OCC: Hello Michael, and thank you for taking the time to give us an interview. You’re a foundation whose aim is to facilitate everyone’s access to the Blockchain ecosystem. You’ve sort of already achieved this, with Lisk events and meet-ups happening all over the world and people talking about you frantically. What’s next for Lisk?
The real adoption will take place when non-techie, mainstream demographics are using blockchain applications daily, without necessarily having to know the technology that underlies them. Before that happens though, we need to keep developing blockchain protocol and tools to the point they are fully secure, scalable and capable of outrunning centralised competitors. To do so, Lisk is continuing to focus heavily on research and development of our ecosystem on the tech side, as well as connecting and inspiring developers as well as entrepreneurs on the marketing side.
OCC: How does Lisk Academy work and who can enroll?
The Lisk Academy has always been with us. We saw a lot of value in having a one-stop-place for everybody to be able to access various aspects of blockchain knowledge. Content produced is designed to appeal to a variety of demographics; starting with somebody’s parents who might just be interested in a very basic definition of what the technology is, to potential business partners who might be interested in a particular use case that will affect their area of work. In this respect, we’ve always been very focused and strict about keeping everything accessible and free. By now, academy consists of tens of thousands of words, not counting industry-leading multimedia content. We will always keep investing in it, without asking for anything back.
At the moment, there are two main models. The first one is Blockchain Basics one which addresses technological aspects in a very accessible way, as well as using a selection of images, gifs and videos to really engage people. The next module is Blockchain for Business where, for example, we try to target potential business partners and people who want to understand how to get involved in the cryptocurrency aspect of blockchain by investing in cryptocurrencies. We’ve also released Blockchain for Kids where we are trying to target people who are still not at a productive age but who are ready to understand what blockchain is – it’s very likely that by the time they’re adults, blockchain will be a much more mature technology and will remain a lucrative job market.
We’re always adding more value and content, thousands of words and data into the Academy. Now, we are churning out modules on a monthly basis covering topics that are brought up in various channels including community queries or SEO channels. In the future, we might experiment with offline classes as well. Trying to see how we can deliver on the promise of the academic experience – this is very important to us. We have all the resources but we’re still perfecting how to best utilize them to engage the end user and make sure they get the most out of the learning process.
OCC: Some key statistics for Lisk state that the Lisk platform totals about – 375 merged pull requests., 323 closed issues, 36 contributors, over 8000 commits; how does this rank in relation to the open-source ecosystem?
Michael: When it comes to the open source ecosystem that stems beyond blockchain, I probably would not be able to comment on that. I assume that the fact that the blockchain industry is still relatively young means the activity on the repositories is still catching up with centralised projects, frameworks, etcetera. However, within the blockchain ecosystem, the open source culture is quite prevalent. Especially among more legitimate projects, we run pretty highly in terms of coding activity. One of the things that make me really proud of working for Lisk is that we have a reputation for writing very high quality code in the blockchain community as well as objective institutions like Darpal Rating.
OCC: What’s your take on ICOs? Could you tell us 3 risks associated with ICOs from the perspective of the person issuing the ICO?
Michael: The first has to do with regulation – becoming compliant with the Blockchain regulatory ecosystem. Our experience of building an ICO in early 2016 was quite troublesome given the illegal framework in Germany which pushed us through. Accessing the ICO funds was a non-question at that point which led us to set up our foundation in Switzerland. I would say that the climate is definitely changing now. One of our dedicated sidekick projects will run their ICO within Germany. This is something that they wanted to do but it remains to be seen how easy it will be for them to do it.
Apart from that, the challenge for 2018 is for the industry to stop talking about the far-future and make promises about how Blockchain would decentralise everything. The industry now is much more mature and there are a lot more questions coming our way. A person running an ICO in 2018 will have to answer a lot more in detail about their technological proposition, their business development plan, their regulatory backbone. A more realistic approach is now required and this is probably a challenge for an ICO today.
The last one has to do with community building. People are not as enthusiastic about Blockchain as they were in 2017 where everything was going great and you didn’t need to have much skepticism. Now, the mood is not so clear-cut for the formation of a Blockchain community. Our community, for example, have invested in our project so they help sometimes with reviewing our code and open source repository, they post events from East Asia to the East Coast of the US. The role of a community for a young Blockchain project is indispensable and I feel for my colleagues trying to foster a grand community in 2018.
OCC: What suppliers are you in most need of, but cannot find in Berlin (Germany)?
Michael: As one of the older projects in the European blockchain scene, we’re lucky to have quite a rich community with nearly 200,000 members across different platforms. We also find Berlin especially good for the actual industry side of the blockchain community, with many blockchain project employees eager to mingle at meetups and so on. Investor-wise, I would not say that Berlin is necessarily the richest ecosystem for inviting new capital. Lisk ran its ICO in 2016 with over 14,000 Bitcoin raised, which means that our financial situation is very stable and we sufficient capital to invest in all of our efforts and foster the future ecosystem. Having said that, as of this year we have started our business development team which will focus on fostering relationships with retail and institutional investors on the global market, both for our utility token LSK as well as for future ICOs running on our platform. They will focus their efforts on high-volume areas in East Asia, North America or Western Europe.
Recruitment-wise, Berlin is quite a rich city for young people to move to for many different reasons, lifestyle included. That makes for quite a rich recruitment pool in both marketing or development – front-end, backend, or devops. Even two out of our three scientists are locally sourced. The quantity of candidates is definitely fine but I would say that, at this point of our company’s existence, we really need to source top talent. Unfortunately, not many people make it through the recruitment process. What we’re building, especially on the technology side, is extremely futuristic and cutting edge so we really need the best developers, marketers, scientists, or operations. We have many inbound applications both from Berlin and worldwide but we are selecting the best ones who can: a) fit our culture which is very start-upy b) can work on something extremely complicated and futuristic and c) are able to take ownership from day one and rock their area of responsibility.
OCC: Before you launched your ICO, did you offer tokens when collaborating with suppliers?
Michael: Token distribution plans were compiled when setting up the ICO and included LSK incentives for a variety of suppliers.
OCC: What do you think about the trend of STOs?
Michael: Security Token Offerings definitely represent a new era of financing for the blockchain industry. There is an air of controversy surrounding this type of fundraising, as it can help institutional investors and governments have more influence over the project’s inception. On another hand however, they do help weed out fraudulent or illegitimate blockchain projects which could have a positive impact on the industry in the long-term. As any ascending technology, government intervention and regulation is inevitable – we need to work on educating not only the general public, but also our legislators and lawmakers, so upcoming legislation lets the technology flourish. It may be that blockchain applications seeking investment to build their businesses on top of Lisk in the near future face a very different capital raising model.
OCC: Could you tell us 3 risks generally associated with and ICO from the perspective of the person issuing the ICO?
Michael: The first has to do with regulation, or becoming compliant with the blockchain regulatory ecosystem. Our experience immediately post-ICO in early 2016 was quite troublesome given the legal framework in Germany was pretty much non-existent at that point. That led us to set up our foundation in Zug, Switzerland. I would say that the climate is definitely changing fast with many blockchain companies setting their headquarters in Berlin, Hamburg, or Munich. For example, one of our dedicated sidechain projects, MADANA, will run their ICO in Germany.
Apart from that, the challenge in 2018 is for the industry to stop talking about the far-future and make promises about how blockchain could disrupt everything without disclosing any details. The industry now is much more mature and there are a lot more questions coming our way. A project running an ICO in 2018 will have to answer a lot more in detail about their technological proposition, their business development plan, their regulatory backbone. A more realistic approach is now required and this is definitely a good thing for the industry overall.
The last one has to do with community building. People are not as enthusiastic about blockchain as they were in 2017 where an extreme bull market meant spirits and interests were high. Now, the mood is not so clear-cut , which definitely makes it difficult to organise a bigger group of enthusiasts. We’re very lucky with our community – a lot of its members are heavily invested in our project so they often contribute to the development, event organisation or brand representation wherever they are across the globe. The role of a community for a young blockchain project is indispensable and I definitely feel for my peers trying to foster a grassroots community in 2018.
OCC: How can companies that launch an ICO make sure that their tokens get listed on an exchange?
Michael: From what I understand, the world of exchanges is very fast-paced. The value of personal networks and connections can’t be understated for a young project in getting listed. It’s about getting out there, getting out in the industry, be it digitally – for example, LinkedIn Telegram, Reddit, or by going to events – that’s where you can build your network and engage key individuals on a personal level.
However, all the digital and personal connections will not count for a lot if, when you’re acquainted with somebody who is working for Binance or Kraken for example, you don’t have the answers to the key questions. Just as the industry, community and the lawmakers are now asking for a more realistic approach about the state of your technology, the state of your business and your plans for the future, also expect to face the same questions from the exchanges. The ecosystem is more saturated, it’s getting more competitive and you want to make sure that a good, worthwhile exchange sees you as an equally worthwhile project and lists you among other reputable tokens on their exchange.