Lessons from the Dotcom Era — The Blockchain First Mover Advantage
Cryptocurrencies and blockchain were once a niche interest, protected and propagated by a hardcore legion of early adopters. Now, times have moved on. Blockchain technology has captured the attention of the world. One report estimates that the number of blockchain wallet users is increasing by more than 1.5 million each month. Spurred on by the hype over the price of Bitcoin, many investors are entering the market in the hope of making above-average returns from digital currencies.
It’s not just the surge of investors that are new. Thousands of ICOs have been held, most over the last couple of years alone. Comparisons have been drawn between the dotcom bubble and the current blockchain hype. If those comparisons are fair, then a select few of the blockchain startups of today could be the Google or Amazon of tomorrow. By the same logic, most of them are likely to fail. As investors, our goal is to find a way to determine which companies are the ones least likely to fail, as these are the best bet for the largest, and longest-term returns.
What Can Today’s Blockchain Investors Learn from the Dotcom Era?
In such a crowded ICO market, it can be a challenge to try to predict future successes or failures. The dotcom bubble became a bubble for this exact reason. Money poured into the market based on nothing more than speculation. The same money was subsequently lost when thousands of new projects failed to deliver.
However, the dotcom era had a tremendous impact on the traditional stock market as well as the emergence of new tech companies. The changes brought about by the internet killed off many long-standing public companies with business models that had previously been successful. Other companies managed to survive, and even thrive, by adapting and moving with the times.
There are clear examples of the casualties of that era that can be contrasted with the survival stories of their direct competitors. For example, Borders Books chose to ignore the growing trend of ebooks and liquidated, while Barnes & Noble embraced the move to digital and is still in business today. Similarly, the success of Nikon as a photography brand has continued uninterrupted for decades as the company adapted its strategy and products in line with the move to digital photography. Kodak didn’t and is still struggling to recover from a 2012 bankruptcy filing.
So we can see a theme: pre-existing companies that survived the dotcom era are the ones that managed to keep pace with technological developments. They learned to adapt their business models to the changing times.
Where Blockchain Is Making a Difference
The successes and failures outlined above give us a lens through which we can examine the current markets. Considering which industries are ripe for shaking up with the ongoing blockchain revolution, we can take a look at which existing companies are positioning themselves for success in the transition to new technologies.
Sectors that depend on intermediaries and the establishment of trust are the ones that will reap the most benefits from blockchain. Therefore, the companies in these sectors that are starting to embrace blockchain are the ones that stand the best chance of weathering the current tech storm. Finance is an obvious example, with Bitcoin as the first use case for blockchain, but there are other markets worth watching.
Here, we provide some illustrated examples of sectors that are ripe for disruption by blockchain, together with examples of key industry players who are already striving to keep up with the technological shifts. In some cases, savvy blockchain startups have also seen the potential in these sectors and are looking to capitalize with their own solutions.
Logistics and Shipping
Blockchain as a means of tracking asset movements between parties creates a compelling use case in the global shipping and logistics industry, which is estimated to grow to $15.5 trillion by 2023. The industry is currently highly complex, with many handoffs between different players in a single supply chain. This creates inefficiencies, with many parties tracking the same assets. McKinsey reports that in some cases, more than half of the total supply chain costs of a company are eaten up by inefficient processes. These costs directly impact the bottom line, subsequently reducing the potential for healthy shareholder returns.
First movers into blockchain are now emerging in the logistics sector. IBM and global shipping giant Maersk announced in early August that their jointly developed blockchain solution for worldwide logistics management, Tradelens, is now live. Ninety-four organizations are on board through its early adopter program.
The system is used to securely share shipping documentation and track movements of containers throughout the supply chain. So far, Tradelens has captured more than 150 million movements through ports, shipping lines, and customs authorities. It has been proven to reduce shipping times by up to 40 percent.
Blockchain startups have also spotted the high potential for disruption in the global supply chain and logistics industries. Currently, one of the biggest in terms of market cap is VeChain (VET), which combines blockchain with Internet of Things (IoT) technology to provide a scalable and flexible supply chain solution. Waltonchain (WTC) came into the game slightly later, but have developed a similar IoT solution. Both are worth considering for anyone considering investing in the future of blockchain-based logistics management.
Morpheus Network (MRPH) is currently one of the smaller players in this sector. However, it is worthy of a mention, given that it has been busy acquiring some impressive credentials for itself. The company has a former CEO of DHL on its advisory board, and is a member of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, a consortium of companies that counts FedEx and UPS among its members.
In April 2018, a Southwest Airlines passenger was fatally injured after one of its engines failed. A fan blade had broken away, and fragments had smashed a window on the aircraft. Reuters later reported that not all airlines record the history of all engine parts and that blockchain was a potential solution for track and trace capabilities within the aircraft manufacturing process. Using blockchain in this way means that safety checks after an accident could be performed more quickly.
The same report stated that engine maker, Rolls Royce, has been working with blockchain developers to investigate the possibilities of blockchain in its supply chain process.
Additive manufacturing (3D printing) is another area where blockchain is adding value. Additive manufacturing is performed in multiple stages with handoffs between different parties, with each stage requiring verification so that the next stage can be commenced. Blockchain can, therefore, be used to create an immutable, trusted chain of custody for each stage of the additive manufacturing process.
General Electric (GE) has recently filed a patent for the use of blockchain in the verification of 3D parts made by its subsidiary, GE Additive. In this way, companies procuring parts manufactured by GE Additive will be able to verify their provenance on the blockchain, providing quality assurance and protection against counterfeits. Moog Aircraft Group is undertaking a similar project for the aircraft parts it supplies.
Given that Deloitte believes that blockchain offers “unique potential” to the process of additive manufacturing, blockchain tech startups have been slow to jump on it. If the Deloitte view is correct, then any blockchain projects starting out in this area are worth watching. Italian-based 3D Token (3DT) is one notable first-mover, and the company has gained €2.5m ($2.9m) in European funding according to its website.
Kabuni is a similar project, which has also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Canadian Securities Exchange to offer its token as a listed security. Both 3D Token and Kabuni aim to use their blockchain solutions to streamline the complex, multi-stage process of additive manufacturing at scale.
Smart contracts are still in their infancy. However, the more forward-thinking people in the notoriously traditional legal profession are already getting excited about the potential applications. The automatic execution of legal agreements could reduce the incidence of lawsuits.
In addition to this, law is heavily dependent on sharing documentation which must also be trusted and tamperproof. A blockchain-based system provides law firms with a trustworthy way of sharing case files and other legal documents. AI is another technology that offers potential in legal applications, as AI machines could replace mundane work such as sifting through historical cases to find relevant information.
So far, law firms have been slow to adopt blockchain functionality. However, K&L Gates is taking the first steps, by implementing its own internal permissioned blockchain to investigate the use of smart contracts for its clients. This year’s Global Legal Hackathon reported a heavy focus on the application of blockchain, which shows promising signs that others may follow in the steps of K&L Gates.
On the other hand, the blockchain community has been enthusiastic in its assertions that blockchain-based smart contracts could ultimately do away with lawyers entirely. While this may not prove to be the case, there are blockchain initiatives in the legal space. IntegraLedger is a private blockchain and the first project of the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium. One of their creations is smart documents: electronic contract documents that allow the subsequent transactions on which they are based to be logged securely and immutably on the blockchain.
Much like the financial sector, legal services are subject to strict requirements for confidentiality. Most public blockchains operate based on pseudonymity, so private blockchains are likely to be the future direction of blockchain-based contracting law. Nevertheless, there are token investment opportunities in other areas of law. Digital rights management is one notable example, as the public key encryption technology used by blockchains allows copyright holders the opportunity to manage the use of their digital works. Microsoft and EY have previously announced their own blockchain platform for copyright protection.
For the token investor, SingularDTV (SNGLS) is currently one of the most established players, using blockchain to manage video licensing and distribution. It has been around since 2016, and also allows its users to use blockchain for crowdfunding their own video projects. Similarly to Netflix, SingularDTV also creates its own original content.
Concensum (CEN, formerly Copytrack, traded under the CPY ticker) was launched only this year and with a broader user scope than SingularDTV. The company recently moved operations from its Berlin-based sibling Copytrack to Singapore-based Concensum. This resulted in a token swap, causing an initial drop in value during mid-September. However, given the heavy fluctuations in the overall crypto markets this year, the change was hardly significant. Along with Bitcoin, the value of CEN has shown increases over the last few weeks.
The insurance sector suffers from fraudulent claims. In Europe alone, this is thought to account for up to 10 percent of all claims. Add to this an overabundance of paperwork and a lengthy process for genuine claimants to recover their losses, and it is clear that insurance is a sector ripe for disruption by blockchain. Smart contracts have the potential to provide automatic payouts in the event of particular trigger events, which can be automated further by converging with IoT technology. If your TV breaks, IoT technology sends a message to inform your insurers it is broken. This triggers a smart contract which automatically reimburses your claim for a new one.
This is a simple example, and insurance is notoriously complex. Nevertheless, Allianz announced at the end of 2017 that it had successfully piloted a blockchain solution for managing the self-insurance program of one of its global clients. The company partnered with Citi, Ernst & Young, and digital agency Ginetta to implement a prototype for one of its longtime customers. The system successfully managed the policy renewals, premium payments, and claims processes, decreasing processing times across all three areas.
iXLedger (IXT) was started in 2017 and offers insurance to blockchain companies. This helps to offset the risks of investing in ICOs, which lends legitimacy and an element of safety to would-be investors. The company also operates an insurance marketplace, aimed at reducing the time between handoffs, which creates inefficiencies in the insurance sector.
Self-insurance is a prime candidate for decentralization. Larger companies may use self-insurance for risks such as employee accidents while on business travel. Decentralization would allow smaller companies to do the same, by clubbing together in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). Indeed, this is one of the use cases for DAOStack (GEN), a blockchain project aimed at creating a governance model for DAOs. DAOStack offers further ambitious and innovative use cases for DAO governance beyond just self-insurance and its creator Matan Field is a respected member of the blockchain community, so it could make an interesting investment opportunity despite that it is a relatively new project with a current low market cap.
Etherisc is another blockchain-based insurance initiative aimed at creating collective insurance groups for risks such as hurricane damage or flight delays. The company is a very new entrant to the market and has only recently concluded its TGE.
These sectors are by no means the only ones that are moving into blockchain and broader distributed ledger technologies. However, they do represent some industries where first movers are already clearing the path, proving the business case for the adoption of blockchain. The development of smaller startups only underlines the long-term potential of blockchain in these markets.
Of course, none of this is investment advice, and nobody can predict the future. However, the dotcom era showed that those industry players that were able to keep pace with the age of the internet were the only ones that could survive. Similarly, tech firms like Amazon and Google, that thrived beyond the initial dotcom buzz, found their place first in sectors that were ripe for disruption and then developed into the giants they have become today.
Applying these lessons from the dotcom era to our financial portfolio offers the opportunity to invest not only in exciting new blockchain projects with high risks and potentially high returns. Traditional companies that are now innovating with emerging technologies to solve real-world problems can also offer a healthy balance to an investment portfolio.
Originally published at coincentral.com on January 22, 2019.