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15 Lessons for Crypto from the Car Industry

September 20th 2018

Despite its origin myths about democratizing wealth production, today’s crypto is largely inaccessible. To realize full potential, crypto must do what car-makers do: offer max utility.

1. To Succeed, Crypto Must Make Sense to Everyone

Making crypto “accessible” doesn’t mean churning out glossy brochures for this or that new Cryptomobile.

Crypto doesn’t need more 1-pagers, infographics, and explainer videos for how easy it is to start mining “digital assets,” how easy it is to “launch an ICO,” or how easy it is to open a Coinbase account and buy Bitcoin.

Accessibility is about realizing that crypto needs normal people to have extremely easy entry points into the crypto economy.

Crypto’s most successful Cryptomobile will offer everyone easy ways for earning crypto, not just spending crypto.

2. Thesis

(A) Ordinary people need to be able to easily earn easily-convertible crypto; crypto needs to give people this functionality.

(B) Crypto’s success depends overwhelmingly on this.

(C) In other words, crypto needs ordinary people far more than ordinary people need crypto.

3. Today’s Cryptomobile is Complex & Expensive!

Everyone observing today’s crypto space likely agrees with Crypto Law Insider that today’s crypto isn’t for novices:

To join the “Cult of Crypto” today, one must climb steep learning curves, gain experience, and demonstrate technical know-how in intellectual duels.

Even when you follow all initiation rites, you’ll never summit the peak of crypto. Here’s Kyle Samani writing to announce the launch of Aurora EOS.

Demanding the “highest levels of technical capability” means setting crypto admission standards that are a priori unattainable for all but a select few insiders.

Complexity only benefits those who have resources to control and understand complex processes.

When it comes to global scaling, complexity and inaccessibility are not virtues.

In automotive terms, today’s Cryptomobile is an over-built rig that claims to be future-proof, quantum-proof, zombie-proof, Wall Street-proof, government-proof, trust-proof, and every other kind of -proof.

Crypto’s image of itself. Go anywhere; do anything. Unstoppable. Like the EarthRoamer. Photo credit: ExpeditionPortal.com

In reality, today’s Cryptomobile is structurally complex, pretentious (“smart contract”), expensive, inherently unscalable, and eats a ton of gas.

By building up defenses, Crypto didn’t insulate itself from a world of exaggerated threats. It just made bad guys and law enforcement even more curious about what’s happening under all that tint.

Today’s situation is tragic because it was so easily avoidable.

The only “proofing” crypto ever needed to do, from the Bitcoin Whitepaper onwards, was to “fool-proof” all systems and processes. Instead of pretending to be “smart contract” CryptoLawyers, crypto folks should have kept their eyes on the ground and focused on avoiding dumb landmines.

It’s not too late to change; but the window of opportunity is closing quickly.

4. The Cryptomobile Can & Must Be Simpler

Everyone should see how a Cryptomobile that’s chugging along, running out of gas, and constantly getting broken in to (and pulled over) is a big problem.

Today, many developers are working hard to sell cleaner and leaner Cryptomobiles to the public.

But thus far, crypto doesn’t have a runaway “proletarian” bestseller Crypto Model T, Crypto Camry, or Crypto Civic.

Instead, Crypto is still very much fixated on “Lambos.”

Lambos and EarthRomers are cool, but the solutions to Crypto’s global scaling and hyperutility problems are crypto use cases that appeal to the maximum number of people.

To qualify as a hyperutility crypto app, a use case must satisfy three simple criteria:

  • (1) Here are the keys (downloadable app or hardware widget like a Ledger Nano)
  • (2) Here’s a quick primer on how the brakes, switches, & gears work (here’s how to earn crypto with one click, and here’s how to withdraw your money);
  • (3) Have fun driving (enjoy earning crypto, and tell all your friends about it)!

Anything more complicated than that, and you’re making a product or service for millions, not billions, of people.

Crypto needs adoption by the world’s billions.

Here’s the fastest roadmap to get there. (Hint: it’s an actual map; as in, a blockchain-based world map, and folks getting crypto for mapping.)

5. Learning to Drive

Think of it like this: it’s 1905 and we’re at the start of the automotive century.

Everyone can see the potential of the automobile. The market is frenetic, exciting, innovative, and fragmented. Then different value propositions start being offered to the world:

  • Offer A (Studebaker): The automobile and the “automotive market is not for novices. Hire a mechanic on the inside.” Customize your automotive experience. We’re custom coach builders with the “highest technical capability” and we’ll cater to your every wish. We’ll send a mechanic to each disgruntled owner and replace defective parts, no matter the cost.
Studebaker limousine. Source: Wikipedia.
  • Offer B (Ford): The automobile and the automotive market should be for novices! We build cars that minimize the need for a mechanic on the inside. Our cars are so simple, you can be your own mechanic. You can customize and “choose any color, so long as it’s black.” Our value proposition is simple: your ROI is “extra productivity” from not having to walk or tame horses; but the ROI is also coming from extra nickels and dimes you can earn in your Model T by taking people or goods for a ride.
Ford Model T. Source: Wikipedia.

6. Crypto Today: Lots of Studebakers, No Ford

The two offers above are not mutually exclusive. It’s nice when one sector complements the other, and drivers have abundant choice. Competition breeds innovation, and so forth.

Furthermore, we understand pushback from many crypto “collectors” who claim to be “investing” in, and “collecting/HODL-ing,” coins that they think represent a diverse portfolio of Studebakers and Fords, among others.

But in our view, today’s crypto has a lot of Studebakers and not a single Ford.

If you disagree, if you think crypto has its Ford, tell us what that Ford is in a response below.

Please understand:

  • We want you to be right; we want to be pleasantly surprised; and we always want to learn about new CryptoFord candidates.
  • But if your CryptoFord (whether it’s Ethereum or Trinity or Truth or X, Y, Z) doesn’t do the three-step dance above — (1) keys; (2) quick how-to earn crypto; (3) earn crypto — you’re probably wrong.

The closest Ford candidate is the relative ease of creating one’s own token in Ethereum. But even that doesn’t satisfy criteria #2 and #3, above.

7. Crypto’s a Plush & Complex Studebaker

Crypto can continue doing what it’s doing and maintain its “healthy growth,” just like Twitter maintains a “healthy network” by not rushing to fix what it thinks “ain’t broken.”

Indeed, the market for custom coach-builders and expert mechanics survived the Great Depression, World War I & II, and, most recently, the Great Recession. These service providers continue to do well today.

But, be honest, when’s the last time you’ve seen a Studebaker on the road?

Exactly.

Alternatively, crypto can realize that, despite its exponential adoption curves, global adoption can and should be much faster.

8. Crypto Needs to Identify its Real Competitors

Most crypto analysts will concede that a big obstacle to much faster adoption is the lack of a shared interoperability vision, let alone anything resembling comprehensive inter-crypto interoperability standards.

There are many technical reasons why crypto lacks interoperability protocols. But there are also human and institutional barriers to cooperation. Crypto is a very competitive space. Everyone wants to exploit what they think is their first-mover advantage.

Today’s inter-crypto gamesmanship is like watching a group of friends facing off in a fierce game of Grand Theft Auto.

Before the game even starts, everyone thinks they will win because they have full control over their Cryptomobile. They can select different skins, like this Army Camo Pack, to make one’s Lamborghini Aventador a lot more “stealthy.”

Because you can make virtually infinite numbers of mods to your rig, weapons, and scripts, it’s easy to start believing that you have written the rules that govern your race platform.

At the end of the day, you may have won some battles against your friends. But the people winning the war are the publishers of Grand Theft Auto.

The key lesson from this exercise is that Crypto’s biggest competitors are not fellow crypto teams; it’s not even FAMGA.

Crypto’s biggest competitors are legal institutions. Crypto’s inability to see this represents one of crypto’s biggest missed opportunities to date.

7. Crypto Needs to Raise Shared Expectations

In addition to competing against one another, crypto developers should realize they are also competing against much more powerful forces than just another crew of cypherpunks.

See the planes on the runway right behind those cars?

When it comes to speed in getting people or things from point A to point B, the people who build and pilot those planes look at #27 and think, “awwwww, how cute.”

The inter-crypto race for primacy is only normal, but crypto adoption-drivers shouldn’t just look above steering wheels and “under the hood” to figure out how to go much faster.

Very often, the breakthroughs that give orders of magnitude higher performance are whizzing about on totally different runways.

The only way to see them is by suspending assumptions and broadening your field of view.

8. Crypto Should Use Different Benchmarks

For example, instead of competing against one another in some absolute sense, by reference to quantitative benchmarks (ex: transactions per second), crypto racers may benefit from looking far beyond usual comparable variables (“crypto transactions per second” v. “Visa transactions per second”).

Instead of trying to squeeze as much transactional horsepower out of one second as possible, crypto developers may be better served by rethinking the essence and structure of a transaction altogether.

Here’s an example of a new quantitative performance benchmark for crypto. There are many more benchmarks like this.

9. Crypto Must Understand The Needs of Crypto “Consumers”

Today’s big crypto projects are like B2B operating systems: they serve as platforms upon which other second-tier, third-tier consumer-oriented applications will be developed.

Bitcoin is the “Unix of money.” Ethereum is the “Linux of crypto.” IOTA is the “FreeBSD of the machine economy.” And so on.

This approach gives development teams much needed respite from torrents of individual consumer demands for greater transaction speeds, overall utility, more security, etc.

But this approach also has the disadvantage of creating a buffer between the developers of crypto operating systems and the end-users of those operating systems.

Crypto should stop getting high on its own supply; instead, crypto needs to understand what non-crypto people need from crypto.

Today’s biggest need area are easy-to-use applications that plug normal people into the crypto economy. All crypto developers benefit from successful end-user applications like this. All crypto development teams have a shared responsibility for incubating end-user applications like this.

10. Crypto Platform Shopping is Real

The way CleanApp fell into crypto is similar to the way many people learned about crypto.

In 2015, we started doing legal mechanics for several crypto projects, and started educating ourselves on the rapidly growing range of crypto projects, platforms, and possibilities.

When we started seeing more and more bells and whistles, and so much chrome, and so many Lambos and Maybachs outside, we began to wonder — Could blockchain be the key for a hyperutility CleanApp?

Vice versa, was CleanApp the “missing killer app” that crypto was desperately searching for?

Maybach Exelero. Source: Wikipedia

Predictably, our answer to both questions was “Yes” — a global waste, hazard, incident reporting process would be baller as a set of on-chain markets that are integrated with real off-chain response processes. It yields noticeable material improvement, everyone’s better off, etc. etc. etc.

But that’s just context. We’re not plugging anything. This isn’t a sales pitch. It’s analysis. This part of the story is just better told by sharing our own experiences with crypto platform shopping.

And so we started looking. Should we start sucking Ether? Should we get en-Tangle-d? Should we seek ConsenSys? Or go towards OmiseGO?

11. Crypto “Features” Must Come Standard

One of the things we noticed early on in our research was that all end-user oriented crypto platforms lacked a basic feature — the ability to easily earn crypto by doing socially-useful work.

To us, the need for this “feature” is as obvious as the need for a seat belt in a car.

As a form of micro-finance, crypto is an ideal vehicle for incentivizing the production of socially-useful material service (like street sweeping, litter cleanup, common-area maintenance, etc.), tracking the inputs, aligning potential transactional actors, and reaping the value of global I/O analytics on these underlying processes.

Despite the obvious value and utility of an app like that, there wasn’t and isn’t a crypto platform that makes development of globally-scalable apps like this easy.

Ethereum comes close, but, among other problems, Ethereum’s transaction volume/bandwidth limitations mean that near-real-time rewards corresponding to real-time inputs would be all but impossible at billion-user scales (billions of daily transactions). IOTA seems like a possible fit, and we’re amidst that learning curve at present.

So, upon examining the Studebakers and Packards, and noticing that they’re missing seat belts, we did what you’d expect reasonable people to do: we asked the developers for seat belts.

Crypto’s response? If you want seat belts, build your own damn car!

12. Don’t Shift Development Burden to Users

In order to realize its full potential, crypto needs to continue permitting hyper-specialization. Folks who are really good at mechanism design need to focus on mechanism design; folks who are really good at enterprise integration need to focus on enterprise integration. Not everyone has to be developing platforms.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

But the only way to free developers to specialize is to assure they will have meaningful choice between the crypto platform Studebakers and crypto platform Fords.

1920 Studebaker “Big-Six” Touring Car: $2350
1920 Ford Model T: $575

13. Hyperutility = Higher Earnings

By 1924, Ford had sold its 10,000,000-th car (for comparison, the U.S. population in 1924 was 114,000,000).

The Model T kept getting cheaper ($575 in 1920 v. $295 in 1924), with objective improvements in quality in every product cycle.

What was the key to this impressive and unprecedented growth? Answer: the automobile offered material hyperutility.

The Model T’s key selling point wasn’t “economical” service in the sense of just cheap do-it-yourself maintenance.

An explicit Ford selling point was that buying a Model T increased the buyer’s earnings.

Please note: it wasn’t just “the automobile” that made individuals’ lives more efficient, and made sweeping broader economic efficiency gains possible. It was the barrier-smashing Ford Model T that did that.

The Model T sold a healthier, more productive, less-stressful, more efficient, and more bountiful future.

14. Be Honest About Risks & Costs

Every hyperutility app is like a knife. It can be used to cut apples, or to slice an opponent’s tires.

Crypto’s lesson from the car industry in this respect is a contrastive one: what not to do.

From early lobbying efforts to dismantle public transportation networks to exploding Ford Pintos to the most recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, the car industry has carved some gnarly skid marks in ethical norms like transparency and commercial good faith.

Crypto needs to acknowledge that yes, the Model T killed people. Yes, the Model T ushered in the petrol age, the consequences of which now pose a threat to humanity’s very existence. Yes, the Model T introduced supply-chain and factory-line production methods that were appropriated by warriors to make ghastly mass-killing machines.

But the lesson isn’t to stop making knives. The key takeaway from recalling the car industry’s dark sides is to heighten the need for transparency and to be open with drivers regarding the risks of motoring.

Hyperutility apps may find it cheaper to externalize costs of production onto others. But as one learns in Economics 101, these costs aren’t ever fully externalized. Ever.

Instead of hiding crypto risks and costs, crypto should be open about its risks and costs. This is the smartest way to minimize systemic risks and costs.

15. If You Build It; They Will Come

One of the key premises at the start of the analysis is this: there won’t be a tomorrow’s crypto worth speaking about until and unless crypto becomes accessible for novices.

This means giving rookies secure and easy pathways for earning crypto, as opposed to just inventing progressively easier ways to buy crypto.

The crypto developers who build secure and hyper-useful apps for earning crypto will write the rules of the 21st century economy.

[More analysis freely available @CryptoLawReview]

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