I’ve been experimenting in the blockchain space for over a decade but in the last couple of years I’ve seen the impact of Web3 on the business world truly take off.
Or… am I? There’s a reason the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole analogy is coming into play, and that’s because the blockchain is finally getting some mainstream attention, 14 or so years after Satoshi Nakamoto launched Bitcoin in 2008.
Today, there are a ton of shiny new objects to see, including a seemingly infinite amount of NFTs, coins and currencies, wallets, and applications. It can be mind-boggling and overwhelming. I understand, but that’s no excuse to shy away from what the Web3 ecosystem can do for your brand.
Hint: It’s all about listening to the blockchain and using it as a looking glass to see a reflection of what people want today: products, services, experiences, and marketplaces.
My team and I have worked with clients ranging from venture-backed startups to publicly traded companies on ways they can jump head-first into this new iteration of the internet. It’s ranged from exploration and active R&D projects to full-on growth marketing. We’re finding more and more ways every day to leverage Web3 and design demand for brands and forward-thinking businesses.
We’ve tinkered a great deal with the various API technologies and Web3 platforms like OpenSea and Moralis. We’ve also had fun building projects like Spacecubes, WhaleWatching, and NFTer, all of which explore novel usages of listening to blockchain data and providing valuable insights or front-end experiences for people.
My team and I are particularly excited about the work we’re doing with CompoSecure whose Chief Innovation Officer is visionary Dr. Adam Lowe. We are helping to support their innovative cryptocurrency and digital asset cold storage wallet called Arculus, which is the first product of its kind to offer three-factor authentication and a metal card tokenized form factor. Feels like a great way to help spread the gospel of Web3.
As you can tell, I’m passionate about leveraging the blockchain for business — and I’m equally motivated to educate people about everything from token economics to the rise of NFTs and how they can be used for creators, brands, and communities. In this article, we’ll get into how you can drink in the knowledge of the blockchain to create what’s next and gain a significant, Web3-fueled competitive advantage.
Before You Dive In…
First, a brief big picture of the Web 3 Universe:
Web2 was all about “read-create-interact” forms of communication, shaped and evolved by ginormous tech platforms like Facebook (Meta), Amazon, and Microsoft, among several prominent others. Trust is the key, and for those Web2 leaders, it’s been waning in our age of disinformation.
Enter Web3, which is “read-create-interact-own.” This opens a whole new door to more equitable exchanges, diversification, and enormous opportunities. Here are the terms you’ve heard and maybe kinda/sorta know, boiled down in their simplest forms.
Blockchains open up massive possibilities. In the most basic way, blockchain technology creates a transparent and democratic way to capture exchanges and records and build applications. Think of it like a public ledger or Google sheet of all transactions that is immediate, shared, and immutable. You probably know public chains like Ethereum and Solana and smart chains like Binance.
Cryptocurrency is essentially used as a medium to store wealth (currency) or to use as a payment method. Essentially, it is digital currency like a debit card or PayPal account. Transactions are decentralized (in that they don’t go through a financial institution), recorded on the blockchain, and secured by cryptography every step along the way.
There are many cryptocurrencies beyond Bitcoin (i.e., Solana, Ether, Cardano, Polkadot). However, many consider Bitcoin to be the new gold, thanks to its transparency, trust, scarcity, and liquidity.
Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs)
An NFT is a unique identifier that can be applied to a digital asset. NFTs are so much more than cheeky monkeys — they’re way beyond just illustrations or images, although artwork is the first thing most people think of when you say “NFT.”
Essentially, NFTs are the future of ownership, and they can have a ton of utility built-in. They are disrupting everything from access to the coolest nightclubs and jet-setter spots to a way to represent yourself (PFP).
One of the most transformational and misunderstood parts of Web3 is smart contracts. Smart contracts are code that drives how decentralized applications and transactions happen. For example, if I’m an app creator, I can enable a perpetual royalty fee that is triggered every time a transfer or transaction occurs.
Because smart contracts live and are recorded on immutable ledgers, the use cases fundamentally transform how ownership, legal agreements, and future economies and societies will exist.
For example, in today’s world, every car has a unique vehicle identification number (VIN). If you buy a used car, you can theoretically get its history of ownership, accidents, and service records by pulling a CARFAX report. But in the real world, there’s no way to tell if that information has been manipulated to look like the car is in better shape than it really is. With smart contracts, you can’t alter or otherwise fudge anything recorded to the blockchain.
Given that people are currently buying virtual yachts for significantly more than what it costs to buy homes in many areas in the real world, it’s only a matter of time until real estate and every other industry that uses intermediaries and old-school documentation to implement deals are replaced entirely with smart contracts. If you work for/run a law firm or otherwise regularly utilize contracts, it’s time to invest in research, development, and ways to level up your organization’s digital literacy in and around smart contracts. Otherwise, you risk your business ending up in the dust heap of progress, like Blockbuster or Brooks Brothers.
De-ALL (Decentralized Finance, Technology, and Organizations) or the decentralization of everything.
Decentralization — the hallmark of Web3 — is transforming how people organize, communicate, transact, and build and create value. By removing the need for an intermediary, the mechanisms of society, commerce, and communities are fundamentally transformed and evolved. The following are several ways decentralization is changing the way we operate.
Decentralized finance (DE-FI) is financial technology that removes the need for intermediaries like banks and financial institutions, saving people fees and allowing them immediate access to their funds via a secure digital wallet. It’s based on secure distributed ledgers similar to those used by cryptocurrencies. I’m a huge fan of this simple YouTube video on the History of DeFI. If you like it, shoot them a comment and tell them Pete Sena sent ya.
Decentralized technology means that instead of a single centralized location (server) or service that connects two endpoints (Developer + Amazon or Google), the way people build things in Web3 is also shifting. Decentralized options for hosting technologies, infrastructure, and rising protocols like the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) — a peer-to-peer network for storing and sharing data in a distributed file system — release developers from their dependence on a single data storage location.
For example, a common way in Web2 to host files or assets would be using a service like Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), which provides object storage through a web service interface. But what happens when Amazon’s service goes down, or they change their corporate bylaws in a way that goes against your principles?
Decentralized solutions and P2P technologies flip the script and put the power back in the hands of the builders and people instead of the big tech companies. It’s no surprise that these principles and possibilities are creating a mass exodus of engineers and builders from Web2 companies in pursuit of a more purpose-driven future enabled by the promise of Web3.
Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are the antidote to the “command and control” hierarchies that represent the bulk of the Fortune 1000. These blockchain-based organizations are upending traditional ways of working and thinking that date back to the mid-1800s and come from scientific management principles implemented by Frederick Taylor.
With DAOs, “Taylorism” — top-down hierarchical systems — are rapidly being displaced with a more equitable, bottom-up structure governed by agreements and underpinned by code and technology, not human leaders. A DAO distributes power to anyone who purchases and holds the organization’s native tokens. Smart contracts typically replace traditional corporate structures as a means to coordinate the efforts and resources of the community to achieve shared goals. In theory and when done right in practice, the absence of human involvement in decision-making removes traditional political blockers. Computer programs (smart contracts) automatically govern and perform a given function when certain conditions are met.
This topic is the subject of a ton of debate and discussion, so I am merely briefly articulating what a DAO is. I believe membership, subscription, companies, and access will be completely transformed, and how people form, organize, and operate companies of all shapes and sizes will never be the same.
The metaverse is interesting because it is a catch-all phrase representing layers of reality that are in themselves “virtual” — meaning they are powered by technology, not standard nature. A great representation of this can be seen in Steven Spielberg’s depiction of Ready Player One.
A big thing about the metaverse is that many of these virtual spaces are in themselves persistent virtual worlds that hold state as you enter and exit them. Inside these virtual worlds, we’re seeing communities and entire economies spring up, ranging from artistic expressions to digital currencies and collectibles.
I have a love/hate relationship with the metaverse and what it means for identity, community, commerce and society.
Be a Technology Whisperer
A strong predictor of any future can be accessed by looking at behaviors and actions that exist in the present and past. And so, great marketers listen: to the market and their customers and competitors.
Listening loops are a powerful way to hack the attention graph, accelerate growth and break the S-curve.
Right now, we are witnessing the rise of the latest internet iteration, which means that there is a huge wealth of information available if you know how to put your ear to the ground. But first, we have to outsmart the robots and the humans that program them.
People are often pitted against machines in the entertainment world. There have been countless science-fiction movies from my childhood to today, from Blade Runner to The Terminator franchise to I Robot, Ex Machina, Westworld, and of course, The Matrix franchise. Over time, we’ve often speculated on an epic smack-down between super intelligence and humankind.
In my experience, it’s the other way around. When Web 2.0 really started to explode, I spent a ton of time on platforms like Programmable Web, exploring the systems, finding new APIs, and learning to write code, connect technologies, and tap into cultural trends, behaviors, and desires.
I listened to what technology told me I could do. Social listening at scale helped my teams, clients, and me unearth groundbreaking insights to growth-hack our way to rapid scale and customer acquisition.
So, for example, when platforms like Facebook and Twitter first opened up their APIs, my team and I spent countless hours grabbing supplies of social data (following the guidelines, of course) and mining for insights and inspiration for how to plan and plot the next moves for our digital-first clients.
Essentially, we (ethically) hacked our way into wrangling the fire hose.
But once we needed to increase the sample size, implementing, storing, and working with that data got more expensive. The big companies caught on to how people were using their information, so they put restrictions in place and jacked up the price to access their insights.
In other words, the “fire hose” (the unfiltered real-time stream of data) was turned off.
Here’s an example of how that threw a major wrench in our plans. My team and I had the pleasure of working on some early-stage branding and go-to-market strategy work for Streamdata.io (acquired by Axway) when they were doing some cutting-edge work to enable fintech companies to improve their data latency and manage costs.
Data and the ability to listen can make the difference between a trade, buy, or sell decision — but it doesn’t have to be purely based on financial decisions. It’s a product and brand marketer’s dream too.
So when Twitter turned off the fire hose and made it a pay-to-play, and Facebook/Instagram started to lock down their APIs and ecosystems (the very thing that helped drive their giant market caps and value), the only way to access the entire data stream was to pony up and pay for it. This is true for most data services, including Google Analytics, which only gives you a sample set of your actual data.
Still, there are ways to keep harnessing the power of big data. It’s been my experience that tech companies like Netbase, IBM Watson, Apigee (acquired by Google) can be great for doing complex social listening, cataloging, and insight mining. Also, cloud computing has gotten much more affordable, and tools for consuming and processing data, machine learning algorithms, and libraries have exploded. However, this means any company looking to be data-driven and reap the benefits of the competitive advantage that come from it must employ data scientists, engineers, and analysts.
So, one problem I’ve seen many of my enterprise clients face is knowledge transfer. For example, let’s say you’ve spent months and thousands on computing cycles testing and iterating on your ML models. Suddenly, one of your data scientists or team members gets poached to work for a FAANG company (an acronym for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet’s Google) or a Web3 start-up. What happens next? Simple (and painful) — you lose that data. Managers don’t speak code, so without experts on the team, it’s near impossible to document data and experiments and use data-driven insights as drivers of business growth and value.
I’ve noticed this problem for a while now, and it crystallized as a significant issue (or competitive advantage, if you play your cards right) when I met the folks over at Vectice. They are transforming how we store and capture knowledge. They are effectively Notion (WIKI) for data science knowledge. Here’s what their CEO and co-founder, Cyril Brignone, told me:
“Over the past five years, we’ve seen a significant amount of investment by Fortune 2000 in their data science and machine learning teams. With Web3 and increasing data access, the need for data science resources and initiatives will continue to reach new levels. To ensure companies will get the full ROI of their data science investment, they need to put the right tool and processes in place to manage their data science initiative, knowledge, assets, expertise, and alignment with the rest of their business. This is exactly what we are focusing on.”
And this is what got me thinking about the Web3 ecosystem. My feeling is until now, it’s been a great run with Web2, and it’s about to get even better.
Find your Alpha
Going back to our time working with Streamdata.io, I learned an essential concept: Alpha. We all know alphas are top dogs, and in the investment world, that’s the name of an investment strategy that gives your company the ability to beat the market.
In a nutshell, it’s your competitive edge. By listening to blockchains, each block and transaction is a wealth of data that can reveal critical insights when viewed through the right lens. It gives you an edge in understanding the sites, decentralized apps (DApps), and other things brewing in the metaverse that are driving it all.
Just like some companies listen to patents being filed and information flowing across networks, you can use Web3 tools like block explorer Etherscan or domain registration sites like Unstoppable Domains and ENS as a smart way to see where and how the world is moving.
Since Web3 is all about composability and open transparency, you can build, remix, and scan all these fire hoses of data.
One of my favorite Chris Dixon quotes is:
You might be thinking, Ok, Pete, so WTF does this all mean?
Allow me to explain by way of example. Recently, my team launched HUUE™, a disruptive plant-based vaping company in the cannabis space. The company aims to be the healthiest and most reliable way to experience the full benefits of cannabis while living your life.
Of course, we’ve scanned social networks (TikTok, Reddit, Instagram, and so on) to mine for audience insights and behavior. But what if we could find out the next up-and-coming partner to do business with before our competitors do… or before they get so big that they charge Kardashian or Charli D’Amelio prices to partner by simply listening to the blockchain?
I was randomly checking on something on Etherscan, a well-organized Ethereum blockchain explorer, when I came across these transactions:
Thanks to HUUE™, I immediately thought, what is the 420.game?
Turns out it is a play-to-earn (P2E) weed game powered by their in-game token, $HIGH.
Next, let’s look at how the game’s tokens and transactions are trending.
As you can see, the transaction volume is increasing. A simple trader bot could make quick profits if done with the same precision quants use.
Now, imagine listening at scale to all of the movements on these chains. You can set up programmatic trading (buy/sell/flag) and benefit from the arbitrage. Or, more importantly, you can listen to what dApps, and creators are launching and stay ahead of the market in the same way Apple, Google, and Amazon monitor the US patent office to spot upcoming innovations their competitors are filing.
This is no different from the stream of characters in the Matrix: if you can crack the code and understand its meaning, you can own the Matrix (market).
Now certainly, there are plenty of private chains out there. But it’s my opinion you can find the meatiest insights and innovations by listening to the following:
Think about the potential if you could arm product teams, researchers, and designers with insights on where the activity is! All you have to do is listen to these chains the same way my team and I used to listen to Facebook, Twitter, and forums and message boards to see what apps people are building, what brands are doing, and most importantly, what is happening in the Zeitgeist of the internet.
Want to learn about some other ways I am listening and discovering new ventures, investments, and product ideas from blockchain listening? Hit me up on Twitter @petesena — DMS are open.