BrokeChain — an apology to the Synereo community from one who walked away…

This article is my break from the politically correct self-censorship on this topic in light of yesterday’s “call for investor refunds” article published by the CoinFund team. The ongoing saga can be found on YouTube of course.

Synereo, a decentralized censorship-resistant platform enabling DAPPs of all flavors to happily and compositionally co-exist across a common shared infrastructure employing a new Attention Economy model backed by a cryptocurrency known as the AMP token is a bit of a mouthful. Or, more simply, “Be yourself, own your online identity!”

While with a former start-up, I brought Greg on as a consultant and quickly came to learn of his “Special-K” platform which at the time was billed as the solution of choice for our SaaS based product. Materially unconvinced of its commercial viability at the time, but infinitely curious to learn more, I plugged into the Synereo community in April or May of 2015. As momentum picked up, my partner Dina and I were able to step up into more central roles as Directors of Product Management and Design around the beginning of this year. Check out our Synereo bios used for participation with Dor in the NFX Guild’s accelerator program in Silicon Valley.

Visions of a wondrous future

The idyllic, dare I say intoxicatingly quixotic, vision of Blockchain enabled trust in the trustless environment known as real-life is a hard one to shake.

Chances are, you’ve read articles extolling the virtues of the blockchain or even heard your friends passionately share the good word with you from time to time. Perhaps you’ve even sat in an online pew listening in on a sermon or fifty being given on the topic of blockchain magic by the technological guru du jour of this project or that. Maybe you’ve even stepped forward from the congregation and committed to contributing in some way to help one of these projects in bringing about some form of this unshakable vision?

Thank you participants!

If you’ve personally stepped forward to contribute to one of these projects, I applaud you! We’re only talking about a foundational collective re-wiring of how we imagine and construct the structural pathways we’ll soon be using to engage with our fellow human beings on the other side of this technological evolution. Bravery and emotional fortitude are required in the face of such uncertainty for those that understand the far-reaching personal, social, and political implications.

Video conferencing platforms have played critical roles in bringing project owners and contributors together in active debate from the utterly banal to the remarkably profound.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed the kool-aid despite the emotional ups and downs incurred through its consumption. I’ve committed tons of my time and resources into what I was optimistic would be “the right project” executed by “the right team”. I’ve also waded way beyond neck deep through the marvelously ambiguous waters of impending regulatory decrees that may or may not cause irrevocable legally binding harm to the innovators in the space in true reactionary fashion as a result of the exploiters doing what they do best.

Like many of you out there, I gave it a solid go with Synereo and, while I’m remarkably soured by the intractable and unrelenting ego-clash of the Synereo principals, I’m by no means turning my back on the broader decentralization community at large! We’re all actually in this together! Systems will be built and we’ll likely be “forced” to adopt some of them in our near future.

If you remain unconvinced of the criticality of genuinely doing right as a community, constructively solving disputes outside of the court of law, and coming to fundamental terms with the nature and scope of the projects we’re building, then please give a listen to the discussion with Grant Fondo, a former federal prosecutor and Cindy McAdam, one of the prominent female voices in the bitcoin industry, as they help illuminate what we can all soon expect to see as the regulators come to join the party. CoinBase vs. IRS is just the opening scene!

An enlightening discussion hosted on July 10th, 2016 by the Silicon Valley Ethereum Meetup group discussing the regulatory implications of and looming tech-industry fallout following the “hack” of The DAO.

As an aside, I’m explicitly characterizing these projects as religious in nature because at the philosophical core, the blockchain tech community is presently and most fundamentally selling people on the belief that these products and services might indeed one day be built and that once built, unicorns may indeed roam the earth. Naturally, the Ponzi schemes, the fraudsters, the exploiters, and all of their sophistic ilk have gravitated to the lush technological blockchain greenfields to profit dearly while the unregulated gettings are good.

My humble apologies…

With all sincerity and humility, I’m writing today to apologize, to clear my conscience, and to call to light a few troubling specifics, pertaining to Synereo, that are finally beginning to see the light of day on their own.

Upon my haste filled departure from the Synereo project, I consulted several members of the core team and informed them of my desire to bring my concerns to light ahead of the September crowdsale. To be clear, as there has been some discussion in my absence on the matter, I left the project due to irreconcilable differences noted later in this article between myself and the intractable unity of Dor and Greg, not one or the other in isolation. The current combative rift has devolved into a nonsensical side taking dick-waving match … behaviors that I don’t see as productive, compassionate, or even remotely reflective of the reality of the objective power differential between the two. What is a tech project without the tech!?

Anyhow, given a complete lack of substantive solidarity and a few cautionary warnings of the potential for libel and defamation suits, I sat on my concerns and went on with my life looking for a better set of people to tango with.

To those that contributed in good faith towards the creation of the tech espoused to support and bring about the vision as promised … my sincerest apologies for not bringing this information forward sooner.

To those that were looking to make a quick return on your investment, well, I don’t have too much sympathy as you surely must know by now that the blockchain space is painfully replete with pump and dump schemes at every turn. Sorry this investment didn’t work out for you.

I realize the painful emptiness of these words for those who’ve contributed towards the $4.7M that was raised on arguably false delivery promises.

Please read on and consider how your Blockchain denomination might be able to learn from the series of cascading behavioral choices made within Synereo’s inner clergy. “Most” of the hangouts should all be online, as I think only a few have been selectively censored, so a more thorough deconstruction of the timeline would make for a fascinating research project by some up and coming psychology PhD student.

Human factors

If you wish to read about the “tech” of Synereo, I’d advise you move on to other more relevant articles as my chief concern is the human side of this project. Team cohesion and efficacy begins with a shared vision with which to execute on together. With a commitment towards a shared vision a shared pool of trust emerges.

Individual behavioral choices, group psychology, and the governance models at the core of blockchain project teams seem, from my experiences, to be somewhat of an afterthought while they are often inextricably reflective of the actual technologies we’re looking to build.

A shared goal that is well-defined and agreed upon by all team members, combined with an organizational structure of some sort, let’s use a basic RACI matrix as an example, gives an unambiguous starting point from which trust can emerge. With this rough idea of what team members can be expected to do and what they are responsible for, they can now begin to demonstrate their willingness and capabilities to deliver.

For many months at the heart of Synereo, we had no concrete idea what individuals’ motivations were when attaching to the project. Furthermore, the “wisdom of the crowd will create the product” mission statement made establishing a shared cohesive vision of “a product” a near impossibility. Just like a “good” movie plot, or 2016’s defining show, Westworld, people will engage much more freely if it is left intentionally ambiguous. When plot twists and subtle hints are given that are never wrapped back into the main narrative, the modern audience goes wild because it allows them to use their creative capacity to make up their own story, explanation, and meaning. Fine for entertainment, but very bad for software ventures — unless faith is actually your intended product.

Image from “Flatarchies and Holacracies” article by madalina

The technology of “trust in a trustless environment” can’t magically emerge without thoughtful design of course, but also more subtly not without a strong inner core team that can try, fail, recover, and continue to trust in their shared vision while trying again together.

In an entirely decentralized and wholly non-hierarchical environment, or even a loosely defined holacratic or flatarchic environment, this shared pool of trust requires a great deal more individual self-knowledge, self-awareness, authenticity, and an ongoing communication and re-negotiation of our existing relationships. A deep surrender into a pool of shared trust in those we must rely upon is needed as a precursor to building the technological rails for others to rely upon.

I’ve had the wonderful fortune to have previously worked on a small and agile development team building out a novel v1 product while back at Microsoft. The team was hand-picked and the desired team member DNA was screened for and baked into the hiring process. It was pure magic! The team’s vision was succinct, the initial set of user experiences were targeting specific jobs to be done and problem spaces in the market, and the team roles were crisply defined with plenty of room to creatively go above and beyond. In the face of multiple pivots, the team’s pool of shared trust continued to grow. As a result, time spent co-creating was a pure joy to experience!

Is the blockchain tech community actually onto something novel, or simply delusional?

Trust in a trustless environment cannot be “engineered” without a keen appreciation for and humility in the face of history, psychology, economics, and philosophy. What do we actually mean by this term “trust” in the first place and are we on the same page with our terms as a community? My experience within the Synereo community leads me to believe we’re nowhere close!

Before you continue along on your own path of co-creation with your own teams, or before your next calculated appropriation of funds towards teams that claim they’re creating “the next big thing in decentralized tech!”, please consider the following question… Do you honestly grok the societal implications of blockchain tech?

And, before you answer, I’d encourage you to give the following articles a thorough read.

The Greg / Dor Power Struggling Schism

The past week’s meltdown is notable in the public facing story of the Synereo project, but it is by no means a surprise. All participants close to the project have seen this coming!

I’d liken the unfoldings to that of a highly dysfunctional “family drama” being played out both publicly and privately over the Internet-airwaves for over a year now. Circling up around the dinner table on a weekly basis extolling the virtues of patience and compassion has carried the family quite far, but once talk of the finances surface … look out, egoic fervor, threats of divorce, and mutually abusive brinkmanship are all on the menu!

Synereo Governance

Governance is an art, not simply an engineering problem to solve. Fortunately for us, we have thousands of years of history at our fingertips to reflect on as we define the new structures for our future.

Decentralized self-governance discussions usually circle back on the “wisdom of the crowd”, “the nobility of the new”, or some flavor of Marx dressed up in technological clothing. If the shared vision for blockchain tech, DAOs, and interoperable self chosen governance models is going to become useful for all of society beyond anarchic hackers then actual forms of governance need to be studied, fully understood, re-meshed, re-mastered, and reinvented (in that order) because they will become the medium of our future interactions.

Who actually owns Synereo’s IP?

Who actually owns the IP of your decentralized project? Is it truly open-source? Does it belong to the developers, a corporate fiction, a virtual nation, a sea of participating community members?

The most fundamental element of confusion and contention that I’d invite everyone to have a look at, especially given any investor’s aim to make $$ from this project, would be the discontinuity between the terms of the crowdsale, the existing equity model for the Israeli LTD, and the words and behaviors of Greg when it comes to his desire to bring R-Chain into being outside of the control of the LTD. We know there are larger scale investors at Synereo table … why would a VC or other similarly scaled institutional investor commit funds if the Israeli LTD doesn’t actually “own” any of the core IP? … or does it!?

I have never received a satisfactory answer to my questions over the conflict between the spirit of an open-source community owned network and the reality of an Israeli LTD laying claim to the IP of contributors that unquestioningly sign their contracts.

Propriety, non-compete, assignment of inventions, oh my!?

I was initially confronted with a consulting agreement on May 23rd, 2016 and spent the better part of the next few weeks trying to come to terms with what was before me. Exhibit B within the Synereo LTD’s contract is most enlightening in terms of IP ownership when contrasted with open-source practices.

  • Notably strict non-disclosure clause
  • Excessively restrictive 12 month non-compete clause
  • Contractor grants rights, title and interest in inventions, whether or not patentable or registrable under copyright or similar statutes, made or conceived or reduced to practice or learned by contractor, either alone or jointly with others, during the term of the Consulting Agreement
  • Contractor grants rights, title and interests in inventions to any third party, including without limitation government agencies as directed by the LTD
  • et. al.

Upon my review with a legal expert, the following conclusions were shared…

If these people who have/will sign are involved in the creation or development, then I can’t see how Synereo hasn't already ceased being “Open Source”, or anything remotely related to any decentralized open systems. It appears that Dor is trying to obtain individual license from everyone to OWN and SELL to a Third Party (Israeli govt agency?) what “Synereo LTD” produces. Of course, this is clear evidence of bad faith, since Dor has already robbed all signatories of their intellectual property, but also of the legal capacity to seek remedy. In fact, the only place you can complain is IN Israel, and even then, its an empty complaint since “all rights, title and interest” to everything anyone touches belongs to Synereo. Literally. Not exaggerating. Guaranteed win for Synereo.

Immediately following this, when questioning Greg over the nature of his IP arrangements and how they fit it into the overall “Community Owned” open-source vision of the Synereo project, I received the following reply.

Troubling evidence that all was seriously not well at the core of this engagement.

Falling upon deaf ears…

Following this week’s public meltdown, I felt inspired to throw my thoughts back into the ring … the happy Synereo community ring of “all opinions are welcome to be braided into the collective bucket of signal and noise to be filtered subjectively by the listener” … hoping to steer the discussion of the core team towards the root of the matter; who has the valid legal claim to funds raised? Is it Dor and the Israeli LTD? Is it Greg and the as of yet non-existent Washington State Co-Op that he has spoke of? I’ve directed these same questions towards Dor and Greg many times in the past and now broadening my audience, the questions have again been ignored. A copy of my email is below.

Synereo Principals — Prove Up Your IP Claims

And, crickets…

Following receipt of and non-response to my above message however, Greg then went further and chose to use my initial paragraph in isolation in his own defense within the now cacophonously FUD ridden Synereo Slack channels. Until the founders can conclusively draw lines of clarity on the IP questions above the whole house of cards and clash of ego over the pot o’ gold that the vision has amassed will mean very little in the face of actual binding agreements that may or may not ever be publicly disclosed.

Insider trading?

Isn’t this simply par for the blockchain market making course absent authentic governance (self-imposed or otherwise) mechanisms? I doubt that anyone who understands the size and nature of the alt-coin markets would believe this was NOT happening to some degree. If this statement sounds egregiously off-base, please let me know how I’m wrong in the comments section.

Anyhow, I’m only cautiously and briefly going to touch upon this particular subject as I know it’s a volatile one that has come up recently within the Synereo Slack channels. By design, it’s remarkably difficult to track and provide definitive conclusive assertions as to the who’s, what’s, and when’s of alt-coin market behaviors, but I do have one observation and commentary to share.

On September 17th/18th, Dor sends out the “burning of the AMPs” announcement which would necessarily yield market excitement and an ensuing pump and dump was observed like deterministic clockwork.

Who was behind it? I have no clue … but in alt-coin markets where volume is quite low, removing $45k in a single transaction is tricky unless the right spark provides the necessary volume.

Announcement goes out, excitement and expectations drive volume, over the next 3 to 5 hours AMP price increases on buy interest, then, poof! $45k extracted from the market. The ongoing story of altcoins … unskilled investors trading while at severe information asymmetry against savvy investors with large holdings of coins.

Personally, I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to make conclusive statements in the wake of market movements. What I have learned however, while watching from the sidelines through the Synereo crowdsale, is enough to lose a good deal of optimism that the actors in the decentralization space have authentic desires to actually embrace “de”centralization. Centralization through pre-mining coins, elaborately contrived and/or confusing multi-tiered ICO prices, or anything else resembling a departure from allowing an actual free-market of decentralized agents to drive price seems quite counter to the idea of decentralization.

Quick copy/paste from transaction history at the moment of the sell shows single sell at just the right moment to keep the market afloat on the volume of the announcement.

The marketing arm of Synereo

Without Greg and his work with Mike Stay on Higher category models of the pi-calculus building upon the work of Robin Milner and others, there is no Synereo, there is no R-Chain … put simply, there is no project to back!

Likewise, without Dor and his close friends and family at the core of the “Synereo side” of the project and for sure his legal and accounting arm back in Israel, the marketing page would not have come together in the way that it did in order to raise the $4.7M. Let’s be serious for a minute, Greg’s “Help build Splicious” video from May of 2014 lacks the necessary polish, articulation of vision, and placement before investor eyeballs that Dor’s efforts have provided.

Equal opposites, both perpetually vying for dominance over each other to the detriment of the project, the Synereo community, and reputation of the broader decentralized tech community. Calling a spade a spade however, that is still permissible these days right?, Dor and the “Synereo” aligned side of the project are in essence the marketing and fund-raising wing of the operation. As the recent former Director of Product Management for Synereo, I can attest that Dor and the Synereo marketing arm have no “developers” with which to deliver any component of the technology outlined in the crowdfund literature, unless of course the contract linked above has been signed by, and can now be enforced upon, the developers hired by Greg. How can one take seriously the idea that there are “two projects” here that can in fact part ways and actually be somehow successful? There is NO tech project without the tech!

I mean no ill-will towards Dor or towards Greg as human beings but I have zero faith in either of them as collaborating principals on a project that encompasses a fraction of the vision that has been sold to the Synereo community.

In concurrence with the CoinFund team’s article that spawned my article here today, I’d echo and amplify their call for refunds to crowdfund investors.

It’s been a wild ride, an exhilarating adventure, a bit of a bad dream, and everything in between. Through my involvement in Synereo I have met may dedicated, passionate and intelligent individuals working on this and numerous other decentralized projects. Together we must remain engaged in the decentralized conversation and continue to ask and answer the uncomfortable questions that will define our future.