Entrepreneurship, innovation, and disruption are terms that we think we understand and agree on what we mean when using them. Not so. Several thought leaders and influencers have highlighted this issue when arguing about technologies and or business models and whether they qualify as `disruptive` or `innovative`. Clayton Christensen`s 25yr old theory Disruptive innovation, Guenther Dobrauz-Saldapenna`s Apetite for Disruption interviews are just two sources that focus on these distinctions.
After the WEF this past January, serendipity connected my insights around Sharks & Piranhas in financial services with Dolphin-like organisations. Dr. Mihaela Ulieru, scientist, advisor, president of the IMPACT Institute for the Digital Economy attended my CryptomountainRocks talk at the piano bar of Hotel Europe.
My metaphors of incumbents and fintech startups as Sharks and Piranhas, while discussing tokenization of real assets; fired up a connection with Miguel Reynolds Brandão through Mihaela Ulieru.
The SORG Index, is a sustainability algorithm. It is simple and can even be used by startups.
The Dolphin Ranking is a global list of Sustainable Organisations that the group of these Sustainability Devotees including Miguel R. Brandao, call ‘Dolphins’. This list promotes organisations that are truly sustainable to inspire hope, change and best practice. Much like dolphins these organizations take care of their resources and are less focused on promoting themselves.
TLDR. For Governments, the only thing more scary than Bitcoin is getting their country destroyed by sanctions and other heavy-handed behaviour by bigger Governments. Bottom up traction for Bitcoin as a global currency is coming from sovereign countries with weak Fiat currencies; the people are taking action despite what the Government is saying/mandating. This is no surprise because innovation always comes from the edge, from those excluded from wealth & power by the current system. What is interesting now is how this innovation is coming both bottom up (by the people despite what their government tells them to do) and from top down (initiatives from governments to use Bitcoin). The recent news that shows that this top down innovation may be happening is that 3 countries (Afghanistan, Tunisia and Uzbekistan) are telling the IMF that they want to issue Bitcoin bonds.
Innovation always comes from the edge aka the Excluded
Bitcoin is totally different from a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)
Commodities other than Gold as collateral
The critical role of the IMF
The dreaded v word – volatility
Context from other Chapters
Innovation always comes from the edge aka the Excluded
I have been a fan of John Hagel for a long time. I first talked to him 10 years ago when I was COO of ReadWriteWeb (here is an interview from that era). John Hagel, perhaps best known for his book The Only Sustainable Edge, has been one of the leading strategic thinkers for decades. Today he edits The Edge Perspectives blog as a driver for Deloitte’s Center for Edge Innovation.
Hagel focusses on the importance of the edge as a source of value creation and strategic advantage. This insight – that traction comes from people who have been excluded from the current system – may seem obvious, but so many companies do the exact opposite (they compete to win market share among those who have lots of alternative services).
In the Blockchain Economy, innovation comes from people, businesses and countries that have have not done well from Legacy Finance – the excluded.
Bitcoin is totally different from a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)
A Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) means a) government controls supply (ie can still print as much as they like b) transaction verification is done using DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology) rather than in a ledger in the central bank’s core accounting system. There may be some efficiency advantages for the central bank from using DLT and some PR boost, but no real advantage for citizens.
The much more radical alternative is a government issuing bonds denominated in Bitcoin. That means they have no control over supply. Although that loss ofcontrol is scary for governments, it is better than issuing debt using two alternatives as currency:
their own Fiat currency which investors don’t want (whether it is settled using DLT or traditional methods).
the Fiat currency of another Government (eg USD or EUR) that may be imposing sanctions or taking other actions they deem harmful.
Commodities other than Gold as collateral
In ye olden days, money was an IOU backed by gold as collateral. In 1971, Nixon changed all that and money became Fiat currency backed by nothing more than a promise to pay.
So a poor country issuing a bond denominated in a currency with a fixed supply like Bitcoin is a really big deal for some investors. Rather than getting paid back in a depreciating currency that could spiral into hyperinflation, investors are repaid in a strong currency.
This begs the question, what if the country does not repay the loan aka sovereign debt default.
In ye olden days, investors simply presented their IOU (aka paper currency) and demanded repayment in Gold. If you are a poor country with a weak currency, such as Afghanistan, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, you cannot simply buy a lot of gold as collateral for your currency. However you may have other tradable commodities that can be used as collateral. For example:
– Afghanistan can use lithium as collateral
– Uzbekistan can use cotton as collateral
The critical role of the IMF
Sovereign Bond Investors have historically demanded very high interest rates to compensate for the risk of a Sovereign Bond from a country such as Afghanistan, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. The idea of issuing a bond denominated in a currency with a fixed supply like Bitcoin and backed by a tradable commodity as collateral is a big innovation.
Last week’s news is only that these three countries are discussing issuing Bitcoin Bonds with the IMF; it is not yet a done deal.
The IMF has a critical role to play because Bitcoin is a global currency so investors will look to a global institution to give the bond issuance some credibility.
Stay tuned – this will be interesting to watch.
The dreaded v word – volatility
The devil is as always in the details, which in this case are:
What if Bitcoin increases dramatically in value?A small increase in value is good news for investors and manageable for issuers. Adramatic increase in value is, on paper, great news for investors, but such a disaster for issuers that default is likely.
What if Bitcoin declines in value? Investors may demand too much interest to compensate for this.
In short, this use case for Bitcoin falls foul of the dreaded v word – volatility
A stablecoin pegged to a basket of currencies could offer a better alternative.
Context from other Chapters
For context please read these chapters of The Blockchain Economy digital book
TLDR. The first IPO by a Blockchain venture will signal that the next cryptocurrency bull market is in good shape. One question is which Blockchain venture will be the the first to IPO. Candidates include Binance, Coinbase, Silvergate & TZero. Looking at the macro conditions and the IPO process offers some clues about when this will happen. Another question is what the first IPO by a Blockchain venture will tell us about the wider transition to The Blockchain Economy. For investors, our aim with this post is to give some context before the frenzy of IPO pricing and roadshow. Bitmain had a failed IPO process. Investment Bankers will be trying hard to overcome the Bitmain bad news story and write the story of the first successful Blockchain IPO .
This post includes:
Why this will signal a sustainable cryptocurrency bull market
Who are the candidates for the first Blockchain IPO
The Bitmain bad news story
When Part 1: understanding the IPO Process
When Part 2: Macro market analysis
Legacy IPO vs Blockchain STO
Being No 2 maybe better but the macro window is small
Why this will signal a sustainable cryptocurrency bull market
The investment bankers advising the companies will time it for when they are confident that we are in a cryptocurrency bull market and they have all the data to guide this decision. So when we see a successful Blockchain IPO, we can be confident that we are in a cryptocurrency bull market.
The marketing of the IPO will push that bull market to new heights by bringing new investors to the table who see the IPO in mainstream media.
The first IPO by a Blockchain venture will tell us a lot more about the price direction of cryptocurrencies than all the Technical Analysis (TA) put together. The investment bankers will look at TA among many other signals before making their big timing & pricing bet.
When Part 1: understanding the 7 step IPO Process
To get a handle on when will the first Blockchain IPO will happen, we need to understand the 7 step IPO Process:
Prepare. Make sure the company is ready to IPO. This takes place behind closed doors with strict confidentiality enforced; with so many people involved it is a bit of an open secret. Typically this is 6 months pre IPO and the IPO may never happen so this open secret is not worth much.
Tell. A PR charm offensive. This is the tease, when we get familiar with the name in public. The IPO word will be used but the official position will be Deny (see Stage 4). A PR charm offensive can also be used to raisea big private round, so there is not a confirmation of IPO process till we get to at least Stage 3.
Hire Announcement. Typical CXO hire pre IPO is a CFO who has “been there and done that” ie gone through IPO and reporting as a public company.
Deny IPO. It is customary at this stage for CEO and other spokespeople to deny that there is any IPO. This is because an IPO process can be stopped at any stage prior to 6, so this prevents brand damage from a “failed IPO”.
File with regulator. The filing with regulator is called an S-1 if filing is with SEC in USA .This has information about the company but no price for the shares or date for the IPO.
Price & Date.This starts the the roadshow ending in the IPO about 2 weeks later.
Post LockUp Exit. This is when VCs and other Insiders can sell. It is is the real IPO as far as they are concerned. Step 6 is more of a marketing event than a financial event.
Any of these 4 things can change this planned process:
– Acquisition. Before or after all of these 7 stages, an acquirer can come in. For example, Facebook could acquire Coinbase before or after they IPO.
– Mega private round. This is like an Acquisition, because early investors and founders can at least partially exit.
– Market tanks. The investment bankers can “pull an IPO” if a crashing market means they cannot get the target price.
– Execution snafu. The company can do something that significantly reduces the value of the business or simply not meet targets or suffer some kind of attack. For example, a major loss from a scam will derail any of these Blockchain IPOs.
The Bitmain bad news story
Investment Bankers will be trying hard to overcome the Bitmain bad news story in 3 ways:
Timing. Bitmain filed deep in the Crypto Bear market in September 2018 and “pulled it” after the 6 month expiry (during which they had to IPO or cancel) at end March 2019.
Business model. As a Miner, Bitmain gets paid in cryptocurrencies. When the trailing financials are from a bear market, they look bad.
Less controversial. Bitmain got too publicly embroiled in the Bitcoin Civil War, meaning that many influential crypto investors have a “over my dead body” attitude to buying Bitmain shares.
Investment Bankers don’t want investors looking at Bitmain as a comparable.
Who are the candidates for the first Blockchain IPO
All of these have the scale to do an IPO and have made some noises in that direction. To avoid any implied ranking, these are in alphabetical order:
Could be by a) Medici Ventures which owns TZero and some other Blockchain assets b) via Overstock (which owns TZero) selling their legacy e-commerce business leaving just Medici and TZero or c) via a spinoff of Medici or TZero from Overstock
A Blockchain IPO needs a bull market in both Legacy Finance and in Cryptocurrencies. During 2018 we had a bull market in Legacy Finance anda bear market in Cryptocurrencies. During 2019 we might have a bull market in both but the window may be tight and a lot of ventures crowding to get through that window (pity those poor Investment Bankers).
If we don’t get this window when both markets are healthy, the big Blockchain ventures lining up to IPO are likely to accept either an acquisition offer or a big private round (aka “private IPO”).
Legacy IPO vs Blockchain STO
When one big use case for Blockchain is Security Tokens that will disrupt Wall Street, it seems odd to use classic Wall Street firms to manage a classic Legacy Finance process.
TZERO will be the most conflicted about this as they are most vocal about disrupting Wall Street, but all the ventures have this issue. We may see one of two variants:
A Security Token Offering (STO) using top tier IPO Investment Bankers and best practices from Legacy IPO.
The race to be first is driven by a) a short window when both markets are in bull market b) the consumer marketing impact of an IPO. An IPO is less about raising capital than getting mindshare of millions of potential customers. In some markets it pays to be second to IPO not first. The short window may mean such caution is thrown to the wind.
Last week, I was interviewing a VC based out of Pakistan. I took away several insights from the conversation, however, there was one major highlight that would stay with me for a long time. There was a point where the distinction between Fintech businesses and business models was made.
That distinction was further enriched when we discussed how many emerging economies created Fintech business models embedded within lifestyle businesses. At that point the realisation hit me – the realisation that emerging markets has seen more lifestyle businesses provide Fintech as a byproduct business service. However, in the UK, Europe and the US, we see several businesses explicitly tagged as Fintechs providing core Fintech services.
Therefore, I thought it would be good to write about lifestyle/non-Fintech businesses across the world, that are offering or looking to offer Fintech services. Let me start with Pakistan.
Pakistan rides on Bykea: Bykea started as a ride hailing app, moved to food delivery, and in due course has now started offering financial services to many of its clients. As they are able to track a customer’s financial transactions they are able to assess if they can offer micro credit to them. Bykea upgrade partner drivers from a cash economy to creating their first ever bank accounts. First time customers can use cash for a booking, however, their model encourages cash top ups to an in-app wallet.
Indonesia Go-Jek and South East Asia’s Grab: Indonesia’s road traffic challenges seem to be alleviated, thanks to motorbike Uber models Go-Jek and Grab. Go-Jek has been around since 2011, and it is now as much a payment app as it is a ride hailing app. They have 1 million drivers, 125,000 merchants, and 30,000 other services, spread across 50 cities in Indonesia. Tencent and KKR are investors in Go-Jek.
Grab has presence widely across South East Asia, operating using the same model. Softbank Group and Microsoft are investors in Grab.
Africa – Energy, Farming and Fintech: In Africa, the lifestyle use cases in focus are in energy and agriculture. As solutions for both these value chains emerge, they often come with a financial inclusion business model integrated. Although, I can’t name them – recently I came across a firm, who provided Solar based last mile charging and other energy services to African villages. The payment for these services could be through M-Pesa or a mobile Wallet.
The other model followed by firms such as Banqu, Binkabi and Agriledger is to use Blockchain technology to track farmers’ transactions. As more and more transactions are registered, the farmer creates a economic identity, which can be used to check their credit worthiness by suppliers and financial service providers. These solutions can also provide wallets for these farmers to enable friction free international transactions.
China’s Leapfrogs: I have got addicted to talking/writing about Alipay and Wechat. While Alipay took over Fintech from an ecommerce base, WeChat began their conquest from a chat messenger business. The impact they have had within China, complemented by China’s drive towards AI and Blockchain has helped the nation’s credibility. The world can no longer perceive China as just a manufacturer of cheap goods. Thanks to their success, the data created from their ecosystem, can be used to create innovative business models.
India Telecoms and Fintech: Fintech in India cannot start or end without the talk of PayTM – the firm that won investments from Softbank, Alibaba group and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. However, several Telecoms providers in India have taken inspiration and started providing Fintech services. Airtel, one of the top telecoms provider in India offers a wallet and even a bank account.
Google launched their Tez app a couple of years ago, and has recently rebranded it to Google pay. They have seen good success. The other name that we can’t miss is Whatsapp – who have been trialling payments in India. At the moment, they are unable to go live with the feature due to regulatory pressures to store the data locally in India. However, the gist is that different players are providing financial services as an add-on business model.
Nordics and their Wrong-un: A wrong-un in cricketing terms, also known as a googly, is when a leg spinner (bowler) suddenly makes the ball spin the wrong way. The Nordics have led the world in creating cashless societies. However, more recently its the banks that are leading financial inclusion business models through federated economic Id creation.
Norway integrated the government Id to taxes and student loans, and that helped the e-Id concept take off. Today, Bank Id in Norway has 74% penetration, in Sweden it has 78% penetration, in Denmark NemID has 85% penetration and in Finland TUPAS has 87% penetration.
Once these bank Ids became mainstream, thanks to collaborative consortium based approach from banks, new non financial services business models were created on top of that. There were life style use cases that could be possible, thanks to the economic Id boom.
It’s interesting to see how in more developed ecosystems, banks are driving lifestyle business models, and it is actually vice versa in emerging markets. Thanks to technology, one thing that’s common between the two is the customer focus. As long as that remains, even the wrong-uns can yield the right results.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analysis,
ecosystem insurance purchases, online claim handling, application-based insurance
policies, claim handling in seconds, and so on.
There’s even instant parametric travel cover that reimburses costs-
immediately- when one’s planned air flight is delayed. There are clever new risk assessment tools
that are derived from black box algorithms, but you know what? Those risk data are better than the industry
has ever had! Super insurance, InsurTech
heroes! But ask many insureds or claim
handlers, and they’ll tell you all about InsurTech’s weakness, the kryptonite
for insurance innovation’s superheroes (I don’t mean Insurance Nerd Tony Cañas)- those being- long-tailed or unique claims.
If insurance was easy you wouldn’t be reading this. That is simple; much of insurance is
not. Determining risk profiles for
thefts of bicycles in a metro area- easy.
Same for auto/motor collision frequency/severity, water leaks, loss of
use amounts, cost of chest x-rays, roof replacement costs, and burial costs in most
jurisdictions. Really great fodder for
clever adherents of InsurTech- high frequency, low cost cover and claims. Even more complex risks are becoming easier
to assess, underwrite and price due to the huge volume of available data
points, and the burgeoning volume of analysis tools. I just read today that a clever group of UK-based
InsurTech folks have found success providing comprehensive risk analysis
profiles to some large insurance companies- Cytora –
that continues to build its presence. A
firm that didn’t exist until 2014 now is seen as a market leader in risk data
analysis and whose products are helping firms who have been around for a lot
longer than 5 years (XL Catlin, QBE, and Starr Companies) Seemingly a perfect fit of innovation and
incumbency, leveraging data for efficient operations. InsurTech.
But ask those who work behind the scenes at the firms, ask
those who manage the claims, serve the customers, and address the many
claim-servicing challenges at the carriers- is it possible that a risk that is
analyzed and underwritten within a few minutes can be a five or more year
undertaking when a claim occurs? Yes, of
course it is. The lion’s share of
auto/motor claim severity is not found within the settlement of auto damage, it’s
the bodily injury/casualty part of the claim.
Direct auto damage assessment is the province of AI; personal injury
protection and liability decisions belong in most part to human interaction. Sure, the systems within which those actions
are taken can be made efficient, but the decisions and negotiations remain outside
of game theory and machine learning (at least for now). There have been (and continue to be)
systems utilized by auto carriers in an attempt to make uniform more complex
casualty portions of claims ( see for example Mitchell) but lingering ‘burnt fingers’
from class action suits in the 1980’s and 1990’s make these arms’ length tools trusted
but again, in need of verification.
Property insurance is not immune from the effects of
innovation expectations; there are plenty of tools that have come to the market
in the past few years- drones, risk data aggregators/scorers, and predictive
algorithms that help assess and price risk and recovery. That’s all good until the huge network of
repair participants become involved, and John and Mary Doe GC prices a rebuild
using their experienced and lump sum pricing tool that does not match the
carrier’s measure to the inch and 19% supporting events adapted component-based
pricing tool. At that intersection of ideas,
the customer is left as the primary and often frustrated arbiter of the claim
resolution. Prudent carriers then revert
to analog, human interaction resolution. Is it possible that a $100K water loss can
explode into a $500K plus mishandled asbestos abatement nightmare? Yes, it’s very possible. Will a homeowner’s policy customer in Kent be
disappointed because an emergency services provider that should be available
per a system list is not, and the homeowner is left to fend for himself? The
industry must consider these not as outlier cases, but as reminders that not
all can be predicted, not all data are being considered, and as intellectual
capital exits the insurance world not all claim staff will have the requisite
experience to ensure that which was predicted is what happens.
The best data point analysis cannot fully anticipate how
businesses operate, nor how unpredictable human actions can lead to claims that
have long tails and large expense. Consider
the recent tragedy in Paris with the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Certainly any carriers that may be involved
with contractor coverage have the same concerns as all with the terrible loss,
but they also must have concerns that not only are there potential liability coverage
limits at risk, but unlike cover limits, there will be legal expenses
associated with the claim investigation and defense that will most probably
make the cover limits small in comparison.
How can data analysis predict that exposure disparity, when every claim
case can be wildly unique?
It seems as underwriting and pricing are under continued
adaptation to AI and improved data analysis it is even more incumbent on companies
(and analysis ‘subcontractors’) to be cognizant of the effects of unique claims’
cycle times and ongoing costs. In
addition, carriers must continue to work with service providers to recognize
the need for uniform innovation, or at least an agreed common denominator tech
The industry surely will continue to innovate and encourage those InsurTech superheroes who are flying high, analyzing, calculating and selling faster than a speeding bullet. New methods are critical to the long-term growth needed in the industry and the expectation that previously underserved markets will benefit from the efforts of InsurTech firms. The innovators cannot forget that there is situational kryptonite in the market that must be anticipated and planned for, including the continuing need for analog methods and analog skills.
When global funding for an industry like fintech reaches $111 (3h 51m) (3h 51m) billion, like it did in 2018, it should come as no surprise that financial businesses are emerging to service fintechs themselves.
As most founders can attest to, accessing the full spectrum of personal banking services without a steady salary, or negotiating access to a business line of credit without a consistent revenue stream, are both difficult. Ironically they are two problems founders themselves often set out to solve for other businesses. Until their products are in market however, they are in the same painful banking boat as everyone else.
Businesses like Brex have now emerged to solve that problem. The fintech, backed by ex-PayPal founders Thiel and Levchin, helps startups get credit cards, without personal guarantees or a traditional approach to credit risk assessment. Instead, the card issuer looks at the quality of the investors and VCs who have backed the company and the amount of money raised.
This week Brex announced a deal with Barclays Investment Bank, raising a $100 (3h 28m) (3h 28m) million debt facility backed by Brex’s corporate charge card receivables. The funds will be used to scale its offering into different verticals.
And the story could well end there, but it doesn’t, as Brex isn’t only about disrupting credit cards and startup banking. It’s also having a crack at co-working, launching a members’ only lounge, the Oval Room. It’s a weird mash-up between an airline lounge, bar, WeWork and bank branch, and it’s kind of cool.
Meaningful non-tech connections with other humans is what the next generation wants. If Brex can be part of achieving this, and fuel dreams and enable entrepreneurship along the way by oiling the wheels of startup finance, it could be on to a winner.
What Brex I think gets, and what banks and incumbents cannot authentically deliver, is that new experience. There is far too much baggage and business case hurdles that need to be met to stand-up these sorts of alternative offerings inside mainstream financial businesses.
Community is the most powerful vehicle to grow a business, and community in it’s truest and stickiest sense, isn’t found online.
Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business and the Gig Economy and is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zuper, a new superannuation startup in Australia.
I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.
Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research)
Last week Christine Lagarde moderated a panel with two Central bankers (European Central Bank and CB of Kenya), an incumbent (JPMorgan) and a disruptor (crypto fintech company Circle). The topic was “Money and Payments in the Digital Age.”
CCN covered the panel discussion with a narrative of `In crypto we trust`. Coindesk covered it with a rhetorical question narrative of `In Math we Trust?`.
It is already six months since I covered Blockchain from a policy angle in `In the EU Blockchain Resolution we Trust`. Building Trust through disintermediation is the line of thinking behind the Blockchain Resolution which is still a work in progress. Europe continues to be the thought leader at the policy level with this initiative which has immense potential. During the same period, I had the privilege of attending the talk of Dr. Zhang on the topic “In Math we Trust” and moderating a session with him at the LCX Blockchain Series, in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Dr. Zhang, was a renowned Chinese American scientist, a physics professor at Stanford and I remain inspired by his narrative.
The powerful origin of the narrative `In Math we could Trust`
Let’s go back to the Greeks where thought leadership of all theoretical and foundational concepts started. Dr. Zhang spoke about Archimedes, his Eureka moment which permitted gold to become a medium of exchange. He spoke about the 2nd law of thermodynamics which states that the natural world is mostly in disorder and rarely in order (consensus state). In nature, order and consensus can only exist in subsystems. And when this happens it happens at a cost. In physics parlance, in order to reach order and consensus in nature, there needs to be some entropy (disorder) produced and dumped outside the subsystem for it to reach consensus.
Let’s tie this to the computing world. In distributed computing, the Fischer-Lynch-Patterson theorem is the analog of the 2nd law of thermodynamics and proves that there is No deterministic algorithm that can be a master algorithm for the system to reach consensus. So, once again science like in nature, proves that to reach consensus we need to pay a cost. This is where the Proof of Work, an old cryptographic concept, comes into play.
One way we can reach consensus regarding transactions is by using Proof of work. This is a way, to reach consensus on the Temporal Order of transactional data. The cost we pay is the amount of electricity we burn to solve the puzzle (which is on the other hand easily verifiable). Consensus on time-stamped verification of transactional data, can be reached through this process that dumps entropy (electricity in the case Bitcoin Blockchain) outside the system.
Our world historically has been oscillating between centralization and decentralization.
Looking back in history for more evidence: The circuit switch technology created the then seemingly indestructible monopoly of ATT. This monopoly was only destroyed form the decentralized TCP/IP protocol that gave birth to the internet and to the gradual adoption of VOIP. As the internet became the dominant technology, several other monopolies grew out of the content generated on it; e.g. Google and Facebook. And now, we are in the beginnings of what Paul Nunes coins as the next Big Bang disruption. Blockchain is threatening the powerful giants built on the first open source protocol, the internet, with a wave of data decentralization.
The internet has evidently increased connectedness. However, its design is not a collaborative one. The world that is built on top of this open protocol, the internet, is not a world that is more fair and that builds trust. The “trading” or any exchange of information on the web, is not collaborative. The central entities, the Googles and Facebooks, are the ones that are organizing the information and the data on the web. The first, step in the process of decentralizing the web, is to break these data monopolies.
Blockchain is a decentralized mechanism in which trust is built-in with mathematical formulas. As Plato preached, mathematics is the ONLY internally consistent language. As Nick Szabo preached, in his God protocols, mathematics is the language of God. God in this context is the entity that acts in the interest of everybody.
Blockchain protocols are presenting us with an opportunity to build on protocols with built-in consensus mechanism governed by math. Mathematics governance guarantees fairness and trust.
Dr. Zhang argued in this speech that we humans have developed languages and law in our attempts to organize and collaborate in societies and reach consensus on various issues. He now believes that we are stepping into the most advanced era in which Mathematics will be trusted in order to reach consensus. Admittedly from all the sciences (social, political, physics etc.) mathematics is the branch of knowledge with the highest level of consensus and in which we trust.
Dr. Zhang emphasized that we live in a world that is based on theoretical mathematics that were developed with no real-world application in mind and are now being used in all sorts of experimentations as we are in the early stages of the blockchain development. From hash functions to more such `abstract first` math concepts.
Dag, directed acyclic graph: money grows on trees!
Source: from Dr. Zhang`s talk; see full video here.
The choice we have is to `Trust in Math`
Look at the 2nd law of thermodynamics, nature, and the lessons from the earlier tech disruption waves. Once we embrace the dynamic, digital, and unstable world we live in; we will realize that we have a great opportunity to embrace theoretical mathematics in designing governance and the Internet of value.
It will be a trustworthy design with inherent instabilities as in nature and as outlined in the 2nd law of thermodynamics. We have to move away from the belief that forced consensus mechanisms like regulations can provide stability.
 I delayed this post because of the unfortunate and sudden passing away of Dr. Zhang late last year.
Last week our theme was “SEC reducing signal to noise ratio for ICOs.“
Our theme for this week is “Can Crypto Debit Cards turn Bitcoin into Real Money?”
At the end of February, Shift announced it was shutting down its Coinbase debit card. In message to customers it explained that it hopes to relaunch in the future, but for now U.S. residents are left with few crypto debit card options.
A few days ago, Coinbase announced they were partnering with PaySaf, to launch a new Coinbase Card, and fill the gap left by Shift shutdown. Initially, the new card will available only in the UK and let users instantly convert their crypto balance to fiat.
A hundred years ago, no one could even imagine that it would be possible to buy things using a plastic card, instead of paper banknotes or coins. Now, we can’t even imagine our lives without debit or credit cards. To go one step further, now we are even funding our debit cards with cryptocurrencies.
Most Americans don’t carry cash. In an average week, roughly 3 in 10 adults make zero purchases using cash. Those who do carry paper money, have less than $50 in their wallets.
Cash isn’t king anymore, but neither is Bitcoin… at least not yet.
Using cryptocurrencies in the real world is difficult. The biggest challenge that cryptocurrencies face is how to integrate into the real world. There are not many merchants that will accept cryptocurrencies, and even though technologies like Lightning Network will change this, today using your Bitcoin to pay for products and services is hard. We’ve seen some progress, but we’re still a long way to go before cryptocurrencies on par with fiat currencies. For now, the biggest obstacle for the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies, is that people don’t consider them as real money, because they can’t spend them anywhere, anytime.
Could crypto debit cards change this perception?
Crypto debit cards were hot in the first half of 2017. Their value proposition was simple: users wanted to spend their cryptocurrencies to buy things in the real world, but merchants didn’t want to accept them. Crypto debit card companies built platforms, that let users automatically use their cryptocurrencies, when they swiped their debit cards. The only difference was that the necessary funds for the transaction, were withdrawn from a cryptocurrency wallet and converted into fiat.
When Visa cut WaveCrest, the main issuer for most crypto cards, nearly all them stopped working. Many, like TenX and WireX, suspended their services. Others worked, but only in a limited number of countries and currencies.
Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is already comparable with Apple Pay. Bitcoin’s payment system is superior to the conventional international payments and wire transfers. Technical improvements to Bitcoin’s network are almost certain to make it the world’s main payment system.
Datalight conducted a fairly large-scale study, which was entirely devoted to the prospects of Bitcoin to become a global payment system. They believe that the Bitcoin payment network will surpass the current giants Visa and MasterCard in the next 10 years.
Potentially, crypto debit card companies are an endangered species. Due to the complexities of operating a crypto-fiat business, regulatory requirements, the changing stance of Visa and Mastercard, and Bitcoin’s Lightning Network, crypto card companies could have a hard time in the future.
Even though crypto debit cards have been the best solution for crypto-to-fiat spending so far, it’s not an ideal one. Anonymity has always been one of the most important Bitcoin features and absolute privacy is simply impossible here.
For now, they are an important stepping stone. There is no doubt that merging crypto with debit cards is a powerful driver for mainstream adoption. Crypto cards help legitimize cryptocurrency, since they work just like a Visa or Mastercard, that most of us have and use everyday.
For cryptocurrencies to make the leap from an traded asset to valid real-world currency and payment method, we need to think of it as real money, money we can use to pay for things. Crypto debit cards can help bridge this gap.
TLDR. The big coming wave is Security Tokens, but the backlash against Utility Tokens is overdone. On Monday, Daily Fintech analysed the recent moves by the SEC to provide regulatory certainty to Utility Tokens. This is a big deal. Until now, entrepreneurs faced a regulatory environment where everything was a security, because in that world there was nothing else. Now entrepreneurs can use a Security Token to raise capital and a Utility Token to reduce their Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC).This is a a big deal for entrepreneurs. It is only exciting for investors who have equity in the ventures created by those entrepreneurs. That is how it should be. A Utility Token is a great business building tool; it is not primarily an asset. If you buy a Utility Token, it may appreciate in value, but you buy it in order to use it and any price appreciation is a side benefit.
“Token holders won’t be granted an ownership stake in the company.
Any funds raised from the token sale will not be used develop the platform or app.
When the tokens are sold,they must be usable immediately for their intended functionality.
Transfers of the TKJ tokens are restricted only to TKJ wallets. External wallets are not allowed.
TKJ tokens will be priced at 1 USD per token. Each token will essentially function as a pre-paid coupon for TurnKey’s air charter services. If TurnKey wants to buy back the token (coupon), it must do so at a discount (less than 1 USD).
The token must be marketed in a way that emphasizes its functionality, and not its potential to increase in value, over time.”
Laws change over time and vary by jurisdiction
The Legacy Finance world has Debt and Equity. The Blockchain Economy has Utility and Security Tokens. You can tokenise Debt (just like you can tokenise Equity or any other asset) but that does not change the fundamental characteristic of that asset.
Debt is illegal in Islamic Finance (for more please read this). There are workarounds that dress up debt to look like equity, just like there are workarounds that ICOs used to dress up a security to make it look like a utility token. This perspective is useful when you look at the legality of Security vs Utility tokens ie laws change over time and vary by jurisdiction.
Four reasons why other jurisdictions will probably follow the SEC rules
Yes, the SEC only has jurisdiction over one market – America, but here are the four reasons why other jurisdictions will probably follow the SEC rules:
America is still the biggest single market.
SEC is known as a tough regulator that is not afraid to take cross border action.
SEC has defined some clear rules. So entrepreneurs can plan around these rules.
There is no single regulatory market in Asia, which is the growth engine of the 21st century.
There will be minor markets that differentiate by being easier on Utility Tokens, but unless they also offer a large investor pool, that will be “noise on the line”. Europe’s legislation/regulation will be interesting to watch. Unless Europe takes a differentiated position soon, the market will follow the SEC rules.
Utility Tokens can be used to improve CAC/LTV, which is a critical metric driving valuation
CAC/LTV = Customer Acquisition Cost/Life Time Value.
Both CAC and LTV are complex in their own right, but it is the interaction between the two that is so often confusing or difficult.
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the metric to evaluate Marketing efficiency.
Churn is the kryptonite of Superman Marketing. The problem with Churn it is not directly under the control of Marketing. This is where Product is key. Another way of saying Churn is “if customers think the product sucks, all that expensive Marketing is wasted”. Churn means customers cancel the service and then Marketing have to win new customers, which is far more expensive than retaining them.
Life Time Value is not static. LTV is all about getting the balance right between cross selling, upselling and low churn – too much selling to customers may increase churn. If LTV goes down, you have to reduce CAC. Product strategy, pricing, marketing, customer service all have to be in alignment.
The story of Banking in the 20th century can be summed up as Low Churn. We are statistically more likely to get divorced than change banks. There was no point in changing Banks, because the difference between banks was marginal. The Fintech disruption changes that. Now customers have more real choice and regulation is seeking to protect consumers from lock-in strategies that make it hard for them to switch.
Crowdsales are a great way for companies to sell a service aka reduce CAC. It is Internet Marketing 101. Crowdsales have been around for a while, but Utility Tokens enable Crowdsales on steroids.
Two ways that a Utility Token is different from a traditional crowdsale.
The buyer has the comfort that if they no longer want to use the service they can sell their Utility Tokens. If everybody wants to sell their Utility Tokens because their service is no good, token holders will lose. If the service is great but the token holder’s life situation changes they can sell their Utility Tokens.
The buyer feels more committed to the success of the venture. Some of that commitment is psychological and some of it is quite practical. A Utility Token is like a Loyalty Coin (more than it is like a Security) but it is a Loyalty Coin with some fungibility (you can sell it for cash if the venture/service is a success and demand exceeds supply).
Invest in Security Tokens of ventures that offer great Utility Tokens.
If a venture offers a Utility Token that is successful in the market, that venture is likely to have good CAC/LTV metrics which eventually translates into equity value held in Security Tokens. I say “eventually” because market mismatching can last a long time ie price does not always equal value or vice versa.
The future cryptocurrency landscape will have 4 different types of assets
An Altcoin Pump & Dump is about cornering a very small market. Cornering a big market – like say Gold or Bitcoin – requires a lot of capital. You can corner an Altcoin quite cheaply and then pump & dump your way to fortune. If you are trading Altcoins and not pumping & dumping, then you are the sucker at the table. This is Penny Stocks 2.0 – watch Wolf of Wall Street for an entertaining guide to this sort of market.
So there is good reason why the SEC clamped down hard. Most Altcoins should be regulated into the dust.
The fact that Bitcoin & Ethereum got a get out of jail free card from the SEC, puts them in much stronger position versus their challengers. The future cryptocurrency landscape will have 4 different types of assets:
Decentralised, permissionless cryptocurrencies with market traction and a free pass from regulators – Bitcoin & Ethereum today.
Challengers to above (maybe there is a pony in there).
A large number of early stage ventures listing as Security Tokens where the standard rules of early stage ventures apply (market, product, team, funding, timing, valuation etc).
Utility Tokens issued by those early stage ventures that have little value other than to users of that service. There are likely to a very large number of these.
A Unicorn is a tech startup that has grown past $1 Billion in valuation. The term “Unicorn” to refer to these firms was first coined by Aileen Lee, a Silicon Valley investor, in 2013. Since then the count of Unicorns has increased to about 300 at the start of the year. Silicon Valley has boasted 9 of the 29 Fintech Unicorns across the world.
This week, the news on the streets is that London would go past Silicon Valley in the Fintech Unicorns tally. London already has 7, and there are a good few companies in the pipeline raising funding to get past Silicon Valley’s 9. Let us look at the irrational exuberance of the London Fintech market and the funding it received.
London received 39% of European Venture Capital funding. The revenues of Fintech firms in London increased from $100 Million to about $230 Million in the last 12 months. Fintech in London is also the fastest growing job sector. Monzo and Tandem got headlines earlier this week due to their new funding rounds. Monzo is receiving capital from Y Combinator and a few other Silicon Valley investors, and Tandem has closed an £80 Million funding round.
However, this is just how growth has manifested itself. There are some fundamental changes to the Venture capital mindset that has caused this Unicorn madness. There are abundant sources of funding these days. The number of platforms that a tech startup can leverage to get funding is increasing on daily basis.
Incubator and accelerator programs inspired by the successes of Y Combinator, Seedcamp etc., are numerous. There are several entrepreneurs who have exited and started to give back to budding start ups as Angels. This used to be the case in Silicon Valley, and London’s entrepreneurs are no different. Over the last 12 months, I have come across atleast 20 firms that have received angel funding from founders of more established or exited tech firms.
Family Offices and even Pension funds these days make direct investments into the tech startup world. Many of them shy away from traditional Venture capital model due to the fees involved.
That has increased the flow of capital directly into private tech firms. Also, the size of late stage funds like Softbank’s fund, and Sequioa’s $8 Billion fund means, firms are adequately funded at a later stage too.
If all these options weren’t enough, in the UK, we have the EIS/SEIS schemes that offer very attractive tax benefits for investors into tech startups. Most HNIs and UHNIs are keen to ensure they utilize these tax schemes. Crowdfunding platforms help, and more recently, the ICO and STO methods of raising capital globally have had their effect as well.
Apart from these financing options, the monopoly that some of the Silicon Valley start ups have taken in their markets, is now used as a model of growth. Once the product market fit is identified, firms these days throw money at growth – crazy growth. This results in market dominance, and that itself becomes the barrier to entry for competitors.
Gone are the days where technology, business models, and even operational excellence differentiated the great from the good.
This growth often means, firms have no respect for operational excellence, or very little intent on achieving a viable business model. They only focus on growing fast, raising more at higher valuations and achieving a Unicorn status. Even VCs these days are judged based on the Unicorns in their portfolios.
This growth at any cost and irrational valuation models had caused the dot com bubble to burst about 20 years ago. And this is definitely not another “the recession is coming” post. But it is important to understand that Unicorn status doesn’t mean much anymore. For an early stage angel investor, an increase in valuation from say $2 Million pounds (when they invest) to when the firm hits $1 Billion in valuation, makes a big difference. But in the broad scheme of things, this is just an artificially created tag often used for branding.
Investors and firms riding this wave of irrational exuberance need to time their exit right. If the correction blindsides them, it may be another financial crisis. It’s sad that London’s Fintech has gone down this path that Silicon Valley firms have traveled for years. It’s superficial and doesn’t feel right.