Market Mapping Crypto

Since the publication of Bitcoin’s white paper 10 years ago, an entire ecosystem of entrepreneurs, companies, and capital have mobilized around crypto to create a new asset class. As the emerging asset class enters its teenage years, suites of products and services are vying to become pillars in the high-potential crypto ecosystem.

Crypto’s market map continues to grow in both its complexity and in its structure. This post seeks to present a framework of the burgeoning crypto industry, with select examples in their respective segments. It is not exhaustive.

2019 Crypto Market Map

2019 Crypto Market Map

The framework presented above separates the current crypto ecosystem into two overarching categories: crypto-enablement and crypto-native. As the crypto ecosystem continues to mature and professionalize, I expect both developments from crypto-enablement and crypto-native to begin to overlap and complement each other.

The crypto-enablement category consists of companies that are building atop centralized infrastructure. On the institutional side, companies like Fidelity and Square (at $2.5T AUM and $30B market cap respectively) are positioning themselves to be significant players in the crypto ecosystem in the long run. These large institutions, alongside centralized tech startups like Bakkt and Xapo, are offering a variety of crypto-related services such as digital asset exchanges, brokerage, and custody. In recent years, exchanges have been the early winners, largely driven by retail interest in digital assets.

Retail focused crypto exchanges, such as Coinbase and Binance have been early winners within crypto-enablement, as buying volumes hit unprecedented highs in 2017 and early 2018. Ultimately, companies that are building with the crypto enablement category will act as the funnel in educating and offering access to potentially billions of users. I expect less engrained market segments such as crypto lending (BlockFi) and crypto ETFs (subject to regulatory approval), to ramp attractively in 2019.

The crypto-native category is comprised of the actively forming crypto stack and its ancillary pieces: Layer 1 (L1), Layer 2 (L2), Layer 3 (L3), miners, stakers, and crypto-native accessories.

L1 or base layer protocols cover a wide range within the crypto-native stack, varying by account-based or UTXO, consensus mechanisms, flexibility, amongst other criteria. There are more than 60 smart contracting L1 protocols, as of September; ultimately I believe there will be no more than a dozen L1 protocols, but I’ll save that for another post.

L2 are protocols built atop L1, from privacy-focused, to domain-focused, to scalability-focused; these protocols allow dapps to scale to billions of users.Additionally, L2 may offer increased liquidity amongst dapps, effectively making on-chain activity higher in the stack more secure.

L3 — (d)apps are loosely defined given their interconnectivity to lower layers, especially Layer 2. There are interfaces built on top of an existing protocol (Veil:Augur, Expo:DyDX), and applications leveraging their own unique of smart contracts (DyDx). As L1 infrastructure increases transaction throughput and crypto education increases, I expect to see a wave of decentralized applications. Today, dapps often feel clunky for the average user, nowhere near the mobile app experience we’ve grown accustomed to. CryptoKitties, Radar Relay, Expo and others have made strides in making the user experience better —2019 will be an inflection point for crypto native adoption.

Offerings within the mining/staking segment (responsible for block production and transaction validation) will be fascinating to watch as Ethereum inches towards Proof of Stake, and highly anticipate protocols such as Dfinity, Algorand and Coda launch in the coming months. Bitmain and Bitfury will continue to be dominant in powering PoW protocols, where PoS infrastructure is just forming with Bison Trails and Staked as early contenders.

Crypto-native accessories — these may be features, standalone companies, or extensions of companies across the market map. Ultimately, they complement the crypto-native stack. I’ve accounted for 15 specific segments, although could easily add another dozen.

Crypto-native onramps — wallets, app stores, and crypto ATMs allow the masses to participate directly in the crypto-native stack, without the added step of Coinbase signup, digital asset purchase, delay, and transfer to X dapp.

Conclusion

When I made my first venture investment in crypto in 2015 (Chainalysis), the total market cap was below $5B. As of this writing, that number is roughly $100B with an additional tens of billions in enterprise value from crypto-enablement companies like Coinbase and Binance.

Startups, institutions, large enterprises, and users around the world are driving crypto to form an entirely new asset class. As on-chain transactions increase, crypto-enablement takes on a symbiotic role in delivering crypto to billions of users.

-Ash

I’m an early stage investor at Accomplice, focused on crypto networks and crypto enabled companies. Please don’t hesitate to reach me on Twitter with feedback, comments, or general thoughts.

Special thanks to Jeff Fagnan, Sarah Downey, Ivan Bogatyy, Katherine Wu and James Prestwich for reviewing versions of this post.

Footnotes

**the periphery crypto segment is primarily massive enterprises dabbling in crypto, but remain on the sidelines compared to all-in groups like Fidelity and Square.

**crypto funds/vc funds, structured as hedge funds or long-term venture funds are backing entrepreneurs within crypto-enablement and crypto-native.

**tokenized securities and security tokens as extensions of traditional equity, primarily enabled by Reg-A+ and Reg-D offerings.

**I’m excited to see how crypto will be introduced into existing marketplaces- as payment, escaping expensive fees, or earning crypto for contributing.

Perceptions of Crypto

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on a mission to better understand how participants perceive crypto’s current user experience and interface. I teamed up with Tobia De Angelis, founder of D1 Labs, to formalize this deep dive (Twitter disagreements can be great). Our focus: the UX/UI design approaches to both Bitcoin and Web3.

Our initial starting point kicked off with a survey to better understand user perception and priorities. This survey was sent to ~100 people (though not statistically relevant; respondents are entirely focused on building/investing in crypto).

Survey Findings & Commentary

1) Are you supportive and or interested in: Bitcoin, Web3/Ethereum, Both?

20% solely interested in Bitcoin
4% solely interested in web3/Ethereum
2% interested in none

The vast majority (73%) were supportive/ interested in both Bitcoin and Web3/Ethereum.

2) How would you define the relationship between Bitcoin & Web3?

Commentary: only a small number of people actually think web3 and bitcoin are truly competitors.

3) Are Bitcoin and Web3’s success correlated?

Commentary: It was interesting to see a nearly identical split saying yes or no. Results to this answer are beginning of confirmation that users have different ideas of success for Bitcoin and Web3.

4) When designing products that aim to contribute to Bitcoin’s success, one should focus on:

Commentary: We expected security to be top choice, but better UX/UI in the form of ease of use is top priority. Security close behind.

5) When designing products that aim contribute to Web3/Ethereum success, the most important thing to focus on:

Commentary: ease of use, smoothness take the top spot for web3 which was no surprise. We think we’re in the early days of unearthing use cases of smart contracts, so glad to see creativity was close to the top.

6) For Bitcoin: how acceptable is to trade security/privacy at the app layer for a smoother UX? (0 -10 scale)

Commentary: We probably should have used a 1–5 scale here. 0,5, and 10 had most votes — 0 outweighed 10 quite heavily, ie Bitcoin users do not want to sacrifice security.

7) For Web3/Ethereum: how acceptable is it to trade security/privacy at the application layer for a smoother UX?

Commentary: we were surprised there was a lower than expected average (4.85), especially after answers on Question 5. In web3, security is still very important from users eyes.

8) For Bitcoin: a global, widespread popular adoption is necessary for it to succeed.

Commentary: Bitcoin camp was essentially split on thinking widespread adoption was necessary for Bitcoin’s success.

9) For Web3/Ethereum: a global, widespread popular adoption is necessary for it to succeed.

Commentary: Web3 camp prioritizes global adoption more than Bitcoin camp. We were surprised to see the larger than expected (32%) say that web3 does not need to be global.

10) A successful Bitcoin looks like

Commentary: Bitcoin’s narrative is increasingly moving towards “store of value and payment network”, with only a collective 16% viewing as base layer for applications.

11) A successful Web3/Ethereum looks like

Commentary: Web3 as a store of value had almost no votes, with the vast majority excited about web3 being a base layer for applications (generalized, and financial).

12) Pick the two “web3” platforms you’re most excited about (if you’re a maximalist, pick one)

Commentary: This was more of a fun question to gauge where people were excited. Ethereum is the runaway winner, surprised to see so many people excited about unnamed “other”. To note: participants chose multiple options here.

13) Pick the 2 “coins” you’re most excited about (if you’re a maximalist, pick one)

Commentary: Bitcoin, to no surprise was the top maximalist choice. It was interesting to see that ZCash had more excitement than Monero given similar value propositions. Our take: participants care about global store of value and privacy.

Conclusion

This research is a starting point in understanding user perceptions of crypto by focusing on UX/UI and what success may look like. Based off the results, it’s pretty clear that Bitcoin and Web3 are perceived to have separate narratives, alongside disparate concepts of “success”.

Having a clear understanding of both the social layer and the corresponding protocol/tech layer for Bitcoin and Web3 is crucial to design successful products that meet user expectations. Our goal is to highlight resources, create a community for existing crypto participants, and the next wave of developers and application builders in the space.

We’d love your thoughts and feedback. Please find us on Twitter @ashaeganand @tobdea. P.S. our survey is still open for new participants.

Journey to Accomplice Blockchain

Last week, we announced Accomplice Blockchain — I’m psyched to share this news and continue focusing on partnering with entrepreneurs democratizing access to the digital and financial systems.

Unlike the traditional path taken by many of my college classmates (I-banking →private equity →(b-school) →private equity), my professional journey and path to crypto with the Accomplice team has been anything but linear. Here’s really how it all went down:

  • 2010: gifted Bitcoin on USB stick.

  • 2013: exposure to crypto as store of value.

  • 2015: made first crypto vc investment.

  • 2017: joined ConsenSys Ventures as part of founding team.

  • 2018: Accomplice Blockchain.

The USB Stick

Jamie was my best childhood friend — and we were into different things during our high school years. Jamie built computers and read about the latest technical breakthroughs while I played squash and focused on getting into a top college. My senior year (2010), Jamie mentioned this thing called Bitcoin and shortly thereafter handed me a USB stick with $20 worth of Bitcoin. I shrugged, thanked him for the odd gift, and quickly moved on to something else.

Two years later, I received a text from Jamie: “Yeah, so remember that USB stick I gave you? You should probably try to find it…”

To this day, I have no clue where it is. I’ll let you know if I ever do.

Venezuela & Bitcoin as Store of Value

I spent the summer after my junior year of college interning at a small startup in San Francisco. My roommate was from Venezuela, and still had family there. The Venezuelan economy was in complete disarray and amazingly, he had used Bitcoin to move his family’s money out of the country and relocate to Miami.

Up until that point, my impression of Bitcoin was that it was being used for illicit activity, specifically on darknet marketplaces, like Silk Road. Hearing and seeing my roommate’s story made me realize Bitcoin’s immense potential as a global store of value.

1st Crypto Investment

I realized pretty quickly that to be competitive in venture capital as a young person, I needed to focus on one or two specific industries or technologies. For me, that was blockchain/crypto (and also machine learning). My thesis for the space was dead simple: if Bitcoin was going to become world-changing, the traditional system (regulators, governments, banks) needed to know what was going on.

I spoke with a dozen or so companies until I met Michael Gronager and Jonathan Levin from Chainalysis. After our first conversation, I knew these were the guys. Michael and Jonathan are special entrepreneurs, and they kindly offered Converge an allocation in their December 2015 Seed round. They’ve gone on to do some pretty incredible things.

Around the same time, I had read Ethereum’s whitepaper — I was fascinated by the concept of adding logic to payments. As Ethereum went from whitepaper to launch, the ERC20 standard was born, and borderless crowdfunding alongside permissionless transactions were driving crypto to be a global phenomenon.

Joining ConsenSys

As many others have articulated, it’s nearly impossible to rescind from the crypto rabbit-hole once you dip your toe in. It was early 2016, and I was all in.

A few months later, I heard that ConsenSys was thinking of starting a Venture Capital arm — I jumped at the opportunity and joined the founding team at ConsenSys Ventures out in San Francisco. Investing full-time in the crypto space was a thrilling experience, and I met some of my best and most brilliant friends while at ConsenSys.

I was fortunate to have worked closely with a number of internal and external companies including Metamask, BlockFi, Vault, RocketPool, and Quantstamp.

Accomplice Blockchain

I had my first couple of encounters with the Accomplice team, then Atlas Venture, while I was at Converge in Boston. We were in similar circles and every few months, I would stop by their Cambridge office to talk through what I was seeing in the space. These guys were the antithesis of “lazy VCs”, were loved by their entrepreneurs, and had such incredible passion for their craft — I’m humbled to now work alongside this group.

The Accomplice ethos is simple, but powerful: we have entrepreneurial DNA, we are focused on building high-conviction in companies from their earliest days, and we go shoulder-to-shoulder with entrepreneurs.

Accomplice has immense trust from its companies and entrepreneurs, and the community — embodied in crypto through close ties with portfolio companies CoinList, Republic, Hashgraph and individuals like Naval Ravikant, Andy Bromberg, Mike Viscuso and dozens of others.

In my mind, the most compelling part of Accomplice is its deep domain expertise in crypto-relevant areas like cybersecurity, privacy and scaling consumer adoption. Some of Accomplice’s portfolio companies include Carbon Black, Veracode, AngelList, Recorded Future, DraftKings, Hopper, and Pillpack.

Jeff Fagnan, whom I will be working closely with at Accomplice, announcedAccomplice Blockchain on Halloween, last week. To quote his post, “contrarian thinking is our lifeblood, which means we will indeed be fabulously wrong at times. But we will be wrong with the highest degree of conviction, authenticity, and transparency. Just like the entrepreneurs we back.”

In the past couple of months, we have been aggressively pursuing partnerships with entrepreneurs who are building web3 and democratizing access to global financial and digital systems. And we are not stopping anytime soon.

If you are building this vision, hit me up on Twitter or at ash@accomplice.co.

-ash

Smart Contract Protocols-- Part I

As crypto slowly evolves from investment phase to utility phase, we are on the brink of a paradigm shift within software development and distribution. We are seeing a massive talent spillover from web2 to a decentralized web or web3, and the materialization of a new and open financial system.

Three years after Ethereum’s 2015 mainnet launch, the utility phase is beginning to emerge, exampled by thousands of dapps, millions of blockchain wallets, and a global movement of entrepreneurs building towards web3. As of today, Ethereum is the clear market leader for “decentralized” app creation. However hurdles such as Ethereum scalability, transactions costs, and delayed upgrades mean shifting sands for application-focused developers.

To make the ‘utility phase’ a reality, we must understand the state of smart contract protocols, where the activity is happening, and how developers can choose where to build. The more I speak to web3 entrepreneurs, the more I realize the limited or incorrect information there is on smart contract protocols…so, I decided in early-August to embark on a research journey of alternative smart contract protocols —which meant reading dozens of smart contract whitepapers.

I will be open-sourcing my research in the coming weeks and months, and launching the initiative in this post.

Part I: All the Whitepapers

https://gist.github.com/blockchainvc/49f9fc3e70c92de21754a01f21d30cd8#file-whitepapers-tsv

High-level Insights

I included a total of 60 smart contract protocols whitepapers, although read dozens more which did not fulfill defined criteria. Of these 60…

  • 30 (50%) are currently traded on exchanges.

  • 6 (10%) raised funds using ERC20 smart contract.

  • The top 3 keywords in Whitepaper Titles were “blockchain” (13), “decentralized” (7), and “distributed” (6).

  • For whitepaper releases, 2017 was the leader with 18, while 2018 was close behind with 13. To note, 17 were undated.

In my next post, I will cover protocol 1) description in layman form, 2) consensus algorithm, 3) scripting languages, 4) ICO stats.

If you have specific requests or feedback hit me up on Twitter (@ashaegan).

Token M&A? ICO Exits Could Get Messy

Today, entrepreneurs are flocking to the green pastures made possible by token sales, a relatively new way to bring capital into an early-stage tech company. In fact, ICOs and token sales have outpaced traditional venture funding, not only for blockchain companies, but for all companies, according to Goldman Sachs.

Given this traction, it's easy to dismiss the cryptocurrency and token markets as a bubble: Peter Schiff and Howard Marks have each voiced their concerns in the space.

However, there is enormous value in issuing tokens, and there are reasons token sales are booming.

These include:

  • Entrepreneurs can bring in millions without embarking on the typical months-long fundraising roadshow. (Legendary VC Fred Wilson even believes there is a paradigm shift happening.)

  • Introducing tokens often incentivizes token owners (potential users) to contribute to the network, as they now have a vested interest in the network's success. In this sense, tokens are a solution to a network's chicken-and-egg problem.

  • Token sales make a company sexy again… Holding an ICO is a sure way to get media attention in 2017. (On the flip side, they may bring the wrong type of investors to the table).

  • Companies are now able to raise their seed, A, B and C rounds with pre-revenue traction, and can focus exclusively on building the network and recruiting, rather than fundraising.

As a venture investor at Converge focused on crypto and blockchain businesses, I am curious how tokens will affect an acquirer's decision-making. Blockchain company buy-outs, even those without their own tokens are not yet a norm, although we've seen small acquisitions – SkryMediachainCryptoWatchBitnet and CleverCoin.

Before retrofitting an M&A framework and jumping into the logistics of how a corporate might purchase company X with blockchain tokens, it's important to know that many of these tokens are governed via a separate entity: i.e. a foundation, often based overseas (exampled below).

Additionally, tokens offer unique properties: some pass the Howey Test (and are considered securities), many are offered via a foundation (not the company), some have immediate utility, while others may not be distributed for months to years following the token sale.

Wary of cryptocurrency FoMO (fear of missing out), corporates are having conversations on how they might acquire a tokenized blockchain company.

Corporates may want to acquire a company for the team, for the large open-source development community, or simply because the corporation finds the build-your-own token process overly cumbersome.

But, while interest is there, corporate M&A teams do not have a status quo to rely on.

Here are five possible viewpoints:

  1. Company has value, tokens are irrelevant

  2. Company has value, tokens seem interesting

  3. Company does not have value, tokens are important to our go-forward

  4. We don’t know which has value, but we want to own it all

  5. This is going to be a regulatory, compliance nightmare — let’s sit this one out.

Scenario 1: Company has value, tokens are irrelevant

"We want the company, we don't care about the tokens."

The company owns the patents, the team is superb, but the M&A team does not understand why tokens are necessary for the business or how the tokens merit a high price.

For diligence, the M&A team will try to acquire the company, and ignore the tokens. Just in case, this team will check token sale documents to find out corporate structure of tokens (i.e. was it the C-corp or foundation which issued the tokens?), details on how the team is compensated and token distribution plans. If acquiring tokens is absolutely necessary, the number of tokens issued will likely have a material impact on the exit potential.

If the token market cap is high, and many of these tokens have already been issued, it will be a stretch to see a deal proposed, let alone done.

Scenario 2: Company has value, token has value

The team is great, the technology is great, the protocol makes sense and the team taps into its valuable network of users.

In this instance, there may be an existing relationship between a company and corporation exploring an acquisition. Because most of the activity happening in blockchain is experimental, or the product isn't as far as long as market cap, I think we won't see any corporate pay full equity price plus total outstanding price per token.

The structure of tokens were issued will significantly impact the acquisition price.

Scenario 3: Company does not have value, token does

This company got very lucky in being first to market, but the team is just not up to snuff – maybe there are even signs of fraudulent or malicious activity.

If the market position, developer community and technology are superb, corporates may take an active approach of buying tokens in the wild or even the outstanding tokens.

This is going to be the last strategy an M&A team wants to present to its C-suite.

Scenario 4: We don't know which has value, but we want to own it all

This is the FoMO scenario.

Whatever the reason might be (i.e. a corporation is under pressure from its shareholders and board to develop a blockchain strategy, executives realize they have no one internally who understands blockchain), price sensitivity becomes an afterthought, and the M&A team makes a bid to buy a blockchain token C-corp, alongside outstanding tokens, at current price per token.

Depending on the token acquisition strategy, this scenario could cost billions for the corporation. Biggest question for corporate is what happens to tokens in the wild? And will those token holders remain loyal? Or flock to a competitive blockchain system?

An existing company (say, gambling company Betfair) may shell out $100 million (not $1 billion) for something with regulatory advantages. Companies are clueless about peer-to-peer betting services – let alone blockchain.

Scenario 5: This is going to be a regulatory, compliance nightmare – let's sit this one out

Today's sole corporate strategy for token and C-corp M&A.

The M&A team and C-suite find the landscape difficult to follow, and are worried about losing millions on token volatility, or even how they would go about acquiring token network. Because pricing and acquisitions will be so complex, many corporates will sit on the sidelines and let their competitors dictate price, or may make their own play at the 11th hour.

In this vein, corporates may (Scenario 6) explore potential acquisitions, and ultimately release their own blockchain token, similar to what Kik is doing through Kin Interactive.

Corporates, especially public companies, will drift to Scenario 5 for the next few years, or decide that tokens have immense value and issue their own.

For all of the entrepreneurs thinking of issuing tokens, it's important to understand the downside risk maybe even more so than the benefits of bringing in extra capital. Take the long term view. Ultimately, how would you articulate the value of tokens to your potential buyer?

Other areas corporate M&A teams will analyze, not include above: Who powers the network? Miners?

As entrepreneurs, investors and corporates, we will need to think outside of traditional corporate M&A in the web 3.0 era. If you have thoughts on how tokens affect M&A, come to Boston Crypto's upcoming event, or get in touch (details below).

Ash is a venture capitalist at early-stage investment firm Converge, and led the firm's investment in blockchain startups Chainalysis and Enigma. He also runs Boston’s blockchain group, Boston Crypto – hosting a discussion on tokens September 5th. Please join if you’d like to discuss more.

Follow Ash on Twitter here: @AshAEgan and @CryptoVC. This article was originally published in Coindesk - thank you to Maia Heymann, Ty Danco and Justin Gage for reviewing this article.

Start a Company in College…Avoid the B.A. in Entrepreneurship

“The fact that you’re even here, is a very bad sign, because I wouldn’t be”…Jerry Seinfeld tells Steve Harvey in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee after being asked to teach a comedy class. Does the same logic apply to aspiring entrepreneurs taking entrepreneurship coursework?”

Many of today’s top tech executives started as student entrepreneurs, running businesses out of their dorm rooms:

  • AOL’s Steve Case ran a number of businesses as an undergrad at Williams College

  • Brian O’Kelley, CEO of adtech up-and-comer, Appnexus started a web design room out of his Princeton dorm

  • Michael Dell started Dell as a student at University of Texas

  • Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowski started Dropbox as MIT students

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google during their time at Stanford

  • Sean Parker launched Napster during his time at Northeastern

  • Mark Cuban bought a bar as a senior at Indiana

  • Zuckerberg started The Facebook as a student at Harvard

Even if their early venture(s) did not evolve into Fortune 500 companies, many high-performing executives got their hands dirty in their undergraduate years.

State of Collegial Entrepreneurship

Until recently, undergraduates did not have the option to study entrepreneurship, one of the fastest growing majors in the US. Once confined to graduate programs, entrepreneurship coursework is increasingly available at American undergraduate universities — the National Survey of Entrepreneurship Education reported that entrepreneurship was taught at 93 colleges in 1979, compared to 1,600 in 2004, a number that is continuing to rise. The numbers may appear encouraging, but does Seinfeld’s logic for comedy hold true within this context? Can entrepreneurship be taught?

My presumption is that students should start business and take advantage of resources, not take coursework. It’s also rooted in my experience: as an undergrad with an entrepreneurial bug, I accumulated knowledge I never would have absorbed in the classroom (i.e. like learning how to attract beer enthusiasts to craft beer happy hours with a $100 budget).

In an effort to explore this hypothesis, I hit the streets and spoke with entrepreneurial students and recent graduates (graduated within the last four years) to see what they believe is the more effective: starting a company, or learning through university-offered entrepreneurship classes.

Insights from the data…

1. Those who started businesses tended to go into similar fields post-college

A majority of respondents (57%) worked, or were planning to work in the same industry as their college startup’s sector. About half of that 57% were working on the same company, or still had some involvement. However, about a quarter of respondents said they weren’t doing anything related to their college startup, or they had plans to do something different. I had expected more respondents to report working in tangential industries.

2. Top student entrepreneurs want out-of-classroom exposure

The vast majority (87%) of students I surveyed said they learned the most about entrepreneurship by starting a company. Remaining respondents answered “other” citing a combination of classes/starting a company, and meeting entrepreneurs as their top choice. No one identified solely taking entrepreneurship classes as the most effective method of entrepreneurial skill building. Out of the people who took entrepreneurship classes: only 13% wanted their universities to offer more structured entrepreneurship classes — this piece of feedback makes me think we’re teaching entrepreneurship wrong. Students wanted mentorship opportunities, outside speakers, and hard resources. Some requested more involvement with the community, and more exposure to potential customers.

3. Student entrepreneurs want more mentorship, and subsidized resources

Students had different views of how their university could improve the entrepreneurship major, with the majority selecting mentorship (speakers, community members) closely followed by hard resources (like AWS and DigitalOcean credits). There was a camp that requested more structured programs, two-thirds of which had already taken entrepreneurship classes. This insight suggests that students are interested in exposure to entrepreneurship, but want more from the existing coursework. Student entrepreneurs expressed frustrations that “entrepreneurship” classes were actually business plan writing classes that lacked hands-on learning opportunities.

4. There’s no one way to teach, or foster entrepreneurship

The feedback was nearly unanimous and abundantly clear: entrepreneurial students want to get their hands dirty. Survey respondents requested more internship opportunities, co-ops, and increased engagement from the local tech community, especially mentor figures. Universities are taking stabs to make the study of entrepreneurship a more hands on experience for undergrads: Drexel and Northeastern are known for their co-op programs; Tufts provides students with hands-on exposure to local tech companies. An increasing number of universities are offering resources to build physical space, hoping to attract members from the local tech community. Connecting dots for young entrepreneurs does not fall solely on universities, and in Boston, the New England Venture Capital Association offers TechGen, connecting students to local companies — and announced 11,000 student applications in 2016. It’s encouraging to see VC’s with larger portfolios (like Sequoia) establishing pairing programs like Sequoia’s Start @ a Startup (although most are aimed towards graduating students).

This article is meant to encourage universities to think differently around entrepreneurship, and to help college students seek problems happening in the real world, and ultimately solve them. Universities can improve in facilitating entrepreneurship beyond adding business plan writing courses. The student entrepreneurs who participated in the survey clarified the value in hands-on learning that comes from starting a company.

Thanks to an all-star crew of entrepreneurs: Ben Pleat, Sam Toole, Trevor Wilkins, Rebecca Liebman, Ian Leaman, Samara Gordon, Christian Nicholson, Wick Egan, Anders Bill, Jay Thakrar, Tom Coburn, Grace Xiao, Brian Truong, Olivia Joslin, Eli Koven, Hannah Wei, Jon Arbaugh, Ben Edelstein, Eddy Lee, Akshaya Annapragada, Phillipe Noel, Dhruv Gupta, Allison Kao, Ethan Kopit and others who helped make this piece possible.

If you’re a current or recent student entrepreneur and have a different perspective, shoot me a tweet @AshAEgan

Until next time,

Ash

Blockchain Adoption: Will Corporates Take the Plunge?

This is part 2 of blockchain adoption in the enterprise, originally published on BostInno, analyzes the barriers for blockchain and what to expect from corporate buyers. For more on Bitcoin vs. blockchain, balancing risk with potential, check out part 1.

Corporations are still in the preliminary phases of exploring blockchain technology, contrary to headlines hyping the technology’s potential, and advances. Financial institutions are most interested as buyers of the technology, and are exploring dozens of use cases with varying degrees of traction. However, most corporate blockchain exploration is happening under a shroud of secrecy and decisions are kept under a tight lid, so the actual progress of corporate use cases remains largely unclear. Because corporations’ generic public comments (mostly around theoretical impact) do not represent corporate blockchain adoption, we’re providing our take with four serious considerations around adoption.

Early Experimentation

One can investigate blockchain interest in two ways: reviewing blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) customers, and deciphering business development activity by consortia like R3, Hyperledger, Project Bletchley, and Paxos (previously ItBit). U.S. based corporations are cognizant of the regulatory environment and as a result almost exclusively look into the permissions space, also referred to as private blockchains, that would replace expensive and complicated systems.

BaaS customers and consortia members are predominantly U.S. banks, while the list is growing and R3 recently added newcomers like China Merchant Bank and insurance behemoth, Metlife. Let’s Talk Payments covers the history of financial institution involvement in the pictured infographic.

R3 is receiving the most traction in the consortia world and currently has two main tracks for corporate customers: Blockchain Development Initiative with around 50 banks and the other is Reference Data Management pilots with about a dozen banks. As the head of innovation controlling a moderate budget, it makes sense to invest $250,000 as an entrance fee to explore R3’s offerings.

Other consortia include Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger, which is in development phase, and open sources its platform for enterprises to contribute code. Hyperledger focuses on bridging blockchain based distributed ledgers to business transactions- Intel, Accenture and JP Morgan have joined as members. Another consortium to consider is Project Bletchley, which Microsoft released in June. Paxos, formerly ItBit (focused on OTC trading services) recently made a pivot into the private blockchain space, specifically to gold settlements. Consortia efforts come in many forms; the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms are even exploring their own blockchain consortium.

BaaS providers like Blockstack, Chain, and Multi-chain represent another wave of companies exploring blockchain implementation: Blockstack, Chain, and Multi-chain. BaaS adoption (and momentum) is even less transparent than consortia, where players like Chain keep their relationship details close to the chest. A number of companies have announced partnerships with Chain, but beyond instances similar to Nasdaq’s interest in using Chain for issuing shares in pre-IPO companies, progress and general involvement are not clear.

Beyond BaaS and consortia, some corporates are exploring hybrid (permissioned & permissionless) systems like Ripple. Ripple plans to sell banks XRP, which is its currency for liquidity and will offer Ripple Connect to hopefully alleviate costs and increase system speed.

Four Considerations for Corporate Adoption

We examined existing frameworks for how enterprises adopt new technologies and concluded that blockchain adoption warrants a different set of considerations. Here, we highlight the four focus areas that large corporations should consider before and during exploration phase:

1. Delivering on promise: cost savings, security

It seems like a Blockchain for X world in which Blockchain is the hammer, and everything is a nail. In early 2016, Jeremy Drane from PwC (now with Libra) said“there are only a small number of industry companies that can deliver solutions built on the technology — the industry is not as diverse as you’d hope.” Blockchain applications must meet the buyer, market, and system demands. As a rule of thumb, corporate buyers will not switch systems unless they see a 10x improvement in performance in new solution.

For context, VisaNet, Visa’s transaction processing system averages 2,000 transactions per second, with capacity to reach 56,000 transactions per second; compare this to Bitcoin at seven transactions per second, according to “On Scaling Decentralized Blockchains”. Ethereum’s system is faster than Bitcoin’s, but is not ready to replace VisaNet or comparable systems.

Changing systems is complicated. Financial institutions rely on on-premise systems that have been in play for decades, known for their security, but also their inability for data sharing (intra and interbank). Hyperledger’s Donna Dillenberger said “to ensure that blockchain is truly enterprise-ready for different verticals and different applications with different rules, more security and compliance issues must be firmly addressed…it’s technically challenging to add the needed security and compliance layers, as well as new sophisticated features, to blockchain to optimize it for enterprise use. Here at IBM it took many months to do the work thus far. So adapting it to many different use cases and applications takes a while.”

Takeaway

A meaningful percentage of ‘blockchain’ use cases will fail to gain traction for various reasons (security, upkeep, unrealistic expectations) in the current exploratory climate. Migration costs will become more tangible, and corporations will be more defined about their blockchain interest — and, it’s not unreasonable to estimate that this exploratory phase could last half a decade. As corporates refine their view on distributed ledger technology, it’s a win-win for FI’s and entrepreneurs because the blockchain movement is drawing hyper intelligent folks to ‘unsexy’ business problems.

2. Corporate politics/ internal buy-in

“I don’t want to be the guy who misses out, but I also don’t want to stick my neck out to far to be fired”. This sentiment is a common trend amongst corporate blockchain folks — being the blockchain champion within a large and complex organization is not easy, balancing the media’s hype fest with real business solutions.

As a large corporation, it’s difficult to innovate, and pressure for results often leads to misalignment between executives and blockchain champions. Without citing a reason, UBS and its blockchain chief parted ways in recent months.

Others, like IBM, realize there will be failure, so recruiting blockchain talent and creating a forward thinking culture has been the computing giant’s strategy. The company will create a new unit called Watson Financial Services to encompass Watson, cloud, and all blockchain-related offerings and strategy, and will be led by Bridget van Kralingen, IBM’s senior VP of global banking services and Mark Foster, formerly from Accenture.

Takeaway

Corporate innovation groups need influence to pilot and expand use cases, paired with sufficient senior management buy-in, patience, and budget resources. Exploration will take more than the $250,000 R3 entrance fee to understand if a blockchain solution ‘works’.

3. Regulatory roadblocks/ concerns

Regulation around Bitcoin has progressed the way we might’ve expected: slowly. Slow-moving governing bodies are keeping corporates at bay, and reporting regulations outlined in Dodd Frank and Europe’s equivalent, EMIR create friction in linking capital markets and blockchain technology — leading to risk in adopting blockchain technology even steeper.

In the U.S., corporates are almost exclusively exploring private (permissioned) blockchains due to restrictive wording in Dodd Frank around reporting. Still behind Europe, some U.S. politicians are pushing for blockchain exploration like Mick Mulvaney and Jared Polis, who announced the creation of a “Blockchain Caucus” last week. Europe has been more transparent, and fast moving on blockchain regulation, and in June released “The Distributed Ledger Technology Applied to Securities Markets” on the relevance of distributed ledger tech.

Takeaway

Blockchain regulatory conditions will improve as decision-makers, governing agencies, influencers and regulators understand the technology, and its tradeoffs. We expect Europe to lead the charge, and countries like Estonia (quickly becoming the fintech hotbed), with the United States to follow. Economist, Carlo Meijer analyses the intricacies of blockchain regulation in “Blockchain, Financial Regulatory Reporting and Challenges”.

4) Blockchain Talent

There is a shortage of blockchain talent: business folks, engineers, strategists, and individuals who understand blockchain technology adoption. In March, PwC, Deloitte, and KPMG announced their intent on hiring blockchain talent, but are realizing the talent shortage. Big banks like JPMorgan, BofA, Capital One are staffing up, andfeeling the pain as well. In August, we heard frustration from Japanese banks on attracting experts via Reuters. Hiring, attracting, and training blockchain talent is highly competitive, and organizations are paying up. One firm in the Northeast told us top blockchain talent could essentially, “name their salary”.

Takeaway

Hiring blockchain talent is hard (and expensive). There are only a couple hundred people in the world who truly understand the intricacies and implementation of blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, distributed ledgers, capital markets, existing systems and the many areas blockchain technology will touch. Expect universities to invest in curriculum and recruit professors over the next couple years, similar to the objectives of Cornell’s IC3 and MIT’s Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative.

Jerry Cuomo, IBM’s VP of blockchain, comments on blockchain’s current environment “at some level, the efficiency you get from blockchain is to create more of a B2B service without the friction. And many financial services companies are the friction in the system, by design.” At Converge, we have noticed this disconnect between startups and corporate objectives, and decision makers.

Entrepreneurs, consortia, BaaS providers, and corporate thought leaders are closing this gap and leveraging Cloud infrastructure and the ubiquitous compute power of today. This movement allows for an entirely new way of processing transactions: touching capital, data, and even applications. With two blockchain investments in Cambridge and NYC, we’re scanning the environment for more companies that will bridge existing infrastructure to this new frontier.

Until next time,

Ash & Maia

Ash Egan and Maia Heymann are early-stage tech investors at Converge Venture Partners, focused on providing capital and connections for b2b, emerging technology companies in the Northeast. Connect with us via twitter @ashaeganand @maiaheymann.

A VC’s Metric-Driven Reflection on Bostech

In the venture capital business, there’s really only one way to measure how good you are: realized gains. Beyond realized gains, performance measurement is composed of various metrics — a portfolio of high potential companies, unrealized gains, strong co-investors, and a diverse network are good metrics to quantify and measure performance.

I have found tracking my interactions to be helpful and informative, especially for managing and engaging a deep network. You can do the same thing, and here’s the template I use. Looking at the past year’s worth of data, I’ve made some observations: the first half of this piece are data driven insights, complemented by anecdotal learnings.

What the Data Said:

  • Seed/Series A investing requires interacting with a huge number of companies. VC investing ‘conversion funnels’ vary by team size, focus, location and stage. We have three full time investors, and the past year investment stats showed: communication with 1250 startups > one of the three investors spoke with 400 companies > all three met with 60 companies > Converge made 11 new investments. At the top of the funnel, that translates to some form of communication with four companies per day.

  • Deal-flow comes from everywhere. Connections to startups range from friends, entrepreneurs, other vc’s, service providers, Converge Venture Partners, to family members. NYC, SF and Boston were the top three geographies by a significant margin but the data shows innovation from Austin, LA, Toronto and Denver/Boulder as well.

  • Vertical driven sourcing feels similar to enterprise sales. As an investor, you can now narrow verticals and identify players through databases like AngelList, ProductHunt, CBInsights and Mattermark and also through good relationships with corporate venture arms and accelerators. The less predictable methods to find companies are stage driven sourcing and location driven sourcing, or purely relying on inbound dealflow. My vertical driven (i.e. fintech, insurancetech, infrastructure) Startup ‘Target List’ contains ~300 companies, sorted by communication (email exchange, phone call, 1st meeting, invested).

Startup (Vertical) ‘Target List’

Startup (Vertical) ‘Target List’

  • Similar companies start at similar times. In many cases it’s an obvious regulatory change, or there is a technological breakthrough, but sometimes it’s purely metoo-ism. If I’ve seen two or three startups working on similar problems in a short time period, odds are there are another half dozen or so.

  • The majority of companies born in Boston had either academic roots(students, grad students, PhD’s) or were founded by ex-employees of large tech companies (Akamai, Carbon Black, Hubspot, Wayfair, etc.).

Note: Measuring ROI in time spent sourcing is difficult to judge. Doubling down on sources makes sense with a vertical driven approach, but the venture capital industry is unpredictable in nature.

Anecdotal Learnings:

Boston’s Tech Scene is Beginning to Find its Mojo.

Still learning to boast about itself as an innovation hub, Boston spawns amazing software companies from Vertical SaaS (Help Scout*, Yesware, Smartvid.io*), to Cybersecurity (Threatstack, Bit9), Big Data (Podium Data*, Clearsky Data, Bedrock Data), Healthtech (Pillpack, RunKeeper, Careport Health*), Travel (Freebird, Lola, Wanderu) Artificial Intelligence (Jibo, Talla*), amongst others. In 2015, Massachusetts doled out $4.3B to MA-based tech companies, an encouraging sign for Boston innovation and startup growth (CBInsights).

* Converge VP portfolio company

Be Intentional Building a Network.

Beyond meeting people through affinities, at events or through mutual friends and the Converge network, I’ve looked to introductions as a game-changing outlet to expand my network. To build a network that keeps giving, it’s important to help others build their networks: spend time introducing entrepreneurs to vc’s who might be a better fit, make intra network connections from vc’s to vc’s, and help entrepreneurs through introductions to potential customers/hires/partners.

Regardless of who the introduction involves, getting a opt-in from both parties is a must. Valuable introductions can be hard work, but helping others grow their network will help everyone in the long run.

Because network building needs to be intentional, I did some quick research on introductions over the last year. The data was extremely volatile, where some weeks had more than 50 introductions compared to other weeks in the single digits.

Through some of these introductions, amongst other avenues, I’ve made some awesome friends, and try to bring these groups through beers, breakfasts, or other events.

Helping is the gift that keeps on giving.

Staying humble, and continuing to challenge oneself is a great way to combat hubris, but there’s nothing more satisfying than helping entrepreneurs.

Many of tomorrow’s leading companies are being built by students coming from Boston’s universities — I love working with students at Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Boston College, and other schools. Many of these entrepreneurs have inspiring ideas and collegial approaches.

From the data driven and anecdotal insights, some forward looking observations are:

1) Understand where one provides the most value. This is an ongoing learning process, but have found a sweet spot in hires, market strategy, customers, or simply connecting dots within my network.

2) We live in a software, data driven world; leverage it. As an early stage investor, software is your life — time management, productivity, tapping into a network are imperative for network driven investors. I use Pocket, Buffer, Zapier, SocialRank*, Help Scout* Mailchimp, Yesware, Sunrise, Full Contact, Evernote and more on a daily basis.

3) There’s always more to do. Be selfish with your time, and save room to reflect. The “work hard, play hard” mentality is the best way to turn your life into a hamster wheel. Take a step back; there’s probably a more efficient way to do it.

4) The startup/VC market bet is long. Building a strong network does not happen overnight, it takes time to build street cred in your interest categories.

Bostech is at one of its most exciting times in history: GE chose to move its headquarters here, startup funding remains healthy and growing, and the ecosystem is hungry to get some wins. To the Boston tech ecosystem and as I used to say to my squash teammates: “lesgo baby”.

Until next time,

Ash

Hiring Secrets from Startup CEOs

As we enter 2016, the talent war is more intense now than ever before. Without a defined talent acquisition strategy, companies will be washed away by competitors — a threat that applies to both startups and large public technology companies — players need to be more aggressive now than ever when recruiting high-performers…just look at Snapchat’s clever strategy to poach Uber and Airbnb engineers. Evan Spiegal hasn’t responded to our texts, but we had a chance to sit down with four, all-star entrepreneurs and hear their insights on winning the talent war. Here are our experts:

To enable our founders to give their most honest, raw, and real stories, we’ve anonymized their lessons below.

1) Hire not just for today’s work but also for tomorrow’s goals

“We ask 4 questions to ourselves to figure out if someone is a world class hire: can they excel at their job today; can they excel at their job in two years; can they add to our company in a 10x way (e.g. do they have future dreams of being an entrepreneur); are they winners (do they have a passionate drive in ONE singular pursuit? A world champion juggler is someone we want to hire).”

“You hire for one thing, but at the end of the day, you have to wear 1,000 hats at a startup. And that’s what we look for: someone who can do what we hired them to do and be the best at it but also be able to grow and manage other missions.”

2) Even one strong “no” is enough to pass on a candidate

“We have a ranking system of 1–4 for candidates we interview. 4 is ‘I would fight to have this person on our team.’ 1 is ‘I would fight to not have this person on our team.’ We’ve found that even if there is just one ‘1’ in our 5+ interviews, it’s best that we say no. This creates a good amount of false negatives, but it’s better than bringing on a false positive in my opinion.”

“For one of our candidates, there were 2 people who were overtly lukewarm about the candidate, but we had been searching for months to fill the role, so we hired them… Ultimately, our teammates’ reservations and reasons for being lukewarm were accurate. It was an accurate read on the candidate; we shouldn’t have hired them even if it meant waiting even longer to find that mission-critical hire.”

3) But, do NOT make hiring decisions by consensus

“We’re not a company that makes decisions by consensus. Every hiring decision is made by a single person who is accountable for the candidate’s success and will be managing them. Anyone on the team is free to disagree or give their opinion, but in the end, the hiring leader makes the decision.”

4) Networks are most obvious channel for recruiting, but don’t underestimate recruiters and other tools

“We allocate our hiring time to give 5% to postings (e.g. AngelList, StackOverflow, etc.), and 95% of the time just talking to people because they’re going to know who’s out there, who’s looking, and who’s sniffing around with that skillset.”

“I’ve made the best hires when I’ve worked with a recruiter, which is different from what you’re probably hearing from other people. It pushes me outside my own network and outside who I initially thought might be the best person for the job.”

5) Referral bonuses work

“We’ve found that $5–10K is the optimal referral bonus; it’s a meaningful amount of money. Above $10K, we found that it doesn’t really change things; you start incentivizing people to just send you huge volumes of people to see what sticks instead of being thoughtful about the referral.”

6) Remote hiring taps into previously classically-unattainable talent pools, but beware of the extra management burden

“We prefer to hire remote people over those that are based near our headquarters, so that we can keep our culture ‘remote first.’ Keeping people motivated and on the same page is a separate topic, though.”

“Seeing as remote work is very flexible, the person has to be great at managing his or her priorities and working autonomously for large blocks of time with little to no management. There’s no substitute for experience when it comes to mastering these skills.”

“I think remote hires can be fantastic, specifically when you think about technical hires, because you’re not constrained by location so you can really tap into the best talent around the world for that position. However, it means taking on additional management burden to make sure that remote hires doesn’t cause communication challenges. I think it takes a lot of communication to keep everyone together, and to interact in the same place enough that communication is never misunderstood.”

7) The best traits in a new hire? Urgency and tenacious improvement

“The best people feel the startup time pressure. They work harder to get something done without anyone asking them to because they feel urgency, and they’re passionate about what they’re doing. They are raising their hand to figure out how things can be done better even if it’s not in their scope of responsibility. That urgency is tied to thinking like the owners and having passion for the vision. Hey, if we can get something solved tonight, it’s much better than getting solved tomorrow.”

“Passion for their craft is most important. It means the person has spent a significant amount of time improving their skills on their own and have an insatiable desire to keep improving them regardless of the situation.”

8) Bad characteristics: Watch out for job hoppers

“The biggest red flag when hiring is when someone jumps jobs too regularly.”

“If a candidate changes jobs too regularly (every 7 months to 1.5 years), this means that they aren’t very ‘gritty.’ They were willing to bail when things aren’t perfect; as a startup, there will always be ups-and-downs, and you want to have someone you can rely on to be there when things get tough.”

Bonus: Interview Tricks

Interviewing is one of the least predicting processes in hiring; “work sample tests” are better

  • “A lot of times, companies are asking the wrong questions anyway. That being said, the more you can get an independent work sample tests, the more predictive the signal.”

  • “Even if they are non-technical, still make them do sample tests. Make them do work that they will have to do on the job; test how they react to situations that they will face when they join your company.”

  • “I ask them to demo the product we’re currently selling. I also give them case studies of emails and ask them how they would respond to them.”

  • “Use hypotheticals to understand your candidate’s perspective and goals.”

How to circumvent bias while hiring

“In our hiring process, every position must complete a project. In most cases, reviewers of the project do so blindly, meaning they know nothing about the candidate. They only see the work. This is a great way to circumvent any implicit biases when it comes to what matters.”

Bonus Bonus: When things aren’t as pretty

(When to fire)

“There is no need to keep low-performing team members on the team. If they are not great here, most of the time, it’s because they aren’t excited about the work; it doesn’t mean that they aren’t talented. I spend a disproportionate amount of time to find them a new home. I’ll sit down with them and map out what they want to do and help them get there. Be direct and time sensitive, but treat them with care. You never know when you may work with them again.”

“Sometimes the experience they need is just out of scope, so you have to identify friction fast, especially being a super early stage company. You’ll know if something isn’t working, and that you and your employee are talking past each other. At [my previous companies], you could get your boss involved if you didn’t know how to do something and bring someone else onto the team — and the final output is going to be good because you could have 200 eyes on the project; in a startup, you might only have one layer before the product goes to the customer.”

“I’ve had to let go of many people, unfortunately, but none that I had a personal relationship with prior to [company]. Firing is always hard, but not pulling the trigger when you need to is deeply hurtful to the business. It’s my job to protect the team. For that reason, I don’t find it very hard to let people go.”

“You look at the team, and say if I don’t fire this person, is it going to hold back the rest of the team and the company?”

About the Companies:

Help Scout builds help-desk software for companies all over the world, and happens to be a Converge VP portfolio company. CEO Nick Francis is well-known for his “remote culture”, which you can read more about via Keeping your remote team connected and What we’ve learned building a remote culture.

Vivoomfounded in 2014 by Katherine Hays, is a mobile participatory ad platform (also a Converge portfolio company), working with brands like Lily Pulitzer, Universal Pictures and others.

Before joining his current pre-launch startupKenny Mendes was Director of Recruiting at Box, one of the largest cloud storage providers. Prior, he was a recruiter at Riviera Partners and analyzed baseball stats for the San Jose Giants.

Jackie de la Rosa founded BeautyTouch in 2015 in the hope to make women’s beauty products more accessible to the masses. Before BeautyTouch, Jackie ran Mark Cuban’s early-stage, Northeast based investments.

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Ash & Brian