Early on in the process, we decided that we'll use this opportunity to move to New York city (the how and why of that deserves another post, stay tuned!). After a decade here in San Francisco (and longer still in California), unsurprisingly this is where the center of gravity of my professional network was. I spent the first few months of the year getting connected to founders, investors, companies of all shapes and sizes based out of NYC. This was helpful to build a sense of the tech landscape, as well as to connect with a number of incredible folks that I hope will become the bedrock of my NYC network in years to come.
During this discovery phase, I learnt about (and in many cases, connected with) several dozen companies. The vast majority of these I was introduced to by a friendly contact. Yet, as it happens, Blockstack was one of the few companies that I actually reached out to myself (also a story for another day!). The NYC tech scene is fascinating and refreshingly diverse compared to that in the Bay Area. In the months since, I met a number of inspiring people building some very interesting companies.
Some incredible opportunities came my way, and all the while I continued engaging with Blockstack, learning more about the intriguing world of crypto and decentralized computing. It was by no means an easy or straight forward decision to pass on those opportunities – after all, this will be a big, disruptive move for me and my family – but we're lucky to be in an industry where often the downsides are capped, while the potential upsides are huge and I was convinced Blockstack was a bet worth making.
To answer this, I'll break things down along a variant of the framework I use for analyzing companies: Purpose, People, Product, Potential.
I'm a big fan of Daniel Pink's framework for what motivates people: mastery, autonomy, purpose. There is a plenty of research showing people care about the mission, the raison d'etre of their job. Blockstack's mission resonated deeply with me, especially considering the events that have unfolded in the past few years: massive and widespread data breaches; companies trampling user privacy and digital rights with impunity; social media manipulation at global scale.
Blockstack’s mission is to foster an open and decentralized Internet that establishes and protects privacy, security and freedom for all internet users.
Over the last few months, I got a chance to meet many on the team, spent some quality time with Muneeb (CEO and co-founder of Blockstack), spoke with Albert (USV) and others. The passion of everyone at Blockstack and their commitment to the mission was contagious and inspiring!
I'm looking forward to engaging with, learning from and help accelerate our extended community of developers and users in the coming months.
Despite the alleged "crypto winter" (following the 2017 ICO frenzy), the number of companies / projects that are – for lack of a better word – serious about solving meaningful problems and have shipped real, usable, high-quality products remains small.
Blockstack has not only delivered the core protocol and infrastructure components (notably the Stacks blockchain), but also built a portfolio of developer tools to simplify building decentralized applications while also encouraging rapid growth in the ecosystem (via innovations like App Mining) as well as investing in other independent projects. Check out (and subscribe to) the quarterly updates here!
Just this week, App Mining hit a major milestone: over half a million dollars has been paid out directly to app developers since the launch of the program! It's heartening to see that for some, this has become a path to self-employment. From what I can tell, the team has been very receptive to feedback and has been evolving the program quickly to ensure the incentives are aligned to encourage creation of apps and user experiences that are in-line with Blockstack's vision.
In stark contrast to dApps on most other platforms (that tend to be focused on digital goods, financial transactions, gaming and gambling), just check out some of the apps on Blockstack (source: app.co)
- Graphite Docs: Create documents, share files, and get work done with industry-leading security.
- Gladys Assistant: Gladys is an open-source home assistant (similar to Alexa or Google Home) which runs on your Raspberry Pi.
- Stealthy: Encrypted messaging
- Recall Photos: The most secure, free, end-to-end encrypted and open-source alternative to Google Photos
- Blockvault: Decentralized password manager for teams built on Blockstack
There are many ways to examine the "potential" of an idea / company, or the likelihood of outsized success and impact. One framing is through the lens of risk: startups typically fail because of market risk (poor go-to-market strategy, market too small or specialized, competition etc etc) or execution risk (bugs, lack of right skill / talent, poor UX / CX etc etc).
On market risk:
- Do we need any more proof for consumer appetite than the fact that Facebook itself is proposing a "privacy pivot"? Of course, it's unclear whether the core business model would change – incentives in most ad-supported businesses are fundamentally misaligned with user interests.
- Blockchain as a technology and paradigm is here to stay – there's still a lot of noise out there, but this is not a passing fad. Ethereum is a strong existence proof for an ecosystem of decentralized apps.
On execution risk:
- Most of the development is open-source; discussions happen in a public forum and Blockstack has been very transparent in sharing updates with the community. Take a look and judge for yourself.
- Compliance is a competitive advantage: unlike many projects that have benefited from (intentionally or otherwise) the wild-west era of lack of regulatory oversight / enforcement, Blockstack has instead chosen to work closely with regulators all over the world to make this ecosystem open and accessible to as many people around the globe as possible. The recent Reg-A+ filing with the SEC is just one example – if qualified, it'll allow Blockstack to make the first regulated public token offering – and I believe this will be a competitive advantage long-term.
This isn't meant to be a comprehensive analysis; rather just to highlight that I believe the potential for impact is huge and the team has done a good job managing market and execution risks thus far.
Blockstack has an ambitious vision and I'm excited to be a part of it (and hopefully help along the way)! If you're interesting in building a new Internet that restores privacy, security and freedom to end users, send me a note!!
Finally, I want to thank my better half for exposing me to new perspectives and for providing "gentle, but firm" nudges at opportune moments :)