Bitcoin, crypto and blockchain; what roles do they, and will they, play within the property industry? That was the focal point of discussions at Bitcoin#CRE, on 14th June, in Fitzrovia. The afternoon was hosted by Steve Nson, Founder of DMZStream and featured a series of panel debates and presentations to try and help the audience better understand the relationship between blockchain, crypto and real estate.
The first panel of the day saw Alexander Ball, Innovation Manager at ING; Faisal Butt, Chairman of Pi Labs; James Dearsley, Founder of The Digital Marketing Bureau; Stephan Tual, Founder of Atlas Neue; and Andrew Gaiziunas, CTO at Turbadium discuss the broad subject of Blockchain, Crypto and Real Estate, what’s the big deal?
All of the panellists agree that this technology is exciting, but when it comes to how best it be applied, there are differing opinions.
The outspoken Stephan Tual could barely keep himself seated, animatedly talking about blockchain’s ability to give the power back to the public. “It allows for decentralisation, the removal of the middle-man,” he said, whilst adding that the hype around blockchain as a currency is, he believes, overrated.
James Dearsley agrees, but adds that hype is an important element of innovation. “Hype breeds expectation, expectation informs valuation, and only by being perceived as valuable can tech companies have the time to make a real contribution.”
It was universally agreed that many companies make use of this fact by claiming they work within the blockchain sphere simply to create extra interest in their company, but, when it comes down to it, the truth is they have no blockchain knowledge or application at all. As Dearsley says, “You can’t bullshit blockchain,” and, before long, such businesses are weeded out as time-wasters.
However, in many ways, all property and PropTech companies already work, or soon will work, in and around the world of blockchain because, as Tual says, it “will become the norm, just like the internet. It will come to the point where we simply use it without even acknowledging that we’re using it.”
In fact, there was a slight self-congratulatory refrain throughout the whole day as speaker after speaker likened themselves, as early blockchain adopters, to those who were evangelical about the internet in the early 2000s; “we’re ahead of our time and everyone else seriously needs to wake up to what’s going on” (not a direct quote, a journalistic assumption).You can't bullshit #blockchain - James DearsleyClick To Tweet
So, if blockchain really is all that, why are there still so few people talking about it seriously? And what needs to happen in order for it to truly break through to the mainstream?
Dearsley thinks that the issue is to do with the workings of this particular technology being far too complex for most to even care about understanding.
“I could have spent the past five years trying to understand what blockchain is and how it works and today, I still probably wouldn’t understand it. It’s far too complex. But you don’t need to educate yourself as to how it works, just educate yourself about its application.”
Faisal Butt said: “Change and adoption need to come from the top down, that’s the only way it will happen”, but Dearsley, again, has a different take, saying “because of wide resistance to engage and change, blockchain adoption will be a generational thing. It’s going to be an evolutionary change; we need the technology to evolve, the industry to evolve, and the customer to evolve.”
Andrew Gaiziunas agrees that adoption will be incremental and that many people are frustrated by the jargonistic, complicated nature of this particular technology, but says that-that should not detract or distract from its potential to do great things.
“It’s able to create entirely new paradigms to play with, we haven’t seen anything like it for years…blockchain is the end of a few people holding lots of power. Most importantly, it closes the trust gap between two sides of a deal, contract, or venture.”
So, after all of that, are we any closer to understanding what the big deal about blockchain, crypto and real estate is?
Well, it’s democratising, making property investment a less exclusive playing field; it’s decentralised which removes the expense, wasted time and general annoyance created by so-called ‘middle-men’; it is, in many ways infallible, more secure and more reliable than current methods of tracking ownership, processing payments, contracts, etc; and it is one of those innovations which will, without a doubt, become part of everyday lives to the point where we stop even talking about or realising it....there was a slight self-congratulatory refrain throughout the whole day as speaker after speaker likened themselves, as early blockchain adopters, to those who were evangelical about the internet in the early 2000sClick To Tweet
That day is a long way off. A lot of work needs to be done between now and then. Education is the key – stop scaring people off with deep explanations of what blockchain is, and start pulling them in with its obvious value upon application. It might even, as one person muttered later on in the day, require a Trojan Horse approach, don’t be too obvious on telling people you’re using blockchain, but, when they’re delighted with what you’ve helped them achieve, you can reveal; “it’s all thanks to blockchain, see?”
Blockchain promises so much, maybe too much, Not that I’m saying it can’t deliver, but do we need it to do so much so quickly? I think we need patience, don’t get overexcited before understanding it fully. If it’s a powerful as we hear, it needs respecting with sensible pursuits rather than money-hungry and ultimately counterproductive startup attempts. We are about to see a lot, I mean A LOT, of blockchain startups pop up around real estate, very few of them will be doing it well. I hope our industry has the intelligence to act as a reliable membrane, allowing in the good whilst keeping out the bad.