My journey at ConsenSys and beyond

Marc Lijour
Dec 10, 2018 · 8 min read

On Thursday, December 6, 2018, the ax falls. ConsenSys lays off 13% of its workforce. Tragedy? Yes. It’s a sad day in crypto-space, but for Blockchain professionals like us, it’s Xmas time. Business is rising, unemployment is extremely low in North America, colleges are unable to produce good talent in any significant measure… What if ConsenSys just gave birth to a new generation of Blockchain companies?

ConsenSys 1.0

ConsenSys is a fabulous gift to the world. I don’t subscribe to the doom and gloom portrayed in a recent article published on Forbes. ConsenSys gave birth and incubated 50+ startups since it started 4 years ago. The Mesh (employees) are the smartest and nicest people I’ve worked with. What brings all those diverse faces and hearts together is a drive to create a better, fairer, and more decentralized world (more democratic, with less friction to start a business, and more equitable with respect to extracting value from the digital world). ConsenSys is building a market, as much as it building new ventures.

My connection to ConsenSys dates back to last year (2017), through my co-founder at ColliderX, a not-for-profit organization aiming to accelerate the development of emerging technologies such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. We had met in one of those meetups in Toronto, where I had been hanging out for a couple of years. I’m a computer scientist and a consultant, who had been waiting for the Blockchain technology to mature to take it mainstream, particularly in the Enterprise market.

I met Joe, and soon I joined the team in Toronto to build the consulting arm, called Solutions. I’m proud of our accomplishments. We built a great team, and we started some very promising projects. My biggest disappointment is not to have been able to hire fast enough to deliver the projects from Toronto, instead of shipping significant work in the US. In the second part of 2018, we were picking up speed, maybe not fast enough. Some local competitors moved faster, implementing the same initiatives I was working on for ConsenSys.

Then, came a terrible fall. When I joined ConsenSys in January 2018, everybody around me seemed ecstatic. I’ve never been a bold investor in crypto, but I understand some of the early folks at ConsenSys were paid in ETH. The price of ETH had never been so high. Everyone was happy. Since then, it fell 94%. Winter had come. And nobody knows how long it will last, and how many crypto projects will survive.

Credit: Trading View

ConsenSys 2.0

Most of us didn’t realize what it meant for ConsenSys, confident we had a long runway ahead. However, Joe sent a letter to ConsenSys employees last week highlighting a path to what he called “ConsenSys 2.0”. Excerpts from the letter have been shared with the public in exclusivity with BREAKER.

ConsenSys 2.0 is really the company I signed up for back in January 2018. I gave it 15 hours a day to bootstrap a consulting practice. My focus had been to launch this business, which doesn’t have the upside of a successful startup or an ICO, but which was arguably far more likely to be revenue positive in a very short time. I’m biased: this is what I do.

I learned the ropes at Cisco, as part of the Toronto Industry Transformation team, before working for Savoir-faire Linux, a boutique System Integrator focusing on Open Source Software with prestigious clients in the Aerospace and the Financial Services Industry. I found a passion for leveraging new technology to improve business and societal outcomes. I have left the comfort of a top job (and pension) in the Public Sector to accelerate industry transformation, from the other side of the fence, in the private sector.

Consulting is quite new for ConsenSys, which started Solutions about a year ago. More importantly, it is a very different business, departing from the product-focused startups that ConsenSys is famous for (e.g. Metamask, Truffle, Infura, PegaSys, to name a few). It made sense for the spokes (the startups funded by ConsenSys) to leverage economies of scale and a sales channel spanning 35 countries. There was also a need for C-level executives to grasp how Blockchain would potentially impact their bottom line while creating new revenue lines and cost-saving opportunities. This is where I come in.

Back to the crude reality, I got a call on Thursday. I first thought it might be related to the Solutions Operating Circle, the closest thing to a management layer at ConsenSys, coordinating between a dozen geographies where Solutions operates, to which I had been elected Chair recently. It may have been about a few difficulties in the US or some other group putting forward an improvement proposal. Funny, it flipped on me. I was out of ConsenSys.

ConsenSys 3.0 — What’s next?

I take the departure as a vote of confidence. I’m proud of what I accomplished in Toronto, but I needed more commitment to move it to the next level. Obviously, it’s not the right time for that. I respect the tough decisions made and, although I do not understand (or agree with) them, I believe the clarity and focus are exactly what ConsenSys needs at this point in time, same as I do.

My first order of business on Thursday has been to celebrate with my ex-team in Toronto and to care for those in harsher personal situations. Many of us shared the same destiny, but the impact is different for each individual. My second thought has been to think about ConsenSys 3.0. What’s next for us, and for myself? We set up messaging groups and promised to help each other. The support from the Mesh (our family at ConsenSys) has been spectacular: many sharing job openings, words of support, and caring advice.

Chatting with my ex-colleagues and esteemed friends in the Toronto Blockchain community, I started to realize how lucky we are. Certainly, it’s been a treat to live the ConsenSys experience. Moreover, the unemployment rate in Canada has never been so low for at least 42 years! The Tech sector is in a better position, with an employment rate under 3% (considered as full employment). A report from the ICTC estimates that 216,000 new jobs will need to be filled by 2021. Last year, ICTC estimated that Blockchain alone could add 100,000 additional jobs in Canada.

Credit: ICTC, 2018. The next talent wave: navigating the digital shift — Outlook 2021

Since last year, Blockchain has been booming in Canada, and everywhere in the world. Many industries, in particular, Financial Services, Supply Chain, and the Public Sector are aiming to launch significant production projects right now. At the same time, the talent pipeline in Blockchain is miserably small. Canadian business executives are acutely aware of the tension in AI. Newsflash: it way worse for Blockchain! The small (but mighty) training programs many of us in the community have been helping launch here are only a good first step. Let me do a shout out for the first College Certificate for Blockchain Developers launched by George Brown College in Toronto, supported by the local Blockchain community. However, that is only 20 seats per semester…

The Federal Government is acutely aware of the tension in the ICT labour market. A fellow business executive from Toronto shared that his company is revising salaries every year to avoid losing employees. This year they increased salaries by 20% in Toronto. I certainly saw the same phenomenon while hiring at ConsenSys. It seemed that every month candidates were asking for a better package.

In summary, business takes up, trained Blockchain professionals are rare, and the talent pipeline is far from meeting expectations. Thank you ConsenSys for freeing 13% of your workforce!

As I enjoy this second gift from ConsenSys, I’m considering the many opportunities opening in front of me. I will certainly spend more time at the not-for-profit organizations helping the ICT community in Canada, such as ColliderX, the Toronto French Business Network (TFBN), and TechConnex. I will certainly continue to help the Education sector building the talent pipeline and helping small and medium-size businesses.

On the job front, I have a couple startups calling in. One, in particular, is very appealing. Naturally, I’m always open to hearing about serious teams and projects in large organizations (big IT, consulting, or industry). Last but not least, I’m toying with the idea of starting a consulting firm. Maybe some bright ConsenSys alumni will like to join?

Beyond ConsenSys, the future of decentralization

I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for a boutique consulting service focusing on decentralized and open systems. The following charter may just be what the market and the world needs.

  1. A full service consulting practice (not just Blockchain)
  2. Using the best tool for the job (including ConsenSys spokes, but not only)
  3. Truly Decentralized
  4. Focusing on services on top of Open Source Software

Enterprise projects are not limited to Blockchain, and when Blockchain is actually a good fit (which is not always the case) there is often a number of integrations with legacy systems to consider. Most importantly, technology is not the solution, nor the challenge. It is about creating value for the business. Most of the work should be about reinventing the business to leverage fast-moving environmental conditions, most notably emerging technologies.

Open Source Software won the battle for innovation. I wrote quite abundantly about this when I was at Savoir-faire Linux (and for the past couple of decades, in government and at Mandriva Linux). Therefore, it makes sense to adopt the best practices and methodologies coming from Free Software, while developing expertise in the leading software projects that are changing the world (Linux, Android, Ethereum…).

That being said, we should not be fanatical or political about software. We’re here to solve business and human problems. Who happens to know better what the ConsenSys spokes have to offer? Ex-ConsenSys employees have a competitive advantage in understanding some of the best tools in the Blockchain industry. There are plenty of other great tools, related to Blockchain or not, that we can leverage to help our customers.

Finally, we can all learn from ConsenSys. We can create a more decentralized and fair organization, implementing a peer-to-peer business relationship. We can become a business mesh. As someone said in our Alumni Slack channel, ConsenSys taught us to self-organize. We grew from a gang of alpha-type entrepreneurs and anarchists to become a functioning organism. The opportunity ahead, our true test, might just be to self-organize without the support of benevolent Joe. Are we ready?

Thanks to Abasifreke James.

Marc Lijour

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Leading the Digitization of Organizations with Free/Libre Open Source Software. My personal view here (RT ≠ endorsement).