Micah Winkelspecht is CEO and founder of Gem, a crypto portfolio app company based in Los Angeles.
The following is an exclusive contribution to CoinDesk’s 2018 Year in Review.
If 2017 was the year of irrational exuberance, 2018 became the year of reality checks when the market sputtered and crashed. I predict that this year will see a return back to first principles as we rethink many of our assumptions about how this is all supposed to go down. The truth is, we just don’t know yet.
I also believe that 2019 will see the return of bitcoin dominance, although it may take a major world market downturn to spur it on.
As the global markets deflate, that will also bring down the price of bitcoin and keep them low because the deflation will cause investors to move out of perceived risky investments into more stable investments, and bitcoin is currently still considered a very risky investment.
But when governments begin to do helicopter drops of freshly printed money to try to recover their failing economies, that’s when bitcoin will begin to be seen as something more akin to gold.
1. The Real Promise of ICOs
The crazy bull market of 2017 and early 2018 and the glorification of initial coin offerings (ICOs) had such a disorienting effect. We had a great migration away from the principles and values of a decentralized economy to a get-rich-quick scheme across the board.
People got really sucked in.
I believe that ICOs are actually very promising when done right. The most exciting and powerful thing we have learned from the success of Bitcoin is that crypto has the unique ability to align all stakeholders (users and investors alike) around a common mission through shared incentives and direct participation.
Crypto makes users feel invested in the success of a project, and it creates a powerful network effect. The challenge is that we’ve seen more speculators than actual users.
2. The First Breakout Killer App
This is the year we will make that difficult transition from speculation to use as the industry matures from adolescence into adulthood. And I don’t mean adoption for the sake of adoption but instead, real products delivering real value.
We will see the first proof point of a project, that breakout killer app where users are aligned within the token economy, so that they actually feel like they own a piece of the project. And I think that it will probably come from a place we didn’t expect, like gaming. I think we’ll see a really interesting breakout dapp in games, like a Tamagotchi.
And then we’ll see a couple more breakout successes out of it, because games really bridge the gap beyond just the technical users into a much larger class of early adopter users that span beyond this very insular technical crowd. They’re already used to this idea of digital assets.
They’re already spending hours and hours trying to collect digital goods. It’s a natural fit.
3. The Emergence of Stablecoins
We’ll start to see stable coins really bridging that gap to mass adoption.
We’ll see a class of Venmo style payment applications and other kinds of creative new financial products that leverage stable coins to counteract the perceived volatility problems that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have. It’s not necessarily the original vision of crypto, but it is a great gateway to getting people comfortable with digital assets, and the tools are the same.
So it will also have a very positive effect on the increased adoption of Bitcoin and other networks.
4. Finding a Middle Ground
We are reaching a bit of a hybridization point where projects are finding success in the middle ground, where they’re not so much the Libertarian dream of total decentralization, and they’re also not the highly centralized systems that run the world today. And that’s ok, because neither of those extremes serve businesses or users very well.
But we are seeing an emergence of a hybrid with things like delegated proof-of-stake and Hashgraph which has a known set of validators and is more decentralized than a centralized system, but not as decentralized as a proof-of-work network like Bitcoin.
There are clear tradeoffs in these networks, but they have a good chance of success in reaching businesses who need to be able to scale, who need to have a dependable framework to work on and they’re decentralized enough for those needs.
There’s no clear winner here yet. And until there is a clear winner, it’s unlikely that you’ll see large organizations move serious money into the space. They’ll dabble.
What Will it Take?
Something in this industry needs to drive the demand. You can have all the supply in the world, but if you don’t have the demand, it’s not going to get us anywhere.
I’m bearish on the short-term outlook for enterprise adoption of blockchain technology. For all of its potential (and there is incredible potential), most large companies would rather play innovation theater than invest serious capital in reinventing their businesses. Real change in the enterprise is a long game.
The exciting stuff that’s going on right now is the innovation and competition that’s happening on the public networks and on dapps.
People are trying a little bit of everything. And nobody has any idea what’s going to work. And that’s great because we’ll find the answer much faster that way than waiting around for a Fortune 500 company to figure it out.
We’re much more likely to discover use cases that we didn’t even think about because of the permissionless nature of public blockchain systems and permissionless development.
Crypto gives us an open platform where anybody, anywhere around the world can write a program that will potentially change the world.
That is the ultimate dream of crypto.
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