Startups, Maslow, Happiness, Unemployment

There was an interesting article in Techcrunch a couple of days ago reporting on a recent talk by philosopher Alain de Botton. In essence, he was criticising the current trend of businesses that are being formed to solve little more than lightweight “nonsense” issues, whilst the more fundamental pyschological needs of humans are being, for the most part, ignored by startup circles.

There’s no doubt that in the modern age, businesses are becoming increasingly adept at “marketing” – in the sense of becoming more skilled at using technology to get their message in front of as many eyeballs as possible. I often wonder whether that more aggressive method of personalised tracking by digital methods is adding true long-term value for the most part however. It’s one thing convincing someone that they need to buy a good or service, but if the product itself is not then truly valuable to the end user, is the business actually helping to grow the economy in any meaningful sense?

De Botton postulates that Facebook has been so overwhelmingly successful because it focused on a massively underserved area of online business, namely mankind’s fundamental need for better relationships. As he points out, that is not to say that they are doing this well. But even if they fail to deliver perfection on that front, they are selling us something that we are fundamentally seeking – not something that we merely desire.

In terms of the bigger picture, they’re not taking the easier route of simply focusing on clever ways to sell us things that we don’t need. That to me echoes the point that I’ve heard in a couple of talks by Sherry Coutu when she warned of the importance of making sure with a startup that you choose a big enough problem to solve.

He brings the argument back to Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs and also points to the reasearch a few years ago which showed (to simplify) that human happiness peaks once you start to earn around $36,000 – partly because your aspirations rise in line with higher GDP levels as you struggle to keep up with the Joneses.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The point here is that the opportunity for new businesses to focus on the needs that live further up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is huge – in part because very few companies are working in that sort of space (as yet). Instead, most are scrabbling around the far more competitive lower levels. Secondly, it makes sense because the goods or services that are produced with these goals in mind have a globally significant market size to target given the fact that they involve an fundamental essence of human character.

It’s an interesting lens to look at new businesses through now we’re at the stage whereby businesses of scale can be built with less money in ever-shorter timescales. If you’re interested, Steve Rosenbaum used the hierarchy of needs to compare  Silicon Valley with Silicon Alley in 2011 and Sameer Iyengar wrote an interesting article on how startups cater to our inner motivations.

So if you’re thinking of starting a company, de Botton advises that you look at what really makes people happy. Or, to put it another way, “every bit of human unhappiness is a business waiting to be born”. He also argues that unemployment is the consequence of “the wrong perception of what should be commercialised”. I’ve not thought of it in those terms before – but I suppose on a very basic level (ignoring such factors as inept execution of business model) has a very real strand of truth that lies within it.

 

Billion Dollar Unicorns Outside the Valley

Almost exactly a year ago, I remember reading Fred Wilson’s post in which he asked his influential readership to help crowd-source a study of billion dollar companies via Hackpad in response to an article in Techcrunch (“Welcome To The Unicorn Club: Learning From Billion-Dollar Startups”).

As is always the case with the internet, much of the hard work involved in that original project has now been used as the basis for a similar project further down the line. VC firm Atomico has now pulled together a fascinating study of billion dollar software companies that have been founded since 2003. Take a look at the website, the results have really been compiled in a really user-friendly way.

Whilst there’s always going to be debate over the definitions and exclusions from such a research project, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it’s always the big picture that matters with these things. The companies that reach that arbitrary billion-dollar valuation that acts as a proxy for phenomenal success (both in this study and further afield) are managing to do so in ever-shorter timescales with every year that passes – so, for example, it currently takes these outliers six years to get there from formation on average.

I was interested to see Sweden pop up in third position (after the US and China) as the country with most billion-dollar examples (three).

However, if there’s one key finding in the research for me, it’s the fact that 61% of the 138 companies that hit that billion-dollar mark were actually based outside Silicon Valley. This certainly gives credence to the argument that you can start and grow an incredible company anywhere. And for anyone based around the Scottish tech startup scene, that sounds like pretty good news.

When more money is a bad thing

Just as with yesterday’s post, sometimes it takes a visualisation to really ram home a point. Regardless of whether the boiling frog anecdote is true or not, I think most people would agree that the image below shows that we’re facing a pretty big issue within our current financial system.

How much money have banks created?
How much money have banks created?

Check out this quote from the Positive Money website:-

From the time when the Bank of England was formed in 1694, it took over 300 years for banks to create the first trillion pounds. It took them only 8 years to create the second trillion. Today cash – the green area at the bottom of the chart below – accounts for just 3% of the total money in the economy. The red area – money created by commercial banks – accounts for the other 97%.

This seems to me to be a particularly telling statistic because it helps to explain part of the attraction of crypto-currencies for so many.

During any ‘Bitcoin for Beginners’ talk, the speaker will usually explain how our money isn’t backed by gold any longer. At this stage, most people in the audience chuckle contentedly away to themselves, safely within their comfort zone. Then the explanation inevitably follows that in fact, as shown above, most money is actually created out of thin air by commercial banks who literally lend it into existence. At this point, in my experience, the atmosphere always subtly changes in the room.

For more information, take a look at the recent report from the Bank of England (‘Money Creation in the Modern Economy’).

Now it’s easy to see why many people are so attracted to the one of the principles that underpins Bitcoin – specifically that the rules about the supply of money should be agreed in advance. For many, a runaway train holds little appeal.

The Rising Tide of Data Breaches

There are many reasons why Bitcoin fascinates me.  Even if I was to ignore the fact that the block chain provides endless opportunities for innovators to reimagine existing models of business and governance across vast swathes of modern life whilst simultaneously unleashing a wave of brand new possibilities that just didn’t exist pre-2008, I can’t think of any other subject that has ever dragged me down such a deep rabbit-hole. No matter how much you know about the subject, you learn something new every single day.

So once you catch this particular bug, you can’t help but feel compelled to investigate a wide range of areas in greater detail, from computer science, cryptography, economics, governance to name only a few. And one of these areas is undoubtedly data security.

I’ve written before about the worrying lack of concern that society shows for the digital exhaust we’re collectively leaving in our wake as the information age accelerates. This goes much further than simply ensuring financial privacy for the sake of security of ownership – there’s little doubt in my mind for example that losing personal data that takes the form of health records is worse, I stumbled across another fantastic infographic from the always-reliable ‘Information Is Beautiful’ site run by David McCandless.

If you’re in any doubt that data breaches are becoming an increasingly serious problem in a world in which we increasingly live more of our lives online, take a look through the interactive visualisation of ‘The World’s Biggest Data Breaches’.

Sobering, isn’t it?

 

Medical research and the block chain

A few years back when I was doing my MBA, I’d planned to write a final dissertation on the publishing industry. Then I stumbled across a blog post (‘Elsevier – My Part In Its Downfall‘) in which an eminent Cambridge mathematician basically said enough was enough and took a stand against the established method of scientific publishing.

A simplistic summary of the argument is that academic publishing is, to put not too fine a point on it, nothing short of scandalous. Whilst the medical research of academics is supported by public funding, the results are locked behind paywalls. Scientific publishers, who rely on free time and effort that other academics feel compelled to provide in order to review the research and ensure that it is sufficiently robust, subsequently bundle such publications together and force institutions to pay subscriptions that rise in a way that appear to have far less to do with the rate of inflation than the abuse of oligopolistic market positions.

One professor’s blog post led to a significant amount of press and suppot from fellow scientists, who set up a campaign against such practices called ’The Cost Of Knowledge’. As soon as I started reading up on the subject, I knew it was one that I had to investigate further. One of the reasons that I’ve always been so fascinated in technology is simply because I believe – strongly – that the indexation of human knowledge will enable people from many different walks of life to each contribute and create solutions to problems that just would never be possible were we to simply focus on specialisms alone.

Or, to put it another way – it’s one thing rinsing a market for all it’s worth to eke out a profit – but there’s something particularly morally repugnant about keeping medical research in particular hidden away.

After deciding to write my final MBA dissertation focused on open access publishing (I found it an almost impossible task to write a balanced argument when the benefits appeared to me to be so much greater than the negatives), I’ve not had the opportunity to really delve back into the topic in any great detail since. However, listening to the newest Let’s Talk Bitcoin podcast and the conversation with Kevin McKernan really reminded me of those issues and how broken the system remains.

Dig into the argument that regulation itself holds back progress in medicine (there’s a similar argument when it comes to patents of course) and there’s a huge discussion here. However, there’s another point that Kevin McKernan (@Kevin_McKernan) made has really got me thinking once again. Is the current top-down system of medical research that we utilise actually the way forward? Or should our system of research actually replicate the distributed, decentralised systems that we see in nature (think block chain)? To put it another way, what can we achieve once medical research can be carried out in a far more distributed manner using data from far greater numbers of people (whilst comibining this with the development of personalised medicine)?

There’s so much in this interview that’s worth taking on board. It’s an important message. And Kevin’s involved in a number of projects that certainly deserve some support.

Thoughts on Inside Bitcoins London

Inside Bitcoins London
Inside Bitcoins London

Making my way back from Inside Bitcoins London, my fourth international Bitcoin conference in five months, I definitely empathise with Nic Cary‘s comments that these events tend to feel more like a reunion than a conference. Whilst the scene continues to grow and new people pop up all the time, you can’t help but bump into many of the same faces no matter the location around the globe – which makes the events such as these so useful for networking.

I’m not going to write a huge post on the event because no doubt videos and commentary far more erudite than mine will be posted in due course. But here’s a few of my takeaways for those who couldn’t make it along.

Bitcoin’s Challenges

It’s been an interesting year so far in Bitcoin (nothing new there). Despite the raft of huge announcements that would usually be expected to catapult the price upwards (adoption by Overstock, Dell, Expedia, Dish amongst others – and the list just keeps getting longer), there’s actually been very little price movement upwards this year.

For those of us who see block chain developments as the beginnings of a fundamental restructuring of the world of finance (and more importantly reaching far beyond this area alone), this is of zero consequence. But it’s no doubt shaken out a few speculators whilst introducing a level of maturity that acts as a vital counterweight against the sometimes all-encompassing bubble of enthusiasm from users.

Experienced bitcoiners are well aware of the challenges that lie ahead. For example, lack of privacy remains an issue, as does enabling scalability of the consensus mechanisms, simplifying the on-ramps and off-ramps (i.e. making it easy to buy and sell), ensuring that remittances fulfil their world-changing potential (should we help African charities accept bitcoins or instead work towards providing more immediate access to clean water for people, for example?) and the dearth of user-friendly platforms that are necessary for mass adoption (despite significant recent improvements). However, for any first-timers reading this blog, the reason that people remain so interested in block chain technologies is because these are all issues that have potential solutions – we’re just not there yet.

This is the maturation of an industry. And this is A Good Thing.

The Emergence of Crypto-Law

As Gavin Wood of Ethereum put it, “We can expect to pay less on our legal fees and more on our programmer fees”. As someone who has a background in the legal industry, I’ve always maintained that the industry is bloated and ripe for disruption. Whilst the mass adoption of smart contracts will never command the size of premiums per transaction that the legal profession has enjoyed for the past 40 years or so in particular, less profitable transactions will be more than offset by the sheer quantity of automated contractual experiences in the future.

Lessons from the past

Dr Bob Swarup gave the talk of the conference on Money Mania pointing out that financial crises tend to come about once every decade or so. Think about that for a moment. We’re now six years on from the last meltdown in 2008 – and none of the root causes have been addressed. The debt has simply been aggregated and the stakes raised in this global game of pass-the-parcel  – a sobering thought.

Bonus general knowledge: back at the end of the 1800’s, there was a surge in the popularity of bicycles which paved the way for the eventual success of cars a couple of decades later. Popular opinion held that this new bicycle ’technology’ would revolutionise business by breaking down the existing transportation barriers for ordinary people. Whilst it didn’t quite pan out as envisaged with the consequent world disruption not in fact arriving on two wheels as suggested, the roads that were subsequently built to support the predicted explosive growth in cycling certainly made it easier for cars to then be adopted. Could we now be seeing something similar with Bitcoin acting as the pre-cursor to the eventual integration of block chain technologies?

Scalability requires state acceptance

It’s a hugely controversial issue for so many Bitcoin believers but (as you might expect at such a conference) one that was mentioned by a number of speakers. Yes, governments are powerless to stop the practical usage of Bitcoin. But to really scale adoption to a world-changing level in which usage crosses over to the majority, engagement with (and no doubt some form of regulation by) existing authorities is likely to be necessary.

It’s important to note however that whilst perceived reality amongst ‘outsiders’ might be that mass adoption will not happen in developed countries without this dialogue, this shouldn’t been seen as simply a sign that we are in some way over-dependant on the state. It’s because money is, at its core, based on one thing in particular – trust. And the more people that use the form of money, the level of trust increases. Engagement in numbers builds that trust and is the key to harnessing that essential network effect that is (many argue) a precursor to mass adoption.

Everyone hates the BitLicense

Obviously. If you’re in the Bitcoin community in any meaningful sense, you’d have to have spent the last few months with a lost wifi password to have missed this one (in which case you’re probably a pretty strong outlier within a whole community of outliers in any event).

There are many criticisms of the proposals (take a look here, here and here for some background). The extra-territorial reach of the draft BitLicense looks insane for a start: as drafted, the rest of the world will be forced to exclude all New York ‘persons’ from its Bitcoin products and services as a result. It all boils down to that old chestnut – education. There are many businesses within the Bitcoin ecosystem that are actually software companies despite appearing to be financial services businesses to the regulators. Like it or not, education remains the most critical work to be carried out for those involved in Bitcoin during the next twelve months and beyond.

Why this isn’t another dot.com bubble

There’s a lot of chat about the fact that VC money is piling into the sector. But for those who are lazily looking for parallels with the dot.com bubble, consider these differences. First, the total VC funds are still significantly less than those being invested around 2000. Second, funding doesn’t need to come from the Valley. This Bitcoin thing is definitively not a Valley thing. The distributed nature of the technology means that Bitcoin companies can be developed anywhere, with globally distributed teams. Third: the growth of the industry is not simply reliant on VC funding this time around. Crowdfunding, P2P lending and other forms of funding are now a significant factor when utilised within a community that is highly engaged and enthusiastic.

Successful alternative currencies already exist

Many people already know about the success of the Brixton Pound. But it’s interesting to also consider the Wir in Switzerland which is a standalone currency that has existed in that country for around 80 years with some 60,000 users (mostly small businesses). A currency that survives that long has to be doing something very right. Interestingly, during the global economic downturn, Switzerland suffered far less than many countries. A variety of possible explanations exist but the strength of an alternate monetary system that could function outwith the credit crunch to buffer the demands of business for working capital was undoubtedly a significant factor. Don’t get stuck thinking that there is no life outwith fiat.

Evolution in existing payment technologies

Unsurprisingly, Apple Pay was discussed in various contexts after last week’s announcement. Despite some press articles that suggested it could have a negative impact on Bitcoin, my view (which I’m happy to say appears to be the consensus) is that this is most definitely a Good Thing for Bitcoin. As people get used to the simplicity and ease of digital payments via mobile, it will be far easier to convince them to subsequently make the jump across to using Bitcoin over time. Plus the reality is that the world’s leading consumer technology brand still has a niche market share, within specific countries, and is only used by one specific (wealthy) demographic. On the other hand, Bitcoin is global, free and open to anyone.

The development of the payment sector is fascinating and, whilst he wasn’t speaking at this Conference, I thoroughly recommend Richard Gendal Brown‘s recent post on tokenisation if you’re interested. In fact, anyone with an interest in this sector should be reading his blog regularly in any event.

The China Effect

Surprisingly, there was far less focus on the country than in pretty much every other event that I’ve been along to. But with reports showing that 47% of the richest people in China plan to leave the country within the next five years, how are these people going to get their money out of the country? And what sort of impact will that transfer of wealth have on adoption of Bitcoin?

Where is the real demand for Bitcoin?

How do you identify powerful use-cases that will encourage people to use, rather than hoard, bitcoins? More insightful comments from Steve Beauregard of GoCoin who urged everyone to think about times that people have rushed to spend their bitcoins previously.  His conclusions are that the key areas to date where Bitcoin has solved genuine pain points for existing consumers are: (1) where privacy is desired, (2) where other payment methods are commonly rejected, (3) where fees are extremely high, (4) where eco-systems are cyclical (e.g. mining).

As a Bitcoin entrepreneur at this stage in the adoption cycle, providing goods and services that take account of these universal truths will likely enhance your potential for success. It’s an important point – as is the argument that says you should use services that enable you to offer as many options for payment by your customers as possible (e.g. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin etc). Why limit your potential market?

The islands make their play

Jersey and the Isle of Man are really going all out to attract virtual currency businesses. There’s some incredible tax breaks in the Isle of Man in particular if you’re looking to set up a Bitcoin business there. Despite the bad news they had immediately following their Crypto Valley Conference this week regarding banking arrangements, I think they’ve got a fantastic chance of delivering on that promise. There’s huge potential where there’s government support and a closed-loop economy.

Verified identity in a decentralised world

For me, this remains one of the absolutely pivotal requirements of future business in a decentralised world. There are obviously projects working on this at the moment (check out onename.io for example) but there remains huge potential for the modernisation of AML/KYC issues following developments in this area.

London calling?

I headed along to CoinScrum on the first night of the Conference for more chat from Jeremy Allaire of Circle amongst many others (aside: Circle is looking slick, I’ve got to say – it’s improved even since its launch in Amsterdam and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the app that was demoed and currently in development). T15B, the brand new co-working space for Bitcoin startups in London is brilliant. I can only say that I’m hugely jealous. We don’t yet  have the density of Bitcoin/blockchain startups within Scotland to justify that but it’ll come, I’ve got no doubt. Congratulations to Pamir and Gulnar, co-founders of the amazing CoinSummit for all their work in creating T15B.

So, all in all, another great conference. A big thanks to Eitan Jankelewitz who invited me along and to so many others I’ve managed to catch up with over the past week as a result. Well, I think that’s it for Conferences for this year. Now it’s time to work out how we continue to build what we have in Scotland. In the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at taking the next step in developing the scene north of the border – so keep your eyes peeled.

The First Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014

 

Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014 Poster
Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014 Poster

Things have been a bit quiet around this blog in recent times as I’ve been involved full-on in a number of projects. Without doubt the most significant of these was the first Scottish Bitcoin Conference which took place in Edinburgh last weekend.

An Idea…

After returning from Bitcoin 2014 in Amsterdam a couple of months ago (blog post here), I was convinced that we needed a headline Bitcoin-specific event in Scotland for a couple of reasons:-

  • to act as a beacon to attract the community which seemed pretty disparate and more used to conversing behind a screen than in person.
  • to bring industry thought leaders to Scotland to inspire and network with people who didn’t have the time or budget to travel to conferences around the world.

I had no idea when I’d get a chance to pull this together in practice but the idea seemed clear (in my head at least). After a chance conversation with Jamie Coleman at CodeBase and organiser of the Turing Festival following a talk that I gave on Bitcoin to their startups in the incubator, it was clear that he shared my vision. And the wheels were set in motion…

Finding Support

Thanks to many people buying into this same vision, I managed to get a fantastic set of folk to Edinburgh to speak – including Jon Matonis (Bitcoin Foundation), Wouter Vonk (BitPay), Sveinn Valfells, Garrick Hileman (LSE), Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Daniel Masters (GABI), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Max Steele (Coinometrics), Nick Lambert (MaidSafe), Scott Maxwell….the list goes on.

The day might have been bootstrapped but it wasn’t cheap to put on. I’m immensely grateful to each of the sponsors who supported the day – partly because of the financial contributions, but also, crucially, because it showed that certain key organisations within Scotland are acknowledging that there is something of real significance starting to build in this sector. So hats go off to ScotlandIS, MBM Commercial, Johnston Carmichael, Signarama and CoinDesk.

And of course, in addition to the speakers, there are many other individuals who helped hugely. I hesitate to name anyone in person as I invariably then have to miss out others whose support was no less necessary. But huge thanks have to go to London CoinScrum organiser Paul Gordon, Pamir Gelenbe and Gulnar Hasnain of CoinSummitAndy Smith, Ryan Smith, Peter May, Matt Monach, Christopher de Beer, the Bitcoin Manchester guys…..the list goes on and on…

And….relax….

The Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
The Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014

Now that a few days have passed after the Conference, I’ve had a chance to think about what we’ve discovered – from the obvious (we’re still way too male-dominated as a community) to the more complex. I’m proud to have been involved in pulling an event together which brought so many curious minds into the same room together. It’s striking that so many people share concerns about the viability of the financial system that we’ve collectively built whilst simultaneously being hugely positive and optimistic about what the future could bring.

And even more striking (putting aside the not insignificant issue of gender disparity for a second) was the fact that there was no stereotypical ‘Conference attendee’. Many people in that room held different, and often conflicting, political and ideological beliefs (left, right, middle, nationalist, unionist, crypto-anarchist, capitalist, whatever). The labels were irrelevant. The only defining belief that was shared by everyone in that room was that a very simple one – that technology could be used to destroy the one shared enemy of inefficiency.

My thoughts

I opened the day with a few thoughts of my own about the current position. With the Conference taking place under a month before the country goes to the polls to take arguably the most important decision in its modern political history, I believe that there’s actually another far more important narrative at play. And that’s the fact that more people within this country than ever before are questioning the relationship that they have as individuals with both the currency and the state – in many cases for the first time in their lives. My point? Given this background, the result is less important than the fact that the collective societal lethargy has lifted.

I believe that the emergence of technological solutions such as Bitcoin provide us with the opportunity to forge a future in which we can build more resilient, equitable and – yes – consequently, even more valuable systems. There’s a collective responsibility to go out and seek answers – and where those do not yet exist, to create them as part of this new paradigm shift towards an increasingly decentralised society.

With a uniquely Scottish perspective, it is of critical importance that we build awareness and understanding around an often misunderstood topic to give us a solid foundation before we can really start to develop things to the next stage. In the UK, and Scotland, we have a great opportunity to build on the progress today. As things stand, we have a (UK) government that is engaging with the Bitcoin community on various levels. We are not simply seeing the more reactionary, knee-jerk reactions to entrepreneurship in the field of digital currency that are so visible in many other countries across the world. We’re not in the worst place to take advantages of the opportunities that are arising. In fact I’d argue, in Scotland, and in Edinburgh, we are in fact in one of the best.

Bitcoin can’t be killed. But the more people that we can bring with us on this journey from an early stage, in which we explore all of the potential that blockchain technologies provide us with, then the greater the collective benefits will be for all. We’re still at an early stage in the development of the technology but make no mistake – things are moving – and fast. Here in Scotland we sometimes forget just how important the contributions to the world have been from individuals in this country in the past. We have a proud history of being a nation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs; a hostoric pedigree of financial leadership; and a growing entrepreneurial network that is necessarily global in outlook.

Thanks again to everyone who got involved. We’ve now drawn that line in the sand. Where will we all be when the second Scottish Bitcoin Conference rolls around?

Here’s a few speaker photos from the day:-

Dug Campbell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Dug Campbell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Jon Matonis, Executive Director, The Bitcoin Foundation, addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Jon Matonis, Exec. Director, The Bitcoin Foundation, addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Garrick Hileman, London School of Economics addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Garrick Hileman, London School of Economics addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Lui Smyth (CoinJar) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Lui Smyth (CoinJar) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Matt Monach (Standard Life Investments) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Matt Monach (Standard Life Investments) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Max Steele (Coinometrics) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Max Steele (Coinometrics) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Sveinn Valfells addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Sveinn Valfells addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Nick Lambert, COO MaidSafe addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Nick Lambert, COO MaidSafe addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Scott Maxwell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Scott Maxwell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014

 

Panel Session: Scott Maxwell, Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Daniel Masters (Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund) - Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
Panel Session: Scott Maxwell, Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Daniel Masters (Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund) – Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
Wouter Vonk (BitPay) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Wouter Vonk (BitPay) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014

Bitcoin Radio/Press Stuff

Radio Microphone It’s been a busy few weeks. In addition to pulling together Scotland’s first ever Bitcoin Conference (more about that imminently, when that link goes live…), I’ve had a couple of opportunities to speak about Bitcoin in the press.

Bitcoin and Divorce

First up was an article that I co-authored with Dianne Millen of Edinburgh-based Morton Fraser Solicitors in The Scotsman newspaper on some of the issues that could face the courts in the event that either party in a divorce holds Bitcoin. Another chance to raise the profile and to get some accurate information into the mainstream press that has tended to look for simplistic angles. If you’re in that unfortunate situation north of the border, go and have a chat with Dianne – I suspect she’s currently in a group of one when it comes to family lawyers who understand the blockchain north of the border…

BBC Radio Scotland Interview with James Naughtie

I was delighted to be asked back to BBC Radio Scotland to the Good Morning Scotland program for an interview with James Naughtie. If you’re UK-based, you know who he is but for those of you reading further afield, he’s arguably the best radio interviewer out there in my humble opinion and a mainstay of the flagship ‘Today’ news programme on BBC Radio 4 since 1994. They used the excuse of the Bitcoin Finance 2014 Conference that was opening in Dublin that morning to dive into the issues. I didn’t have long but I’ll take each and every opportunity that I can to get the subject in front of people.

Off down to London for CoinSummit tomorrow (plus CoinScrum in the evening) – can’t wait. I’ll put my thoughts up here once I’m back.

photo credit: @notnixon via photopin cc

Thoughts on the Bitcoin 2014 Conference

So, I’m sitting here early on a sunny Sunday morning in a great little coffee shop in Amsterdam (no, not one of those ones…) and reflecting on the last three days of Bitcoin 2014.

It’s been an exhilarating few days. I’ve never been to an event like it, where the sense of an impending global revolution sits side-by-side with philanthropy and open entrepreneurial passion for building new businesses. It’s a strange world where all three can sit together within one format and there’s no doubt that this is one of few places.  OK, so the crypto-anarchists were never going to be hugely satisfied with a conference that was ‘industry’ rather than ‘grass roots’ but to me it’s pretty simple.

The fact is that Bitcoin – and other decentralised systems – are coming. There is inevitably going to be a period of significant disruption ahead and it’s important for everyone who has realised this fact to help others to understand more about this train that’s a-coming. For some people, that does involve engaging actively with individuals, local and national businesses and politicians to ensure that they aren’t blinded by the poor level of information that’s currently available. The level of general public awareness is still woefully low and that needs to change fast.

There’s no way that I do the entire conference justice in a single blog post but there were a few things that stand out.

Bitcoin in the Developing World

  • Check out this new film that was premiered at the Conference. I banged on about the global remittance market in my TEDx talk on Bitcoin and this video does a great job in explaining precisely why Bitcoin is so important for the developing world.

Patrick Byrne Keynote

Patrick Byrne, Overstock CEO, keynotes Bitcoin 2014 in Amsteredam
Patrick Byrne, Overstock CEO, keynotes Bitcoin 2014 in Amsteredam

I’m not sure what can be said about Patrick Byrne’s keynote at Bitcoin 2014 that can do it justice. That guy must have a brain the size of a small planet. The Scourge of Wall Street gave a whistle-stop tour through Western philosophy and explained why a society based on cryptographic principles is not only the answer but a necessity. Denounced at one stage as a lunatic, proved right by the subsequent financial collapse in 2008, I challenge anyone to criticise the obvious passion of someone who has gone so doggedly out of his way and against the grain in his mission to expose the corruption within our current financial systems (particularly within the US). And all whilst running a billion dollar company (that of course now accepts Bitcoin and is on course to hit $10-15 billion in Bitcoin revenue in 2014).

Importantly, Byrne divulged that the business is now trying to hold 10% of revenue in Bitcoin (as opposed to cashing out immediately into dollars). And it’s precisely because of this sort of commitment, where businesses such as Overstock are now encouraging their suppliers in turn to accept Bitcoin in payment, that will help usage to spread through the business ecosystem. And that’s before we even get into his plans to dual-list the business on a “blockchain kind of stock exchange” itself….

User-friendly Wallets

  • We’ve been talking about the desperate need for a user-friendly Bitcoin wallet service for a long time now. And on Day 1 of the Conference, with the launch of Circle.com, we’re arguably as close as we’ve ever been. The business has been in stealth for a while despite raising $26 million. It’s invite-only but watching Jeremy Allaire demo Circle in the flesh, I have to say I’m impressed. This isn’t Bitcoin for people who know about it already. This is a mass market play for everyone’s attention. Your wallet connects directly  to your bank account, money transfers instantly between dollars (initially) and Bitcoin at will, with a zero exchange fee  and – crucially – it’s all fully insured. This could very well be the first Bitcoin interface that your mum just *understands*.

Bitcoin ATM’s

  • Amongst the range of ATM’s on display, I finally got the chance to give the Lamassu Bitcoin ATM for the first time. I converted a 10 Euro note into my Bitcoin wallet in under 60 seconds. Faultless experience, no ID required and a highly impressive piece of kit.

Annual State of Bitcoin Address

  • For Chief Scientist Gavin Andresen, 2014 is the year of multi-sig wallets. As for 2015, the prediction is that Bitcoin will be bigger (and better-looking), more secure, more diverse, more mainstream, more regulated and less volatile. Plenty more info in the talk which will be online soon.

Mike Hearn Builds a Lighthouse

Blockchain.info Awards

  • Great to see the Lets Talk Bitcoin podcast win the best podcast category at the first Blockchain Awards. Definitely my go-to listening podcast on anything to do with the subject. And as you’ve probably heard, Andreas refused to accept his award. Although clearly the most popular winner at the event was Satoshi Nakamoto himself who turned up in person before disappearing mysteriously into the Amsterdam night….(it wasn’t Gavin dressed up, honest…)

The Bitcoin Foundation

  • I went along to the Bitcoin Foundation Annual Members’ Meeting straight after the conference. It’s fair to say that the Foundation comes in for a huge amount of criticism from the Bitcoin community and the days leading up to the event were filled with various critical stories in the press. But  I have to say that having been there and looked the guys in the eyes, the picture’s nowhere as simple as is commonly made out.
  • There’s obviously a perception within Bitcoin-land about what the Foundation is and should do. They have fallen short in a number of areas of course but I honestly believe that the majority of that comes down to two things. Firstly, there is a mistaken assumption by the Bitcoin community that the Foundation should be representing the disparate goals and interests of each group that is interested in Bitcoin. Secondly, and no less importantly, the Foundation is an organisation that is under two years old and has been woefully under-resourced in a year in which Bitcoin awareness has both exploded and simultaneously been attacked from all sides.
  • Going from only 3 full-time staff to 10 in the past year, the reality (which hasn’t been communicated effectively) is that they are there to represent their members – not primarily the community itself. 70% of their funding comes from their corporate membership. Let’s be realistic about what they can achieve – but let’s also not be naive about where an organisation like that can be most effective with the limited funding that they have, focusing their time and efforts on the bigger picture by helping businesses, individuals and politicians to properly grasp the concepts of Bitcoin. Let’s hope the international affiliate chapters go some way to dealing with the issue and communication improves.

Anyway, so much more to say but this post is already way too long and bluntly, it’s not supposed to be about the politics of the Foundation themselves. So – if there’s one takeaway from the conference, it’s this:-

Bitcoin is growing. Adoption will come. The people who are working to bring this new technology to the world and are amongst the most clever and intelligent that I’ve ever had the privilege to speak with and there are increasing numbers flocking to get involved in the area. And where else do you have the chance to get involved with a technology that is going to change the world for the better whilst creating opportunities for so many? If you want to learn more, get in touch. Come along to one of our Bitcoin Meetups in Edinburgh.

Let’s keep the conversation going. See you in Asia for Bitcoin 2015?

Gavin Andresen gives the 'Annual State of Bitcoin Address' at Bitcoin 2014 Amsterdam
Gavin Andresen gives the ‘Annual State of Bitcoin Address’ at Bitcoin 2014 Amsterdam
The fantastic Lamassu Bitcoin ATM
Lamassu Bitcoin ATM at Bitcoin 2014
Bitcoin Investment Panel at Bitcoin 2014, including 'Bitcoin Jesus' Roger Ver
Bitcoin Investment Panel at Bitcoin 2014, including ‘Bitcoin Jesus’ Roger Ver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitcoin Foundation Board at Bitcoin 2014
Bitcoin Foundation Board at Bitcoin 2014
Bitcoin 2014 Conference Lanyard
Bitcoin 2014 Conference
Exhibitors at Bitcoin 2014 in Amsterdam
Exhibitors at Bitcoin 2014 in Amsterdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Allaire finally launches Circle.com at Bitcoin 2014
Jeremy Allaire finally launches Circle.com at Bitcoin 2014

 

 

 

 

My TEDx Talk: “Bitcoin: More Than Just Money”

I’m flying out to Amsterdam tomorrow for the Bitcoin 2014 Conference but before I do, I just wanted to put up a quick post.

A couple of months ago, I was honoured to be asked to speak at the University of Edinburgh TEDx 2014 Conference. The theme was ‘Thinking In Abundance’ and it was an amazing opportunity to give a talk to a room full of intelligent and engaged individuals about what I’m certain will turn out to be one of the most significant developments in recent times. Bitcoin.

It was a challenge to strip out so many of the details in order to present a very broad overview of the opportunities aimed at those who hadn’t heard of Bitcoin previously. It’s far from perfect but I was pretty happy with how it turned out overall. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

You probably know by now that I believe strongly that the technology that underpins Bitcoin will act as a foundation for a fundamental restructuring of the society that we know today. We’re moving into a world that will be dominated by decentralised networks and the coming disruption will be felt in many areas – including finance. That’s why I’m working with others to bring the Bitcoin/crypto-currency community together across Scotland at the moment and I’ll be following up on this soon. If you want to hear more though and get involved, please do get in touch.

Thanks again to Sarah Anderson and the rest of the organising committee for inviting me along to take part. I had a blast!