• by William Mougayar
    Venture advisor, 4x entrepreneur, marketer & strategist. I live in Toronto, curate a lot, blog a bit, and help startups.

Some Harsh Advice for the Blockchain Industry

Honesty_imageFor the blockchain, 2018 is ending with a marked contrast to how it started, no matter how optimistic you care to be. That’s because the largest mindshare has been on the price of tokens and cryptocurrencies. That is an unfortunate frame of reference, because it symbolizes the velocity of hype, more than enlightens on the real measures of progress in the industry.

It would be an interesting experiment if we could ban or hide all media (including social) stories related to crypto trading for the first 3 months of the new year, and only focus on discussing the projects and technologies that are being built, without any references to the price of Bitcoin, Ether, XRP or any others. Not even a word about ICOs. This experiment would give us more clarity about the real work that is actually taking place.

I am fortunate enough about continuously gaining insights from this industry from being constantly exposed to it first-hand, deep in the trenches, interacting with the technologists, entrepreneurs, financiers, lawmakers and regulators across a global geography. As I reflect on where we are, entering the New Year, here is a list of prescriptive thoughts for the various entities in the space focusing on what they can do, or how they can think, in order to give us lot more hope for a prosperous evolution.

Startups

Going to market is not easy. Many blockchain startups continue to underestimate what it takes to bring a new product to the market and put it in the hands of users. Refine the value proposition of your offering. How unique is it? What value does it really offer? Why blockchain? Why should a user switch to, or start using your product? Are your user interface and user experiences really intuitive, or are the barriers to entry too high? Have you assessed the size of the potential market and specifically identified and understood the profiles of your target audience?

Technologists

Whether you are working on (or enhancing) a protocol, infrastructure, middleware technology or applications, delivering what you promised within the deadlines is key. Do not hide under the pretexts that decentralization is messy and open source projects take time to materialize. Yes, the consensus process is key to the base technical layers of the blockchain, but if we applied consensus to all decision-making or to how we manage for results, the world would be in a very bad place, and most businesses would be bankrupt. Cut to the chase, make the tough decisions, and hold people accountable to their deadlines, including yours. If you are not that type of leader, then put someone else in charge that you trust.

Marketers and PR Companies

Clarity in marketing communications is important, but do not go overboard with marketing jargon, hyperbolic statements, non-genuine endorsements, aggressive outreach, and chest pumping. Smart marketing is about finesse, accuracy, credibility, and education. Shouting from the rooftops is like wolf howling. It is not a long-lasting form of communication, and certainly doesn’t stick in the market’s mind. Remember, the key objective of marketing is to get into the minds of the people you want to influence, and there is so much you can do when pushing your way into it. The best results occur when you create the conditions for the market to be pulled towards you.

ICOs

If you were lucky to have raised funds with an ICO process, count your blessings, because they end there. You are now just like a startup. So, just behave like one, and don’t forget: valuations matter. The price of your token will come back to bite you if you don’t let that token prove its real utility in the hands of users and developers. The token must add real value to the network, and if it doesn’t, then refine your assumptions and find the right token-to-market fit. One last thing, get some real mentors to mentor you, not the advisors you put on your website to fake legitimacy for your projects. Self-accountability is overrated, and it will get discounted.

Regulators

Don’t kick or stab the wounded while they are down or have not had a chance to stand up. The blockchain, tokens, cryptocurrencies and decentralized trusted p2p networks are a new thing that doesn’t fit the old paradigms you have built your practices on. Put on some new lenses, and show us your creativity in innovation, not in enforcement. Imagine if we had kept the old dirt and gravel roads, and we were fining cars for creating dust in the air, instead of laying asphalt on the roads. If regulators are responsible for consumer safety, then they should lay out some asphalt because the cars are different now.  Electronic trading was not as revolutionary as the blockchain, so it was able to adapt to existing frameworks, but the blockchain is more fundamentally different, therefore it needs a new framework.

Wall Street Institutional Investors

Stand back. The crypto markets aren’t totally ready for you. Most valuation correlation metrics are hyperbolic and wishful at best. We know you like quantitative models, but all you can do now is speculate. I wished you would stop pretending you are “investing” because all you want to do is flip. Flipping is not what early technologies need, because it betrays them too early. The mature cryptocurrency instruments are few, maybe Bitcoin, Ether and XRP and another handful, but until there are measured real correlations between real metrics and market caps, institutional firepower might destroy more than build confidence.

Venture Capitalists

Good news. There is less FOMO now (Fear Of Missing Out)! It’s (almost) back to business as usual. Back to finding the startups and companies to invest in, but first, do your homework, and understand the blockchain and its potential from a first principles viewpoint. Form your own and original investment thesis or tact, instead of following others’ who have been thinking about it 5 years longer than you have. By copying someone else’s approach, you are only fooling yourselves and your limited partner investors. Good news though,- the blockchain investment landscape is rich, varied and offers new opportunities.

Average Consumer

I wished you didn’t put that 5 or 10K you had painfully saved into some cryptocurrency during 2018, after what your aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, taxi driver or nephew told you it was going to the moon. Unfortunately, the institutional investors and mainstream media headliners fueled the frenzy too early, which spilled over into the mainstream creating a false reality. My advice- take the loss, and keep your day job. There will be new, safer opportunities, as the market matures. In the meantime, use cryptocurrency to understand it, not to trade it. Pick a consumer app that depends on cryptocurrency and become a user. Some examples to pick from: Steemit, OpenBazaar, CryptoKitties, Kik. [Disclosure: I’m an investor or holder in them]

Large Companies

Admit it, you didn’t plan for the blockchain. It just appeared and foiled your strategic plans, but you still haven’t changed your strategic thinking about it. You know you can only disrupt so much of your business, so your initial instinct is to box the blockchain into its own corner, where it can do no harm, while you might have paid some lip service to it, in the meantime. Regardless, the only way you will find the right and best use cases for the blockchain is by allowing your best people to be a part of it. And I challenge you to insert the blockchain lexicon in your strategic planning, even if the exercise is unnatural.

I might have been utopic in my prescriptive wishes, and perhaps my words were rough while making these points, but there is no better medicine than tough words to meet a tough and harsh reality.

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