Unpacking blockchain for the world-at-large

Interview with Mike Butcher

Mike Butcher is editor-at-large of TechCrunch and the man behind some of the most important interviews in the tech space. He has been named among the Top 50 most influential Britons in technology and was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to the UK technology industry and journalism by the Queen.

It comes as no surprise, that he also started covering the blockchain back in 2011. Did his enthusiasm about the technology faded since then? What are his words of advice for the blockchain entrepreneurs? Find out in the interview below.

Pavel: Mike, what got you excited about the blockchain in the first place?

Mike: What got me interested in the blockchain space was the promise to democratize the access to services and information for the people. I’m a journalist for over twenty years, and I was looking at technology and the internet during this time. The beginning of the internet was exciting because there would be no locks on information and services. Everybody in the world could create something new that many of these people could use. Twenty years later we ended up with Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter and that’s not really fun. Blockchain called out a promise of a decentralization. It does hold a promise of allowing networks with access to information and services to exist without being controlled by such a small number of organizations.

Twenty years later we ended up with Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter and that’s not really fun.
Pavel: Did the trust in the decentralization vanish during the past years? Do you still have a feeling, that we are moving in the right direction towards the blockchain adoption?

Mike: There are blockchains being invented which are a little more centralized, such as Ripple and EOS. With the proof-of-work, we also have big mining pools, e.g. in China. But the technology as a whole is still pretty decentralized.

It’s so early for the ecosystem that it’s impossible to be too judgemental right now.

It’s so early for the ecosystem that it’s impossible to be too judgemental right now. It’s almost like 1994 compared to internet advancement. It took Web 1.0 almost ten years between 1994 to 2004 until we had a wide adoption of e-commerce and proper web services. Web 2.0 appeared around 2004/2005 which the web as a platform and the internet took off much faster. Since then we had Facebook, we had sharing economies like Airbnb and Uber.

Web 2.0 took off a lot faster than Web 1.0. Now, that we’re familiar with how a lot of this technology works things will probably happen a lot faster. There’s still plenty of work to be done. And we’re talking about hugely complex technologies. It’s still early days for the blockchain.

Mike Butcher at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin
Pavel: Mike, you’re coming to Berlin at the 29th of November with TechCrunch Disrupt. What do you think about the blockchain ecosystem here?

Mike: I think it’s really exciting, actually. It’s fascinating that blockchain really clamps to the strength of Berlin as a highly sophisticated and developed blockchain community. Blockchain speaks to a lot of the values around Berlin: the independence, the decentralization, the democratization and the access to technology and information. You couldn’t get a better technology for Berlin, it’s amazing.

You couldn’t get a better technology for Berlin, it’s amazing.

I think the city also attracts the developers: they want to live in an affordable city, they want to have a culture, they want to be surrounded by other developers. It’s perfect. It’s exciting that Berlin has such a vibrant and enthusiastic community.

Pavel: How do you perceive the mood surrounding ICOs and cryptocurrencies?

Mike: It’s absolutely wild west. It’s bananas. There are almost no regulations and it’s completely crazy and wild. And of course if there are no regulations — lots of scams and lots of bullshit happens. It’s a shame that there are still people around who just want to take advantage of naive people.

It’s absolutely wild west. It’s bananas.

From TechCrunch’s perspective, we are very interested in technology and making sure, that the technology itself is covered well and is well unpacked to the world-at-large.

Pavel: Crowdfuning with ICO campaigns is still the main use case for the blockchain technology. What do you think could be the next field of the adoption?

Mike: There are many ICOs and many tokens claiming to be the next big thing, but I would say that 99% of them have almost no real-world application at the moment. They are also built on technology they have little control of. If Ethereum changes — these companies do not have a plan B.

People are still discussing which kind of protocols we should be using, let alone which kind of actual applications.

Like I said — it’s so early. People are still discussing which kind of protocols we should be using, let alone which kind of actual applications. I think the real action is still very much on the protocol layer.

There are some interesting experiments going on with tokenizing property, which could take off. Another one is the blockchain adoption in energy, where you could track energy use and potentially have decentralized energy platforms. And one of the really exciting things is the use of blockchain in emerging markets, where you don’t have the financial infrastructure of SWIFT, Visa or Master Card and you can start from scratch.

Mike Butcher mit Ijad Madisch von ResearchGate
Pavel: Would you have some words of advice for the entrepreneurs who are looking forward to starting their blockchain application?

Mike: I’m particularly keen, that more women and more people with different backgrounds should join the blockchain community. Diversity is important.

Another advice is: Do a lot of listening. I think it’s a great time being in an entrepreneur space in the blockchain, there are a lot of potential opportunities. But I don’t think you should just adopt the same Web 2.0 business models, you have to think more clever about the business models in the blockchain space.

Pavel: It sounds like a brave new world for entrepreneurs with new business models.

Mike: Yes, absolutely. Just be careful out there.