This 90-second pitch turned into a speech…
18 years ago, I approached a VC for the first time and said, “I have an idea that can take down AOL.” I was 20 years old, a junior out of NYU and working as the lead web developer at a media startup.
Paul Graf–I met him at a company holiday party in December 1998. In that first conversation he said he wanted to talk to me at some point about building a website for him, in my eyes leaving the door wide open for a future conversation. A guy with money to throw around–jackpot. I kept him in the back of my mind as I developed an idea for an internet software company with a colleague of mine at Sunshine Media, Sam Esmail. That winter Sam and I put it all on paper and I wrote my first business plan.
The following spring I was working late at the office doing an upgrade on my boss’ machine. I’m sitting there at her desk and there it was–her rolodex–right in front of me, calling my name. I’d like to say that I labored over the thought of invading my boss’ phone book (mind you, this was before I took a class in business ethics). All I know is that I got Paul’s number and pretty much cold-called him. He gave me a first meeting. And then another. Four meetings later, with just an idea on paper and zero proof-of-concept, Sam and I convinced him to put in $4 million of his own money. I dropped out of NYU and he came on board to be CEO and Chairman of the Board and a small group of us co-founded Portalvision. Over the course of 2.5 years, we ballooned to 65 employees and Paul and his investors group had put in $10.2 million. And I don’t blame them because the idea had the potential to revolutionize the landscape of Internet software. But as fate would have it, at cusp of the next critical round of financing, the dot com bubble burst, and then 9/11 happened. With our burn rate, we ignited into an inferno; in six months we went through five rounds of layoffs and eventually dissolved the company.
Following that, I went back to NYU, got my degree, then went on to co-found three more internet startups, keeping myself afloat by coding websites and working as an IT Auditor for Fortune 500 companies and global banks. I spent 18 years chasing that first high. What can I say? I’m a startup junkie. A serial entrepreneur who lives for kickass, revolutionary ideas. And here I am again, giving you the pitch of my life. It should go without saying, I haven’t been this excited about a new technology–a new way of being–in a very, very long time.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that blockchain is the next Google. No, forget that, it’s the next Internet. I’m sure you’ve heard it, read about it, maybe have friends who’ve bought and sold pot with it (Silk Road, anyone?). It’s supposed to make P2P financial transactions as easy as sending an email or sharing a picture online. It’s supposed to decentralize everything. But for me, and probably just like you, all this blockchain business was a complete mystery up until about 3 months ago when in a recent Townhall meeting Muditha said “It’s time to get serious about blockchain because it’s coming.” And when Muditha talks, we listen (I mean, at least I do). And now my daydreams are filled with all the ways blockchain can replace all our antiquated systems for funds transfer and financial communications, smartly.
Now, I’m not going to stand here and try to explain to you the ins and outs of crytographic hashing and digital finance. But I do want to talk to you about “waste” because waste is something we all can and should understand, because if we don’t, it will spell our collective doom. Whether it’s food, water, energy or money–waste, the inefficient use of resources, is what makes so many of our current mission-critical, global systems unsustainable. It’s astounding how wasteful we are as a species. 40% of all food that is produced daily is thrown out while every 5 seconds a human dies of starvation. At a time when we have the technology, resources and knowledge to feed, clothe and educate every single man, woman and child on the planet. We throw huge amounts of money at ideas, concepts, systems and governments and a vast, incalculable amount of it gets lost in the ether, forever. Perhaps lining the pockets of crooked managers and politicians. As Ghandi said, “there’s enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” We can’t keep doing this. And somewhere deep down inside, you all know it too.
I read this article recently on “precision agriculture”. It’s the science of delivering essential nutrients as fertilizer to crops with uber-precision using nanotechnology. Designing ultra-small particles so that farmers can target their use of water, fertilizer and other inputs in order to reduce waste. Get this: 85% of the world’s phosphorus is mined for fertilizer, of which only 42% ever gets taken up by the plants. The rest of it gets fixed in the soil, binds with other molecules and becomes unavailable for use. Then the rains come and these unusable chemical compounds turn into toxic runoff that pollutes our water supply and other ecosystems. This is exactly what’s happening to our money every time we lend, borrow, pay or invest, particularly when it’s facilitated through a centralized, debt-based, fraud-laced, fiat-printing monetary system. When we transact today, only just a small percentage of our money ever goes to exactly where it’s needed to make things work; the rest of it becomes bloated, contaminated runoff.
Nanoscale particles in fertilizer have unique physical, chemical and structural features that can be custom-tailored through engineering, thus influencing and enhancingbiological processes on the cellular level. Blockchain and smart, self-enforcing, pre-programmed contracts can be the “precision finance”–the nanotechnology–that can deliver money precisely, granularly, exactly where it’s needed, when it’s needed, and how. And just like how applying nanoscale micronutrients to plants increases photosynthesis and enzyme activity, which in turn increases their ability to take up already naturally-occurring nutrients in the soil thereby making them more nutritious, using the blockchain to transfer money P2P via smart contracts can increase efficiency in the workflow, incentivize entire hierarchies of players, guarantee ROIs and push conversion rates up exponentially.
Blockchain is the precision finance that can save us from the real “fiscal cliff”. It’s said that at this rate, all the world’s phosphorus will be mined in 80 years, worsening nutrient pollution problems in the process–then what? Make no mistake, what’s happening in Venezuela is just a tiny glimpse of what will happen to the rest of us if we don’t fix our waste issues in banking and finance.
Now, for the first time in my life, I’m not making a pitch for money. In fact, you don’t have to believe anything I’m saying right now because I’m already making my money. My friends and I in the blockchain space have already proven its value to ourselves several times over (in just a matter of months). I’m just here to tell a good story.