Blockchain technology is a decentralized database that stores a registry of assets and transactions across a peer-to-peer network. It’s a public registry of who owns what and who transact what, and over time that transaction history gets locked in blocks of data that are cryptographically linked and secured. (B. Warburg)
This is a layman’s definition. Only hardcore computer geeks have any chance of fully understanding what blockchain is and how it works.
But you don’t have to fully understand what blockchain tech is to believe it not only has the potential to be huge, but it’s very likely to be “the next big thing.”
We all use the internet every day. Very few of us really know what it is. Most of us either directly or indirectly invest in internet companies – again, even if we don’t completely understand how the internet works. There are many things in life like this – you drive a car but have no clue how one operates. You use a cell phone without knowing how the tech works. Blockchain will be the same. Don’t try to completely understand it. Just focus on recognizing its potential and making money with it.
Let’s set the stage. I’ll use the internet as an analogy to put in perspective what blockchain is and where it is along its progression.
In 1995, every company on the planet had to ask itself: Should we re-invent ourselves as an internet company?
If you were the JC Penny Catalog, the answer was yes, you must, because if you didn’t, someone else would.
If you were Ford or McDonalds, the answer was no, because although you’d have a web presence that would complement or supplement your brick-n-mortar operation, the internet was not needed to design and manufacture cars or cook food.
The question every company needs to ask…
Today, every company on the planet has to ask itself: Should we re-invent ourselves as a blockchain company.
For some, the answer is very obviously yes.
For others, it’s just not appropriate. But for many in the middle, the technology applies to more than you think.
Today we can sit here and say: “Wow, look at all the multi hundred billion-dollar internet companies.”
In 10 or 15 or 20 years, we’re going to say: “Wow, look at all the multi hundred billion-dollar blockchain companies.”
Do you see the analogy? Blockchain isn’t a company you invest in. It’s a foundational platform that businesses will be built on top of. Some of these businesses will be brand new. Others will be internet companies that convert to blockchain companies…just like brick-n-mortar companies re-invented themselves as internet companies 20 years ago.
Seeing the internet as the ultimate platform.
That’s what the internet is. It’s a platform. Technically the internet is a network of computers. That’s it. My phone is connected to your computer which is connected to someone else’s computer which is connected to someone’s phone and on and on. Almost every computer and cell phone in the world is connected, and because of this valuable businesses can be built. Facebook only makes sense when all computers are connected. But you don’t make money investing in the internet. You make money investing in internet companies. Do you follow?
I can lay out a timeline for the internet, let’s say starting in 1995, and I can note the start of many dozen internet companies. Google, Facebook, Netflix, Salesform.com, Amazon, Paypal, etc.
A company like Dominos uses the internet to accept orders.
AT&T has become an internet company by allowing cable subscribers to watch TV on their mobile devices, even when not at home. In fact you can subscribe to cable even if you don’t have a TV.
Apple is both a hardware and software company, but if not for the internet, they wouldn’t be able to sell $1000 phones. And their computers would just be word processors.
There are internet gaming companies…and semiconductor companies that feed off the demand for high-end graphics.
Just like I can lay out that timeline with dozens, even hundreds of internet companies, starting in 1995, I can do the same with blockchain companies. 20 years from now there will be hundreds, probably 1000’s. Some will be big. Others will be small. Some of today’s blockchain companies will be huge; others will cease to exist. And being first is no guarantee of anything. Google wasn’t the first search engine. Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Apple didn’t invent the cell phone. There are many examples of companies that were not first, but because they didn’t have to work hard to develop a market and they could learn from the mistakes of those that came before them, they were able to put out a better product and eventually control the category.
The new frontier today.
Blockchain today is what the internet was in the mid 90’s. It’s a foundational platform that business will be built on. Just like there are “internet companies,” there will be “blockchain companies.” Just like there are dozens of billion-dollar internet companies today, there will be dozens of billion-dollar blockchain companies in 10 years. Just like there are brick-n-mortar companies that don’t exist today because they didn’t make the jump to the internet, there will be internet companies that go belly-up because they don’t transition to the blockchain.
Blockchain is the next big thing. Many of the recent changes on the internet have been evolutionary, not revolutionary. They’re small incremental improvements, but they’re not major developments which truly change the landscape. Until now. The internet will continue to improve, but blockchain is the next “big thing” – like the printing press, electrical grid, airplanes, cars, telephone, radio, TV, computers, internet – it could spur 10-20 years of innovation. Until the next big thing.
If you’re a VC, you should be looking for blockchain startups to invest in.
In my next write-up I’ll talk about industries which are in the crosshairs of blockchain tech, industries which must rethink and drastically change everything about themselves or suffer the same fate as the JC Penny Catalog.