All posts by Alan Tsen

Future Sandwich – Breaking Down Bitcoin

I recently had a chat with Tommy from the awesome Future Sandwich podcast. Enjoy and subscribe to it on Soundcloud or iTunes to keep up with this great new show.


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Being On The Right Side Of History

If you’ve been reading the 2016 pundit predictions in the digital currency and blockchain space you’ll notice a strong trend. Bitcoin is back! A number of articles (I’ve included some below) are calling this the comeback year for Bitcoin.

So what has changed? Bitcoin still is… well bitcoin. We’ve seen an uptick in the price, which might in part be fueling the bullish predictions. However, fundamentally nothing has changed. In fact, one might argue that Bitcoin has even more problems it needs to solve in 2016 – for example, the unresolved blocksize debate.

However, what many are starting to see is that the 2015 battle cry of ‘Bitcoin v Blockchain’ was really a red-herring. In 2015, the financial industry clamoured around permissioned blockchain and distributed ledger technology, but to date has been more busy forming consortiums and creating labs rather than actually pushing product. The question of which is more valuable, permissionless or permissioned blockchains, is proving less relevant and which will actually push a ‘killer app’ first is proving to be more relevant.

It’s easy to find Bitcoin’s flaws, but it’s hard to deny that it’s on the right side of history. The movement towards truely open and extensible software that has transparency as a default is hard to ignore. I think many are starting to realise this is what the main attraction is – not another database technology. So bring on 2016, the year bitcoin is resurrected for the 87th time.


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So This Is What Creative Destruction Looks Like

This week two Spanish-born residents of London, Edurne and Mayel, sealed their union on a blockchain. What makes this interesting is that they were the first to use the recently announced public notary service being offered to Estonia e-residents via Bitnation’s platform.

You may have heard of Bitnation before. Recently, they offered victims of the European refugee crisis a digital ID and a bitcoin visa card so that the displaced could more easily receive money from abroad and spend it. Interestingly, Bitnation is a DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) that is building a platform to provide government services that aren’t necessarily provided by a specific government. Under the partnership with the Estonian government, they’ll be offering notary services (including registration of marriages) on a blockchain.

Although in and of itself the idea is not novel, that a government would actually deploy it is. Many governments are thinking big about innovation in government services (we’re definitely seeing it here in Australia), yet for the most part innovation starts small. It usually starts at very low levels in the ‘stack’. A small change here, a small change there and all of a sudden things start to get interesting. Estonia is a glittering example of this. The e-residency initiative is a great case study in how governments can build small platforms that can have interesting ‘apps’ built on them (e.g. a blockchain based notary service).

Thinking about government services as a platform and then extending them through ‘apps’ makes sense – and maybe building the platform on a/the Blockchain makes even more sense. Regardless, governments now have another example of what ‘creative destruction’ looks like – and all from a small Baltic country.


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Baby Steps Forward For Bitcoin In Australia

Baby Steps Forward For Bitcoin In Australia

This week the Australian Senate Economics References Committee released its report in to digital currency‘Digital currency—game changer or bit player’ (yes, I kid you not, that’s the name of the report).

Most media commentary regarding the report has centred around the committee’s recommendation to modify the Australian Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act to recognise digital currency as ‘money’. In effect, this would mean that bitcoin transactions would not attract GST in Australia – removing the current ‘double GST’ on a variety of bitcoin transactions.

Obviously, this recommendation has been welcomed by the Australian bitcoin community. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that to action these changes for Australian law purposes is not a trivial task. Practically, it requires agreement from every state and a Federal government to actually drive the amendment – given the current size of the industry this seems unlikely. So although this is a great basis for further conversations with government, there is no practical impact for bitcoin startups in Australia – just yet.

As with reports similar to this one (see for example the Canadian inquiry report), it shows that many within the highest ranks of government see the importance of innovation in the financial services sector. With ‘software eating the world’ banks are looking less and less likely to drive this change. This means that startups need to lead the way.

To allow this to happen in the digital currency space, a legal framework that provides a welcoming environment for innovation to thrive in is required. This report hopefully provides a step in this direction for the Australian Bitcoin industry.

 


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Chatting About All Things Bitcoin

A few weeks back I did a ‘blab’ with Suzanne Nguyen (@stringstory) about all things Bitcoin. Check it out and let me know what you think.

 


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Banks Get Behind Blockchain Technology

Banks Get Behind Blockchain Technology

It’s looking like 2015 will be a break out year for the application of blockchain technology in the banking and finance sector. Banks are starting to really embrace the technology with many trialing blockchain based applications and some are even investing directly in startups in the space.

Banks are getting behind blockchain technology in a big way. Many are starting to see the possibilities of running clearing, settlement and internal fund transactions through a blockchain.

Below is a list of financial institutions that are currently experimenting with blockchain technology. Some are further down the track than others – but all are keenly investigating the technology’s potential.

About The Table

In the table below I’ve included a list of financial institutions who’ve been mentioned in the media as experimenting with Blockchain technology. The list is a work in progress. As information changes and further banks begin experimenting with Bitcoin/blockchain technology I’ll add or amend entries in the table.

If there are any errors or omissions please feel free to flick me an email at me@alantsen.com

Bank Country Technology Stack / Activities
ANZ Australia Ripple
Commonwealth Bank Australia Ripple
Westpac Australia Ripple
Barclays Bank  UK Bitcoin (Safello)
Santander Bank UK Internal proof of concept
UBS UK Research lab
DBS Bank UK Hackathon
USAA US Internal research
Bank Of New York Mellon US Bitcoin (BK Coin)
LHV Bank Estonia Bitcoin (Coloured Coins)
BBVA Bank Spain Internal experiments
ABN Amro Netherlands Internal experiments
ING Bank Netherlands Internal experiments
Rabobank Netherlands Internal experiments
BNP Paribas France Internal Research
Société Générale France Internal research and experiments
Fidor Germany Ripple
CBW Bank US Ripple
Cross River Bank US Ripple
 Citibank  US Own Tech (Citicoin)
 NASDAQ  US Bitcoin (Chain)

 


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Is Bitcoin Still A Non-Obvious VC Investment?

Is Bitcoin Still A Non-Obvious VC Investment?

This week Redpoint Ventures partner, Tom Tunguz penned a pieced titled “The Fastest Growing Areas Of Startup Investment In 2015”. The post examined trends in the major categories of startup investment from 2012 through to mid-2015.

Bitcoin Issue 27 copy

The piece generated a fair amount of interest in the Bitcoin community (for example seeHERE, HERE and HERE) as Bitcoin was the fastest growing sector (151% CAGR) according to the data. However, as a percentage of dollars invested, Bitcoin still only accounted for a minuscule piece of the overall pie (0.18% of total VC dollars invested).

A common thought in the world of venture capital is that non-obvious investments are the ones that yield the biggest returns and to generate 10x+ returns that’s where you should go. The data suggests that Bitcoin is becoming a more obvious vertical for VCs. If you’ve been keeping an eye on investment news this probably isn’t a big surprise – with many well known VCs (e.g. A16Z, USV) and corporate investors (e.g Goldman Sachs and NASDAQ) piling into the sector.

With most bets in the space still heavily weighted towards ‘on-ramp’ companies, the growth in infrastructure and ‘blockchain’ based startups is still to come. Further, the overall share of investment dollars still has a lot of growth left in it – which is probably unsurprising given that most companies are still raising seed rounds.

Regardless of how you see it, Bitcoin (and blockchain tech more generally) is still a hot category and it’s only going to get hotter. So if you’re an investor, it’s time to grab your chips and make some bets.


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Bitcoin Is Not A Movement. It’s An Application Stack

Bitcoin Is Not A Movement. It’s An Application Stack

For some reason I tend to be a libertarian magnet. Every time I speak at a Bitcoin event I’m always approached by all the crazy libertarians in the room. In the main, they ask polite questions about where the world of Bitcoin is headed and what the legal landscape might look like in the coming years for Bitcoin. However, there always comes an uncomfortable moment where the question of the Bitcoin ‘movement’ is raised. You know the “Bitcoin is going to bring down governments” and “I use Bitcoin because the government can’t take it from me” comments – if you haven’t heard either of these you haven’t been to enough Bitcoin related events.

I can see why people think I might buy into this view of the world. I’m incredibly bullish on b/Bitcoin. On both fronts, I believe it’ll have a profound impact on the way a number of industries are organised – everything from the law to the way machines interact with each other. However, emphatically, I don’t believe in the ‘movement’.

I don’t think governments will topple (I think they’ll embrace it), I don’t think banks are at risk of being displaced (I think they’ll be the biggest adopters of Bitcoin/blockchain), I don’t think you’ll see it become the world’s reserve currency ( I think it’ll do for internet commerce what Paypal initially did – but at even larger scale).

Put simply, Bitcoin is not a movement. It’s an application stack. To use an oft quoted line (or in internet speak, a meme), it’s the “TCP/IP of value”.

Take solace my libertarian friends, Bitcoin is going to be massive – but just not in a ‘the global financial apocalypse is coming and I’m insulated by owning bitcoin’ kind of way. It’ll be a movement like the internet was a ‘movement’. It’ll functionally change the way we move value in the online age. However, no government will be brought down by the tidal wave of Bitcoin. It’ll simply ride the wave.

So if you see me at a conference or a meetup come over and chat. I love hearing views on where the hell Bitcoin is headed and how it’ll change the world. But just so you know, I don’t think bitcoin is going to bring down ‘our corrupt capitalist governments’ – I just think it’ll redefine how the world transfers value. Hopefully that’s enough of a ‘movement’.


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The State Of Bitcoin: A Summary

The State Of Bitcoin: A Summary

This week Coinbase released a great little summary of Bitcoin metrics as at July 2015. Overall, it’s an interesting overview of some of the more important Bitcoin metrics. Here’s a quick TL;DR of the piece.

  • Understanding bitcoin price movement is a function of the period taken. The year to date, bitcoin is down 9% – but is up 213% over a 2 year timeframe (as most bitcoiners will be only too happy to tell you).
  • Coinbase currently has 2.4M users and 3.1M wallets on their platform. This would definitely make them one of the biggest wallet providers in the world.
  • Over the last year there has been a 94% increase in monthly transactions on the Bitcoin network (worth noting that this stat controls for the recent spikes due to load testing and spam on the network).
  • Overall, 47% of Coinbase wallet holders are now from countries outside the US. With Hong Kong leading the adoption charge with 283% user growth.
  • Aligned with other reports, a large portion of users are actually over 30. More specifically, 34% of Coinbase users are over 35.
  • In what I think is one of the more interesting stats to come out of the report, Coinbase now has more than 7,000 applications built by developers on top of the Coinbase platform. This likely makes Coinbase one of the biggest Bitcoin application platforms out there.
  • What I personally think is the most important measure to keep an eye on with respect to Bitcoin growth; the Github repo reference count, is currently at 6,109. Interestingly, the article notes that by comparison, there were only 2,318 repositories referencing Paypal. Although, I don’t think this necessarily means too much, it is an interesting comparison.

Overall (unsurprisingly), the piece paints a positive picture of where Bitcoin is at. It’ll be interesting to see where the price (and general sentiment) heads in the next few months with Greece, China, BIP-66 and the ever looming hard fork… but these are all probably topics for another Friday 😉


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The Blockchain Has Friends

The Blockchain Has Friends

Last night at FinTech Melbourne we hosted Australia and New Zealand Bank’s CTO – Patrick Maes. Beyond being a fascinating discussion about the Australian FinTech landscape, one of the things that struck me about the conversation was how bullish his comments were regarding distributed ledger and blockchain technology. In fact, Maes noted that blockchain technology was one of the only true innovations in the payments space over the last 2,000 years – which is a significant comment given how nascent this technology actually is.

In recent days, with the issues the Bitcoin blockchain has faced with the introduction of BIP-66, it’s easy to forget the impact the technology has had in opening up the minds of many senior executives in the banking space as to how a new financial payment stack might actually look.

The reality is that still writing code in COBOL or FORTRAN and running your own server farms as a bank isn’t a sustainable technology model. Regardless of whether you’re a Bitcoin or a permissioned ledger maximalist, the banking world is moving rapidly towards a future where some form of distributed ledger becomes a major layer in the banking technology stack. Further, it really looks like this change may come from the upper management layers of banks – which is really exciting.

Viva la blockchain!


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