For the last three years, the hype in blockchain space went from its highest ever to the lowest point. There are a lot of niches where blockchain technology found its product market fit, such as exchanges, cross-border payments, grey market financial operations, DeFi (not quite yet, but it works). But there are still tons of areas where it didn’t.
The approach to launching a blockchain startup has also changed dramatically as well - if 2017-2018 was all about just launching an ICO before even realizing what your project was, now it’s more like traditional project: you find an audience, build a product, get funding.
It was interesting to ask blockchain project owners who started in 2017-2018 how they see a certain industry and what they would do differently. I also asked the agencies that served marketing and funding activities for blockchain startups - just because they see the bigger picture with the situation around real audience growth among different niches.
Here are their answers:
Bogomil Alexandrov from laycan.com and CargoCoin
Niche: Blockchain in logistics
“Laycan's idea is to allow for shipping businesses to make faster transactions, saving both time and money when using our platform. Both sides - Cargo owners or their agents could connect directly with ship owners or their agents and vice versa. Having direct contact through our marketplace platform eliminates intermediaries, thus saving money in commissions, reducing time, and optimizing the whole shipping process. Using optimized shipping routes not just saves money, but it also has a significant environmental impact by reducing pollution. Furthermore, after implementing blockchain smart contracts, the businesses will be able to decrease bank usage, thus saving even more time and money.
I have been in the blockchain space since 2013. We started our ICO at the end of 2018. Back then, there was a lot of hype and a lot of scams too. Rather than focusing on our platform, we put a lot of focus on the ICO itself. If starting over in 2020, I would focus mainly on the product to be delivered to the market.”
Tetsuro Masunaga and Kazuya Saginawa from bitgrit
Niche: blockchain for data science
“bitgrit is a Japanese startup that has built an expansive international community of data scientists who compete on bitgrit's online competition platform. We will be implementing blockchain into a full-fledged AI Marketplace, where data scientists submit algorithms and maintain ownership of them, and companies can buy these algorithms and provide datasets.
If we were to start bitgrit over from scratch in 2020, while our commitment to building a community of data scientists would remain the same, we would make some key changes in our approach.
Community-building is a central pillar for most startups with a strong focus on their users. This was certainly the case for us, and we couldn’t have come this far without the incredibly talented and dedicated data scientists who use our competition platform.
However, the market isn’t the same as it was in 2017 when we established bitgrit. Our main emphasis in community-building over the past couple years has been India and Japan, but if we could focus on countries with strong data science groups already and then expand into promising up-and-coming countries, that could help us establish strong communities of data scientists worldwide.
Starting over in 2020 would certainly be a challenge as the blockchain space has boomed in recent years, but as a result of blockchain’s increased popularity, it is also being seen as a more valid business model across industries. Just three years ago, most people were incredibly dubious regarding blockchain projects (especially in Japan), but now people have become more trusting of the technology as big-name companies integrate it, too.
To newcomers who are starting their blockchain projects in 2020, we advise you to put your users first, prioritize communities in your field of business, and pay close attention to their feedback and build trust. This will create a loop that will improve all verticals including marketing, funding, and -- most importantly -- your blockchain project itself."
Mark Lloyd CEO of Max Property Group and Max Crowdfund
Niche: Blockchain in real estate
“Above all else, we would not have done an ICO, ITO, IEO, STO, or whatever abbreviation is used when you read this. Raise funds through known channels, such as friends and family, equity rounds (whether seed, angel, VC, series A, B, C, etc.). It may well be an STO, but we will ensure it is done 100% correctly.
Marketing efforts should also be "traditional", so press releases, articles, social media, interviews, etc. are great. Airdrops and bounty hunters are not. We have found them to be of low quality in general, and if you pay in your tokens the receivers will certainly drop them as soon as you list on the exchanges.
If your goal is to get listed on an exchange, you will be charged an exorbitant fee. Don't give in. They need you as much as you need them.
Most important, do not use a Market Maker. We tried this twice and both times we lost money with the exercise.
We would not have opened a Telegram channel either. The amount of time you spend on maintaining it and the amount of scammers that live there make it obsolete to say the very least.
Do not accept any marketing offers from people you do not know and who do not wish to identify (including KYC) themselves. If you don’t know them, they will be rubbish.
Remember, most projects that do get funded do so because the founders are well connected. Most projects do not have that luxury and have to do the grind. Good luck to all of you.”
Irina Heaver & Grigory Rybalchenko from Emirex.com
Niche: Crypto exchange
“Launching yet another crypto exchange in 2020 without a clear value proposition and a differentiating factor is definitely not a good idea. The market is already oversaturated with low-liquidity exchanges. One would have a hard time competing with the major market players.
“We started the exchange in 2018 at the request of our community; they were asking for an easy and secure way to exchange local currencies into crypto.” says the Co-Founder and CEO of Dubai Head Quartered exchange Emirex.com. “So localization of services have started as the key differentiating factor for us.”
Although we have started with a localized exchange for the Middle East region, at the end of 2019 we have set our focus on tokenized commodities.
Now, we are the first digital commodities exchange in the Middle East. We focus on tokenized precious and industrial metals, as well as tokenized diamonds and other precious stones. We either list existing projects or we assist the mining companies to get tokenized and then we list them. We are located in Dubai, the historical trading hub for gold and diamonds. We are now digitizing the assets, making them more liquid and providing easier access for investors. Both myself and Grigory come from the commodities and technology sectors, so marrying up the two was a logical step for us,” says Dr. Irina Heaver, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Emirex.
In order for a crypto exchange to meaningfully trade in tokenized securities, it will be required to be a licensed capital market operator on par with Nasdaq, London Stock Exchange, Australian Stock Exchange, etc. So, wouldn't the existing market players be better positioned to trade tokenized securities? ICE, the owners of NYSE launched Bakkt, and I believe this is only the beginning of the trend.
Native exchange tokens have outperformed Bitcoin in 2019, and we believe the trend will continue. Native tokens of smaller exchanges with a clear differentiating factor and a certain value proposition, such as EMRX Token, will continue performing well and will continue generating income for exchanges.”
Jan Sammut from ICOMalta.com
Niche: STO platform & blockchain development
“Given the opportunity of a fresh start, I would definitely narrow my focus to having fewer clients, those whose projects create value across the entire sector, rather than simply those looking to tokenize a fund or a piece of real estate. Our recent experience in building DeFi solutions for clients has made it clear that in this sector, unlike most others, value is created through horizontal integration, rather than vertical monopolisation.”
Nemr Hallak from volentix.io
Niche: Decentralized exchange
“We would start from the front end and build an easy interface for crypto assets and currencies to be used for a WeChat-like application that plugs into many popular platforms, such as PayPal, which allows any digital asset to be used, not just Visa or MasterCard, but also any cryptocurrency and any onboard ramp.
I do think we need a true dex system to get rid of the centralization that is currently in the hands of exchanges and exchange operators.
We see a lot of problems that can be resolved by implementing a real decentralized ecosystem that replaces the current tarnished face of crypto due to the nature of how crypto exchanges are operating today.
Coin creators are being taken advantage of by special-interest exchange operators whom charge a membership or listing fee. They then have an insider advantage over the assets listed and take a cut on every transaction.
These are issues that persist and cripple the progress of peer-to-peer systems by re-centralizing the most critical component which is censorship.
Ethereum is today a little bit more appealing to have built on from the start, given the issues that have risen with EOS; however, Volentix is building a multi-chain capable core that will rely on EOS for certain aspects, but it will soon be distributed over several chains, including a DHT network that decouples validators from state storage. This is faster and immutable.”
Josh Igoe and Kade Almendinger Co-Hosts of Dark Side of the HODL Moon Podcast
Niche: Blockchain consulting & education
“We would focus on serving emerging economies through cross-chain interoperability, leveraging decentralized financial technology to bring it to those huge markets in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, especially where these people really need access to financial services the most... In 2020, this will be the logical trend, and we can start to truly bank the unbanked. We share interesting crypto content every week with special guests who are at the cutting edge of the blockchain space, so see more by listening to the Dark Side of the HODL Moon podcast.”
Pauline Shangett Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at ChangeNOW.io
Niche: Cryptocurrency exchange
“2020 is going to be all about mass adoption. Crypto has to be accessible to anyone, including your grandma, friends, that guy on the street - so UI and UX are going to be super hot. If a person would like to get into the wonderful world that is blockchain, we need to make sure they have as pleasant an experience as you could possibly get. No complicated interfaces. No possibility for user error. No unnecessary anxieties. Want to, for example, exchange Bitcoin to Ethereum? No problem, you can do that with just three clicks on ChangeNOW - you don’t even need to sign up. So, for all of you aspiring crypto entrepreneurs, I’d like to propose one handy metric - if your mom can figure out your stuff in under a day, you’re solid for 2020. If not, go get good or you simply won’t make it.”
Alexander from okschain.com
Niche: Blockchain financial platform
“Okschain was built as a platform for managing crypto assets, making payments, and investing in modern technologies.
We would focus more on local blockchain products like cross-border payments between countries and payments for users. The core thing here will be to focus on showing mass users that blockchain solutions are more convenient than banks.
There are a lot of different blockchain solutions that have been developed since 2015. But there are still not enough products with easy-to-use user interfaces. Complexity makes it difficult to make a blockchain mass market product.”
Christian Eichinger & Sebastian Gronewold from tixl.me
Niche: Blockchain for payments
“In a world headed more toward digital currencies, we must secure and preserve the essential properties of traditional money. Tixl behaves like traditional cash and provides instant transactions for everyday use, while still protecting the privacy of its users. Tixl uses the most sophisticated technologies that have emerged from the blockchain world over the recent years.
If we were to start Tixl from scratch in 2020, we would use the Binance Chain for our token from the beginning instead of Stellar, as it was originally intended. Creating the token and using it is very convenient. In addition, the entire ecosystem around BEP2 tokens, on which Binance is actively working, is helpful. Already several wallet providers and exchanges have integrated BEP2 tokens and the numbers are growing.”
Niche: Automated trading software for cryptomarkets
While starting our company in 2018, we realized the potential that robots could have had on the profits of individuals investing in crypto.
It’s hard for self-standing traders these days to compete with institutions and big corps in a field of traditional trading, but with new coming crypto markets, automation can be a strong weapon in your arsenal.
According to CNBC, the extent of automated trading on the traditional market is approaching the proportion of 80%, and most of the players are funds and banks. However, by using bots in the crypto market, you still have a good chance to fight for such variables as time, price and volume and not be afraid that the institutions will take you over.
So, when trading crypto, robots may still give you a competitive advantage unlike while trading stocks or forex.
That being said, our idea to create the automated trading software for crypto markets saw the light for two main reasons.
We knew that for the evolving crypto trading world, automation tools were a necessity, not a privilege. Also, considering a specific ecosystem of the crypto market, this was one of a few methods to make the process of individual trading more efficient.
“If we had to start the business in 2020, we would focus on releasing new features at a faster pace. And we would roll out margin trading and futures trading faster.”
The author is not associated with any of the projects mentioned.