A few words about Malta

I spent the better part of last week on blockchain island, as Malta gets to be known lately. The small country itself doesn’t ooze of technological innovation as one would come to expect from all the hype. It’s rather a mix of an old European city inhabited by Arab people that speak Italian — very similar to Roma Termini, really.

The traffic drags along on the wrong side of narrow streets through endless construction sites, giving taxi drivers ample time to complain about how things are moving too fast in Malta with this prime minister. His invitation to the Malta Blockchain Summit, his opening speech and most important his actions are all solid reasons for taxi drivers to complain — he shifted Malta’s transformation into eighth gear or eleventh or whichever is the fastest these days.

Crypto friendly prime minister

Historically, Malta’s natural resources were basically just them being a piece of land that ships can use as pit stop in the Mediterranean sea. No surprise that its government is looking for alternative income streams and does its best to build them whichever way it can — being a tax haven that saves multinational companies billions of dollars, offering up online gaming licenses when others won’t, and recently passing laws that regulate crypto, with a tech first focus, nonetheless.

Binance and Bittrex already made their intentions to build important part of their businesses there and plenty of other existing companies and projects are standing in line at the Malta stock exchange and other offices as we speak. Getting a startup incorporated in Malta is pretty much “it” at the moment and serious competition to Singapore and Switzerland.

Hence little surprise to see that the tiny Malta Blockchain Summit has gathered several thousand blockchain professionals. That’s right, from enthusiasts at the beginning we moved to entrepreneurs and now to downright professionals. That was 80% of the people attending — working full time crypto one way or another. Sure, there were the occasional investors looking for the next gem in the rough, but most of the people there had something to sell.

There were the obvious ICOs trying to pitch their innovative ideas, and the service companies trying to make sure they grab as much “friends & family” money (initial investments) from those ICOs, as 80% of them will likely fail to bring a working product or service online anyway. Some good ICOs were presenting on stage and at booths, but the vast majority of them could be seen as victims of the “free money from the internet” dream. You can watch the pitches here and here.

I highly recommend you watch the pitch of the dudes that actually won (one of them anyway) — it makes a great example of how proper blockchain projects need to be today. It has a working product, doesn’t actually need blockchain but is enriched by it. In this case reverse STO for an existing algo-trading & investment platform. No utility token, no “yet another blockchain but with a twist”, no dApp that will become viral, just real stuff.

Malta Blockchain Summit ICO pitch winners

Other than ICOs, consultancy companies were plenty, offering help to projects from ideation stage to go-live, with all kinds of innovative spices thrown in the mix for good measure. Bitcointalk pumps, listing on Coinmarketcap and LinkedIn interviews with Nazareth were among the flurry of must-have services seriously advertised on the conference floors and in the nearby pubs. John McAfee, the always bullish crypto entertainer, was a prominent presence at the conference, as was Sophia — the first AI citizen. Ian Balina was seen around a bit, more on the humble side than 100x though.

On a serious note, the level of professionalism of incubators has grown tremendously. New ICOs fail to see the value add and mostly consider them a drain in their already stretched budget. They can be, but understanding that you need help and getting competent support after careful consideration can be a game changer for any startup.

There are abundant examples of ICOs that have successfully raised money only to then realize they have a bad legal & tax structure, frozen bank accounts, a bad sentiment around the project and their competition outperforming them for non-product related reasons. Building a good product is unfortunately not enough to succeed crypto and incubators provide shortcuts to avoid taking the long, time consuming and expensive road of figuring stuff out on your own.

You end up running faster if you use some crutches when you get up to walk for the first time. Until then everyone just rolls their eyes when they hear “blockchain consultancy” (pro tip: wear an investor badge).

My key takeaways:

  • Blockchain still only serves as investment vehicle. It is seeing some payments action but it otherwise is still a few years away from penetrating our daily lives, like robocalls did (funny enough a problem telcos could solve with blockchain). But, competent people are building the future and the next crypto-Google is still out there
  • Projects looking to come up with creating use cases for their token will not be happy to learn investors are shying away from utility tokens as much as possible
  • Projects doing STOs for reasonable amounts of money see a lot of attention from investors; millions were pledged or even exchanged hands at the summit itself
  • Consultancy is becoming good, try engaging some for your project, see if it can be of any help. I know one, should you be looking for a place to start.
  • There is 24/7 partying in Malta but business somehow gets done
  • Staying home behind Telegram is not the crypto world, go out and explore, it did me a lot of good

Originally published at whitepapertrail.com on November 7, 2018.