Phew! I mean, literally, “PHEW!”
I just finished a two-month consultancy for an emerging crypto project. I usually stick to blockchain and avoid crypto, but this project looked exciting, and it helped that a trusted colleague made the introduction inviting me to provide strategy and support.
Just like the crypto project that got me into blockchain in 2017, this was an equally wild ride which, naturally, also ended in a crash.
The team is still looking for the “Phoenix” button allowing them to rise from the ashes. The founder is maniacally focused on doing the right thing, as dictated by the community. And the devs are looking for the Gucci stamps to put on the bags under their eyes. I have heaps of respect for the team, everything they have accomplished to this point as well as weathering many storms just in the past three weeks.
But that isn’t what I wanted to write about today. Today I wanted to write about what I got absolutely wrong – and what I learned.
I am an enterprise blockchain professional. I work with both large enterprises and startups. I have a background in big corporates, including the likes of Nokia and tiny startups of my own like Pocket Reach Solutions. The common theme across my work is that there is structure.
What I want to write about today is what I got absolutely wrong – and what I learned.
Personally, every good business starts with a plan and a product roadmap. Teams work in sprints and are continually engaging with the users to ensure that they are building the right thing. Comms (external communication) is managed carefully. And social media channels adhere to guidelines that keep everyone informed without overpromising (or accidentally touching a third rail topic).
When I came on board to this project, almost none of this was true. The founder had a vision, mainly in their head, with nothing written down or mapped out. Tokenomics were discussed as ‘being needed’. They had even found an online tool for game theory modelling. But really, there was no plan the team ever saw. There was no communicated roadmap. Software development was done with loose structure across multiple teams in multiple geographies.
The Telegram channel had more than 8,000 members and four channel admins but had minimal direction. The founder was the leading voice in the channel. And the founder was bombastic and passionate and fiery (oh – and occasionally prone to profanity in the channel). The community loved the raw authenticity. But really, there was no clearly defined comms strategy.
The lead smart contract developer was overworked and stressed to breaking point practically every day. The surrounding dev teams were making full-stack web and mobile products planned off loose specifications (often derived from late-night conference calls or shared Google docs), And whatever you do, please do not even mention the word “testing”.
Then I came along.
I spent the first three weeks just trying to piece everything together and make sense of the project as it stood. In my experience, it’s always best to get a lay of the land before attempting to make changes.
To make things more complicated, I am a blockchain dude, not a crypto guy. And there were many core principles of the business which made no sense to me. I couldn’t understand why anyone would buy these tokens. I couldn’t understand why anyone would stake these tokens. I couldn’t understand any of the drivers behind the broader ecosystem, including things like the Uniswap exchange and the other cryptocurrency, which was the useful “parent” token.
I would later realise that hidden in this confusion was my first clue to why my approach was wrong.
The team were navigating a tricky path to give the project more structure. Ultimately, there were plans to attract a crypto whale to make a sizeable token purchase. To secure a crypto whale, there were not only simple things like documenting the roadmap and finishing the lite/white paper, but there were more complicated challenges. The team was making efforts to ensure regulatory compliance and move from a renegade group of team and community members to something more robust and resilient.
Just about the time when things were starting to settle down, and the project was becoming more stable, the feedback across the board from the telegram channel admins – as well as the founder – came through loud and clear.
What’s happening? Where’s the energy and excitement? You’re becoming boring.
That’s right. By making even only the first few steps of adding structure into the project, the community could sense the change – and they weren’t happy.
As you might guess, there were a few team members who had never fully bought into this new way of working. The ones who never fully bought into this new “consultant/advisor” (that would be me). The community needed more bombastic energy – more hype. They needed to see things happening. They needed reassurance that the drama meter wasn’t going to go to zero. They needed the drama. Or so they thought…
What separates the booming business of blockchain and the crazy ECG of the crypto market is the Hype Factor – or, the lack thereof in the enterprise blockchain market.
The project was a good month away from having some of the new structure(s) in place to form the foundations for executing the project properly. High-level comms strategy had been prepared, but we were still struggling to ensure that all the public messages had been cleared and vetted before going out. The project was in a precarious state to say the least when the bottom just fell out.
There was a late-night software release that was pushed through, rather than being slowly announced, previewed and screened. You know, all of those annoying bits of doing things in an enterprise sort of way. Transactions started flowing. And the token price started falling – like a rock.
The community had wanted drama and drama they got. We all know the age old phrase, “Be careful what you wish for.”
The story continues even today, but that’s not the point.
The pace of change for many crypto projects is essential. Stability and predictability are good practice but ultimately boring. I am guilty of a classic failure of business people and marketers everywhere. I expect people to operate on Spock mode when most of the time, people behave in Homer mode. I tried to offer the community, investors and the team a solid foundation to build from (Spock thinking). They wanted the bright lights, noise and action of Vegas.
My approach to putting structure and strategy and plans in place is an anathema to some teams, communities and projects. The entire process can cause the distress of cognitive dissonance. They know they need it, but they equally believe that it will kill the sizzle in the project.
What I learned is that my approach isn’t the right one for all projects. I learned that some projects resist structure and thrive on the hype. I learned that if I ever work on another project, I will have to take an even more cautious approach to changing the way the project works, while still focusing on the results required.
I learned that as robust, reliable and comfortable as structure is for me, for investors and some token holders my approach may be just plain boring. One must always allow for – and even support – the hype factor.
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Troy Norcross, Co-Founder Blockchain Rookies