Personal take

Three months ago I joined OmiseGO. With the company’s overarching mission and values close to my heart, I was happy, humbled and hungry to get started. As I wrote then, technology as an enabler for better access to opportunity and designing the future have been, and more than ever now remain, two of my key guiding principles in what I do.

I also wrote that my focus would be on the commercialization of our technologies and services, exploring exciting partnerships and collaborations, and together with the teams ensure that what we offer is relevant, needed and scalable. Where are we now and what’s to come?

Choose the landscape

In order to dive in, you should know your surroundings. What’s the context within which you operate? Or, asked differently: do you jump in the water if you know there’s crocodiles hiding, or rocks near the surface?

Taking time to understand context well is important. It lays the foundation from which you can build on solid, rather than shaky, ground.

Many cryptocurrency and blockchain startups have disappeared last year and I expect a similar number to go bankrupt this year, too. As Bloomberg reports, “a year ago there was a lot of free money in the market. But in a bear market there’s a change.” Merely including ‘blockchain’ as a term alone no longer guarantees “being able to raise millions”. The hype of the term is over. I put it right up there alongside ‘AI’ and ‘big data’.

While individuals and companies left and right during the hype phase were keen to ‘jump on the blockchain bandwagon’, now is the time for the reality test: what works and how.

Are the past and future failures of many blockchain startups because of the market crash and thinning out of wallets? Surely to a large extent. However, let’s keep in mind that reportedly (though with a distinct lack of actual sources on this number:) 9/10 ‘regular’ startups fail (see Forbes here or Fortune here). It’s a common story for new products. I’ve been there too, and as with so many others can certainly say that I learned a number of lessons that I can take forward from it.

The biggest reason for startup failure is a lack of market need, closely followed by not having sufficient funds and not the right team. Beyond a theoretical and research-driven agenda, new and emerging technology, which blockchain is a part of, need to have significant and deep real world exposure to stand the test. It has come a long way with corporates across industries employing blockchain in one way or another to various extents of the definition. Yet, much remains to be done, particularly from innovators and those at the forefront of this technology to validate with, and scale in industry. That’s certainly true for us in championing a new open finance network that can revolutionize how we approach accessibility, the way businesses offer their customers’ access to financial services and how ecosystems support that.

Get out there

Blockchain technology is an important foundation and enabler, but not a panacea that miraculously solves all the world’s problems if only released.

This recognition has become more widespread, and goes with a general market sentiment now. But there’s a larger underlying theme at play in my opinion — maturity of understanding industry!

Those that can will move from the “trough of disillusionment” to the “slope of enlightenment”:

Gartner hype cycle of technology adoption

At the forefront of OmiseGO, our CEO Vansa and the team have done an amazing job at attracting intelligent, experienced and passionate people that I am genuinely proud to now call my colleagues. As we continue to bring in more talented and experienced people, the focus for me to lead a commercial and business team is on understanding, navigating and shaping our landscape. I wrote the lengthy precursor above to really say only one thing:

We need to be best friends with the industry, if we want to disrupt it. Maturity in understanding, and being able to validate and steer course are prerequisites.

Let me use another metaphor here: you can only break the ice if you’re surrounded by ice on an icebreaker ship. It won’t help if you’re in a canoe on the tropical sea. We’re here to break the ice, and are actively setting course!

Navigate the landscape

How do we navigate the landscape? How do we break the ice? I’d like to highlight two key components to this. 1) Testing the waters. 2) Don’t go it alone.

Testing the waters through data-driven understanding

I’ve always advocated for being rigorously data-driven. In my experience this is crucial to making informed decisions from high-level strategy through to product feature adjustments. What does the market want? Who is the market? What does “wanting” actually mean? Simple questions that often get lost in a busy day-to-day.

A good example is that we’ve just run a survey on cryptocurrency and stablecoin usage (if you haven’t yet participated, please do so here!). We need to develop and better refine our understanding rather than assume we think we know it all. I certainly don’t, and I see my role in many ways as one who helps to enable a better understanding, in turn structure that understanding and finally translate that into making things happen.

One small observation from the survey I’d like to share right now: perhaps unsurprisingly, out of all respondents (users, holders, or investors of cryptocurrencies), nearly 80% use cryptocurrencies as a means of payment either less than once a month or never. While this confirmed my assumption, having statistically significant data to support this is an important fact that can better guide the direction of our strategy and product roadmap. Cryptocurrencies that exhibit uncertain traits of volatility are not usable as a means of payment. Further results of the survey will be publicly shared in a coming blog post.

Don’t go it alone!

Following the logic of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, strategic partners should be win-win for both sides and have a bigger impact on the ecosystem than if each side acted alone. An important step in our way forward toward open finance and transforming the financial world is the recognition that we need strategic partners to make that happen. Whether it’s industry, regulators, research, or individuals.

Part of this is also the wider ‘family’ we are a part of under the Omise Holdings umbrella and our sister companies, alongside our investors, shareholders and token holders. Together we can do more!

Not going alone also means allowing early access to test use cases. We have done this in a variety of ways, and want to go much further. Some examples from the last three months include:

  • Our recently launched OmiseGO Developer Program(ODP) allows individual developers, and developers as part of projects and companies, to develop applications directly on the network.
  • Collaborating with UNICEF Innovation in a first event in May for attendees to learn about blockchain hands-on and build applications that can address financial inclusion.
  • A learning session with the World Bank and IFC where we had the privilege to share insights from OmiseGO’s vision, use cases of the network, and discuss ways our solutions can address existing challenges.
  • Our CEO Vansa will assume the Blockchain Council seat in the upcoming inaugural meeting of the Global Fourth Industrial Revolution Councils by the World Economic Forum.

As we talk to numerous other leaders across corporate, startups and not-for-profit, and regulators in parallel, important questions are being raised that help us focus further.

Shape the landscape

Our network is currently in public alpha. This provides us with a usable and powerful tool to thoroughly experiment together with developers, corporations, start-ups and not-for-profits to evaluate what it takes, and how it impacts making transactions and building services on the network with OmiseGO.
Through our whitelabel e-wallet suite, firms can build and integrate a front-end interface for digital assets — creating, transacting, tracking and withdrawing, and as such, laying the foundation for a world where any asset should be digitized and effortlessly transacted.

Looking at the wider landscape, a few trends stand out for me that are top of mind for executives across industries. Let me name a few exciting ones, in no particular order:

  • The way loyalty and point programs work is changing. I am advocating for a more open world, whereby any ‘point’ no matter the origin or initial function should be tradable and redeemable. We are moving to a landscape where not only fiat currencies (and digital currencies, whether crypto or not) are and should be recognised as a store of value and means of payments. This has huge implications for the way we think about payments, trade, lending, risk — to name just a few.
  • With ubiquitous mobile internet, and rising connection speed and capacity, machine-to-machine transactions will increase dramatically in the very foreseeable future. Operators are successfully testing 5G. Internet of Things is most prominently impacted, resulting in a tremendous amount of data, validation of that data, and validation of transactions with this data.
  • Growth in cross-border payments remains strong. For anyone who has attempted to do cross-border payments — whether in a B2B or P2P capacity, and whether it was for the purpose of remittance or payments for instance — it is a complicated and costly process. Complicated and costly will not survive!

Looking ahead, I am excited to be speaking more to corporations and start-ups across industries, regulators and not-for-profits that are curious about how to change the way financial services, digital assets and transactions at large should be more open, fast, fair and secure.

Along this journey I’ll make sure to check in regularly and share the progress we’re making as we’re changing the world step by step!

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