At CoinDesk’s Consensus 2018 conference this year, Joseph Lubin, founder of Ethereum company Consensys, agreed to wager “any amount of bitcoin” with Jimmy Song of Blockchain Capital that within five years, the blockchain would have a number of working applications serving real users.
That’s probably a bet worth taking. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been invested by some of the world’s biggest companies on the future of the blockchain.
JPMorgan has a blockchain program. Barclays’ Accelerator, a 13-week program for startups organized by one of the world’s biggest banks, has provided space and funding for a number of blockchain-based fintech companies. Businesses working on blockchain-based services include IBM, which is trying to build a tracking tool for shipping companies and retail chains, Eastman Kodak, which is experimenting with the blockchain to create repositories for stock images, and Spotify which wants to use the blockchain to manage copyrights. Investors in blockchain projects include Peter Thiel, Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as Google, Goldman Sachs, Visa and Deloitte. All of those companies and experts are betting millions of dollars that a decentralized ledger can do things that other forms of technology just cannot.
Using the blockchain can also remove the versatility that makes startups so agile. New firms in Silicon Valley work long hours to shoot out minimum viable products before their seed funding ends. They refine those products, match them to audiences and show venture capitalists that they’re on the right track — that they can actually make something that people will pay to use — in order to win enough money to reach the next milestone.
Businesses that use an ICO to raise large amounts of funds, though, can behave more like investment banks. They start with lots of money, move slowly to develop their product, and if it’s truly decentralized, they won’t be able to change it when it hits the market. A blockchain could slow them down.
The blockchain has already underpinned a new currency. Investors are now betting that it can do something else, and they’re placing their bets on a bunch of new technologies. Most of those new technologies will fail. But some, a few, will succeed. If I were a betting man, I’d put some bitcoin on it.