When I reached out to over 30 CEOs running blockchain startups across the world, I wasn't expecting anyone to respond.
I wanted to ask them a few simple questions: What excites them about the industry right now? What advice do they have for a twentysomething like me who's just starting out? I'm fascinated by blockchain and eager to earn more.
To my surprise, nearly everybody got back to me. These blockchain pioneers were-perhaps not surprisingly-open-minded and willing to share their experiences and ideas. Their responses were refreshingly clear, inspiring, and thoughtful, and their insights cut through some of the opium-like exuberance the industry saw earlier this year.
For those following the industry, it's valuable industry insight - and perhaps a glimpse of what's to come.
We're Living Through a Turning Point for Blockchain
Most of the blockchain leaders who responded were realistic and candid about blockchain's past but remain cautiously optimistic about its present and future. Most of them believe we're living through a pivotal turning point for the industry. We're on the cusp of some really great progress that will redefine how currencies and financial institutions work on a global scale.
"The epic 2017 bull runaway and 2018 crash have gone (we hope!), trust is coming back, and 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 Silicon Valley leader Andreessen Horowitz. ... We are no longer in the excitement phase but ... [we're] getting out of the peak of inflated expectations and entering the disillusionment phase." - Pierre-Alexandre Picard, co-founder at Prediction
"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-are met with a lot of resistance and some really loud naysayers. The economist Nouriel Roubini recently devoted 37 pages to 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, founder of Risk Cooperative
"Blockchain is in the '1,000 flowers blooming phase' of its development."
"Industry leaders, innovators, and regulators must come together to establish a standard that everyone can agree with [and] adhere to. We cannot operate outside our economic and political systems. The blockchain is indeed here to stay. But it won't 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 of 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, proper incentives are still lacking, so I would say what excites me the most is the development of better incentives and reward mechanics for crypto-users." - Pedro Febrero, founder of Beyond (blockchain for recruitment)
What's Really Behind Blockchain's Success
It's easy to read a news article and make a quick judgment on the state of blockchain without understanding it. Being a cynic is easy, but most of us don't see what's going on behind the curtain. Thousands of people are pouring blood and sweat into a new industry that will shape the future. One negative news article shouldn't skew your opinion; these pioneers are in it for the long haul.
Success in the blockchain industry isn't just about financial gains, it's about something much more revelatory and long-lasting.
"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 of 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 of URallowance
"[Success is about] 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. ... If you do that, success will be the natural consequence." - Paulo Rodrigues, CEO of Stealth Mode Blockchain Startup
"The road to success consists of a combination of joint efforts. The success recipe ingredients are desire, faith, specialized knowledge, imagination, organized planning, and of course, persistence." - Bogdan Maslesa, founder and CEO at UniversalCrypto.org
"The blockchain space is a huge enabler for the financial services industry. It provides the ability to help microenterprise as well as large multinational businesses. It is nondiscriminatory and helps the wider population participate at the same level as large financial institutions. Naturally, we are most excited about tokenizing securities and bringing a new future and opportunity to businesses both locally and internationally." - Michael Kessler, CEO of Tokenise.io
"At the end of the day, we consider ourselves successful if we managed to make life easier for our users." - MickaĆ?Ā«l Fourgeaud, CEO at Primablock
Giuseppe Gori, CEO at Gorbyte, echoed the responses of many others in his summary of what long-term success could look like:
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 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, hosted in the user's (dual environment, biometric) device.
A distributed operating environment that allows 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.
Blockchain Is Still a Business
Building a company is hard. Most startups fail. Hardly anybody I spoke to mentioned financial success as their only goal (although it's important). Instead, they emphasized steady progress over the long term. There are no overnight successes and despite the ridiculous valuations and ICOs we've seen 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. Blockchain startups 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 from being commercially successful." - Daniel Santos, co-founder of DARA
"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 that 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 and doesn't feed solely off a speculative bubble. ... 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
"Do not reinvent the wheel."
"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 of Tokenise.io
"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 about 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. The internet was a boon and bane. So use the 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 the success rate. Use it in conjunction with new technologies like the internet of things and artificial intelligence. That's what will make blockchain potent. As simple as the integration of RFID-based tags [radio-frequency identification] to sensor-driven devices, blockchain can become the carrier of data bits that is genuine and fast." - Oji Kikani, founder of Yogin
Looking to the Future
There's a lot of doom and gloom in this industry: ETH will never scale, the BTC price is too volatile for it to be useful, governments are slowing progress, etc. But a lot of smart people are working to solve these problems. There seems to be a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about what's to come.
"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, it won't be needed for any exchange." - Lucy Louis, strategic partnerships at BTCP
"[For me] non-fungible tokens and tokenization of assets is currently the most exciting. We are at very early stages but every day there are new developments. For example, project ERC1155 is fascinating. Developers involved aim to solve the problem of scalability while merging fungible with non-fungible token functions. A clear advantage of the work done is the exchange of multiple non-fungible [ERC721] tokens in one transaction." - Mark Couzic, CEO at Field coin
"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 U.K. regulatory authority [the FCA] testing various new financial products, such as 'smart bonds' in a welcoming 'sandbox' environment, rather than being hostile toward the new technology." - David Honeyman, CEO at Lendo
"The opportunity for impact is accessible to anyone who has ambition and curiosity."
"Knowing there are so many talented people in this space makes me super excited about what's going to be released in production over the next five years." - Paulo Rodrigues, CEO of Stealth Mode Blockchain Startup
"I expect universal acceptance and use of cryptocurrencies worldwide. Blockchain technology has already been recognized; now it's time 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, and 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 these rights. Smart contracts make ownership, usage, and distribution of value programmable through tokenization." - Jeffrey Huang, CEO of Mithril, creator of Machi X, a social crypto exchange that tokenizes IP and enables trading
"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 of DNX Community
Advice for Aspiring Blockchain Entrepreneurs
The consensus is that learning to code will give you a big leg up in the space. Basic technical skills go a long way. That said, your success is possible if you don't come from a technical background - as long as you're open-minded and willing to reinvent yourself in a new industry.
Technology is changing fast. Learn how to learn. Be Nimble. Oh... and everyone is hiring. But of course, as in any growing industry, the fact that opportunities exist doesn't mean they're easily available.
"It's still day one. Anyone can start learning now and build a great career out of blockchain quickly." - Sangjin Hong, co-founder of Chain Cabinet
"I love that the waves of innovation happening in blockchain are 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
"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, and go get it." - Savio Gomez, CEO of Christek IO
"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 at 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, co-founder, Blkpay
"First, make sure you are genuinely interested in it. Second, be curious, study, research, ask critical questions. Third, don't wait, just do. " - 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
"Where there is a waste and excessive cost in a supply chain, blockchain might provide relief."
"I would encourage learning as much as you can, attending all the events you can, and talk to as many people as possible. Educating yourself is the best thing to do." - Alpesh Doshi, CEO of 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." - Paulo Fagundes, CEO at Datawiz
"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 math/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." - David Hartley, 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 a 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 that has limited uses with great potential. Where there are a waste and excessive cost in a supply chain, blockchain might provide relief." - Larry Bridgesmith, chief academic strategist at Odem.io
"One year of experience working in the blockchain sector full-time is the same as four years experience in more traditional sectors. After two years, you are already considered senior. Things are moving very fast. Be smart, adaptive, do not count your hours, and most important, be passionate about the technology." - Mark Couzic, CEO at Fieldcoin
"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. ... 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." - Douglas Broughton, CEO of Vendible
"Stay on earth. It's good to have big dreams, it's amazing to want to create something huge-after all that's what a great innovator does. ... 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
There's No Turning Back
Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are on the upswing, and they're here to stay. Across several industries - from finance to supply chain to manufacturing to health care and beyond - business leaders are beginning to understand the advantages of this new technology.
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. Widespread adoption is on the way.