Initial Coin Offerings and Increasing Participatory Flow

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts ~ Einstein

Gearing up for Sibos in Toronto this week I took some time to revisit Don Tapscott’s four principles for the open world (2012):

  • Collaboration
  • Transparency
  • Sharing
  • Empowerment

Perhaps the most powerful point he made was “this is not an Information Age but an Age of Networked Intelligence.”

Networked intelligence is alive, adaptive and always seeking new forms to in which to emerge. Today, networked intelligence is making itself known in the form of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). An ICO is a ( so far) unregulated means by which funds are raised for a new cryptocurrency venture. An ICO is used by startups to bypass the rigorous and regulated capital-raising process required by venture capitalists or banks. In an ICO campaign, a percentage of the cryptocurrency is sold to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrency is still not mainstream and most people think of Bitcoin when they hear about cryptocurrency. In July 2017 there were over 900 cryptocurrencies available and that number is sure to grow exponentially.

The existentialist in my wants to establish a bit more context prior to moving forward. Let’s break down the etymology of currency:

currency. 1650s, “condition of flowing,” from Latin currens, present participle of currere “to run” (see current (adj.)); the sense of a flow or course extended 1699 (by John Locke) to “circulation of money.”

Currency = to flow! Ideas need momentum. Start-ups need momentum. The predominate funding models are full of regulation and bureaucracy that are the very antithesis of flow. I remember hearing Kiva’s Premal Shah talk about “codified lending” back in 2012 where people were given loans not by their credit score but by their social score. If peers supported the endeavor and expressed confidence — one could secure a Kiva loan. That was disruptive. ICOs are disruptive in a similar way. When individuals appreciate and support an endeavor, an idea, a cause — they can in fact participate in breathing economic vitality into that endeavor, idea or cause by purchasing allocated tokens for the designated compaign. In and ICO one doesn’t just affirm an an endeavor, idea or cause — one becomes an economic engine by way of token participation. The deployment and aggregation of participation happens at an unprecidented pace and even more importantly it is distributed. The reason I selected the spider web with dew as a header for this article is the way it expresses distribution.

The ICO landscape is gaining traction which also means it is soon to be regulated. To keep up with new emerging patterns in this “flow” the voices I encourage you to track include:

Kenzi Wang, Co-Founder of Superbloom Capital

George Burke and Chandra Duggirala, Founders of Aqua Foundation

David del Ser the Director of Inclusive Fintech, and of the Catalyst Fund from BFA.

You can listen Brett King’s recent program “ICO’s are Hot! Can they include more people in investing?

What makes me most excited about the ICO wave is what is possible for the unbanked. According to Kosta Peric, our current finacial system excludes 40% of the population. I would much rather that those who are gaining economic access for the first time to be introduced to a participatory model (ICO) vs. an extractive model (VC).

What makes me the most concerned about the ICO wave is the ways in which participation can be commoditized. David del Ser and I are on the same page — we need to ensure we create scenarios for both optimism and dystopia. Every system has unintended consequences. This is a good time for Foucault: you may know what you do and why you do it, you don’t know what what you do does. Justin Timberlake was in the movie In Time which was a dystopian movie about the value of incremental time, a person was valued by seconds. There is a fundamental desire to quantify every aspect of running a platform. Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts, classic Einstein. Even with new technology — we are not allowed to buffer the intangible. The quantifiable “awe” still aludes us and for that I am happy.

In the rigor,


Nostalgia~ The Biggest Obstacle to Innovation

Brett King & Rachel Morrissey are rigorous in their pursuit to help us all get clear that the banking model of bricks and mortar is no longer sufficient for the speed and diversity that globalization and entrepreneurship require. People will always need banking, but clearly no longer needs banks. The first time I heard that was in 2015 and I thought it sounded clever. Now three years later, we are seeing the banking paradigm visibly crack. Recently IMF Christine Lagarde made the point:

Virtual currencies are in a different category, because they provide their own unit of account and payment systems. These systems allow for peer-to-peer transactions without central clearinghouses, without central banks.

If you are not in progressive, high technology communities this conversation may seem radical. I am in Rochester, NY the home of Rochester Institute of Technology and Kodak — the poster child for a business that didn’t listen and learn. While we have some progressive leaders and some neat businesses, the terms #fintech #cryptocurrency and #blockchain are not part of our regular vernacular, yet. We still have so much work to do to build bridges between digital natives and traditional working class outside of the banking industry. Every once in a while, I’d invite that we step back and ask — who do we need to educate so that he/she can participate? Participation is the currency of today.

Listening to the Next Money Chicago conversation among Ron Shelvin, Derek Corcoran, Duena Blomstrom and Kris Kovacs about finch platforms, the tension between past and future was palpably brought to life:

Do we sacrifice what we have built in order to gain much more of anticipated marketplace?

Do we have the psychological resilience to take a short term loss as we build bridge to opportunity?

How much of the platform is based on traditional financial models with higher levels of digital sophistication vs. how much of the platform is based on an entirely new mindset?

What are the key indicators of progress and success both tangible and intangible?

There are no easy answers and each person and organization is going to have to find their place on the continuum of these polarities. Keeping the complexity visible is useful.

Blomstrom has a very important point of view, “being a platform isn’t about the numbers, it is about connectivity.” Building on capability, the questions she asks are important to all of us:

How far along are you?

How well do you curate?

How good are you at plug-n-play?

In this midst of so much complexity, perhaps the best we can do is frame good questions. I want to leave you with one: What is the biggest obstacle to your abilitly to innovate? I asked this question to Fast Company’s Robert Safain and he replied with a matter of fact grin, “The biggest obstacle to innovation is nostalgia.”

In the rigor,


Jennifer Sertl is a business strategist fostering better decisions, systems thinking, and scenario planning.   You can find her on twitter @agility3r

Women in Fintech = Good for Business

“The Importance of Gender Parity on Fintech Teams” was a vibrant discussion by Breaking Bank’s Brett King,  Fintech5‘s Jason Henrichs with guests Anouska Streets, Head of Engineering at FINkit  and Colleen Wilson, Founder and CEO of Collaborate Chicago

Women mean business.

It is estimated that women in the United States control between 52—60% of wealth.    The global business landscape is evolving as more and more women are entering the economic mainstream. It is estimated that within the next decade there will be three billion additions to the ecosystem as employees, employers, producers and entrepreneurs.  This group is often referred to as #3rdBillion 

There is disparity.

In terms of funding, King shared that 6000 male founders funded while 359 female founders got funding. CrunchBase research showed no growth in the past five years and only 17% of all startups have a female founder

Women hold 25% of senior management roles in the Financial Services Industry.   Currently women hold 25% of jobs in computing and it has been declining since its peak in 1991 when it was at 36%

The current market is sometimes referred to as the code economy because so much of business process is reliant on APIs and algorithms.

We need more women in finance. We need more women who code

Both Streets and Wilson believe that closing this gap starts as early as childhood when children are playing with toys and the cultural stereotypes. It isn’t simply boy/girl toys as children are more dynamic and need a matrix of options vs. binary choice.

Wilson shared an interesting point: that boys decide a career in IT in high school while women are more likely to choose a career in IT in their first job. The career path is not modeled as a viable option between fundamental ages 12-16.

Early Engagement & Modeling the Way :

  • Parents can ensure that their children are exposed to diverse toys and work to avoid stereotypes. Given the rise of the Maker movement there are so many project and building oriented games.
  • Modeling goes a long way to evoke in youth alternative careers paths. Increasing mentoring and shadowing opportunities will ignite possibility in others.
  • Keep vigilant about inclusion. Panels and events should have diversity representing expertise. Here is a list of women in finance curated by Innotribe

Imagery is both subtle and powerful. I am part of an innovation community called ROCgrowth Given our awareness of this gender we recently redesigned our logo. It is amazing how a simple silhouette changed the entire conversation.

Please let us know individuals making a positive difference in accelerating diversity and inclusion so that we can track and amplify progress.





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