Singapore, SINGAPORE – As the dust settles from Consensys Singapore 2018 and Singapore Blockchain Week, the experience from last week’s cryptocurrency and blockchain event of the year in the island nation can only be described of as a tale of two cities. Depending on who you ask and which events you attended, last week was either the inflexion point for a more optimistic note on the future of crypto and blockchain, or more of the same rudderless wandering in the white haze of a prolonged crypto winter. To be sure, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And many of the latecomers to the crypto bonanza were still beating the same drum that has long since become white noise, pedaling their initial coin offerings (ICOs) like so many snake-oil salesman to a tired investing public, weary of a crypto market that is in a doldrum the punters in 2017 never thought would arrive so fast, nor last so long. Despite the somber mood at Consensys Singapore, which many insiders had worried would be cancelled, the show, as it always does, must still go on. And so, every manner of merchant, pedaled their latest “world-changing” cryptocurrency, their latest “moon” shot, while the crowd mingled in the hallways of the conference rooms and event venues, catching up on the latest gossip, “Who’s run out of funding?” and “He did what?” while the pitches of so many ICOs fell on deaf and perhaps in some cases, defeated, ears. As the crypto markets continue to stay well in bear territory, as far as fiat versus crypto valuations are concerned, there are a countless number of ICO hopefuls who do not seem to realize that that ship has clearly sailed. Meanwhile scores of other bag holders lick their wounds, lamenting the Lambos they’ve lost for having failed to sell their crypto stash earlier, which may also explain the malaise in Ethereum prices which seem to stubbornly bounce back down each time there’s even the vaguest possibility of a pump. If no Lambo maybe a Lada? Yet Singapore Blockchain Week was an entirely different animal altogether. Brought together by Singapore’s very own XSQ and South Korea’s #HASHED, the spirit of camaraderie and unity was palpable and it is there that perhaps the next generation of blockchain and crypto elite shall arise. Unlike the cut and dried formula of other crypto and blockchain events, XSQ and #HASHED leaned on their considerable networks, to foster and forge an amicable show of unity, to work towards the betterment of the crypto community as a whole through Singapore Blockchain Week and to harness the benefits of decentralization for the greater good of the community. And if Satoshi Nakamoto were here (real or fictitious) surely he or she or they would have approved of continuing that ethos.
Call it the “crypto winter” if you will, the more accurate label would be the “trough of disillusionment.” This ain’t Kansas anymore Alice and the cryptosphere is well within the traditional technology cycle which veterans have since become accustomed to observing. For many millennials, fresh out of college who became instant dollar millionaires or billionaires in late 2017 off all manner of weird and wacky ICOs, many will be too young to remember the first dotcom bubble and bust. Just as trees do not grow to the sky, coins do not go to the moon, only rockets do, and even then their success rate is patchy at best. But there is a lesson to be learned in all this, the avoidance of avarice and the need for humility.
In 2017, as the ICO boom reached its zenith, all manner of self-proclaimed expert poured out of the woodwork, charging an arm and a leg for “advice” and “consultancy services” on how to run an ICO, an industry which only six months prior simply did not exist. The way one becomes an expert in six months resembles the way slimming products promise you a six pack in six weeks, the only six pack you’ll be reaching for is at the alcohol aisle at the grocery store at the end of both encounters. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb tells in his book Fooled by Randomness, the recipients of good fortune often mistake luck with ability – a heady and dangerous mix at best. For those too young to remember the dotcom bubble and bust of the early 2000s, they will not know that many in those days also profited off tall tales of the revolutionary nature of the internet to transform the world. Many made money (especially those who got out early) and many made that money quickly, but those old enough to remember those days will hopefully acknowledge the element of luck and timing in their good fortune. Those who did not, would have gone on to squander their newfound wealth eventually – it’s hard to beat the law of large numbers indefinitely. For instance, someone who strikes the lottery once is not statistically expected to strike it again within the next week. For everyone who made money off the IPO of pets.com (go ask your grandparents), even more lost their shirts and in some cases the house. For every bubble and even every ponzi scheme, it’s the early exits which made the most of the situation, even Bernie Madoff had clients who pocketed handsome returns in the early days. So with the bubble appearing to be well and truly deflated, wither now the cryptosphere? Should we all be signing up to be Uber drivers? What of the ICO consultants?
As with all things, the reality is more muted and probably a lot more boring. The dotcom bubble taught us one important lesson, in the battle of hype versus reality, reality will always win. The key in this season is to spot the next Amazon or the next Google amidst the rubble that is the cryptocurrency market today, no mean feat, but not an impossible one either. Unlike the early days of the dotcom bubble and bust, resources like Reddit and GitHub didn’t yet exist. Today, we have unparalleled access to the progress and quality of the code of some of the most promising blockchain protocols, startups and teams on GitHub. Those who are amenable to do so can investigate the quality of code and the number of commits of their favorite crypto companies, an unprecedented level of access and transparency that simply didn’t exist in the late 1990s. Unlike the 1990s, scams are easier to detect than ever before, due diligence on any project can be done on a best efforts basis, teams are amenable to questioning and Reddit threads have become squares for heated debate. The tools to find the next Google or Amazon are more at our disposal than ever before, but as with all things worth fighting for, require work. No success is not easy, it’s not a cakewalk and if it was, then don’t forget to read Taleb’s book, Fooled by Randomness.
But a beacon of light and hope did shine forth from Singapore last week for blockchain and crypto, in XSQ and #HASHED’s Singapore Blockchain Week. Despite tremendous odds of the event not succeeding and the attendance numbers being low, the team at XSQ and #HASHED persevered and delivered what can only be described as the best crypto event this year especially given the state of the market. With their strong ties to the crypto community and the emphasis on going the distance, the Singapore-South Korean tie-up meant that Singapore Blockchain Week was ultimately going to be a gathering of friends. People who have seen the ups and downs of the crypto market from the very beginning and instead of cashing out onto a beach, are still very much involved and still very much present in the space and have no plans on going anywhere. That sight was heartening and perhaps just the beginning of something revolutionary. Perhaps because the future of this space more than anything else requires perseverance and the determination to never give up, never surrender (a reference from the movie Spaceballs, again, go ask your grandparents). And it will be from these ranks that we will more likely than not find the next Amazon or the next Facebook. But for anyone who even remotely understands blockchain technology, they will certainly see that this is not the end. To quote Sir Winston Churchill on the dawn of D-day,
“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”