A few weeks ago we held our first educational event as part of our partnership with General Assembly (GA): Blockchain 101, a free two-hour panel at the GA campus here in Boston. This session focused on the history of blockchains, the technology that makes blockchains possible, and the impact blockchain technology will have on the world in the years to come.
With over 80 attendees, this Blockchain 101 event was one GA Boston’s most popular panels to date. The crowd included developers, college students and businesspeople and engaged as hands shot up almost immediately upon completion of opening statements. John Hargrave, CEO of Media Shower and Publisher of Bitcoin Market Journal moderated the panel and highlighted that he believes now is the greatest and most exciting time to be alive. He paralleled the launch of blockchain to the very early days of the internet and alluded to the tremendous impact this new technology will have. However, he was also quick to point out while the hype around blockchain may be through the roof, we are still in the very early adoption phase — think of the world wide web circa 1995.
The four participants serving on the panel were:
Remy Carpinito, Co-Founder & CEO, Esprezzo
Michael Bayer, CFO, Wasabi Technologies
Lindsay Nuon, Founder, Women of Color in Blockchain, Co-Founder & Chief Risk Officer, Stranger Labs
Alan Wilhelm, Co-Founder & CTO, Esprezzo
There were two MVPs during this panel session: The moderator (John) and everyone in attendance. These events come to life with participation from the audience and everyone came prepared with questions and comments representing their gamut of knowledge around this new and exciting technology. This event was very much a conversation between our panelists and the audience while John did a fantastic job helping bridge knowledge gaps and keeping the conversation on topic.
The free-flowing format made for a fantastic event however recording questions from both John and the audience, as well as the panelist responses was tough at times, so I apologize in advance for not being able to capture more! Below you will find a few questions and answers that came up during the course of the evening.
John: How do you personally describe blockchain technology to people who are new to the space?
Remy: Blockchain is a new database. The key components are decentralization, immutability and consensus which means several computers must validate each transaction before it is written to the chain.
Lindsay: I told my grandmother to think about this as a societal innovation as well as a technological one; this technology allows for more secure and trusted collaboration between individuals. Highlighting the fact that the truly exciting element of blockchain lies in what it enables people to achieve allows me to direct the conversation toward what people really care about — what’s in it for them? How does this improve their day-to-day?
Michael: It’s a Google sheet you can share with people whom you don’t have a trusted relationship. The data can’t be changed. It’s decentralized and available to everyone but can’t be edited unless everyone is on board and in agreement.
John: Remy, you’ve been traveling the world with your ICO road show. Walk us through a day in the life of pitching your ICO.
Remy: Token offerings have changed drastically over the last year. During the bull cycle companies running token sales were highly sought after and the amount of investors outweighed the number of companies. The amount of diligence was slim to none and the optimism was through the roof. Today it’s taken a 180 turn where there are more companies attending conferences than investors. Finding an investor is more like finding a needle in a haystack at many of the conferences and it is essential that you are invited to private events to get more prominent face time or get access to VIP passes to cut through the noise of the packed conference halls.
I have presented on many stages spanning Asia, Europe and North American and it’s safe to say that the tangible energy at each conference is massive. People are enthusiastic about the potential blockchain has to offer to various industries. While that enthusiasm has subsided a bit in the bearish market you have seen more seasoned entrepreneurs start to enter the space which is a sign of the market maturing and what I believe posturing for a more sustainable, yet gradual bull run in 2019.
John: Michael, as a CFO, do these tokens and cryptocurrencies have real-world value? How will they be integrated into businesses in the future? What gives these things their value?
Michael: It states “In God We Trust” on our currency, but why is this bill worth $100? Well, currency works completely on trust. We trust in God or the government that this paper is in fact worth $100 and it will be worth $100 tomorrow. It’s difficult to see these tokens as currencies because of the massive price fluctuations that take place. But the underlying trust is being provided via blockchain technology. We just have to find a way to develop a shared sense of stable value and a universally accessible method for transacting using tokens to get them to where business will rely on them as currencies. I think the value of tokens goes far beyond currencies, though — blockchain technology that uses tokens as a unit of account will be transformational, even if those tokens aren’t used as currencies or mediums of exchange.
John: Alan, Esprezzo is a middleware platform. How do you explain that to someone who is new to the space?
Alan: Our middleware reduces the amount of programming knowledge required to develop useful applications that rely on decentralized technology. Middleware solves shortcomings in usability of the underlying technology and difficulty managing the back end, merging it with the top, user-facing front-end interface and joins them into one language, making the technology accessible in your programming language so you can create something. Full stack development and server management can be intimidating; middleware provides an easier way to develop.
John: Are cryptocurrencies risky?
Lindsay: Absolutely. You need to understand your risk tolerance the same way you would with traditional markets. Because this industry is still in its infancy, more often than not, you will not have the same protections as you would in traditional markets. If you’re not willing and able to lose the money, my advice would be to seriously reconsider investing in cryptocurrency.
Michael: Lindsey made an important point. Blockchain and Bitcoin are two different things; Bitcoin is a value application that sits on top of blockchain technology. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have many risks. Blockchain is a technology with risks in its applications.
John: One of the biggest use cases for blockchain technology is tokenizing real-world assets like real estate and fine art. Will everything be tokenized?
Remy: No, I do not think everything will be tokenized necessarily nor do I think every application needs to leverage blockchain. One of the key beliefs we have at Esprezzo is that not every piece of data should be on a blockchain nor is it valuable to do so. If anything, storing too much data on chain can bloat public blockchains, incur unnecessary costs and potentially severely hinder the way you use or access that data in the future, not to mention hinder the performance of your applications. Pertinent transaction data can live on chain for various applications while less pertinent attribute data can live off chain on traditional data stores or second layer solutions.
Lindsay: God I hope not! Not everything can, or should be. Furthermore, as a community we should not forget the lure and dangers of extremist rhetoric and maximalism. We should be thinking more critically and creatively about the solutions we craft instead of treating everything we encounter “as if it were a nail.”
John: What is your favorite real-life use case for blockchain?
Michael: Amazon was selling just books via the internet in 1995 but not many would highlight that as the best use case for the internet, right? It’s sooo difficult to tell. Blockchain is fundamentally changing technology around how all transactions are processed. Combine that with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the way we transact everything will be changed.
Lindsay: There are so many people leading amazing projects it’s hard to pick just one, but the two that top my list have instilled the most confidence in their ability to deliver on their promises. The first is TrustaBit lead by Saritta Hines. At a high-level the work she’s doing will enable airlines to automatically debit your account if your flight is delayed. The other project is Urban Array. They are based in Chicago and led by Marquis Davis. Their team is using blockchain and some existing tax incentives to manage community assets in a more deliberate, equitable, and efficient way — it’s incredibly exciting because their work has the potential to address wide-spread effects of gentrification that communities all around the globe are experiencing.
Remy: I don’t want to pick just one but one of my friends is in LA and wants to disrupt the movie financing process by voting on scripts and should that movie get made, each voter has a share. At a much higher level, this will disrupt how everything is funded. Think of crowdfunding a product: yes, you get that product, but thanks to blockchain technology you can actually take your stake in that company and continue to hold onto it as it grows.
Alan: Bitcoin. The most useful application that is benefiting the most from decentralization and distributed fault tolerance is the Bitcoin experiment, and it’s currently more impactful than any other blockchain-based use case.
Again, a big thank you to all panelists, attendees and moderator for making this event such a success! This was just the first of many events we’ll be hosting with General Assembly. Our next event, A Beginner’s Guide to Crypto Trading, will be held on December 5 at the General Assembly Campus here in Boston. This free workshop will be limited to the first 40 people who sign up, so don’t delay and RSVP!
If you’re not in Boston and/or have specific topics you’d like to learn about, please consider taking this very short survey, which will help us plan future educational events.