Brave New Web

Here’s my take on the perils and possibilities for what could be the biggest and boldest ICO since the Ethereum pre-sale. I should tell you in advance that I’m not associated with anyone at Brave nor the development team for the Basic Attention Token (BAT)…

I invested in Ether during their pre-sale in 2014. I loved the idea way before I had a clue about all of the technical hurdles they needed to cross for Ethereum to even reach full functionality. But the main reason I gave them my money so early in development was the sense that I had somehow seen this all before…

The picture above is me, standing in front of our headquarters in Mountain View, California in 1996. It was taken with a Sony Mavica, a digital camera that was big enough to fit a 3–1/2 inch floppy as its storage medium. At 407 x 480 pixels, that was a cutting-edge image at the time.

Early in my sales career, I was lucky enough to be in the right place and the right time to land a job at Mosaic Communications in December of 1994 (they changed their name to Netscape a month later). I was one of their first sales reps tasked with selling browsers. I know — it’s hard to image that now. It was was free to download it back then, but it cost commercial users $40 per person with a discount schedule based on the total number of users.

I don’t remember meeting Brendan Eich when I was there, but I certainly remember the rollout of Javascript. I do remember Marc Andreesen explaining to the sales team the significance of running application code “in a sandbox on the browser window”. In our minds, we saw ourselves as the eventual successors to Microsoft. We ended up being wrong about our own fate, but for the the rest of the web’s ecosystem, it actually came true.

So, when Vitalik and the rest of the core team of Ethereum were declaring to the rest of us in a Meetup in New York City that their project was the start of Web 3.0, I had a unique perspective from which to judge it. Here’s the slide from that meeting (I found it posted online and saved it for my records) that froze me in my tracks and made me realize that cryptocurrency was only a facet of a larger and even more revolutionary advancement:

cryptocomputing

It was the picture of a web that I did not recognize.

“But where are the servers?”

My mind was blown. Since working at Netscape, I had spent the last two decades selling nearly every element of client/server components to corporate customers. With the addition of cloud and virtualization technology, I still do today. So here was this teenager, in 2014, explaining to me how the blockchain was gonna blow that model apart. The last time I had felt this way was when I was sitting in another room full people listening to Marc Andreesen explain how applications would start living on the browser itself. Vitalik would have been a baby at the time…

For three years, I’ve asked myself the same question: “When is Ether (or any cryptocurrency for that matter) going to get into the hands of the regular guy?” And how?

This is the question that drives every cryptocurrency holder mad. It would add several zeroes to the bottom line to the value of the entire blockchain ecosystem. So here we wait, with baited breath, trying to read the tea leaves of regulatory rulings, blockchain project announcements and poorly-articulated mainstream news stories to see the first signs that the Great Adoption of Cryptocurrency is upon us.

I’ve convinced a baker’s dozen of friends and family to invest in cryptocurrency. It wasn’t easy. A lot of them originally though I had fallen for some sort of elaborate Ponzi scheme. Some of them probably still do.

The only way I got family members to invest in cryptocurrency was to take some of my own, forced them to open up a account with an exchange, and deposit it into them. It worked. Once they saw “real money” growing in their account, the question of if they should invest has now turned into when should they invest more. This experiences have made me think about how Brave’s go-to-market strategy with BAT might become the primary public access route to the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem.

All this time, I thought that Ether and a handful of others were competing with Bitcoin to become the standard token for general users. But what if the groupthink we’ve adopted from dialogue inside the cryptocurrency community has blinded us to an obvious solution: You can’t just promise people value and wealth appreciation and expect them to come to your service. You have to pay people to join. Which means you need to hack an existing value source and route it to them through your service.

One way or another, a new app is needed for the users to access this new cryptocurrency-filled world. A easier solution would be to upgrade an commonly used app to provide access to one or more blockchain networks. Metamask is a first-rate example of this, but it still doesn’t create enough value for non-cryptocurrency users. And that’s where giving them a cut in web advertising revenue could produce some dizzying possibilities. Worldwide digital advertising was $196 billion last year and it’s projected to hit $335 billion by 2020. Sales went through the roof with the iPod, even though it was an aesthetically pleasing, but overpriced mini hard drive. the reason why was that the true value of the device to the end user was based on their ability to access free digitized copies of the music industry’s entire catalogue of content. Brave is well positioned to do the same by bringing a BAT to digital advertising.

They need to increase their user base (currently <1% marketshare) while convincing content providers to advertise on Brave. That’s the chasm they need to cross. A Chicken-and-Egg problem for sure, but they’re starting from a much safer starting point than Ethereum. The end user software is already available on all platforms and the advertising opt-in function to receive redeemable tokens sounds like it’s almost complete.

They need to build a marketing war chest through their token sale. And in my opinion, the more they can get, the better. Their potential market justifies it and they’re gonna need it. They need it to put together the right marketing team to execute on a coherent consumer marketing strategy. They need to target large enterprises to adopt the browser, too, by playing up its ability to defend against hackers sneaking into their networks through malvertisements and precious VPN throughput. With only a few strategic wins, they could quickly get out of the the grind of converting users one-user-at-a-time. They need to give away ad space to content providers, which would cost them virtually nothing. And they need to get at least one major cryptocurrency exchange to store and trade BATs for end users. It sounds like they’re already talking with Coinbase, which is the perfect local partner. And here’s where most of the money should go: Paying Brave users immediately for their web surfing — even if receiving payments from content advertisers is down the road — so users can spread the word as quickly as possible. Sorry, fellow Bitcoin and Ether holders, but this is how you get users started on cryptocurrency. Once their wallet is available, they’ll discover a whole new world of cryptocurrency, ICOs, and business models yet to be conceived.

Everyone wins.

Normally, I would suggest proceeding with caution. But with valuations already skyrocketing on appcoins whose application usage rates are nearly nonexistent, I can only imagine how the price of a token would run if it increases the number of worldwide cryptocurrency holders by magnitudes, while tapping an enormous potential revenue stream of existing commercial. What would capturing 1% of worldwide digital revenue stream mean for the entire cryptocurrency economy? How many new cryptocurrency users would that generate? Remember, BATs are not designed to be exclusive to Brave browser ad placements. In the same way that the worldwide web protocols weren’t dependent upon a single browser, the same could be true with BATs.

Could the Brave team screw this up? Sure. What if they don’t route the proper resources towards buying customers and courting content providers? Could they inadvertently dismiss some value added services in digital advertising that they need to integrated as opposed to being dis-intermediated? Can they fill enough of their ad space to keep the payments flowing to end users? More than the ongoing costs of maintaining a multi-platform browser, that is what worries me the most about this venture. I’ve started asking some of my contacts in interactive advertising to answer this question.

I plan to buy BATs during their ICO. A lot of them. In the meantime, I’m testing Brave on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone to see how hard it really is to convert my web usage onto their platform. If anyone is even considering investing in the ICO, I’d recommend they do the same.

I’ll keep you posted.