Venture Capitalists Talk Blockchain Startups

We were back on the Columbia University campus a couple of weeks ago for another panel on blockchain, this time part of the “Startup Columbia Entrepreneurship Festival” series of tech talks.

While the seats in the university’s Miller Theater were more comfortable than in most of the other venues we’ve been to recently, the almost absolute darkness and prohibition on using electronics made note taking a bit more challenging.

Fortunately, this was a more freewheeling discussion among the moderator, Nat Kelner, associate director of the Columbia Entrepreneurship Blockchain Studio, and three venture capitalists who focus on the blockchain ecosystem.

We attended several events earlier in the year where proponents of initial coin offerings (ICOs) shook their fists (metaphorically, though it may well have been literally in some cases) at the powers that be who have dominated traditional capital raising for new companies for decades. Regulators, investment banks, and, yes, venture capitalists are the targets of their wrath.

Venture Capitalist Have Their Say

Here was a chance for some venture capitalists to have their say. But while they pointed out some of the issues around ICOs, they not unsurprisingly believe that venture capital has a place for blockchain startups.

In fact two of the panelists, Brittany Laughlin, a founding partner at Lattice Ventures, and Joel Monego, a founder of Crypto Fund Placeholder, were working at Union Square Ventures when the firm invested in San Francisco-based digital exchange Coinbase. And the Coinbase founding team itself had enrolled in the Y Combinator startup incubator program back in 2012.

Monegro noted that the founding team is most important when evaluating startups and that factor remains the same in the blockchain space. He also said that we are still in the early days of blockchain and crypto, so there is no certainty yet on value drivers.

The third panelist, Wendy Xiao Schadeck, an investment manager at Northzone, weighed in regarding the pattern recognition of VCs claiming to be better at the “who” and the “how” than other aspects.

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Of course, meeting the “who” and “how” criteria are not enough, especially if the first of the criteria is allowed to become little more than bias against teams that merely look different than stereotypes. Schadeck added that the space needs more people with diverse backgrounds in behavioral economics, sociology, and the like.

She went on to say that while ICOs are supposed to be about both fundraising and early community building, the latter has not really panned out in most cases. Her prescription for future ICOs is more selectivity around early adopters.