Block8, like so many blockchain companies, was born at a time of great excitement, energy, and enthusiasm in the blockchain community. The Sydney Ethereum meetup, where many of us in the Block8 family initially met, regularly attracted more than 200 attendees. Everyone was so excited to explore the seemingly limitless potential of the technology, and everyone was in a rush to capture as much value as possible before someone else did, whether or not they intended to capture that value centrally as a big business or distribute it through innovative decentralised structures such as The DAO.
As time went on, excitement built, and the community developed the understanding that this technology could be used to raise capital and fund projects in a decentralised manner. Seemingly inevitably, this led to the ICO boom, bubble, and bust where all that was required to get funding was little more than a pretty looking whitepaper and, if you squinted, some plausible partnerships and co-founders.
In such a rapidly moving and high stakes environment, most scoffed at the notion of having to produce anything of value upfront. Sure, it was extremely risky to commit to building out an entirely new vertical without any form of validation of the core premise of the idea, but when the reward was raising upwards of 40, 50, even 100 million dollars in a few short weeks then you can begin to see why so many opted to take that risk, and sort out the implementation "details" later.
Here at Block8, we've always believed in an approach of substance over showmanship. When we launched the Havven project (now Synthetix), still Australia's largest ICO, we designed, implemented, and tested the smart contracts that underpinned the platform and modelled the system to ensure we had a measured level of confidence in the system's viability and a degree of risk mitigation. Now that the ICO bubble has deflated, we're rightly seeing a much greater degree of scrutiny over the value of ideas and a raising of the bar in order to attract capital to fund projects.
For us, this served only to highlight the need to redouble our efforts in focusing on solving real problems. Over the past 12 months, we've built and refined a robust and comprehensive product delivery model and doubled down on our desire to validate our assumptions and test our solutions before even a single line of code is written. Our strategy around product development is that, at its core, it should be used as a tool for risk mitigation. It helps mitigate against the risk that no one wants your product, that your product isn't technically feasible, or that your product might run your business into the ground.
Distributed and decentralised systems and structures, however, present a unique set of challenges that the best practices of product management don't immediately address. One area of active research in this space is on creating robust and simple user experience design patterns that give users both the convenience and familiarity of a traditional, Web2 experience. Key management standardisation and security is clearly central to this goal.
Another big challenge is how to talk with the average user about the nature of problems that they don't yet know they face, because there is no shared common understanding of just how different things could be. This also makes it challenging to assess the efficacy of possible solutions without this shared context.
Despite these challenges, and many more, we are confident that if we and our clients focus first and foremost on solving real problems for real people, then we will be setting each other up for success. Over the coming months, we'll be exploring some of the big open questions that sit at the intersection of product development and distributed ledger technology. Stay tuned to join us on this challenging yet very exciting journey!
Matt Hale is a Product Manager at Block8.