At Decentral I have the pleasure to work with a talented team on a diverse range of projects, each of which has a focus on some aspect of the decentralized technology space. Most of the people I work with are employed on a contract basis, and often they work at the same time for a number of the different companies located at Decentral’s space. Short term contracting is necessary due to how quickly the area we specialize in is evolving. I’ve written before about how our era of accelerated change necessitates taking a lean approach to business. Broader, long term goals can be set, but these are of necessity subject to revision. Quick decisions about changes in company approach and methodology is an adaptive strategy that fosters competitiveness.
The downside of having a contingent workforce is the staff I want not being available when I need them. In spite of that, a high degree of employee flexibility is desirable for both me and the people I work with. In their article The Dawning of the Age of Flex Labor, Andrei Hagiu and Rob Biederman note “Workers, employers, and society stand to benefit tremendously from breaking the cycle of hiring people in boom times and releasing them fully during economic slowdowns or contractions.” This changing nature of employment careers has been underway for over thirty years, with a workforce now gradually learning to tailor their work lives to hedge against boom/bust realities.
Part of this process requires a shift in perspective for employee and employer in which each sees their respective roles as a partnership that benefits both parties. For instance, one clear advantage of short term work contracting is a better accommodation of work/life balance. Millennials in particular find value in the 21st century employment trend of flexible work hours. A study by Bentley University in Massachusetts, The Millennial Mind Goes to Work (2014) found that “77 percent of Millennials say that flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive for people their age.”
Based on my own hiring experience, working with people who have forged composite career paths has the advantage of the unique skill set combinations they bring to the workplace. Since 2014, we have pursued multiple initiatives to establish Decentral as a trusted brand in the emerging space of decentralized tech. Everything we have accomplished has happened due to the dedication of the people I work with, including the group I am happy to have on contract today.
A flex workforce of independent contractors is part of the broader on demand economy that large sectors of the population have found easy to adapt into their daily lives. In addition to high profile initiatives like Uber and AirBnB, there are newer entries into the field like Handy or Homejoy (for small home repairs and cleaning) or BloomThat (flower delivery) and Fancy Hands (an on-call personal assistant), among many I could cite. Job task specialization on a granular level creates a new form of employment, one that makes best use of excess capacity, whether it be of a workforce’s time, living spaces, or vehicles. As the Economist notes “this marks a striking new stage in a deeper transformation…[that]…will challenge many of the fundamental assumptions of 20th-century capitalism, from the nature of the firm to the structure of careers.” The future of work is now, it’s the everyday reality of our new 21st century.
As we announced at our most recent DEC_TECH event, Decentral will not be hosting a Fintech and Blockchain Expo this fall. I want to extend my apologies to anyone we are inconveniencing as a result of this, but we have good reasons for this change in tactics.
In response to opportunities, our business at Decentral is changing in exciting new ways. In recent months, our focus has been shifting to our consulting business and strategic partner development. In my last blog post, I wrote about the benefits of taking a Lean Startup approach to building a company. Prioritize innovation, create time-based benchmarks for the testing of products, and pivot to new approaches if these benchmarks, set according to clearly established criteria, aren’t met. I advocate this approach out of necessity. Our era of accelerated technological change demands it.
Decentral’s recent pivots include changing the Meetups we organize (over 100 events to date) from an emphasis on Bitcoin and related cryptocurrencies to the broader topic of decentralized technologies. We chose DEC_TECH as the new moniker for our Meetups to ensure that these events can accommodate the newest developments in the space. In a further pivot, as of March, Decentral has been organizing its DEC_TECH events in partnership with the MaRS Discovery District. Working with MaRS has many advantages. The partnership allows us to organize large events that are free for anyone to attend, and this helps grow our community. Use of their first rate facilities cuts down on the time we need to commit to organizing events, strengthens our bonds with many of the exciting tech companies that work out of the MaRS space, and creates synergies attractive to event sponsors.
Recent DEC_TECH events include gatherings at MaRS in March, which featured a keynote speech by Andreas Antonopoulos, and in July, featuring Ethereum inventor Vitalik Buterin, the CEOs of many exchanges in Canada and two top VCs working in the blockchain space. With each of these events we were able to attract an impressive range of sponsors — including Deloitte, DC BANK and Bitmaker Labs — and many hundreds of attendees. Decentral is planning more events at MaRS, as well as developing further strategic partnerships to help grow our business, and equally important, foster a strong sense of community in Toronto’s fast developing but still young tech scene.
Deciding not to do a Fintech and Blockchain Expo this year is another pivot for Decentral. We were all looking forward to another Expo this year. But changes in the business focus of the company – and, frankly, bigger event plans that are yet to be announced – are now taking center stage in our day-to-day operations.
More than once I have been accused of pivoting my business direction too quickly — but to paraphrase Heraclitus: “change is the only constant.” This is especially true of the digital age, which is experiencing change at an ever accelerating pace.
One significant factor spurring the rate of change is the way the network creates a multiplier effect. Brad Feld of Tech Stars notes “the shift from hierarchical to networked society has been emergent throughout the Information Era.” Enhanced by an expanded (globalized) field of play, the multiplier effect of the network creates an extremely dynamic innovation environment. The financial services industry in particular is experiencing “significant uncertainty,” to quote from the World Economic Forum report I wrote about in my last blog. This is a problem stemming from the industry’s lack of common understanding on recent innovations and what impact these innovations will have on incumbents. Alex Rampell, an entrepreneur and newly announced partner at Andreessen Horowitz, has pointed out that banking and insurance are especially vulnerable to digital innovation because of their “dependence on legacy technologies.”
Whereas previously most companies, including banks, would have a “digital strategy” as one component of their business operations, today the entirety of a company’s strategy now takes place within a largely digitized world. Digital is now at the core of every business. To understand the truth of this statement look no further than the consumer culture of today, which makes potent use of the leveraging power of the internet.
Consider recent changes in customer behaviour and the expectations digital culture creates. Consumers today know they can comparison shop and crowd source information about products, as well as actively participate in such conversations; they can unbundle services and opt for personalized versions of these according to information they get online about companies; and not least, they have expectations about business being transparent and accountable that will only become more prevalent as applications for the blockchain and Fintech, the areas we specialize in at my company Decentral, get popularized.
The speed of digital innovation and the newly empowered consumer it creates means the imperative of our time is for enterprise to be on a war footing — to not only adapt but adapt constantly. My own experience provides an excellent case study about the necessity of adapting within the current environment of constant change. Starting out in 2012, I created Toronto’s first Bitcoin Meetup group, a regular event that welcomed a small group of cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Within months, I had shifted my focus beyond cryptocurrencies to decentralized technologies and changed the name of the Meetup group to DEC_TECH (a coinage from “decentralized technologies”). The business and software development hub I opened in early 2013 was first called Bitcoin Decentral and initially was launched as a coworking and event space for the Meetups. Within a year I had shortened the company name to Decentral while my focus shifted to co-founding and working on the Ethereum project, alongside the development of other cryptocurrency-related activities.
Decentral has Toronto’s most active Bitcoin ATM on-site and is home to my company Kryptokit, a security and decentralized tech software firm. Founded in 2013, Kryptokit has always been a core operation within our business that has allowed us to experiment with other ideas. For a time, we contemplated becoming an accelerator, and in 2014 started Decentral.tv, an online channel for information about decentralized tech. As of January this year we have further expanded our activities to launch Decentral Consulting, advising commercial entities (including banks and financial institutions) about how to implement the blockchain and other Fintech solutions. This has been a business pivot that is keeping us busy, as more and more companies are looking for guidance in this area. And as always, we are contemplating further changes to Decentral.
With fewer than 10 employees, Decentral is essentially a lean operation. Facilitating understanding of the blockchain revolution is at the essence of what we do and, because of our professional focus on developments in the space, we have been able to adapt and adapt quickly within this rapidly evolving environment.
A guiding principle of entrepreneurial world is that wisdom that comes from experimentation; in the words of Brad Feld, “trying equals learning.” As Eric Ries advocates in his influential book The Lean Startup (2011), the mantra for successful companies today is “fail fast and pivot” — be ready to experiment and create timed benchmarks for deciding whether or not a project is viable. If not, you can pivot to take another approach, a practice we have found to be necessary and effective at Decentral.
In this era of explosive change, large companies must essentially be prepared to adopt a lean startup ethos. In their report Being digital: Fast forward to the right digital strategy, Accenture has formulated a methodology for how this might be possible. Decisions about an overall direction for the company will provide a set of goals, but within that direction “a multi-speed strategy [ensures] that each part of the organization can move at a different pace.” Further inflection of the strategy comes from the understanding that the speed of change will most likely require a revision of investment horizons, “leading to strategies based on sequencing of multiple bets on the future.” Finally, within this framework of organized contingency, companies should “experiment intelligently…to quickly verify and refine ideas in the face of changing demands” — companies should “fail fast and pivot,” in other words.
If recent experience is any guide, this programmatic for a new way of doing business will be widely adopted out of necessity not choice. As someone who has built their business as a rapidly evolving entity, it’s a necessity I am OK with. I’ll take the charge of changing quickly as a compliment.
As the saying goes, it’s not if but when. Will your industry be disrupted? The answer is yes. How you prepare for it is the real question large incumbents need to be asking.
This summer I have had the pleasure to be teaching a course in Disruptive Innovation, which is part of the MSc in Digital Currency at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus. Lecturing online to students from around the world my key point has been that, by definition, disruption can come quickly and unannounced. Disruption happens by working within the framework of a well-established industry with the objective to cannibalize it — either by discovering methods for new efficiencies, or through the wholesale innovation that creates a new industry. Of course, the marquee examples of this phenomenon are music and publishing, still trying to find their footing in a fast changing digital landscape.
Digital is the driver of the transformative epoch we are now living through. Fifteen years into the 21st century, this point is well-understood. The new reality of our everyday experience consuming news or listening to music helps ensure that. But the industry-specific nature of disruption, its shape-shifting tendencies, and the inevitability that vested interests will resist change means the experience of disruption will continue to be one of an interloper unwelcome by the status quo.
As Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist and popularizer of the concept “creative disruption” wrote “Capitalism is by nature a method of economic change.”
A simpler way of saying this is Don’t get too comfortable — in whatever business you happen to be in. Just over a decade ago in 2003, Futurist Ray Kurzweil stated “We’re entering an age of acceleration”. As if to prove his point, today 2003 sounds like ancient history. Business innovation and disruption is an everyday experience and a general public that books Airbnb for their vacations and take an Uber instead of a cab, are perhaps more acclimatized than ever to our era of accelerated change.
This new receptivity to change can also be a driver of business success. At Decentral Consulting, our focus is on advising clients about developments in Finance Technology (popularly known by its coinage Fintech), the most significant new wave of disruption currently underway. With a sharp eye focused on the newest innovations, the companies we advise are actively working to understand the risks but also cultivate the opportunities Fintech will bring.
In its recently released report on The Future of Financial Services, the World Economic Forum noted there is “significant uncertainty” in the financial services industry, a problem stemming from a “lack of common understanding” on two points; 1) which innovations are most relevant and 2) what implications these innovations have for incumbents.
The WEF report predicts that the effects of Fintech will be “most immediate” in banking, but “most profound” for the insurance industry. Decentral’s corporate clients in Toronto are already adapting to meet this challenge, using test projects and innovation teams to promote company adoption and incorporate new Fintech & blockchain technologies (including the upcoming blockchain 2.0) into their business prognostics. The WEF report notes “the pressure to innovate will be continuous” and this “will shape consumer behaviour, business models and the long term structure of the financial services industry”. Toronto, a relatively young and rapidly growing metropolis is well-positioned to take advantage of the immense opportunities Fintech holds out. In future blog posts, I will map out my vision for how this might happen. In the meantime, interested readers can find the full WEF report here: The Future of Financial Services How disruptive innovations are reshaping the way financial services are structured, provisioned and consumed.
MaRS began its life as a great idea. The private-public partnership was launched in 2005 to bring a business focus to the life sciences (the acronym stands for Medical and Related Sciences). Its mission has broadened since then to the fostering of innovation in any sector with a commercializing potential.
Fired by a need to foster a new era of ambition in Ontario’s business sector, the region is now seeing a new surge of momentum in Toronto’s tech community, one that MaRS can take credit for helping to cultivate.
High profile tenants of the facility include RBC, U of T, GlaxoSmithKline, Etsy, Airbnb, and the Ontario Genomics Institute. Cementing the impression that MaRS is now consolidating its success is the announcement last week that Facebook Canada will become a tenant in 2016.
That Facebook wants to wants to move into MaRS (certainly not a necessity) suggests an endorsement of Toronto’s tech sector and a desire to nurture its potential. Facebook doesn’t nurture without an eye on how it might benefit. But as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Toronto’s tech scene is now riding that wave. It’s got momentum everyone can recognize.
Just as significant for Toronto’s tech community is MaRS’ creation of a Financial Technology (Fintech) Cluster, announced this past February.
Finance as an industry is the global colossus of our age. Using technology and the speed of internet communications to make it more efficient and cost effective seems obvious. Yet even though the World Wide Web has enjoyed widespread use for over twenty-five years now, Fintech’s ascendance as a sector is only now gaining pace. There are reasons for this, it’s a narrative filled mostly with security-concern plot points. More interesting is the story of the foundations that are being constructed right now, as I write this, ensuring that we are witnessing the birth of a new era, one with far reaching implications for the financial industry, including the possibility of its wholesale replacement. This is disruption in action.
Starting in March of this year, Decentral has been a partner of MaRS’s Fintech Cluster. We have been working with MaRS to present our DEC_TECH series of events. With our focus on the rapidly growing space of decentralized technologies, crypto currencies and Fintech, we see MaRS as a crucial partner on our events, in part due to sheer logistics: over 300 people have attended each one. As well, the number of sponsors for each event has grown considerably. Beyond the pleasure of working with the MaRS staff and enjoying use of their first class facilities, Decentral, like Facebook, knows how valuable this partnership will be as our business continues to grow, along with that of the Fintech sector in Toronto. It puts us at the heart of a network and an ecosystem that has great potential to contribute to the economic health of the region.
On Friday, June 19th the Canadian Senate’s Committee for Banking, Trade and Commerce released its report on digital currencies. Ultimately, the report is very positive and hopefully a sign of how Canadian regulators will approach innovative applications of blockchain technology in the future. Decentral Consulting Services put together an overview of the report, along with some analysis of how its recommendations fit into revent developments in the blockchain industry.
You can find the report here
Toronto Techno Crypto 2015-09-16
Hi! I’m Josh, the new COO of decentral.tv. I’m excited to be joining the team here at Decentral, and want to take a minute to tell you a little about what we have planned in the coming months.
First, a little about me. Before coming to Decentral I worked at a legal consultancy, and before that, I articled at a full-service law firm in downtown Toronto. My JD is from U of T, and my Bachelors’ was from McGill, in International Development Studies & Philosophy.
I first heard about Bitcoin during law school (from the now-infamous Gawker article about Silk Road). Like many at the time, I mostly dismissed it. The price surge of 2013 obviously caught my eye, but it wasn’t until this past December that I started to understand why so many people are passionate about it.
After spending 3 months consuming everything about Bitcoin and blockchain that I could get my hands on, I started hanging around meetings at Decentral, and eventually, volunteering and helping out with events. When Anthony offered me an opportunity to join the team, I jumped on it. After a whirlwind trip to the Texas Bitcoin Conference in Austin, I’m back in the office building the new decentral.tv.
The goal of decentral.tv is simple: get interesting people in front of a camera and learn as much as possible from them. There are three ways I want to do this better:
1) Panels & debates. The Bitcoin community likes to argue. About a lot of things. Should Bitcoin companies partner with traditional financial institutions, or is the whole point of the technology to work around them? What’s the best way to increase mainstream adoption? Should we increase the block size? What role should organizations like the Bitcoin Foundation play?
These debates are important. This is a young technology, and we’re a young industry. The people building both are making difficult decisions every day, and the answers they come to on the questions above will play a part in determining the future direction of the industry. We want to play a role in that conversation.
We’re going to pick big issues the community cares about, find notable people with strong opinions about those issues, and let them have that debate on camera. The point isn’t to create conflict. The point of a debate is to get smart people to hash out the flaws in each other’s arguments, and through that process, present the best version of each side of an issue to our viewers. It’s also something I know a little about.
2) Interviews relevant to the news of the day. We’re a small team juggling a lot of other responsibilities, so it isn’t always easy to get content up the same day we film it. But we’re going to try and do this more often. We want you to be able to come to decentral.tv and watch people in the industry giving their views on the news of today, not news from last week.
3) Guests from outside the community. We want to have more people on the show from outside the Bitcoin community. A lot of the Bitcoin media is focused on a small number of people at a small number of companies. We want to broaden our reach to include more people from outside the industry who have a valuable perspective to add. Economists, policy wonks, lawyers, consultants, merchants, and activists all have valuable perspectives that aren’t always present in the (still relatively small) Bitcoin community.
We have a lot more planned, but that should give you a good idea of the direction we’re taking. More to come as our plans take shape.
DEC_TECH, formerly known as the Toronto Bitcoin Meetup, will connect startups, entrepreneurs, investors, and marketers who have a passion for decentralized tech, cryptocurrencies and fintech.
Decentral is pleased to announce that the first ever Decentralized Technology (
DEC_TECH) event will be held at MaRS Discovery District on March 17, 2015. The keynote speaker will be Andreas M. Antonopoulos (@aantonop, antonopoulos.com), a renowned Bitcoin evangelist and author of Mastering Bitcoin. His keynote address will be on “Bitcoin and the Future of Payments.” Register here.
“As one of the most recognizable names in the cryptocurrency space, we’re thrilled to feature Andreas M. Antonopoulos at our inaugural DECTECH event,” said Anthony Di Iorio, CEO and Founder of Decentral and host of
DEC_TECH. “Antonopoulos has spoken at events around the world and is a highly sought-after consulting authority.”
Last year, Antonopoulos addressed the Canadian Senate and recently helped make the case for Bitcoin before the Australian Senate. His book, Mastering Bitcoin, is considered to be the authoritative resource on Bitcoin and blockchain technology.
DEC_TECH will begin at 6:30p.m. with an introduction by host Anthony Di Iorio. Presenters include Amber Scott, chief AML Ninja at Outlier Solutions, on the topic of the current state of digital currency regulation in Canada, and Gerald Cotten, CEO of QuadrigaCX, which recently announced that it is set to become the first publicly traded Bitcoin exchange in the world.
In addition to the presentations,
DEC_TECH will showcase select Toronto based Bitcoin companies including Coinkite, QuadrigaCX, and Cryptiv.
“As Toronto’s fintech community continues to grow, MaRS is excited to connect the startups, entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts who are passionate about decentralized tech, cryptocurrencies and fintech advancement,” said Adam Nanjee, lead, MaRS FinTech.
See a full list of participating startups and speakers at the
DEC_TECH event page.
Space for this free event is limited and guests are asked to register in advance. Doors open at 6:00p.m., with presentations from 6:30p.m. until 8:00p.m. and networking opportunities and refreshments to follow until 8:30p.m.
Formerly known as the Toronto Bitcoin Meetup,
DEC_TECH is organized by Decentral in Toronto in partnership with MaRS Discovery District to provide a hub for people with a passion for decentralized tech, cryptocurrencies and fintech advancement. Join the community and register for the event here.
About MaRS Discovery District
MaRS Discovery District (@MaRSDD) in Toronto is one of the world’s largest urban innovation hubs. MaRS cultivates high-impact ventures and equips innovators to drive economic and societal prosperity. MaRS provides expert advice and market research, and makes connections to talent, customers and capital. MaRS startup ventures have created 6,500 jobs and, in the last three years alone, they have raised $1 billion in capital and generated $500 million in revenue.
For more information, please contact:
Anthony Di Iorio
CEO and Founder
Manager, Media & Community
MaRS Discovery District