As you may know, SXSW is a conference and festival that celebrates the convergence of the interactive, film, and the music industry. This year SXSW took place March 9th through 18th and attracted 300,000 people to Austin, TX. And, let me tell you, a big chunk of them were blockchain enthusiasts.
On Sunday, Elon Musk was spotted with a copy of Julian Hosp’s book Cryptocurrencies Explained Simply. There were 37 blockchain sessions scheduled as part of the conference. Complimenting SXSW’s schedule, Crypto Summit, Initial Taco Offering, the World Tokenomic Forum, and Ethereal Lounge added several dozen more sessions on crypto and blockchain. The crypto and blockchain FOMO among individuals, startups, and enterprises was real.
Here’s a recap of what SXSW 2018 had to say about crypto and blockchain, in no particular order:
Takeaway #1. Trustless World <> No one trusts anyone.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report was cited over and over again. The phrase “trust is on the decline” was shared across the board. Trustlessness was identified as the problem and blockchain as a solution.
In a talk about Business on the Blockchain, Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director at Hyperledger, and Amber Baldet, Blockchain Lead at JP Morgan, proposed that blockchain can help address the concerns of a trustless world. The underlying hypothesis: blockchain enables trust in people through its transparent platform and decentralized verification system (of what is the truth).
We’re moving towards a more pragmatic world where we accept that no one trusts anyone and where blockchain verification helps. We’re moving towards a world of verification — not trust.
Call to action: Verify that what you are hearing is true and not just smoke and mirrors.
Takeaway #2. Use Cases <> Finance, Supply Chain, and Healthcare will lead blockchain use cases.
While crypto investing (*cough* gambling *cough*) has grabbed the attention of the masses, enterprise blockchain is hard at work in the background. Businesses are actually trying to figure out how to materialize the value of the promise of a distributed ledger. And the first pilots are heavily focused on finance, supply chain, and health.
JP Morgan talked about their advancements in finance with Quorum. SXSW also featured a panel on Blockchain and the Crisis of Healthcare. And IBM had an entire session dedicated to supply chain and focused on Transforming Global Food Supply with Blockchain.
Brigid McDermott, VP of IBM Food Trust, talked through the problems that supply chains face today, including: lack of trust and transparency across suppliers, producers, retailers, regulators, and consumers. Then, she explained how blockchain could help address the latter through a specific use case: tracing contaminated items to reduce fraud, waste, and brand liability. McDermott continued by sharing benefits of adjoining data and analytics with the element of trust. She explained that the blockchain would lead to a decrease in social, financial, and time costs for companies, such as their mango pilot customer Walmart.
Call to action: Keep an ear out for developments and consider working on projects in these areas, as they will likely have the most potential to add value (and succeed).
Takeaway #3. Blockchains Quantitative Value <> You can create business value through blockchain.
The Quantifiable Business of Blockchains session joked that anyone can increase the value of their business by using the term “blockchain.”
There are examples of that being true. Look up Kodak and Overstock.com.
True and sustainable blockchain value is still to be materialized. That said, there are many cited potential use cases (see a growing list of them here).
Call to action: Don’t use the term “blockchain” for the sake of using it. Find cases where blockchain technology can solve problems and create value.
Takeaway #4. Crypto Quantitative Value <> You can create personal value through tokens.
At the Crypto Summit, their keynote, Tricia Martinez, founder of Wala, explained that crypto will help people in emerging markets the most. She explained that it is in countries with economic and governmental instability that people can truly make use of the power of blockchain. The sentiment was echoed in SXSW’s Trust Crisis: The Need for Blockchain panel hosted by the Blockchain Trust Accelerator, NDI, Bitfury, and the New America Foundation.
In the State of Blockchain Tech and Investments panel, Jenny Q. Ta, founder of Sqeeqee and investor, encouraged everyone to take advantage of a low priced bitcoin, buy, and then create wealth when it goes up. And that is the way to create quantitative value from blockchain.
People were excited to hear recommendations on what to buy. And in the hallways, it wasn’t strange to hear people’s concern about whether “it’s too late to get rich or not” from crypto.
Call to action: Know that crypto is highly speculative and you can lose anything you put in. Only put in what you’re 100% willing to lose.
Takeaway #5. The Driving Force of Blockchain <> Fear of missing out drives blockchain interest.
Blockchain FOMO is real. At the Blockchain and Ethereum Meet-Up, Ron Resnick, Executive Director at the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, said, “fear of being left behind is what gets enterprise to look at blockchain.”
There’s a danger with FOMO. Businesses may jump blindly into blockchain, thinking that it’s a solution to their problems, without that being the case. It’s important for businesses to start by asking themselves: what problem are you solving and is blockchain the right way of addressing it? It may not be.
Call to action: Use your critical thinking skill set. Focus on first identifying the problem and thinking of technology second.
Takeaway #6. Blockchain Needs Community to Succeed <> The blockchain community is banding together.
From the Women in Blockchain meet-up to the Blockchain and Ethereum Meet-up to the Private Blockchain Meet-Up, every blockchain meet-up invited participants to find ways to collaborate and expand the community.
At the Austin: A Global Center of Blockchain Innovation session, the Austin Blockchain Collective, shared how their organization is headed by different players (i.e., Wanchain, Lighthouse Holdings, Multicoin Capital, Laurence Ventures) and aims to connect their local community with people, events, and resources.
Given that blockchains require adoption and membership of chains, community is essential for the success of blockchain.
Call to action: Join or build a blockchain community, share your resources, and collaborate.
Takeaway #7. Blockchain Ignorance is Real <> People don’t understand what is blockchain, but they want in.
Ignorance is not bliss. Not many hands in the audience go up when asked, “who can explain blockchain?” That’s a problem because we can’t answer the question, “can blockchain help solve x problem?” if people don’t know what blockchain is.
That said, I was glad to see that SXSW did their best to provide sessions to explain the fundamentals of blockchain. They invited authors of blockchain books, such as Tiana Laurence’s Blockchain For Dummies (I recommend it!) and Julian Hosp’s Cryptocurrencies Simply Explained.
Julian Hosp also led the What is Blockchain? How Will it Change the World? session and educated the lay on blockchain. He broke it down by defining, giving examples of, and pointing out benefits/challenges of: (1) consensus, (2) centralized vs decentralized, (3) distributed ledger technology (e.g. blockchain, tangle, and hashgraph), (4) cryptocurrency (e.g. crypto vs blockchain), (5) bitcoin, alt coins, and shitcoins, (6) use cases (e.g. smart contracts in insurance), and (7) the philosophy of giving power back to the people (and driving to a world that’s between a dictatorship and anarchy).
All that said, people and organizations need to understand that centralized approaches are cheaper and faster (but, it’s true, that we risk centralized authorities abusing their power). On the flip side, blockchains can be abused too.
People want to know more. In every session I attended, there were people from both technical and non-technical backgrounds trying to understand how they could get involved. Professors of universities asked questions about what to teach their students to help them along the path. Engineers asked how they could jump into blockchain. And of course, there were many who simply wanted to know more about crypto. In more than one session, members of the audience asked, “What coins would you suggest I buy and how do I do it?”
Call to action:
For the technical: start with Google and cryptozombies.io
For the non-technical: start by reading Blockchain For Dummies
Takeaway #8. Redundant Question <> But what happens to blockchain when quantum computing arrives?
Someone in just about every session asked a question about the future of blockchain post quantum computing. The answer across the board: we’ll know when we get there. TBD.
Call to action: Figure out blockchain first. Read Medium posts, Blockchain For Dummies, and Google.
Takeaway #9. Blockchain UX is bad <> We need to work on having better user experience.
In Don’t Sweat the Tech: Trade Explanation for UX, dylan thomas figlo, VP of UX at Sweetbridge, kicked off the session by asking about their blockchain UX experiences. Everyone raised their hand when asked if they had found using their first crypto wallet confusing. Blockchain UX is bad today, and it needs to get better.
How to achieve better blockchain UX? Understand that no one is a UX expert but that the users are. So, it’s important to listen to them — think NPS and allow your users to give you feedback easily and painlessly.
Call to action: Hire someone who is really good at UX and listen to your users.
Takeaway #10. The Rise of Private Blockchains <> Public blockchains are not worth the money for enterprises.
In the Quantifiable Business Benefits of Blockchain session, Karyl Fowler, CEO of Transmute Industries, believes that we will see a rise of private blockchains. Fowler explained that public chains are very expensive, are not worth it for enterprises, and that enterprise customers want to develop private blockchains. And she’s bullish that enterprise will be who will ramp up blockchain adoption and drive the winners in the space.
It may be the case that Fowler it correct, but then again, many blockchain projects exist outside of enterprise — at blockchain startups and ICOs.
Call to actions: Whether there is a rise in private or public blockchains, we (the blockchain community) must: (1) educate our customers, (2) identify customer pain points, (3) when blockchain is identified as the right solution, sandbox, and test blockchains, and only then (4) launch a blockchain intro production.
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About Author: Lolita Taub is a TEDx speaker and keynote, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, an artificial intelligence enthusiast, and an enterprise tech professional and investor at Portfolia. She holds 9 years of enterprise B2B software-hardware-and-services sales experience at IBM, Cisco Systems, and in Silicon Valley. Lolita has been recognized for her work on Forbes, Inc.com, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and Los Angeles Times, among other publications.