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Tag: ecosystems

From Waterloo to Zug, Retracing Ethereum's Journey

IMG_20171016_173659 (1)Trivia: What was the birthplace of Ethereum: Waterloo or Zug?

The right answer is both. The first one could be argued from the technical perspective (Vitalik enrolled in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo before he dropped out), and the second from a jurisdictional side (the Ethereum Foundation Stiftung Ethereum is based in Zug).

With the theme “From Waterloo to Zug”, I’m reflecting on the famous book by Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem when he covered and reflected on these 2 regions during his early journalistic reporting years.

Indeed, I’ve just spent 3 days in Waterloo, Ontario at the amazing ETHWaterloo hackathon event (where I was a speaker, moderator and judge), followed straight by another 3 days in Zug, Switzerland at the Melonport M0 conference where I participated in a lively panel covering the regulatory aspects of blockchain-based asset trading and related token offerings.

In Waterloo, my presentation covered the Ethereum Ecosystem, where I enumerated a number of statistics related to the sheer depth and breadth of that ecosystem that is, without any doubt the large blockchain ecosystem, by orders of magnitudes. For comparison purposes, it has been estimated that the number of Ethereum-savvy developers is 30X the number of Hyperledger developers (Hyperledger, being a distant 2nd in the enterprise segment space).

I started by jokingly asking the audience if they knew what Ethereum’s most important feature was. Then, I said this was a trick question, because Ethereum’s most important feature is NOT a feature. Ethereum’s most important feature is in the title of my talk: its ECOSYSTEM.


   Eth-Waterloo Panel

WM-Eth Ecosystem

Here are the slides from my presentation.

And this is the video to my talk which was followed by a panel discussion with Vitalik Buterin, Joseph Lubin and Julie Maupin. We covered a range of issues. I particularly liked Vitalik’s answer when I asked him what to make of the seemingly excessive attention on the token topic.

Then, off to Zug, to the Melonport conference, an event entirely focused on the topic of decentralized asset management and funds. The regulatory panel I participated included Luka Müller-, probably the single lawyer with the most experience covering token generation events (TGE is a preferred naming convention to ICOs). Luka’s Zurich-based law firm MME was retained by the Ethereum Foundation in its early days in 2014, to figure out its crypto-related jurisdictional status, and that was a pivotal moment in Ethereum’s evolution, and perhaps for the rest of the ecosystem who followed that model. More recently, Luka was the principal author of the just-published Blockchain Crypto Property framework (BCP), a thorough classification of the many token models, from a legal point of view.

On that same day, Melonport announced the formation of a new Swiss Trade Association, the Multichain Asset Management Association (MAMA). Initiated by Melonport AG, MME Legal Tax Compliance & Bussmann Advisory with the support of Canton of Zug Economic Affairs, MAMA’s 20 founding members will function as a trade body working towards a new vision for asset management using blockchain and other supporting decentralized technologies. My venture arm, Virtual Capital Ventures is one of the early 20 foundation members, and I was pleased to support them, because I believe in the future of decentralized trading, even if my recently launched WMX Blockchain Index is managed on a semi-decentralized platform.

The key themes from the Melonport conference centered around Technology-Regulated Investment Funds (Melonport’s positioning), and the recurring vision that every non-liquid asset is going to become a blockchain-traded asset, ushering an explosion in liquidity. Related to this, I ran a quick Twitter survey yesterday that confirmed what I suspected: we are still not sure about the impact of this increased liquidity, given the 51/49 split in opinion:

Time to wind down and return to Toronto which is reeling from Sibos and Swell, 2 conferences that took place within blocks of each other, representing the old finance world (Sibos) vs. the new world of crypto (Ripple), and where I’m looking forward to catching-up with Oliver Bussmann, the President of the Crypto Valley Association who attended and presented at both events. It’s ironic that he was in Toronto while I was in Zug. I will update him on what happened in Zug, while he will update me on what took place in Toronto.

The cryptoworld bridges are getting shorter and shorter. We are in it together to change the world, one region, and one country at a time.


A Vibrant Startup Ecosystem Needs a Stream of Activities, Not Just a Burst of Events

eventsOne of the signs of a vibrant ecosystem is the number and frequency of events and community activities that happen on the ground between all its participants, namely between entrepreneurs and investors, and especially between the entrepreneurs themselves.

And a healthy ecosystem will have a steady stream of the following type of variety and more:

  • Meetups
  • Speciality group events (e.g. Product Hunt, Bitcoin, Wearables, Internet of Things, 3D-printing, SaaS selling, Design, Lean, etc.)
  • Hackathons
  • Tech Conferences
  • Fireside chats with experts
  • Accelerator Demos
  • Investor/Startups networking sessions
  • Awards programs
  • Courses & seminars
  • Etc.

But there’s something interesting I’ve noticed in the Toronto ecosystem, and I’m going to draw an extrapolation that the same pattern is probably happening in other up-and-coming ecosystems.

Instead of seeing a steady stream of activities, the ecosystem witnesses a burst of events, centered around the typical sweet spot seasonal periods, i.e. September after Labor Day, November prior to Christmas and Thanksgiving (US), late May prior to the summer, and early April as start of Spring.

The logic that organizers use is that these are good periods to have events. But when they all think the same way, an event jam happens.

The negative impact of a multiplicity of events running within limited periods is they result in a high degree of overlap, which means less people will attend a given event, let alone feel event fatigue, if these events are too close to each other.

Case in point was last week in the Toronto-Waterloo region. That week was crazy good in terms of variety and quality of events, but there were some significant overlaps that were evident, and undoubtedly caused some divergence in attendance.

For example, Wednesday evening saw overlaps between the Venture North ending cocktail and the Techvibes Tech Fest. Thursday evening had multiple overlaps with the pre-CIX mixer at DMZ, a Fun in Funding venture dinner at Le Select, and a fund raiser and Spotlight Awards at Brassaii. And that same week, the Waterloo Innovation Summit overlapped with everything else happening in Toronto.

All these events were high quality events, but the overlaps put a damper on that burst of excellent activity.

I’m not sure what is the right way to evolve into a steady stream of activities, and away from optimizing for timing of event scheduling. Maybe it takes a full annual cycle to realize that it’s better to have events more spread out. Another thing I hear is that lower quality events suck the air out of an ecosystem, because they diverge the attention and limited availability that entrepreneurs have, and once they attend a “bad” event, it leaves them with a sour taste.

Even this week, Monday evening starts with another set of overlaps, namely one of my own fireside chat with Andy Sparks of Mattermark which overlaps with a handful of others on the same day.

Another “bad sign” is when the community gets split along similar topical events, and it creates a balkanization of attendance and attention. The end result is a lack of critical mass for any one event. Using Toronto as an example, its community already has 4 Bitcoin related regular event organizers, and that’s not a desirable thing. Contrast with We Are Wearables Wednesdays which is the single most import event/community for that segment, and nothing else competes with it. As a result, that event regularly see 450 attendees.

Continuing to pick on Toronto, I quickly compared the Startup Digest for Toronto vs. New York City and Silicon Valley’s, and found a comparable number of events in all 3 areas. The red flag goes to Toronto that has a much smaller ecosystem compared to the Valley or NYC, and that might indicate a near saturation in what the city can handle.

There is probably a happy ratio somewhere between the density of an ecosystem and the quantity of events that it can absorb. A focus on quality should be always a higher priority than quantity.


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