Fast-tracking Blockchain Innovation
Recently, EPN Enterprise Podcast Network sat down with Nick Casares, Product Director for Polyient Labs, to discuss how Polyient Labs is helping nurture blockchain startups, the latest trends in blockchain technology and the three things tech entrepreneurs must do to successfully launch a startup.
You can listen to the podcast here, but we’ve included the following transcript as well.
Q: What is Polyient labs?
A: Polyient Labs is an early-stage business incubator. What that means is that we help entrepreneurs fast track blockchain innovations. We do that by providing them with insight, guidance, services, and support and working capital as well. So, that really gives them the direction they need to help get to the next stage of their business.
Q: What was the inspiration behind launching Polyient? Can you get into some of those details?
A: I’d love to. Brad Robertson is the founder and CEO of Polyient labs. And Brad is a successful technology executive. He’s been in the game for 25 years. He’s helped dozens of startups. He’s had successful exits and, really, he’s at the point in his career where he’s really trying to find a way — and excited about — giving back through his experiences.
By launching Polyient, it’s a place where he can use his experiences, his resources, his network to help startups really come to life and help entrepreneurs avoid some of the mistakes that he’s seen in his businesses.
An interesting side note on launching Polyient. Phoenix, which is where we’re based, is an interesting place right now for blockchain. There are a couple of interesting initiatives: We have a blockchain lab. We also have a fintech sandbox. That really make it a great place to innovate.
Q: What do you look for when an entrepreneur comes to Polyient with an idea for a company he or she wants to launch?
A: That’s a great question and it’s really it comes down to two things:
The first thing that we look for in any founder or entrepreneurial team is passion. Starting a startup is not easy. Getting out of bed every morning and working on an idea — in addition to a daytime job and the rest of your commitments — while you’re trying to bootstrap something, takes a lot of grit. It’s hard. There’s blood, sweat, and tears involved in getting your idea off the ground.
If you don’t have the passion about your idea, you’re probably not going to have what it takes to stay the course. So above all, we look for passion in the entrepreneurs that we work with.
The second thing that we look for is a technical grounding in the entrepreneur or the founding team. We’re operating in the blockchain space — which right now a very technical domain — and it’s important for us that the founders we work with have a domain expertise around the projects they’re working on. They need to have enough technical depth to bring a proof of concept to life so that we can help them take it to the next stage. Technical understanding is very important.
Q: Can you talk about some of the companies Polyient currently works with — or wants to work with?
A: Currently, one of our companies is Patreos.
Patreos is a decentralized platform for supporters to help support content creators. Think about YouTube channels where people are being paid by advertisers to create content.
With Patreos it’s a new way where a supporter can directly contribute to a creator’s bottom line, so that they have the money and the resources to continue creating great content. Brit Kim is the founder and we’re very excited about that.
To your question about who we want to work with next: we’re excited about gaming companies and anything in the gaming space.
Gaming is really one of the most approachable experiences I think somebody can have with technology. Gaming really has a knack for engaging our creativity and our imagination and even our social connections.
What’s interesting about blockchain is that it puts a twist on gaming. We probably all know someone who plays Fortnite, where they’re collecting things for their characters; they’re putting new costumes on them; they’re giving them new weapons; they’re buying new capabilities. That takes an investment of the players time, energy and even money.
Unfortunately, a lot of the things they’ve built in the current game must stay in the game. They’re kind of a captive ecosystem.
Blockchain allows players to take those things they acquire with them through this idea of digital collectibles. It’s a way for people to start collecting things in their gaming experiences. Because gaming is so approachable, we think it’s a great way to start introducing blockchain to a mass audience.
We’re excited about working with gaming developers, gaming companies or anybody in the gaming space who wants to get into blockchain.
Q: For listeners unfamiliar with blockchain, can you explain how the technology works? What makes blockchain different?
A: Depending on who you ask, you’ll probably get a range of answers, some more technical than others.
I’m going to back off the technology a little bit, because I think that we’re kind of over-hyping the technology sometimes.
At the end of the day, the average person doesn’t care about the technology; they care about the experience.
So, I’m going to simplify it: blockchain gives us a new way to store, to access and validate the data that powers our online experiences.
Think about how you bank today. Your bank keeps track of your transactions and your balances, right? But that is a proprietary and private database that only [the bank] has access to. In fact, you’re forced to trust your bank is keeping accurate account of those records.
Blockchain gives us a way to start storing and accessing (and even validating) that information in a system that is much more open. So, you no longer need third-party, in-between people to transact. It really is a transformative way for us to start thinking about how we can engage with each other and build new experiences where we take those middlemen out of our experiences. Meaning, in the future, there’s not a Facebook or an Uber in between.
Q: Most people think of bitcoin. What’s the difference between bitcoin and blockchain?
A: If you pay attention to headlines, you know occasionally, you’ll see “bitcoin” come up in the news and it’s usually followed by “blockchain”. And it’s usually followed by a nefarious plot. Dark web; somebody trying to do something unscrupulous.
That’s unfortunate because they are really two separate things and unfortunately the media kind of conflates the two terms.
Bitcoin is a digital currency. It’s a way to store value. It’s digital money. You can use it just like you would a dollar bill, but you do it online.
Blockchain is the system of record. It’s the technology underneath all those bitcoin transactions. So, in fact, the two systems are separate and we think that there’s a bigger play and more opportunity in the actual technology that’s powering digital currencies like bitcoin.
Q: Where is the technology going next?
A: I’ve been to three conferences in the past two months. I think two trends are really coming to light.
The first is a focus on the user experience. User experience is a fancy term … it’s just “Are you able to easily use a product?” “Does it deliver value to you?” “Is it something that you enjoy using?”
I’m hearing a lot more conversations and great discussions about “How do we improve the user experience for people that are getting into blockchain?” “How do we make it so they don’t even need to know they’re using blockchain, so they’re just getting value from the things we’re building?”
That’s trend number one.
Trend number two is to focus on delivering value when we’re building things in blockchain. Anytime you have a new technology, there’s this natural hype-cycle that happens. If you think back a few years, we had big data; then we had artificial intelligence, (then) wearable technology.
All these things pop up and then disappear. Sometimes that’s because the technology gets ahead of the value we’re delivering.
What I’m hearing in these conversations is a healthy discussion about if we are delivering product value to the people that we’re trying to serve. And I’m thrilled to hear that discussion. I think it’s very healthy and I think it’s going to help power the ecosystem and take it to the next level.
Q: What would you say is the biggest change in the tech landscape you’ve seen in the last few years?
A: One of the most notable changes is it’s getting easier and easier every day to get started as an entrepreneur.
It used to cost $500,000 to [launch] a basic internet startup. Today, you can probably do it for a hundredth of the cost.
It’s possible to start building things and working on ideas in addition to [having] a regular job. It’s possible to start moonlighting and getting your feet wet in entrepreneurship, without making a big bet that could potentially put your bank account and your family’s future at risk. It’s possible to start playing a little bit smaller because the tool sets have improved. Things have gotten cheaper.
There’s much more opportunity and to be honest there’s a lot more guidance and advice out there. People that are willing to help. People like Brad Robertson at Polyient Labs who have experience and are willing to share and are excited about helping entrepreneurs take the next step.
Q: Can you offer three pieces of advice to entrepreneurs who are … looking at a startup and even in the tech space?
A: Looking back on my own experiences, it comes down to three things.
First, get started as soon as possible wherever you are. We live in a world where it’s very easy to get inundated with information. You can Google-search your way down a rabbit hole and come up three months later and realize that you’ve gotten a lot of information but you’ve gotten nothing done.
So, I think it’s important that you take action as soon as you have enough information to make good decisions. Get started as soon as possible.
Number two: Prepare for opportunity and this one to me is very important — especially for younger entrepreneurs, people that are early in their career and have a lot of options in their life. Keep a low profile financially; keep a low runway, so you can invest in your own ideas and start building the things you’re passionate about.
Opportunity comes from the most unexpected places. And most of the time, we don’t expect it. So, the entrepreneurs that are prepared to take advantage of those opportunities are the ones that stand to prosper.
Finally — and this goes back to mentorship — take advantage of mentors out there.
There are so many people; so many seasoned entrepreneurs; so many successful founders; so many lessons learned that are ready for sharing with the next crop of entrepreneurs.
It’s at a point in time [that] if you can’t find somebody in your local community, you are not looking hard enough. There are so many people willing to share their ideas and their lessons to help people get off the ground.
Q: How would someone reach out to Polyient if they had an idea they wanted to bring to market?
A: The easiest thing to do is to go to a Polyient.io and hit the contact link. We’re very approachable and it all starts with a conversation.
About Nick Casares
Nick Casares is Product Director for Polyient, where he is responsible for helping portfolio startups fully realize, build and bring to market next-gen blockchain innovations. Prior to joining Polyient, he worked in a variety of leadership roles in UX and product management for an array of startups.