eventually, we will not talk any longer about ‘blockchain development’, but rather just development. When this happens, you want to be on the sustainable side of this argument.” — Mike Scott, CEO and founder of NONA
“As with all the technologies, there are pros and cons. Internet was a boon and bane. So, use internet and blockchain technologies wisely. Look at serviceable products rather than piggy backing. Do not reinvent the wheel. Look at the landscape of what is being done and their success rate. Use it with conjunction of new technologies like Internet of things and Artificial Intelligence. That’s what will make blockchain potent. As simple as integration of RFID based tags to sensor driven devices, blockchain can become the carrier of data bits which is genuine and fast.” — Dr. Oji Kikani, Founder of Yogin
IV. What’s on the Horizon
There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the industry— ETH will never scale, the BTC price is too volatile for it to be useful, governments are slowing progress, etc. But there are a lot of smart people working to solve these problems. I asked everyone what they were most excited about and heard some of the same things popping up: Atomic swaps, greater scalability, more institutional support, better infrastructure, stable coins, user adoption, the tokenization of assets (STOs) and more.
“Atomic Swaps allow for the exchange of one cryptocurrency for another cryptocurrency without the need for a trusted third party (and will be implemented by BTCP). After this implementation we’ll not be need it of any exchange.”- Lucy Louis, BTCP
“…non-fungible tokens and tokenization of assets is currently the most exciting. We are at very early stages but everyday there are new developments. For example, the project of ERC1155 is fascinating. Developers involved aim to solve the problem of scalability while merging fungible with non-fungible tokens functions. A clear advantage of the work done is the exchange of multiple non-fungible (ERC721) tokens in one transaction.” — Mark Couzic, CEO @ Fieldcoin
“The most exciting thing for us in the blockchain space is the gradual acceptance and adoption of blockchain in the world of financial services. We are actually seeing the UK regulatory authority (the FCA) testing various new financial products such as ‘smart bonds’ in a welcoming ‘sandbox’ environment, rather than being hostile towards the new technology.” — David Honeyman ,CEO at Lendo
“Stable coins. Also knowing that there is so many talented people in this space, makes me super excited about what’s going to be released in production over the next 5 years.” — Paulo Rodrigues, CEO, Stealth Mode Blockchain Startup
“… I expect universal acceptance of cryptocurrencies worldwide, and their use accordingly. Blockchain technology has already been recognized, now it’s turn for cryptocurrencies.”
— Rashid Yussup, CEO of Taklimakan Network
“I’m excited about infrastructure layer developments which will improve speed and scalability so that blockchains can cope with large scale network usage. I’m also really excited to see innovative applications of the technology which solve real-world issues. Mostly though I think it’s amazing how many brilliant minds are working in this space which leaves me inspired every single day!”
— Jess Houlgrave, Co-founder of Codex Protocol
“I am most excited about asset tokenization, especially in the intellectual property space. By tokenizing IP and enabling efficient trading of these tokens, a couple of things can happen: 1) Access is broadened to everyone through fractional ownership and opening up a global market with 24/7 trading. 2) Value is unlocked by unbundling and tokenizing ownership and utility rights separately. For example, in the entertainment space, owners of movie and music intellectual properties do not have any way to easily tokenize the se rights. Smart contracts makes ownership, usage, and distribution of value programmable through tokenization.”
— Jeffrey Huang, CEO, Mithril (creator of Machi X, a social crypto exchange that tokenizes IP and enables trading)
VI. Advice for hungry 20-somethings who want to work in blockchain
The consensus is that learning how to code will give you a big leg up in the space. Basic technical skills go a long way. That said, you don’t have to come from a technical background. It just helps a lot. But you do have to be passionate, open-minded and willing to reinvent yourself in a new industry. Technology is changing fast. Learn how to learn. Move fast. Oh…and everyone is hiring!
Opportunities are Accesible to Almost All
“…it’s still day one. Anyone can start learning now and build a great career out of blockchain quickly.” — Sangjin Hong, Cofounder, Chain Cabinet
“I love that the waves of innovation happening in blockchain is global. It’s not centered in Silicon Valley and the opportunity for impact is accessible to anyone who has ambition and curiosity.” — Bruce Pon, Founder of Ocean Protocol
“It’s humbling to work alongside such incredible minds. I’m also thrilled to see how global this industry is, this industry spans almost every continent and includes collaboration at a scale that’s truly staggering.” — Tory Reis, Co-Founder @TrustToken, 2x Fintech Entrepreneur, & Angel Investor
“The world is your oyster with exciting and lucrative options available that will only multiply going forward. Identify what exactly interests you through self-assessment — Compare options — Consider variables — Prioritize your life — Set Goals — Focus — Go get it!” — Savio Gomez, CEO, Christek IO
…But It Ain’t Easy
“Developing a career in blockchain isn’t easy, especially at the moment due to the bear-market and negative sentiment. However, if you believe this technology is the future, the incentive you have is thinking: what would have happened if I had become an internet expert before the internet exploded?” — Pedro Febrero, Founder @ Bityond (blockchain recruitment)
“There’s never been a better time to get involved, but it’s critical that you remain humble and curious. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the projects that interest you and always remain pleasantly persistent.” — Tory Reis
“Be prepared for a roller coaster lifestyle” — Anson Zeall, Cofounder, Blkpay
Step 1: Educate Yourself
“Firstly, make sure you are genuinely interested in it. Secondly, be curious, study, research, ask critical questions. Thirdly, don’t wait, just do. I am also a young 20-something, so I also try to stick to these three rules.” — Angel Versetti , CEO of Ambrosus
“Get a solid education in information sciences before plunging into specifics. The amount of new technology will change faster than your ability to retain it. Only the intuition developed with solid education and experience will allow you to develop your vision transparently from technological change.” — Giuseppe Gori, CEO at Gorbyte
“First understand basic economic concepts: what is money? how does it work? Types of monies? Then read important 20th century economic theory such as the Keynesian’s interventionist view vs hayek’s liberal view; organizational theory like how are companies organized, what are communities and crowds or how to create value in communities are concepts important to fully understand as well. Finally learn as much as possible about game-theory, economic incentives, rewards and externalities.” — Pedro Febrero Founder @ Bityond
“I would encourage that person to learn as much as they can, attend all the events they can and talk to as many people as possible. Educating yourself is the best thing to do — and find the right area for you to work in Blockchain tech.” — Alpesh Doshi, CEO, Fintricity Group
“Look for an institution that offers serious training, try to talk to and keep in touch with professionals who already work in the field and never stop studying and researching, frequent events, build strong and efficient networking with professionals throughout the world.” — Paulo Fagundes, CEO @ Datawiz
Step 2: Just Jump In!
“Become a blockchain developer. While it takes time, effort, and aptitude to become a good coder, the industry is moving fast, there is more demand than supply, and there are opportunities for everybody regardless of background or experience, given some maths/science ability and proficiency in one or more of the main world languages including English. Bootstrap your way into a project and learn. And get paid for learning.” — CEO and Chief Architect at Pacio Core
“You should find a promising startup, join it and learn — as much as possible. Then, if you are capable enough, you can think about your own startup.” — Krzysztof Piech, CEO of a Polish Accelerator
“…be creative and fearless to face new dimension of opportunities and challenges. Build something otherworldly and different. Write a book about your dream. Believe in yourself.” — Jarno Eerola, Serial Blockchain Entrepreneur
“Spend time and energy learning the use cases for which blockchain promises application. It is not a cure all, but a specific technology which has limited uses with great potential. Where there is waste and excessive cost in a supply chain, blockchain might provide relief.” — Larry Bridgesmith, Chief Academic Strategist, Odem.io
“…One year experience working in the blockchain sector full time is same as four years experience in more traditional sectors. After two years, you are already considered a senior 🙂 Things are moving very fast. Be smart, adaptive, do not count your hours and most important, passionate about the technology!” — Mark Couzic, CEO @ Fieldcoin
Three Tips from Douglas Broughton, CEO of Vendible
1. If you are in a corporation, build a case for implementing a blockchain solution where you work. Make sure it adds real value, self-form a team at work, and present your case. Be the person who owns the solution.
2. If you want to join a startup and code, make you can crush the coding challenge. If you want to join a startup on the marketing, sales, PM side, make sure you have immersed yourself in the culture and can walk-the-walk.
3. But I would encourage anyone who really wants to get into blockchain to first know themselves and what they are passionate about. Chances are there is now a blockchain project centered around that passion. Join the community and start engaging. If your contribution adds value you will quickly find yourself with enough work to fill your day. That’s how I started.
Remember to Stay Real
“Stay on earth. Its good to have big dreams, its amazing to want to create something huge..after all thats what a great innovator does. Thinking outside the box. But it will be of no use to you to come up with a solution that is either way too early, or way too old. The secret is in being agile and adaptive and willing to accept change.” — Yassine Anadam, Co founder, Credits
VII. There’s No Turning Back
Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are on the upswing and here to stay. Mainstream businesses across industries from finance to supply chain to manufacturing to healthcare and beyond have all begun to understand the business advantages.
Of course the future is by no means fixed. Neither is the speed at which technological advancement progresses.
But the consensus is that we’ve hit a point of no return. User and business adoption are coming.
“…we have advanced to the point that the movement cannot be stopped. The fire is lit, it’s up to us now to shape that future”
— Graeme Conradie , CEO, DNX Community
After having learned so much from people much smarter than me, I’m even more excited than I was before. I’m going to take advantage of this momentum. I have to. I mean, I have no choice. I’m jumping in, head-first.
Recommended Links and Readings Suggested by the Experts
Follow experts on twitter and youtube like…
- Vitalik Buterin
- Charlie Lee
- Charles Hoskins
- Ivan on Tech
- Alessio Rastani
Read and watch these…
Why Bitcoin Matters — a classic piece discussing the implications of bitcoin written by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.
Youtube Videos by Andreas Antonopolous — Andreas has been living off of bitcoin for the past several years and has real “skin in the game.” He has a great way of simplifying complicated ideas.
Banking on Bitcoin Netflix Documentary — a light and fun documentary for those new to bitcoin.