“I found my people!” This was Pete Abilla’s answer when I asked him why he was now working on his fourth blockchain project. At InboundLabs, Pete had been our most frequent client across half a dozen customer companies over the last five years.
“I will never go back to corporate America nor the startups from Silicon Valley,” he explained. I wanted to respond with something but I really had no opinion about the people in a space that I had followed for years, but only really from the outside.
I first heard about Bitcoin in 2012 when we were living in the San Francisco Bay area and working on mon.ki. My wife was pregnant with our first son. Oskar, my Swedish buddy from Chile who had just sold his startup to Groupon, told me that Wences Casares, a legendary entrepreneur from Argentina, was preaching to invest 1% of one's wealth into Bitcoin. The idea was that it couldn’t really hurt you outright, but at the same time, could also become the best investment of your life. This was advice I didn’t follow simply because I believed that the few dollars I had left while bankrupting my startup would not make any difference.
Oh, how little I knew back then!
(Or did I?)
In hindsight, I must admit that I likely stayed away from the blockchain space for many years thereafter because of subconscious embarrassment about my own decision to dismiss BTC as a scam or in the best case as a fluke.
As a serial digital nomad dad, in 2017 I was sitting in our house in Bali smoking a Gudang Garam overlooking the rice fields. Our two boys had just started school a few days back. The surf was booming and so was the amount of ICOs in the Big Crypto space. I was scratching my head and my gut was telling me that I could no longer ignore that wave. Was it a bubble? Aa malicious scam? I had to find out how founders would leverage ICOs to raise money for their startups. I could not keep feeling like an idiot by dismissing something that I did not understand. It made me feel older than when my own parents closed down their Facebook account after watching the Social Network.
I started browsing and reading. I watched endless YouTube videos. Below the noise of bitcoin and shitcoin, beyond the hype, scams, and buried speculation was the blockchain. Distributed and impenetrable systems with smart contracts that could connect processes and transactions across organizations and borders. I had one of those epic lightbulb moments. It reminded me of the time when I realized for the first time the power of the Internet.
I felt compelled to dive in. Out of excitement, I opened a text editor and - for the first time since high school - started writing code again. My new addiction became Solidity. This programming language was a way of expressing agreements -- contracts -- in an elegant and powerful way. Its precision would make any top-notch lawyer jealous of an amateur developer like me.
I started writing a few posts and in the end, I realized one simple thing: this technology would make many existing systems, including traditional banking, obsolete. Just like the Internet it would - even if the bubble explodes - not go away. Ever.
But I was not ready to dive in yet. Despite its simplicity, the space seemed chaotic and immature. Many blockchain projects had the worst pitches and websites I had ever seen in my twenty years working with startups. White Papers had replaced decks and they raised millions of dollars on seemingly ludicrous, badly presented ideas with inexperienced teams.
I was unable to separate the shit from the cinnamon, the ICOs ebbed down, Bitcoin collapsed again, and I let myself get distracted with paying bills and the day-to-day of our marketing agency.
While I was fascinated with the possibilities of blockchain technology my real passion had always been collaboration, how people can work together online. At InboundLabs, we had grown from three people on three continents to over fifty people and several companies without an office or traditional employment contracts. It wasn’t without pain and failure but we were still somewhat indestructible.
Born from our companies’ needs, we started experimenting with Grindery. We realized that the gig economy brought not only benefits but also real problems. We had been fed up with the inefficiencies of the UpWorks and Freelancer.coms, and we were looking for better, more transparent ways to enable markets. We also suffered from making global payouts stifled by banks charging commissions and exchange fees, long transaction times, bounced wires, and all sorts of other seemingly unnecessary bullshit.
The outcomes of our experiments were twofold. On one side we developed software that allows agencies and freelancers to find each other as well as to establish contracts and manage payment requests. On the other, we manually centralized and managed payouts for our five agencies and all their people. However, we were not able to make the two work together in a meaningful way. To me it seemed that blockchain technology was the missing piece but the lack of crypto-to-fiat exchanges and high gas fees on Ethereum prevented us from taking decisive steps.
In 2018 we were on the right track but we were missing an angle.
(To be continued)
Where did this journey start? Go here.
To connect start here.