ICO: Enough is Enough

Emergency. Emergency. We interrupt the crypto primer series for a special post on ICOs.

I decided to write intros to crypto, starting with “Why Bitcoin is Important” and “An Explanation of Blockchain for Non-Technical People” because I believe in the technology but more so, think when it’s normalized, it can change the world.

As I was drafting my next post on Smart Contracts and the Promise of Ethereum, I got ping’d for the thousandth time with a barrage of questions about Bitcoin and ICOs.

I am so sick and tired of repeating the cookie cutter response I have memorized, I decided to write it.

The explanation usually goes like this:

Hey. Remember the ICO Paris Hilton endorsed? Well it turns out, the company is run by a piece of shit who kicked the crap out of his girlfriend 117 times and was sentenced to a year in jail. He is also fighting four lawsuits and super radioactive in the tech community, no one wants anything to do with him. Paris Hilton found out what she was backing after she promoted him and distanced herself right away. Do you want to be known as a person who was duped like Paris Hilton?

Okay, okay, so Paris Hilton may be as smart as a box of rocks.

What about DJ Khaled’s endorsement? Remember that? Turns out, the founders of that ICO were accused of multiple charges of fraud, have outstanding bills, payments, and what have you. Just seriously not so… straight peeps and they recently resigned. You wanna end up like Khaled?

I’m sorry — well not really — but right now, you (you = my friend, acquaintance, etc.) are as knowledgable about ICOs as Paris Hilton and DJ Khaled.

So if you don’t know who and what you’re investing in, most ICOs are sketch level fucking bajillion and it goes without saying: You’re better off staying far, far, away until you understand what ICOs are.

Usually, the frankness wakes people up but I find myself getting more and more impatient when explaining ICOs. So I’m doing what every nerd does: Blog about it. (And to anyone I may have offended or angered, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. Really.)

Long legit explanation:

In short, an ICO (initial coin offering) is like a project on Kickstart built on the blockchain where a product or service is backed by the community versus investors. An ICO is not like an IPO, since ICOs are not regulated and due diligence best practices change rapidly since there isn’t an entity or regulatory party telling entrepreneurs what to do and how to do it.

Loose outline of how a company/startup typically launches an ICO

  1. publish a comprehensive white paper on what they are offering, how it will work, how they will make money, why people who back the project should invest, and the background of the founding team.
  2. find an ICO platform to launch the campaign
  3. tap into a network of high profile or influential figures, get them to back your project, and if you’re lucky, they will market when the general public can put money into backing the project
  4. market, market, market. Founders start Slack and Telegram groups to engage the community of potential backers. They publish posts on blogs and Medium. And of course, social media marketing on Facebook, Twitter, et al.

Now that we covered the basics of ICOs, some data points.

While looking through ICO stat sites like 1, 2, 3, I came across this post (in Japanese). This random guy in Japan plugged in all the numbers into an Excel so I didn’t have to, which I’m translating into English so you don’t have to. (You’re welcome.)

This guy took a sample of 48 ICOs with the following conditions:

  • ICO launched between 2014–2017 and listed on ICO stat sites
  • projects that didn’t use an ICO platform since data of products launched on platforms aren’t as easily trackable
  • projects that don’t require software or hardware development

Of the 48, he found projects to be bucketed in four categories:

  1. working product: at the time of the ICO there is a product and users
  2. beta: βversion of product is released; no users
  3. alpha: only a pro-type, not ready for beta release
  4. no product: just a white paper and a community, nothing to show (not even a prototype. Yikes.)

He lists several findings (YoY product delivery comparison, amounts raised, thoughts on why ICO products can not be delivered on time, etc.) but the one finding that raised the alarm bells was this one.

Of the 48 ICOs

Working product: 3 (6.25%)

Beta product: 7 (14.58%)

Alpha product: 11 (22.92%)

No product: 27 (56.25%)

Uhhhhhhhhhhh. 56.3% don’t have product on delivery? That’s insane. Where is the KickFailure equivalent site of ICOs? And I wonder if someone is keeping track of these people who fail to deliver. Just because ICOs aren’t regulated, it doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t be held accountable.

Even more worrisome, is looking at the track record and seeing evidence such as this:

15 ICOs in a day and a half? What. The. Fuck.

Now I am a believer of blockchain. I champion Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Monero, and a few others I’m closely monitoring. I am a fan of ICOs in theory and in time, cautiously optimistic that ICOs will help move crypto forward. But right now? Hedge your bets elsewhere; there are plenty of investment opportunities in cryptocurrency once you understand the basics.

A very rich man once said:

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

That rich man is Warren Buffett. Warren Buffett is worth $80B USD so I think he knows what he’s talking about so for God’s sake, before talking about investing in an ICO or buying Bitcoin: please, please, please educate yourselves.

Thank you for reading this very long rant. The End.

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An Explanation of Blockchain For Non-Technical People

Note: If you are looking for ways to get rich quick on ICOs and Bitcoin, this post is not for you.

Now that that’s out of the way, this is the continuation of this post and why Bitcoin and misc. alt-coins, cryptocurrencies or digital assets, and blockchain are so important.

Here, I will cover blockchain and why prominent VCs such as Fred Wilson has been writing about it for six years, and why many other firms are co-investing in crypto ventures and how cryptocurrencies are no longer for terrorists, drug lords, human traffickers, and other not so kosher transactions we only see or hear about on the dark corners of the Internet.

I left off the last post with the question: If we can make free calls between Beijing and San Francisco, why do we need to pay to transfer currency between Beijing and San Francisco? I then took it a step further, to ask: In a world where middlemen can potentially take several paychecks worth of fees for an exchange of assets, why wouldn’t I find a way to cut out the middleman and directly transact?

Right now the public is focused on currency built on blockchain technology since it seems as though people are ‘getting rich quickly’ but blockchain is much more than currency (Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other alt-coins). What blockchain does, is it enables transfers of digital assets (in any form) in a safe, secure, transparent way with no middleman.

blockchain is much more than currency (Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other alt-coins)

Technologists are excited for the possibilities that instead of a middleman — in any industry from bankers, to real estate agents, suppliers and distributors — individuals and merchants who supply a product or service can directly deal with their customers looking to purchase the product or service offered. This is what is called a P2P (peer-to-peer) network. Decentralized is another term often used but it basically means micro-transactions are not regulated by those we have come to acknowledge as trusted parties to legitimize these exchanges of assets.

A world where everything is regulated is what we are ingrained to believe as ‘trust’. 

We trust banks to handle our money. We trust fund managers to invest our money. We trust real estate agents and brokers when we look to buy or sell property. We trust companies like Amazon and Google to store our personal information and communication. The list goes on and on but in our daily lives, we know that anything we do with these established institutions, our information, money, assets, or what have you, are safe.

But what if there is a way to safely and securely cut out the middlemen, have a new trusted method to transact and save on fees?

What if there is a way to safely and securely cut out the middlemen?

That is what blockchain can do. Bitcoin is just one of the solutions (currency) to the problem of cutting out the middleman (financial institutions). The reason why blockchain is safe and secure, is a bit complex, technical, and potentially boring but important to know in order to understand the value of blockchain technology and the things built on it — like Bitcoin or Ethereum.

The following is a chart I found from a report published here. All tech jargon aside, this is basically the flow of a transaction built on the blockchain:

What this illustrates, is the structure of the blockchain technology we currently cannot see with our two eyes like at a bank or real estate office.

I’m sticking with these two examples in order to keep things simple.

In order for a transaction on the blockchain to be valid, it goes through a process, exactly how a ‘normal’ transaction happens. In traditional validation processes, there are certain things that need to be checked off in order to legitimize any exchange of assets. But instead of one entity (the middleman — whether it’s a bank or real estate firm to follow the examples from above), there are many anonymous people solving complex equations to verify the validity of the asset transfer request. Currently, if we were to transfer money or buy or sell property, a person or people manually call different parties or look through records, forms and contracts are drawn with lawyers, and / or whatever else is required in the verification process for the transactor and transactee required by regulations.

On the blockchain, there is no manual checklist item to ensure a safe and secure exchange of assets, but instead, a process based on math is used for validity. Multiple parties are involved and validation is done in two parts.

How Blockchain works

(this is where it gets a bit nerdy — skip if you wish)

Simply put: There are people who run computers called miners, that receive a request to verify a transaction. These requests are called blocks. If the miner chooses to accept the block, they run the block against a complex computer program (kind of like descrambling government spy level cryptograms).

Once the block is validated, it is passed onto the middleman called a node, to add onto a giant, public ledger (blockchain database). In traditional real life ways, the middleman is usually a person or institution. In the case of blockchain, the middleman who pass the verified transaction data and the valid block data are anonymous and technologically driven within the blockchain process, so payments and fees are unnecessary.

When there are a certain number of blocks verified (multiple miners validating the blocks and nodes adding onto the chain), the transaction is deemed valid and only then, transactional exchanges happen.

Miners are rewarded with Bitcoin for their work. There is no central authority (government, regulatory entities, etc.) overseeing the process but blockchain uses a network of trusted people, with multiple layers of technologies to ensure a fairness in keeping the transaction and all the information stable, safe, and secure. There are also methods put in place to ensure one miner doesn’t have more authority over another, or technologies that makes sure all the miners validating blocks aren’t located in the same geographic area, and so on and so forth.

Do keep in mind, this is embarrassingly simplifying an extremely complex process, and a basic explanation for those looking for a primer on Bitcoin, blockchain, and crypto.

Why did I write this? Because as cryptocurrency and transferring of digital assets become more common place, hopefully these posts will help to understand why these technologies aren’t scary but more so, valuable, disruptive, innovative, and most of all: Exciting!

Next up: Smart contract governance and the promise of Ethereum.

Why Bitcoin is Important

Most have now heard of Bitcoin because there is so much coverage of people getting ‘rich’ from Bitcoin. But the more I research, the more I realize: Not that many people know exactly what it is, how it applies to them, and why ‘Bitcoin’ is so valuable.

I put Bitcoin in quotes because Bitcoin only represents a sliver of the possibilities behind the fundamental reason Bitcoin, or cryptocurrency, digital assets, alt coins, and blockchain are so important. That said, disclaimer: If you’re here to learn how to instantly make money from ICOs, this post isn’t for you.

Let me back up a bit.

The rapid growth of the middle-class is the reason I choose to live in SEA but it also should be worrisome to the world for one reason: by 2030, it is projected that 2/3 of the world’s middle class population will be living in Asia. I use the term Asia broadly, but these countries include, but not limited to: Asia-Pacific (Southeast Asia ie: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei), and of course, China, and India. (Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

What this implies is if 2/3 of the middle class population is based in Asia, the economic power will start shifting, new problems and solutions for these problems come alive. Or, as we commonly hear: disruption and innovation.

My interest in Bitcoin (or crypotcurrency and blockchain technology) simply started as a curious, technologically savvy person residing in this region, as crypoto is only one of the ‘disruptive’ or ‘innovative’ technologies deriving from quick change. Within the short 4.5 years I’ve moved from the States to ‘Asia’, I’ve seen with my own eyes, massive advances.

What does this mean?

I’ve been obsessed with messaging apps, anything mobile, and SEA — specifically how technology is changing economies in high-growth nations, driving innovation from need, reducing socio-economic inequalities, and the failures of first world nations to keep up. (This sounds like a bunch of jargon but whatever. Deal with it.)

Messaging apps that started as communication utilities are now full-blown ecosystems where billions of micro-transactions from communication (messaging), payments (cashless), to things that make daily life easier (food delivery, share economy, etc.) take place on a daily basis. And this is just the beginning.

In a region where things change on close to a daily basis, conversations about currency are naturally floating about because

  1. according to the World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Database, over 2.5B adults in developing economies do not own bank accounts
  2. and only 20% of those living in extreme poverty own bank accounts

Source

And by 2020, there will be 1 billion new smartphone subscribers only in SEA. (source)

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 10.53.42.png

With the mobile penetration changes, our daily lives are impacted, as daily necessities are physically met through mobile technology. If you live in a first world, it may be hard to imagine a world where getting from point A to point B can take an entire day, since city infrastructures in developing nations aren’t designed to handle traffic and congestion. Imagine taking a day off to run simple errands, such as shopping, banking, and paying bills. Now, imagine not having a bank account because you can’t afford to pay banking fees or you don’t have a valid I.D., or worse: the nearest bank to your home requires a day trip.

Enter Bitcoin.

In regions with pain points such as the above, the notion of currency that doesn’t require the middleman (banks) is the reason investors, bankers, and smart people in fin-tech find Bitcoin so alluring.

Put it this way: If we can make free calls between San Francisco and Beijing, why do we have to pay to transfer money from San Francisco to Beijing? If it takes all day to take out cash from my bank account, why won’t I leave it in a safe under my bed unless there’s a better option? In a world where middlemen can potentially take six paychecks worth of fees, why wouldn’t I find a way to cut out the middleman and directly transact?

These are only a few problems ‘Bitcoin’ or more accurately, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology can solve.

Stay tuned for Part II: An Explanation of Blockchain for Non-Tech People
Edit: published! You can read it here.

Trump’s Recklessness and Potential Global Impact

Until someone as uninformed, angry, self-absorbed, and delusionally unaware of their own short-comings as Trump took seat as the leader of the free world, I am ashamed to admit I had no idea the power and impact of an American president.

He bullies and insults members of Congress, high-ranking and respectable government and military officials, scholars, businessmen, and world leaders. He rallies support by corralling the forgotten Americans with his “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, singling out ethnicities, religions, and socio-economic demographic groups resulting in the creation of angry hate mobs.

By preying on the weak, Trump has enabled the worst of the worst of the American people giving them platforms and a voice. He’s putting money in capitalist scumbags’ pockets who are profiting from the hate. The impact from their selfish purposes has caused more damage than anyone could’ve probably imagined. I don’t even know how long it will take the country to heal from the Nazis coming out of the woodworks into the public, hate rallies and speeches that are being held, to the American citizens openly making racist remarks and bigotry that is exercised, all justified under “MAGA”. He has put forth unfathomable policies, putting unqualified family members and extremist conservatives into positions of power and, well, I am probably preaching to the choir.

Meanwhile, over in other parts of the world, China and Russia are making power moves in regions the economy is rapidly growing. The rate the Middle Class is growing in, for example, ASEAN, is moving along as been predicted by the big financial institutions: MS, GS, JP Morgan, et al., and starting 2020, economic powers will begin shifting.

And here is Trump, touting MAGA, and the damage he is causing for America is not good, to say the least. I truly hope there are people in Trump’s inner circle advising in terms of long-term economic and geo-political implications since things are moving quickly on the ground in the high-growth Nations.

Another concerning thing is the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency. And no I am not talking about ICO (initial coin offering, which is the same as an IPO). I’m talking more about the core value of crypto and the reason why VCs and entrepreneurs are into an alternate form of currency aside from the current thing we call ‘money’. Crypto is a post on its own but once cryptocurrency is adopted to the masses, it is highly likely the dollar will start losing value.

So, essentially, the dollar will start losing power alongside American economic power (purchasing, market, bargaining, trade, class, etc.) and there is a chance America will no longer be a ‘super power’.

These things aren’t going to happen tomorrow or next year and I hope we don’t see effects within Trump’s presidency (a decline that rapid is a sure indicator of a disastrous outcome).

An economist scholar once said to me: “Don’t worry Mona, the economy always works itself out.” but I can not help but be concerned for our future. 

I cannot vote (am not a U.S. citizen) but I hope those with voting rights in America, do. Because as much as we all complain about America, I do not know another country on the planet where democracy actually works and makes impact, quickly (just look at the mid-term elections). Another country where there are so many bright, enlightened, and experienced people are changing the way the world behaves and thinks. America is, one of the greatest countries in the world to live and I cannot see a world where American influence (usually for the good) is no longer a reality.

But most concerning, if you look closely at Trump’s business accomplishments, he’s capitalized through his name (licensing, trademarks, etc.) not wise business decisions. He is a brand marketer. Not a businessman. I do not trust him to grow America’s economy and I hope you don’t, either. So please. Vote!

Why Are We Still Carrying Wallets in 2017?

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The food court inside one of the biggest malls in Bangkok — Paragon — has digital menu boards and is cashless. This food court in this ‘third world country’ Bangkok is more advanced than Japan or America. This digitization not just aesthetically pleasing, it actually works and here is why:

  • efficient — because cash is not exchanged, there is barely a line and even the most popular spots the transaction is really fast
  • effective for SMBs — zero cash transactions with profit reconciliation at end of day, the number of mistakes are limited to erroneous input vs erroneous input + too little/less change

In Bangkok, the public transportation system is called BTS. And each BTS station also have similar methods where all the tiny stalls take zero cash and only these pre-paid cards.

How does a developing nation figure it out before the rest of the first world???

Digital Expectations: from a leadership standpoint

Three years ago I addressed something that should be thought about more so now than ever: Digital communication expectations. In 2017 people rely on chat apps to conduct business: Slack, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Ding Talk, LINE, and such. So now on top of email, we have communication coming at us from various directions.

Currently I manage a team of about 15 people and we are growing super fast. With several projects going on simultaneously, we are in constant communication via Slack, WhatsApp, and Ding Talk (Ding is another chat app for our China clients  — apparently Tencent (WeChat’s parent company) and Weibo cannot be trusted). I told our team there are times I might send messages at odd hours of the day and please do not feel obligated to respond. After a week or so, I noticed everyone would respond right away.

I followed Sheryl Sandberg’s lead in communicating with her team, that just because she sends emails late at night she doesn’t expect an immediate response (via Bloomberg Studio). Laying out expectations encourages a fair, flexible work place. But when I put it to practice, I found this to be unrealistic: Most people will always feel the need to respond right away. Then, I imagined myself working at Facebook and if got an email from Sheryl Sandberg, I would feel obligated to respond right away.

As senior leadership and co-founder of our company, I realized it was now up to me to relieve the team of the burden and this sense of responsibility to prove they are of value. So now I jot things into notes (SimpleNote, Apple Notes, email draft, anything — to prevent from sending messages) and make sure to send during work hours. This method has worked well so far and I encourage other leaders and managers to do the same.

Just something to think about.

Aaaaaaand we are back!

As a child of Japanese immigrants growing up in predominately white areas in The States, I knew we were always different. We took our shoes off inside the house (weird). We ate fish and rice (super weird). My mother dressed me in conservative pinafores (super duper weird). Like aliens from another planet, we didn’t speak English with each other. Everything about our family was strange. I learned to accept we were simply different and I would always be weird.

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