Blacks On The Blockchain At SXSW: All Into Crypto But ‘It’s Really About The Value Of The Blockchain Itself’

Blacks On The Blockchain At SXSW: All Into Crypto But ‘It’s Really About The Value Of The Blockchain Itself’


Storj Labs, a decentralized cloud storage provider, launched a token sale in June 2017 that was set to end on June 19. One week after launching, Storj met its goal of $30 million.

Weeks later, blockchain-based electronic medical record startup Patientory raised $7.2 million in three days — a first for a digital health company.

Both co-founders of these Atlanta-based startups are Black.

There’s been an explosion of cryptocurrencies as more people realize it’s a way to make money.  Dondrey Taylor, a media entrepreneur and cryptocurrency miner, said he’s focusing on the blockchain, “because that’s really where the innovation comes.”

Taylor was part of a panel at SXSW that discussed opportunities for minorities in crypto and blockchain. Panelists included:

  • Dondrey Taylor, Decentralized News Network
  • Kristina Francis, EsteemLogic/EsteemTalent
  • Samson Williams, Axes and Eggs: Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Consultancy
  • Kelcey Gosserand, Trellis

Dondrey Taylor, Decentralized News Network

Taylor runs DNN — Decentralized News Network — “and yes, it’s a parody of CNN,” Taylor told the audience at SXSW 2018:

“We’re addressing the problem of fake news. We’re doing it by leveraging the blockchain in a variety of ways. One is wisdom of the crowd, one is using the blockchain to introduce a layer of transparency that lacks in mainstream media right now. When I’m not doing that I also operate a pretty large mining operation. I have a couple of thousand ether mining rigs that I set up in North Carolina. I’ve been doing that (since) pretty early on.

Kristina Francis

Kristina Francis is an advisor for Edgecoin, an educational blockchain-as-a-service company based in German that’s focused on issuing revalidation of degrees and certifications. The firm also has an open-source smart contract interface. Francis is also the CEO of Esteem Logic, a hybrid IT consulting and training firm, and Esteem Talent. She’s working on developing an apprenticeship program focused on getting more women and people of color into tech — primarily more Black women in mid-career who are looking to transition into technology.

Samson Williams, Axes & Eggs

Samson Williams is the co-founder of Axes & Eggs. “We do a bit of cryptocurrency mining. We also do a blockchain consultancy, here in America, and primarily in MiddleEast-North Africa.”

“I’m excited to talk about getting beyond bitcoin, getting beyond cryptocurrencies to the actual blockchain technologies — the things you can use it for. In a past life I was an epidemiologist so I’m a big public health nerd. Im looking for apps for decentralized technology in public health and medical research. I’m going to give a shoutout to Science Distributed. Better science and faster research leads to faster miracles. Right now it takes about 17 years to go from bench to bedside for medical research. We want to reduce that by maybe a decade or so.”

Kelcey Gosserand, Trellis

Kelcey Gosserand is the founder and CEO of Trellis, a Blockchain marketing, advertising, branding and strategic communications agency. She also advises startups and companies that are going through their “token generating events” — her preferred description for ICOs.

I’m doing a soft launch for a new program called Women Plus Blockchain. It’s a news media platform to spread stories on blockchain technologies written by diverse people and women, and change that narrative. Right now I feel that we are in this cryptomania and there is so much more to this platform than the market cap so let’s expand the conversation.”

Samson Williams moderated the panel discussion. It’s an education just listening to the experts define the terms everyone is talking about in cryptocurrency from their own perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the discussion:

Samson Williams: What is the blockchain?

Dondrey Taylor: It’s a new form of database — a distributed database — that brings a level of transparency unparalleled to any existing database. How databases typically work is they’re typically run by a single organization. I won’t name names — because they backed us — but if you’re looking at a social media organization and their database, it tends to be very closed-doors, even down to the implementation of how things are stored, how thing are distributed, where your information going, how it’s being moved around within the organization. Really what the blockchain brings is a way for us all to view this database in a very distributed fashion, and without the need for trust. That’s the biggest component of the blockchain. Its a way for all the servers that run this one database to trust each other without the need for any central organization.

It really lends itself to a lot of different applications, so if you look at cryptocurrency for example, it’s great architecture for that because with currency we all need to know what the balances are of a person with a particular wallet. Banks have this way of communicating with each other. The blockchain really brings this level of transparency together with this distributive new form of database.

Samson Williams: We talked about a media company and a health company. What other types of companies may be looking at blockchain?

Dondrey Taylor: Blockchain is also referred to as a distributed ledger technology. A lot of companies are looking into blockchain, like logistics companies — ways they can track packages. The company I work for — DNN — we’re using it to get people to essentially behave in a very open way when they’re vetting news and articles. In healthcare, your health records are usually held with these different organizations. Imagine that your health records can be encrypted in this database that we all have access to — which is fantastic. It just lends itself to this additional transparency because really no one controls the blockchain, so companies can develop their own implementation of blockchain. The general blockchain like bitcoin and ethereum are open-utility — everyone has access to it.

Kristina Francis: Education is another area. We talk about lifelong learning records. I was having an interesting conversation last night with a former inmate. He was talking about the company he has now but also all the learning that a lot of the inmates have.

Samson Williams: What are cryptocurrencies and how are poeple using them?

Kristina Francis: Cryptocurrencies are digital assets. They provide value on the blockchain. They allow us to trade, to sell, to buy products or services and it looks like you guys are all in so I won’t go into too much definition, but there are a lot of cryptocurrencies on the market today.

Samson Williams: There are about 1600 cryptocurrencies on the market right now and about 3000 ICOs in process right now. Do we need that many cryptocurrencies?

Kristina Francis: Do we need it? If there’s a community for it, yes, we need it. Is there value in it and is there going to be continued value? I think we’re going to see partnerships come together. We’re going to see consolidation in the industry. I think there’s value in those that have utility like Edgecoin. I think where there’s utility, there’s value. I think we’ll see a lot drop-off in the next three years.

Dondrey Taylor: We’ve really seen an explosion of these cryptocurrencies. Everyone realized it’s an easy way to make money. They do crowd sales and then they make money, but the angle isn’t really for that. That’s why we’re focusing on the blockchain, because that’s really where the innovation comes. It doesn’t come from doing a fork of some coin and putting it out there and saying, ‘Hey get this coin.’ It’s really about the value of the blockchain itself and what that coin allows you to do on that blockchain. I think we’re really early at this stage in terms of where we can see the blockchain going and where these cryptocurrencies come about. A lot of the platforms that you guys are buying these tokens to support have not been developed yet, so we really don’t know what’s going to manifest itself but the potential of blockchain is going to be huge.

Samson Williams: So what’s an ICO?

Kelcey Gosserand: ICO is initial coin offering. I’ve trained myself to say “token-generating event”, which isn’t nearly as sexy. I’ve been involved hands-on in the ICO space for a year now. I saw companies come out with white papers, vaporware, slick advertising and raising tens of millions of dollars in minutes. There was a huge shift in August 2017. People were wising up, regulators were hot on the scene and companies coming up with these really crazy ICO scenarios started to stiffen up a little.

I wanted to put together a precedent around what constitutes a good ICO. (I started) evaluating these companies much like a venture capitalist evaluates a startup, not looking at companies that are forming for the sake of doing a crowd sale and disappearing after they raise money and escaping their communities — which happens. ICO is a crowdsale for raising cryptocurrency — often ethereum, sometimes bitcoin.

A crowd sale allows 14-to-40 days but it can take six months to a year to get everything in place:

  • The whitepaper, which is your business plan — a 45-page sale/academic/math thesis.
  • Getting together a team of really strong legal, marketing, tech.
  • Going through your smart contract audits.
  • Validating a market for your tokens — having a token market fit is really important.
  • Deciding whether your offering is going to be a utility or security.

And if there’s anyone who’s interested in going that route, I’ll save you the trouble. It’s a security.