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From Basement to Boardroam: The Bitcoin to Blockchain…a Personal Encounter

From Bitcoin to Blockchain and the Distributed Ledger… A personal encounter from an Edgewalker.

The first time I heard about Bitcoin and the Blockchain was in 2013. I was invited to a closed meeting of computer programmers who most definitely did not look like your traditional technology folks inside the corporate spaces.
The venue was kept secret until the last minute.

I will never forget going into that alley in Vancouver, knocking on a door of the building, then having to grab the key as it was lowered from the window of the apartment one floor up,  unlock the door, and then wait for permission to go inside while the key was hastily hoisted up again.

Going up a narrow and dark staircase, I entered an unexpectedly brightly lit world of an inventor who had interesting gadgets all over his workshop.

Computer programmers were all seated at an old wooden working table typing away on their laptops, completely uninterested in me. I looked very out of place in my corporate suit and felt painfully over-dressed, and yet welcome.

The inventor described his mining operations, and advised those of us in the room that it was already too late to invest in mining because the cost would be too high and that this phase of the innovation was already  maturing. It was really good insight. I saw many people afterwards trying to get into the mining game  – too late.

A guy called Robert David was fixing his laptop to connect to a television screen. Once done he stood up and did a short powerpoint presentation describing how the blockchain works, and the cryptography. And he explained the code. And I knew instantly what he was talking about. And I saw the future.

….I was astonished at the elegance of the concept, the use of computer algorithms as a means to implement a philosophy of value exchange,  and the high level of intellectual debate that took place – never mind that I actually understood what they were saying.

I rushed home to read up Satoshi’s white paper. (And many other papers since then.) I was excited as I knew I was an active witness in seeing how innovation starts literally from basements to growing mainstream. My interest at that point was in particular the potential for 3rd entry accounting, security and the internet of value exchange.

Shortly after my first Bitcoin encounters I was one of the first people who witnessed the founding of Decentral Vancouver, one of the many community space dedicated to blockchain technologies. I was visiting the just-opened space when the first piece of furniture, an old family fridge, was carted into to the basement.  I helped look after Eleanor, the Decentral cat and mascot, so that she does not run away into the street in downtown Vancouver.

I was one of the first guests to sit in the big old couch that was dragged in while Freddy talked about how he will put old art on the walls, and the crew started putting the projector on the ceiling to get ready for Meetups. Mining rigs were placed everywhere, their soft humming always in the background.

I was there for the first meeting too as people filed into the dark basement for the first Decentral presentation on Bitcoin.

Over time Decentral meetings filled up with larger and larger crowds as they managed to skype in global blockchain icons talking about new and often not yet public known blockchain projects. Today many of these blockchain icons are highly sought after speakers and authors and are wined and dined by captains of industry who, a few months ago, did not even know they existed.

Sometimes I joined the debates with the presenters, enjoying the culture where everyone is allowed to contribute and question the experts – who would let them in to the latest and newest ideas and prototypes, information they would never share with the Public because, frankly, Public still thought of them in the negative ways they were stereotyped by the media.

I stood next to Manie Eagar when he wrote an email as part of a collective global campaign, imploring the US Senate to not ban Bitcoin because of a few bad players and to enable the emerging blockchain technologies to evolve. I viewed and edited his publications about the future of the new technologies and philosophies of value creation and saw it unfold.

I got news about the first Bitcoin movie before it came out.  I knew the background stories. Great piece of history documented right there. I watched the excitement about the Dogecoin posters going up when Miley Cirus promoted it during her tour in Vancouver.

Never did I see anyone from a corporate, such as consulting firms, auditing or accounting firms or even banks  attend these events and meetings (unless I invited them)… When I talked about Bitcoin and blockchain at my firm, I got strange or blank stares. Some younger professionals were in the loop, and had private conversations with me – away from their colleagues so that they can inquire and learn more.

But I knew that the world of financial technology and supply chain and identity protection and value creation was changing: that it was simply a matter of time as I read all the research and listened to the buzz in the communities.

bitcoin atm

I experienced the first  idea then concept and then the opening of the first Bitcoin ATM in Vancouver at Waves Coffee Shop. The photo above is taken from a motivational poster they had in their small office.

I lent a $5 note to the creators of a new Altcoin ATM that was cobbled together using a suitcase bought in Eastside Vancouver with the note counter technology that was created for cryptocurrency – imported from overseas  ….We all laughed and said we should keep the suitcase ATM as it would be a valuable collectors item one day for a museum.

I knew one thing from the first day…  I saw this technology was not going to be wished away. I saw the successes and the failures and the “pivots” and the struggles to get funding and the almost impossible effort to gain credibility. And how they persisted because they believed in the vision and the technology and the philosophies of evolution and transformation. I learnt how to spot and identity the risks in an emerging new technology.

I observed and watched as the trends started shifting, one event by one event, as more credible leaders such as Bill Gates started endorsing the technology, and organizations such as Deloitte started taking their own steps in experimenting with it.

An opportunity to mentor a startup from SFU –  the only academic institution in BC that had the innovator edge to support Bitcoin – made me hopeful that other universities will start encouraging their students to take on more risky projects as even failure in these provide uncommon personal and career growth opportunities.

Tonight, I am now witnessing the symbolic end of the initial blockchain era with the last events at Decentral Vancouver as they get ready to close their basement meeting area where so many new blockchain blocks were dreamed up and so many unusual connections were made.

A new life is starting for the Decentral crew including Eleanor (Freddy’s cat who always came along to Decentral events and now with her two kittens who joined the unconventional community seven months ago; seen napping in the photo on top of one of the large computer screens in Decentral).

I felt sad tonight while listening to an overseas guest speaker talk about his social impact project … realizing I am seeing the end of the “in the basement” innovation towards a new era as the Economist praise Bitcoin, Microsoft supports Ethereum and traditional banks are racing to get their own blockchain solutions out the door.

I took the photo above tonight, October 29, 2015 so that we all remember the role of the Vancouver Decentral type communities all over the world who truly supported each other when mainstream media and technology gurus dismissed this new technology.

Lesson for leaders: Actively participate in the future to understand new cultures and business models. Disruptive innovations come with their own unique paradigms, different ideas of leadership, wealth creation and what is important to them.

By letting go of your own views – becoming more curious about what is happening in the edges of society and technology: you will see, experience and know about new worlds that are starting right under your nose.  And you will know how to engage with it authentically and credibly.

Just like Vancouver where thousands and thousands of people walked on the glass pavement, which was actually the glass ceiling of the basement of Decentral Vancouver , blissfully unaware that history and new opportunities were being made right underneath their feet.

MaRi Eagar is the Founder and Director of IDAEON. She is passionate about next generation disruptive ideas and technologies and advancing the role of women in digital futures.