Preaching to the Choir

By many measures the Blockchain Live conference in Olympia, London this week was a success. It was certainly busy with exhibition stands and the seven ‘theatres’ all thronged with people. I certainly learnt a great deal and heard about many exciting projects and visions for blockchain across many different industries. However, I could not shake the feeling that I was inside a quite cultish event.

A quick, and completely unscientific, scan of people’s badges around me suggested that most delegates were from the blockchain community. They were start-ups, consultants, technologists and service providers within and for the blockchain world. There seemed relatively few from outside the industry. The language of the event reinforced this point. Most presentations and conversations required decent understanding of blockchain technologies and jargon to follow — effectively excluding those that may have come with business issues hoping to find a solution in blockchain.

That’s not to deny that there was lots of potential, from start-ups looking to use blockchain to incentivise digital content discovery and sales (Catalyst), to cataloguing of Art (Arteia), to mobile wallets for crypto funds (ZEUX), but many of these have yet to even launch to consumers and businesses outside of the immediate blockchain environment.

Another issue, to my mind at least, was the heavy overlap still seen between blockchain technologies and solutions and cryptocurrency. There were many presentations on the future of cryptocurrency, tokens and ICOs, not only on the Crypto stage, but also on the financial services, technology and development and investors stages. I personally believe this is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Whilst Blockchain is so closely associated with Bitcoin in particular, and cryptocurrencies in general, it will always have a taint of criminality to it. Indeed, one of the best attended sessions in the morning was author Misha Glenny’s presentation “What does Crypto mean for crime.” I asked him he thought that crypto could clean up its reputation. His answer struck to the heart of the problem — a catch 22. For crypto to be ‘cleaned-up’ it needs to be used by the mass market — but for the mass market to adopt it, it needs to be cleaned up.

I don’t want to be down on the event. It was a great showcase of the potential of this exciting technology, and good to see growing interest. To continue to thrive those in the market need to start talking in language that resonates with their prospects and customers in the wider world. They need to root their technologies and solutions in the context of issues that audiences are facing now — to reverse the old marketing axiom, they need to sell more sausage and less sizzle.

Speaking with the creative director of Vanbex, Max Tkacz at the exhibition, we agreed that blockchain projects needed to get better at talking about what the technology was achieving and the problems it was solving, rather than focus on the ‘how’ of the tech itself. I suggested, and Max agreed that it was time to talk more about the ‘cars’ of effective solutions than the ‘engines’ of blockchain.

Next year I hope I can return to see the same enthusiasm and innovation, but with an audience drawn from wider segments of the potential customer-base so that real needs and solutions can be discussed in the language of business rather than technology.


Preaching to the Choir was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.