The Blockchain’s Rising Stars
We remember when there were just a handful of people in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. It was a rarified field that few people understood. Today, it has flourished into a large industry with thousands of startups and grassroots projects. It already has its rock stars, who have carved out technical and financial successes as they blazed a trail on the blockchain.
Rock stars get enough coverage, though. What about the rising stars? We looked for some of the people who are starting to make a noise in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, and who show the potential to do even bigger, better things.
We chose people with different interests and backgrounds. Some come from a developer background and some from the world of finance. Some straddle both. Some have social causes, while others are purely business focused. Between them, they demonstrate just how eclectic and vibrant the next act of the blockchain and cryptocurrency story will be.
Bobby Bao – Co-founder, Monaco Technology
Bao is hoping to set the world of cryptocurrency alight by giving people around the world the chance to use cryptocurrency around the world. In 2016, he co-founded cryptocurrency payment platform Monaco Technology.
The company, which created its own visa card for cryptocurrencies, raised $27.6m in its 2017 ICO and purchased the crypto.com URL from UPenn computer science professor Matt Blaze in a rebranding effort this year. The company wants to put cryptocurrency in every wallet, it says.
Bao spent time learning the financial markets from the inside out. He studied for a masters degree in accounting at the William & Mary Raymond. A. Mason School of Business before setting out for a career in investment banking. He worked at Merrill Lynch and Allegiance Capital in the US before returning to Asia for a stint at Deloitte in Shanghai and China Renaissance in Beijing.
After a year in corporate development in the retail sector, he was finally ready to leap into his own entrepreneurial venture. He manages corporate strategy and fundraising for a company which saw its token trade over $1bn in volume inside six months. That’s quite an achievement.
Luis Cuende – CEO, Aragon One
Hailing from Spain, Cuende was already a serial entrepreneur before his foray into the blockchain space. The developer created his own open source operating system called Asturix at 12 years old, and had founded six companies by the time he was 19. These included Stampery, a startup proving ownership of assets on the blockchain, followed by Unpatent, a crowdfunding platform to invalidate bad patents.
Now, the self-described crypto-anarchist heads Aragon One, a team of developers that is creating Aragon, a platform that he co-founded for creating decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) atop Ethereum. He wants to disintermediate the creation of companies and other organizations with the project, which raised $25m in a 2017 ICO.
The Aragon Network will create a set of services that these organisations can consume at network scale. The Network will enable companies to be upgradable so that they can last for decades. They will also help to solve human disputes that smart contracts may not be able to resolve, he says.
Can he do it? He certainly has the energy. He had already racked up achievements including a book that reached #1 in Amazon’s business category, and was Young Advisor to the vice president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, who was in charge of the EU’s Digital Agenda.
Robert Habermeier – Co-founder, Polkadot
A few years ago, the rising blockchain star was Vitalik Buterin, who founded Ethereum. He received the Thiel Award, which goes to promising young technologists. Robert Habermeier followed in his footsteps this year, when he scooped the $100,000 award at just 20 years old.
Like Buterin, Habermeier halted his formal education because of his excitement over blockchain technologies. He has been a core developer at Parity Technologies before cofounding its Polkadot interoperability project, working alongside Ethereum luminary Gavin Wood.
The technology he is working on will create a multi-chain interoperable blockchain ecosystem that will address the security, scalability and interoperability issues facing many current blockchains.
Those are some hefty problems to solve. Explaining why he scooped an award, Thiel Fellowship Allyson Dias explained that Habermeier’s project is a crucial part of cryptocurrency’s future development. “The crypto space has more hype and noise than ever. We are selective about which crypto projects we support, and we believe Robert and Polkadot are necessary for the future of cryptocurrencies.”
Polkadot’s technology will launch in 2019.
Preethi Kasireddy, Founder and CEO, TruStory
Former systems engineer Kasireddy learned about tech company financials at Goldman Sachs before spending time on the deals team at Andreessen Horowitz (the company called her with a job offer, recognizing her value). She spent time at Coinbase, building the front-end interfaces and APIs to integrate it with Ethereum, which left her wanting to develop for the blockchain platform herself.
In 2017, she left Silicon Valley to teach herself Ethereum coding. The result is her new venture TruStory, which uses crowdsourcing and token economics to help sift genuine facts from, um, ‘alternative facts’ in the ICO space.
She is amassing a cadre of scientists and other experts, as part of a crowd of people who will make judgements about ICO claims and then earn tokens for their efforts.
Preethi has already raised $3m for her startup this year, from sources including Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam, Pantera Capital, True Ventures and even former Techcrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis. With a résumé like hers, we’re anticipating great things.
Sam Kim, Co-founder and CEO, Lucidity
Kim may be new to the blockchain, but he has been around the block. He was an analyst at Accenture when some of our rising stars were still studying their multiplication tables. His latest venture, Lucidity, punctuates a career that ranged from advertising through to video game production.
Kim spent 20 years working with early-stage startups, and also founded Edgepoint, a platform for trading Vietnamese commodities in the US. Then, he co-founded The Mobile Majority, an advertising company focused on mobile users, where ran both the advertising operations and the finance. Far too much of this time was spent resolving data discrepancies and dealing with advertising payment disputes. That was what gave him the idea for Lucidity.
Lucidity is a blockchain-based advertising protocol that verifies marketing data to help stamp out online advertising fraud. It tackles one of the biggest problems in the highly fragmented programmatic advertising business, which is that no one can see all the data, and everyone has a different way of measuring it.
By recording all data immutably on the blockchain and making it accessible to all the players, it puts everyone on the same page and keeps them all honest. The company raised $5m in a corporate funding round in August 2018.
The industry likes Kim’s idea; Lucidity scooped the Blockchain Startup of 2018 awards at the Block Awards, hosted by Blockchain Expo Europe.
Aparna Krishnan, co-founder and CEO, Mechanism Labs
The 21-year-old Arparna Krishnan earned a 2018 Thiel fellowship for her work at Mechanism Labs. She set up the open source blockchain research lab with three friends as a vehicle for collaborative research experiments that will to help make blockchain technology more scalable and secure.
Krishnan has been interested in mathematics since she was a young girl, but she first got into blockchain while studying for her Bachelor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley. She was so excited by it that she became the head of education and executive VP at the university’s Blockchain at Berkeley initiative.
While most students wait until they’re at least studying for a masters before getting into teaching, Krishnan was impatient; she got permission from the university to teach a course as a student and went on to teach the world’s largest university accredited blockchain course there.
Krishnan is also working on a decentralized technology called ThunderCore that will provide lightning-fast blockchain interactions. She’s filled with ambition, due in part to her firm belief that technology can unlock new opportunities for young women.
Scott Lewis – Co-founder, ConcourseQ
Lewis comes from a derivatives trading background, having worked as a self-employed trader and founded his own trading companies.
In 2017 he co-founded ConcourseQ, a collaborative effort that uses community input to apply due diligence to new ICOs. This is a project run by a collection of decentralized app builders called Concourse Open Community, and he is actively involved in several of its projects including decentralized financial trading platform Settle Finance.
Tricia Martinez – Director, Dala Foundation
Hailing from Chicago, Martinez is a longtime advocate of finance for the underserved. A behavioural economist, she worked in microfinance before founding a digital cash transfer system for Ugandan farmers that also tracked the financial wellbeing of its recipients.
More recently, she founded Wala, a financial transfer app that enables people to send money around the world with no fees. It also includes a market for users to pay bills, such as buying airtime and data for their mobile plans directly from their phones, or paying school fees. She has secured bill payment relationships in countries including South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi, among others.
A key part of the Wala story is Dala, an Ethereum-based crypto-asset designed to serve the unbanked in emerging markets. Dala tokens can be sent for free and exchanged for goods and services on the Wala app.
Wala participated as a portfolio company at the @Barclays accelerator in 2016.
Justas Pikelis and Laurynas Jokubatis – Co-founders, Monetha
These Lithuanian-born entrepreneurs both have other companies under their belts. Laurynas co-founded Wowtto, which provided digital displays attached to cars that raised over €300m in venture capital.
Pikelis founded several companies, beginning with a marketing consultancy, moving into custom gift services, and finally UFO Favours, a company that advertises with drones. He also won a government scholarship for his education at the illinois Institute of Technology.
In January 2017 they co-founded Monetha, a system that uses blockchain technology to help build reputation for online marketplace users by making permanent records of transactions. Using the app, buyers and sellers on online marketplaces can use their existing markets as they always have done, but when it comes time to conduct the transaction, they can connect and register it on Monetha, registering it on the blockchain and getting a contract and a receipt.
The system supports the use of Ethereum-based cryptocurrency tokens that can be exchanged for their own preferred currencies and paid automatically into their bank accounts. The company held an ICO in August that year and raised $37m in 18 minutes. Sveikinimai!
Virgile Rostand – Founder and President, Coinsquare
This Toronto-based developer worked in financial fields, coordinating development projects in areas including risk management and quantitative systems. In 2014, he left his full-time job to create Coinsquare, which at the time was purely a cryptocurrency trading platform.
In 2016, he teamed up with CEO Cole Diamond and the company has skyrocketed, earning more than $50m in funding in three rounds over just six months.
Rostand and Diamond are putting the cash to good use. In addition to its retail cryptocurrency services, the company now has a wealth management service catering to high net-worth users such as family offices. It is also serving institutional investors with its CoinSquare Capital Markets investment services.
It launched a crypto ETF in Canada, along with another that tracks emerging technology, such as biotechnology and AI, and is now expanding into Europe.
It has also built a white label version of its exchange trading software that companies in other countries can use to expand into new markets that it doesn’t want to enter directly. It seems to be expanding in all directions, but executives say that it’s only just getting started. Watch this space.
The industry is bubbling with talent. This talent stood out for us for a range of reasons. Some of them featured on industry lists of top talent, while others won significant awards. Others have shown impressive sticking power as they learned about the blockchain ecosystem, taught themselves how to program it and then launched something awesome.
Who would you put on your list?