1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, both at work and leisure.
I went to Stanford in the 80s and stayed in Silicon Valley for 20 years, starting companies. I’m on my 22nd company now. I’ve had 5 successes and 16 failures so far – I think you could say I’m a serious student of failure. I did manage to get into the web early, in the 1990s. I’m the first web designer. I wrote the first book on web design, which perhaps a few people reading this have on their shelf. I built one of the world’s first digital agencies in San Francisco and KPMG bought it. I’m pretty much self-taught. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of nonfiction books. I’ve written six books, given over 100 professional speeches, and I’ve been to 96 countries – I love to travel. My last book, Pull, was about the shift from pushing to letting customers pull. If you add blockchain (decentralization) to that concept, it turns out that much of what I envisioned when I wrote the book in 2009 can now finally come true. Last year, I was a candidate to be dean of Stanford’s business school. This year, I’m building the decentralized future with an amazing team of volunteers. I’m sort of a data geek, a writing fanatic, a start-up junkie, art collector, designer, business guy, and an evidence-based decisionmaker all in one. About the only thing I’m really good at is starting companies and leading the way into the unknown – I hope this is the one that really goes global.
2. Which services do you sell and who are your competitors?
Twenty Thirty is: a) a global community and platform for blockchain innovation, where anyone can come join a team or create one; b) a product company focused on making high-quality products that seize first-mover advantage in the new decentralized world, and c) a platform for changing the world, society, economies, and more. We are idealists, but we are clear that at it takes great products that customers will pay for to stay in business. So we’re a horizontal blockchain innovation platform – our goal is to educate tens of thousands of people around the world and give them a chance to build new things that have never existed before. We’re business and market focused, not technology focused. I would say our main (and very friendly) competitor is ConsenSys. They’re amazing and a constant inspiration. We’re like them, but with no money, so we’re much, much smaller.
3. How did you get your startup idea and how did you finance your startup?
This isn’t my first rodeo. I built a web innovation center in San Francisco in the 1990s. I tried to do it again with the semantic web in 2010, but the semantic web didn’t take off. Now I’m doing it again but bigger, global, and with more impact. We’re launching our first of probably several cryptocurrency tokens in June.
4. What were the biggest challenges in starting?
We’re still in the middle of it. We still have no money. We did raise enough to incorporate in Switzerland, but we’re all doing consulting and holding down day jobs until we are really funded. Europe is a particularly challenging place to raise pre-revenue money. Most investors will invest when a project is derisked to the point that it offers poor returns. I’ve written about the various blind spots of venture investors at www.globalbetaventures.comand give a talk/webinar on the topic whenever I can. Here’s a video of a recent talk on entrepreneurship that your readers should enjoy:
5. What areas within FinTech do you personally find most interesting and why?
I think of fintech as an enabler. It goes from payments and wealth management to transportation, supply chain, health care, insurance, real-estate, and much more. Blockchains are pretty multi-purpose – I honestly think we’re just beginning to learn what’s possible with them. Whenever a new technology comes along, it’s never about the technology. It’s about mindset – people’s ability to understand and willingness to try something new. If everyone were an early adopter the world would be much different!
6. What opportunities do you see for FinTech startups in Continental Europe, and how can we help to accelerate it?
I have a dream: that we will one day separate startups and their pitches from funders and their funds. I think the exercise of business planning, pitching, and wooing investors is inefficient and silly. It’s as useful as writing a business plan (pro-forma financials, anyone?) or interviewing someone. These are not the right tools for the job. The best approach is statistical. It’s a numbers game – put the numbers in your favor. I’m working on what I think is the smart way to do it: start a single company focused on a single technology (blockchain) and go after market opportunities using an extended community. I talk about it in the manifesto on our site, www.2030.io. With a company, rather than a fund, we can do fast market experiments and fail often, while building our core tech/expertise around blockchain that we can redeploy in different markets. I believe this will give us far better returns for investors than a 2/20-style venture fund. I think that model will be over soon. What we’re doing is much easier on people, much more market focused, and much faster and more economical than starting dozens of companies. We plan to raise $50-100m over the next five years and be one of the main forces in our various verticals.
7. What tip would you like to give FinTech entrepreneurs?
Life is too precious to wait around for regulators and governments and investors to determine your fate. Find a way around that! Address a different market, try building small parts of the puzzle, do fast and light experiments that point the way. Absolutely do not do big rocket-science projects that require tons of cash and development time and big customers. Most of those will fail. Use pretotyping and fast market experiments to find demand for something, then jump in and fill that need.
If people want to follow us and learn from us, please jump on our mailing list at www.2030.io and from there you’ll see how to get an invite to our Slack. We welcome people to come innovate with us!