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Book reviews: Blockchain, Ethereum and Cryptocurrency Investing for dummies

August 9, 2019

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics. Crypto field is getting too large to follow it all by any single person. In the early years it was easy to have an overview of the most significant ventures but those days are long gone. There’s simply too much happening.

Blockchain for dummies (2nd edition) is a good intro for the basics and general overview. It explains the essential structures and concepts in an easily digestible format. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Waves, Factom and EOS are used as special cases that each have their own chapter.

The book works as a hands-on guide that allows you to actually do things as well. Some of the examples are simple and easy for everyone to follow and others require a bit more prior IT knowledge.

Industry impacts section provides examples in various industries and recent developments that are emerging within private and public sector initiatives.

If your main concern is to understand the basics of Blockchain this is the book for you.

Ethereum for dummies focuses purely on the Ethereum and its ecosystem. You can even build your own simple smart contract following the step-by-step instructions and screen captures.

The detailed format of actually doing concrete exercises helps to keep the narrative in enough detailed level to provide useful information. Sometimes the devil is in the details and this may be missed in more theoretical treatments.

Cryptocurrency Investing for dummies dedicates almost half of the book to explaining the Blockchain concepts and how to acquire some tokens in your wallet. The other half is divided between regular trading and hedging strategies and giving some considerations for acting in a volatile new environment. If you expect to find some good analysis and evaluation of different cryptocurrencies or practical insights how to find the ones to trade out of thousands of cryptos this book may not be for you. Maybe that’s why the title says investing and not trading.

Overall I liked the Blockchain for dummies the most but each book has their own audience and niche. I’m too biased to give them a fair treatment since my days of discovering the wonders of Blockchain and cryptos for the first time are way behind me. The last time I had some more profound excitement of the field may have been when helping Tim Swanson to write his book in 2013-2014.

Book review: Secrets of Sand Hill Road

August 7, 2019

Over the years VC industry has become more developed and accessible. The mysteries of first decades are gone and most of the industry practices are already common knowledge.

Yet, they may still not be evenly distributed among entrepreneurs.

Scott Kupor’s new book belongs to the must-read category for every founder who needs venture funding. Secrets of Sand Hill Road complements John Nesheim’s classic High tech start up together with a more recent Venture Deals by Brad Feld & Jason Mendelson and The Hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz.

The book walks through the funding process step-by-step and explains the logic and pitfalls along the way. The topic is broad so there are only so many things one can tell in a chapter or two.

Kupor manages to explain the basics and still keep it interesting for more advanced readers. Andreessen Horowitz is in the exact epicentre of venture funding and over the course of ten years they have become one if not the leading VC company in the world.

This provides some insights and views to the thinking and processes for non-Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs. If the fundraising is already bread-and-butter for many the latter part of the process is something that may interest industry players: discussion about exits. Most of them are acquisitions, and IPOs can be put off for 10-15 years if not forever thanks to regulations and large later stage funds.

Kupor puts his legal background in good use by explaining some legal cases that have direct impact on practical startup life and company governance. Board member rights and especially duties are something seldom thought about before the actual circumstances are already in motion. There may not be perfect solutions for conflict of interest situations but certainly one can be prepared and acknowledge the risks in advance.

VC industry is very much ruled by power law results. The best performing funds reap most of the industry profits and it is more or less self-perpetuating force in action. The best deal flow and investors flock together making diversification a bad idea among VC funds.

A very small industry by numbers have a disproportionally large impact on society. VC-backed companies shine in net jobs created and money invested in R&D among all companies, and especially vis-à-vis publicly listed ones in the States.

The role of the entrepreneur is not something to be too envious about. Secrets of Sand Hill Road shine some light on the minefields waiting for entrepreneurs before their glorious exit event in 7-15 years ahead. The gold pot may be there at the end of the rainbow together with unicorns but who gets most of it is the billion-dollar question.

Book review: The art of making sh!t up

August 5, 2019

Probably one of the hardest things to do is to stand in front of an audience and do live improv. You never know whether it will work this time and the feedback loop is imminent.

It’s an excellent platform to learn and get better with practice: if you have the guts to fail, and the courage to come back and try again. And again. The biggest secret is not to give up and grow a thicker skin. You cannot please everyone and you’re not as important as you think. Swallow your pride and own your performance. Even the best comedians suck at times.

Norm Laviolette shares his wisdom and some industry knowledge that is useful in business but also in regular life. If improv is hard so is his message as well. Not because the topic is difficult to understand but because the things sound so obvious and simple, yet so hard to carry out in practice.

How many of us are free from the fear of judgement of others and ourselves? Creative freedom flourishes when we are not hitting the internal breaks. Imagine yourself on stage on a spotlight and you only not have to perform but to entertain the audience as well.

How do you come up with something funny? The technique is very simple and useful. You just listen to what has been said to you (by the audience or if you’re performing with someone else on stage). Don’t think something clever to say but listen and understand what has been said to you.

In a word: respond and continue the dialogue. Appreciate what has been said and embrace the offered ideas even though they are not yours. Build something new from what has been said to you.

You don’t need to come up with new topics or clever ideas while the other person is talking. Nor should you drift away in thoughts or assume what has been said to you while you are still listening.

Sounds familiar? These are the things that happen everyday in meetings. People are having separate monologues and nobody is really having a genuine dialogue and trying to understand the wisdom in other people’s messages.

Yet, this is how successful improv, and negotiators, work. You actively focus and keep an eye contact to other person. Unexpected creative sparks happen when you just respond to the situation rather than try to push your pre-thought out agenda.

Another hard thing to do is to allow other people to modify your ideas. Everybody loves their ideas and it’s no fun to see them changed or even improved. Letting go allows something better to be created and the story to move on.

Improv sounds a lot like teamwork and day-to-day business life sans the stage fright, and the explicit comedy.

Smart startup

May 13, 2019

Smart has a nice ring to it. It’s lovely to say something or someone is smart. Yet, it can mean so many different things.

But not all smarts are the same. A company building smart devices does not automatically mean that the people behind the things are necessarily smart or acting smartly in the long term.

Our devices are getting ever more connected. They are the ultimate spying equipment that Q of Bond movies could have only dreamed of.

Sloppy coding can breach your firewall and privacy for years without most of the users ever knowing it. The device is smart enough to leak your information but not clever enough to stop it independently.

A smart company needs to think closely what they actually want to achieve. Some of the things are easier to change yet others are more one-way streets with a lot of hardship involved to reverse the course.

The forming years of a startup define many of the things that are hard to change later. They may seem like minor issues or non-priorities when so many big pressing matters call for immediate action.

Yet, the silent ones can be either fatal or at least heavy hitting issues later on. My top favourites are business model, culture and people.

Companies’ business models say cloud and clear what they are really doing. It’s hard to deny something that is a necessity for your revenues. Google and Facebook are examples where you, the user, are the product. They are information hungry for a very good reason. It’s the money making machine.

In comparison, Apple is primarily profiting from selling devices and hence there is more credible claim of aligning with user privacy and letting users be in control of their information.

The tide is changing from centralised top-down hierarchy of data collection to user powered and controlled decentralised model. People are getting wearier of data breaches and the leaks can have dire consequences due to cheaper data mining, mass handling and surveillance.

Culture is something that happens anyways. You have a culture whether you consciously are aware of it or not. Often, the first people in a company define by their own actions and values the way things are done in the future. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Once something is a habit it’s difficult to change it.

Nice statements have very little relevance if your performance goals and required results conflict them. Incentive structures are powerful tools that shape your culture, for better or worse.

This leads to the most crucial component: the people. Values and integrity define the outcomes. If you have a culture where long-term business relationship with clients is of upmost important it shows in the user experience and quality of the products. And all these start and end with your people.

If they are not comfortable with your business model or culture it will show. What does it tell about your company and your products if the very people who are building them are distancing themselves by stating that they are not actually using them to keep their credibility? I’m just working there. It’s just my job.

Building trust takes time but losing it can be done in seconds.

Showing love to the customer is good way to earn their respect and loyalty. A good quality product oozes trust and care. It is a delight to discover new features in products that you have already used for years beforehand. It tells someone has paid attention to details and thought about you, the end-user.

Being smart involves the why question in the beginning. Why are we doing what we are doing? This links to the other important question: Who’s really our customer (that pays our bills)? It may not be the one actually using our products.

Ambiguity on these two points tends to lead to confusion and conflicts later on. This is the business model issue: It’s hard to serve two masters.

Your business model and culture attract certain type of people. And they define the quality of your offerings and customer experience. This is where the short term meets the long-term, and your profits as well.

There are so many ways to be smart. What is yours?

The article was published on Grow with Tech magazine’s Spring ’19 issue (pdf).