The Crowdstart Capital Vision – An Incentive Scheme For The Blockchain Ecosystem

We at Crowdstart Capital are strong believers in blockchain technology. We have been working on blockchain projects at Datarella GmbH since 2015 – with leading índustry players and organisations. Since we are platform-agnostic, we have worked with Bitcoin, Ethereum, Hyperledger, IOTA, and other blockchains.

One key takeaway of two years of blockchain experience is, that – in the fall of 2017 – most blockchains are still quite immature and a lot of work has to be done in order to make them industry-ready. We see a huge demand for development and investment in not only blockchain-related projects but also in the core blockchain protocols. The key development challenges in 2018 will be to significantly improve the scalability, the stability and the security of blockchain platforms.

As digital organisms fed by communities of developers, blockchain protocols evolve through changes in their code, i.e. either by changes to the original code or through adding a new microorganism – a side chain – by forking the original chain. Both, changes to the original code and forks, could be combined by creating a forkless blockchain with specific rules in the protocol that are created by other rules (see: the Nomic game ). This way, forks would not be needed anymore since rules could be changeable by other rules.

Most industry blockchain projects are developed using side chains. First, that’s to eschew the disadvantages of public blockchains, s.a. PoW, and then, it’s because of the lack of industry-grade conditions in public blockchains. Most, if not all, industry-led blockchain project teams would love to use public chains if they could be used in a reliable way.

Tragedy Of The Commons

That said, strong evolutionary processes in blockchains are needed. But, where’s the incentive for developers to invest resources into the core protocols? The only way to benefit from working on core blockchain protocols is mining tokens and profit from a potential increase in value or joining on elf the blockchain’s foundations and getting paid by them. This imbalance of having no incentive to work on a core technology which everybody would like to see well developed is called the tragedy of the commons: the economic reward for a developer improving blockchain technology is low.

Funding work on core blockchain protocols and thereby the creation of incentives for developers could be provided by private institutions, s.a. Venture Capital (VC) firms, and by public funding, e.g. through a public crowdfunding initiative: the Ethereum foundation could sell Ether through a crowdsale to the developer community working on a specific update in Ethereum’s evolutionary process. For the blockchain’s foundations that would be straightforward thinking.

VCs, however, would have to make sure that their assets, i.e. portfolio companies, profit from an investment in the core blockchain protocol. This could be done indirectly, if blockchain projects don’t need to develop certain functionalities which are already woven in the core protocol, and therefore minimize their efforts and streamline their roadmaps to exit. It can be questioned if that’s an adequate benefit from the VC‘s perspective.

CSC dedicates tokens to the blockchain developer community

CSC’s goal is to foster blockchain core technologies and applications. CSC wants to contribute to helping blockchain evolve into an enterprise-ready technology. In order to lay a basis for a cryptoeconomic incentive scheme to support the development of blockchain-related projects and to provide incentives to developers to dedicate their work to blockchain‘s core protocols, XSC tokens will be dedicated to the active blockchain community.

Developers committing code to key blockchain projects can opt in to receive XSC tokens for every line of code that is accepted for the respective projects. CSC will set up a smart-contract-based system that will pay out the tokens according to the commits. This incentive is meant as CSC’s contribution to the blockcahin developer community – there will be no further obligations, i.e. CSC does not demand any return for this.

Technologies to be supported by these incentives include the core protocols of leading blockchains, s.a. Ethereum. Also, all projects that participate in the CSC acceleration program are supported. In a second phase it is planned, that members of the community will be able to suggest projects to be included in the incentive scheme. Which project should be included will be voted for by the community in token-based ballots.

We know that we won‘t achieve our goal over night. And we know that we might adapt our plan when necessary.  Finally, the most important factor is the blockchain community itself. If we can successfully motivate blockchain developers to join the scheme, to use the XSC tokens and to spread the word to their respective communities – then we can potentially crowdstart something new: an efficient incentive scheme for the evolution of blockchain technology.

Crowdstart Capital acceleration program and innovation

Innovators and people talking about innovation.

How can companies go from talking about innovation to innovating?

There is a strong trend, especially in larger organisations, to try to further innovation by appointing Innovation Directors (mind the capital letters), Heads of Innovation, Innovation Evangelists etc. While the intention is good, it is simply very difficult to pinpoint how successful innovation can be introduced and integrated into a very long tradition of doing things by the manual. Does that mean that more innovation is happening? Do the people responsible for spurring employees to “think outside the box” actually change culture or do they one day find themselves playing cajón in a giant drum circle of executives wearing black turtlenecks? (Note: from a real life situation, without the turtlenecks).

We at Crowdstart Capital don’t pretend to know the answer to these burning questions, but we can say that the need for innovation is not receding. It’s more likely rising exponentially with the emergence of new technologies and concepts such as convergence or game theoretic advances, which require a new understanding of the future of society. By changing perspective, applying concepts from other fields to problems previously unsolved (like game theory in Bitcoin or physics to evolutionary biology) or simply taking a moment to recognise already existing ideas, groundbreaking innovation can be achieved.

The hard selling point for many investors in our digital token sale is how we develop companies and promote innovation better than corporate incubators or accelerators. There are two reasons why I believe in our investment hypothesis: 1. Our well-developed and customisable acceleration process, and 2. Our direct connection to and understanding of corporate needs. Below we will outline the five steps of our acceleration process:

Phase 1. Selection
Based on industry criteria, CSC sources and selects startups in the following industries: 

  • Industry 4.0 (IoT, Automation, Supply Chain)
  • Energy (Solar, Wind)
  • Legal Tech (AI, Compliance)
  • Healthcare (Data Accessibility, Security)
  • Space (Earth Observation, Satellites)

Our selection is based on three parameters:

  1. Product – feasibility, innovative-ness, market-need, location, etc.
  2. Team – vision, expertise/competence, “coachability”, i.e. communication and cooperation skills, diversity, etc.
  3. External factors – current CSC portfolio, industry needs, legal aspects, etc.

Phase 2. Onboarding
Aligned with industry requirements, we onboard the new startup into our acceleration process. We make an in-depth assessment of the technology, vision, financials, etc. in order to accurately adapt the following steps of the process.

Phase 3. Product Development
As a response to Phase 2, in close collaboration with the startup team we develop the product using agile methods. Collectively, we have decades of experience of developing scalable products from scratch. This experience will be put to work for and taught to each startup. The product development is constantly being correlated with strategy and vision of the future exit partner.

Phase 4. Matching
As a final reality check, we match the needs of our corporate partners with the product developed during Phase 3. If needed, we go back to the drawing board and adapt, if not we proceed to Phase 5.

Phase 5. Exit 
In the guided sales process, we leverage our experience in private equity, venture-funded firms and as investors to create the maximal value for all parties. 

Using this process, we attempt to leave innovation in its natural environment, the entrepreneurial and curiosity-driven world of startups. Without altering the habitat or motivation for startups to realise their vision, our goal is to aid them in their hard work.

Identifying Diamonds in the Rough as Blockchain Enters the Trough of Disillusionment

Gartner Hype Cycle

According to Gartner research, 2017 is the year that Blockchain tech entered the so called Trough of Disillusionment. This is the time that comes after irrational exuberance has faded and technologies enter a long night during which the winners are separated from the losers.

Right now we’re still somewhere in the uncanny valley between the bubble and the moment it pops.  There’s hundreds of new ICO’s every month. Some have a viable raison d’être but there is a huge need to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Compared in both number and scale with traditional VC funded projects the Blockchain area has a long way to go. According to Venture Scanner Blockchain related acquisitions this year aren’t off to a great start. In total there aren’t a lot of firms making exits. In 2016 there were just 16 such events.

Blockchain Exits 2017
Photo Credit: venturescanner.com

Compare this to the number of exits and deals backed by VC firms and the immaturity of the market comes into focus.  According to tech.eu, among just EU Tech startups there were 783 VC exit deals in Q2 2017.

This underlines the Crowdstart Capital position. We don’t believe in huge exits with many competing industry buyers fighting for the next unicorn. We aim to be the adults in the room, the ones who know what industry actually needs and can push that dealflow number up by catering to those needs specifically. In order to do this we leverage both our experience building blockchain-based applications for a wide range of industry players and the industry specific knowledge gained from those collaborations.

We’re focused on the fundamentals as opposed to the hype.  We identify a need in a big market, learn how to serve it as well as customising the solution and finally sell that product to major industry partners to reshape existing processes. That’s how to make money in the Trough of Disillusionment. As hot as the ICO model of financing ventures is, the industry needs to have a clear eyed look at what real problems we’re solving and how sustainable our efforts will be over the next five years.

In Search of the 1% of Startups that Work on Products People Actually Want

Three out of four startups fail and 90% of those in the tech industry don’t survive. To become highly successful, good timing, a portion of luck, exceptional leadership and a high dose of resilience are needed.

We at Crowdstart Capital are convinced that these traits and contexts are necessary but not sufficient factors for success. Even within a positive context, the venture capital world remains a gambling game with so many startups working on products nobody wants. Missing market needs are the most common reason for startup failure, way before a lack of liquidity and other factors.

Is there a way for founding teams to better meet market expectations? How could they avoid choosing wrong development paths? First, they must make sure to work on a product the market needs or will need in the future. Second, they should stick very closely with the principles of the lean startup, and work in an extremely focused and agile way to detect any deviation from the optimal path. Third, they should closely watch the players in the market they aim for: do they still wait for the original product idea or have their needs changed?

Easy as it sounds, these requirements are tough to match. Here, Crowdstart Capital comes into play. During a period of 6-12 months, we support startups by guiding them through the above mentioned challenges. Based on our close relationships and working experiences with corporate clients, we make sure that all developed products meet the expectations of either a client’s business unit or broader market needs. In other words, we bridge the gap between the startup and the market.

Our colleagues in venture capital firms rightly point to a startup’s lower potential exit value if it closely aligns its fate with some corporate enterprise. That is true. The more open approach of traditional VCs maximises the exit value since several players in the target market could bid for the startup. However, a traditional venture capital investment phase takes 3-4 years, compared with 6-12 months at Crowdstart Capital. In theory, the Crowdstart Capital model should be as least as efficient as the traditional one, if not more. In practice, we will see first results in mid 2018. If theory and practice coalesce, CSC supported teams will belong to the 1% of startups making sense.

Guiding more startups to successful exits

Most of the new business ideas I have are nonsense. They come up; I instantly like them, I discuss them with whomever I can find – until I realize that they aren’t half as good as I thought they were in the beginning.

Having been an entrepreneur for more than 20 years, this insight is an easy one – in the late 90’s, that was much harder to accept. Maybe it’s a matter of wisdom of age, or just the fact that today most key performance indicators of the startup exosystem are common knowledge: VCs must agglomerate quite a bunch of portfolio companies until one of them proves to be the exit star that cross-subsidizes all others and pays for the complete fund. Then, there are well-known startup techniques, such as agile business development, that allow for a lean approach, minimizing costs and risks of wrong development paths.

In other words: the startup world has become more transparent, better known, more mature. And, yet. Despite these myriads of mentoring classes and acceleration programs and these libraries full of How-To-Found-A-Business-Books, it seems that the gap between a startup’s plans and expectations and the market’s needs has not diminished much. Each day, I read about startups with ideas I don’t grasp even after thinking several times about them. Sure, it could be my fault, lacking some fantasy like everybody before Steve Jobs presented us the iPod. But, I’m not alone: well-respected entrepreneurs and investors are telling the same story: the majority of startups produce useless products and services.

Since lamenting never makes any sense, there must be a way to change this imbalance. Some aspects of the typical startup process should be adapted to allow a more professional, streamlined way of leading a startup to a successful exit. This is exactly what my colleagues and I are trying to achieve: to bridge the gap between a startup’s precondition and the need of a real, existing consumer, or corporate business partner, respectively.

With Crowdstart Capital we combine our experiences as entrepreneurs, investors and top managers, as well as our existing business with leading industry companies and guide Blockchain startups in the fields of Industry 4.0, Energy, LegalTech, Helthcare and Space on their way to exit. We will ICO in November and start investing in Blockchain projects right afterwards. It will be a fascinating journey – if you feel addressed, come and speak to us.

 

Blockchain and Digital Tokens

Blockchain and digital tokens deliberately waste storage, which is cheap, to create something new that is valuable: virtual continuity. Continuity is a universal property of the physical world. If I pass an object behind my back, we can be reasonably sure that what reappears in my left hand is what disappeared from my right.

Continuity permits identity of both things and people; it permits property because a continuously identified thing can be owned by a continuously identifiable person. It therefore permits transactions—transfers of property. It permits trust. Continuity is not sufficient for property and contracts (you also need law), but it is necessary.

And the blockchain guarantees inheritance: the digital token used to perform transactions in the later transaction Y is the only “child” of transaction X. The coin cannot be spent twice – the double-spend problem has been solved.  This virtual continuity enables

  • digital identity
  • ownership
  • transactions, and
  • trust, and
  • contracts and markets,

among parties with no prior relationship and without intermediaries.

Virtual continuity leads to one final symmetry. Recent technology waves—notably the Internet of Things, the proliferation of smart mobile devices, and augmented reality—directly endow physical objects with information and intelligence: they make the real virtual. The technologies of token and blockchain, conversely, endow data with continuity: they make the virtual real. When the real and the virtual converge, it is as if our world and our map of the world become the same thing.

This article by  Philip Evans outlines how the economics of transaction costs and trust could be reshaped by tokens and blockchains and by the stacked architecture on which they are built.
Featured image by BCG

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