Crypto News for The Rest of Us

Big week in cryptocurrencies, decided to do a round-up for non-technical people. Enjoy.

ICOs and Regulations

Just in 2017, ICOs have raised $2.7B and 18 have raised more than $100M, while 120 have raised up to $50M. In the past five months, ICOs have raised more than $350M each. To put that in context, ICOs raised 32% as much as Series A startups in the last quarter alone. link

ICOs are hot, hot, hot, but … what about regulations?

During Singapore’s FinTech Festival, the Singapore government revealed their new ICO regulations. Unlike China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and South Korea that outright banned ICOs, Singapore’s central bank: the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) published a document to clarify SG’s ICO standards. 12

Meanwhile Japan, the US and EU are still in ‘discussion’ mode with the SEC issuing warnings, sending alarm bells to those looking to jump on the ICO train. 12 (There was even a discussion of ICO purchases being entitled to a refund by law? America is so adorable.)

Reading through the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s 13 page document, the terms are a bit fluffy and serves more as a guide than regulations of what specifically defines as an ICO. Lots of loopholes and workarounds are still possible but the report’s objective is to prevent scams and “combating money laundering and terrorism financing”. (Sure, good luck with that. But how about understanding the technology first, before layering rules?)

What you need to know about SG’s definitions of when ICOs are or aren’t securities:

  • ICO trading platforms require vetting and a license issued by MAS
  • some digital currency issued during ICO campaigns (or what are called ‘shit coins’ — alt coins aside from the well known ones like Bitcoin BTC, Bitcoin Cash BTH, Ethereum ETH — that are super minor) may possess characteristics of ‘normal’ currency and must publish a regulation-compliant investment prospectus and register it with the central bank.
  • there are exceptions to the rule including: if the ICO does not exceed S$5M within a 12 month period, offer is made to institutional investors only, and the offer is made to accredited investors under SG’s prescribed investor class.

These discussions of regulations by the big guys is an indicator of normalizing cryptocurrency, but I can’t help but think of how the promise of cryptocurrency are how 1. transactions happen collaboratively 2. secure because they are backed by technology and 3. without central points telling people what to do and how to do it (and without all the fees).

In other crypto news:

Notable Partnerships, Movements in Regulatory Systems, Alliances

  • AMEX announces partnership with Ripple, a crypto payment’s platform
  • MasterCard finally jumps on the blockchain payment bandwagon filing a patent in the U.S. for their platform link
  • KPMG joins the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance — a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association. link
  • 20 global banks and financial institutions join Singapore and Hong Kong’s blockchain based network — no clear indicators of the implications yet link

Products and Services

  • VISA in partnership with the blockchain startup Chain, rolled out B2B blockchain payments. VISA is already partnered with U.S.-based Commerce Bank, South Korea’s Shinhan Bank, the Union Bank of Philippines and the United Overseas Bank, based in Singapore. link
  • Square’s Cash app is testing a feature to buy and sell bitcoin (only for U.S. users) link

Reports for PowerPoints

  • Deloitte scoured GitHub and published a report from the data so we don’t have to. The report is long and nerdy but there are some handy charts on there in case any of you MBAs need it for a PowerPoint 🤗 Find the report here.

PS: I’m playing around with a newsletter, not ready to announce yet but you can sign up here: https://tinyletter.com/highinnovationAny and all feedback, questions, and thoughts are welcome — simply reply to the newsletter or tweet me. Big shout-out to Jeff H., Jon Russell,Daryl S., and Dave McClure for invaluable insights and help.

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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.

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.

How to Wean Off Phone Addiction

Several people immediately asked how I was able to pry myself away from my phone. Actually the conversations were more or less like this: how in the fuck does someone like you stay unplugged for so long?

It’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

For operation Internet detox, I started by reorganizing my homescreen too look like this:

IMG_0265

Social apps have always been strategically placed where they are the easiest to access. I swapped social apps with apps related to the activities I committed to do more: read and write. With help of muscle memory it’s working. I’ve been in the habit of constantly checking Facebook or Instagram and my fingers would touch the icons on the phone without thinking. Now, when my fingers automatically touch the screen where Facebook or Instagram were, Kindle and iBooks launch. In lieu of WhatsApp or LINE, Simplenote and Werdsmith open, prompting me to write.

I still have Facebook, Instagram and a few misc social apps. They’re just tucked into a folder where it takes effort to access. I turned off notifications* for all social sites and scheduled notifications for most messaging apps.

I also told myself to only check Twitter for news — being unplugged shouldn’t allow ignorance. Nuzzel is my favorite news app. Of all the news apps I’ve used, it’s the most solid with delivering articles most interesting to me. I barely need to launch Twitter anymore.

Since I didn’t trust myself, I took it a step further and disabled Wi-Fi in my home. So now my phone can only browse on mobile and if I go over my allotted 4gigs, I pay data overage fees. When money is involved it’s pretty easy to be disciplined.

It’s been less than a month but I barely go on Facebook anymore (just Messenger). Look at Twitter once or twice a day for news. And Instagram only in the morning — if that.

And that is how to wean off phone addiction. If I can do it, anyone can. Anyone.

*Backstory re: notifications: in 2011 I got fed up with notifications. It felt like my phone was constantly pestering me: someone commented on your post! You got a new mention! Email, email, email, respond, respond, respond. Text, text, text.

One day I got so irritated by my needy phone I turned off badges (the little red circle). My phone went from looking like this (left), to like this (right)

(I’ve also always had a one screen only rule: only keep apps I use.)

Turning off notifications made my life better. I was now in charge of when and what to respond to instead of letting my phone control my life. So I am used to having minimally invasive notifications.

Mission Internet Detox

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Face in phone as always.

 

I have a problem. I am addicted to the Internet.

For over a decade almost every free second has been spent online. When social networks gained momentum, not only was I spending all my free time online, I started making time to go online. Combine that with a constant need to learn new things, it was over: I now had to force myself to go offline. I’ve even resorted to pulling the plug so my laptop dies. Embarrassing, I know.

Continue reading

Internet Power Balance Shift to Asia

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The WSJ had a nice piece breaking down the mega internet companies of the world — of course US leads the pack but Asian companies aren’t doing so shabby either. China is of course leading the ‘Asia’ pack due to sheer population volume. Seriously, file that under no shit Sherlock.

But there were some fun factoids:

  • 45% of the world’s nearly 3 billion internet users are in Asia
  • WeChat (owned by Tencent) has about 440m users
  • Tencent’s profit margin in the second quarter was 32%, compared with 27% at Facebook and 21% at Google.
  • Tencent’s stock-market value is $148 billion, compared with Facebook’s $194 billion.
  • LINE (Japanese messaging app) had revenue of $323 million, 16 times the estimated revenue of WhatsApp.

…separately, it’s really funny how ‘tech journalists’ don’t seem to understand the products they are writing about. This particular author, said WeChat is WhatsApp’s rival. No. No. No. I can not say this enough times: they are two very different products. WhatsApp is a communication utility – a tool. WeChat is a full fledged platform, an ecosystem.

The author also calls LINE stickers ‘cutesy emoticons’ — which further highlights the lack of understanding of mobile behavior in Asia even after NYT wrote about it!! (Pretty embarrassing).

Oh well. I guess that’s why there is a need for someone like me or Jon Russell of TNW and a dedicated publication like TIA to pipe on about this region.