NEAR Hackathon Session 10: Market Driven and Product Ecosystem Development Panel
The Session 10 Panel of the NEAR Hackathon featured three crypto veterans discussing the current state of product development in the Crypto market, expertly moderated by NEAR’s Matt Lockyer. As a commentary on the state of cryptocurrency development in general, and specifically different project opportunities on NEAR there were a number of important insights revealed over the course of the panel.
For those looking to read the full transcript of this discussion, it can be found here.
Context: What Was This Panel All About?
As the title suggests ‘Market Driven and Product Ecosystem Development’ is a panel on the current state of application development in the blockchain space - and how founders can identify market opportunities for their solutions. Topics discussed ranged from outreach strategies, to killer applications, to the step-by-step process of building and moving to market.
Point 1: How Can We Differentiate Real Market Signals From the Noise in the Crypto Space?
One of the most important questions asked was about how product owners can expect to actually gather valuable feedback on the development of their product and it’s fit in the market. According to Matt Cutler - Co-Founder of Block Native, there were two things they identified based off of copious amounts of experimentation: Memes and Direct Engagement.
“One that is really surprising is that communicating in memes is a lot more effective than anything else, we hired someone young who is called meme lordy. The level of engagement on a meme is why they are memes. The other one I would say is direct engagement - build something, prototype it, and show it to somebody. My experience is, that it is not subtle and if they don’t like it, people will be pretty direct with you and say I hate it, that’s dumb, I would never use that. If they love it, they will leap across the table and say this is it. And if they don’t care they will say, that’s cool and interesting. Listening very carefully to that reaction, and then when someone jumps across the table and says, this is it - listening to what they are responding to - because every time I do this - what I think is interesting, and what I think my customers think is interesting - are different.”
For Zach Herring, currently with Consensys Relays, a further important indicator when launching a product stems from the need to identify where the real value lies:
“To me, the danger is whenever you are showing people a prototype, the danger is to not think about the social context about that. If you wrote a song and then showed someone what you think of it, they will probably say that is pretty interesting. You will probably hear the same thing for a prototype - leaping across the table is a really good judge on a prototype. I tend to write my usability scripts with some sort of call to action in the last part. Then you either leave a call to action of some sort of value exchange at that moment - would you introduce me to five other people who would be interested in this product? Would you be interested in signing up for a beta test of this product? To me that is the fastest way to start proving that you are building something valuable.”
Point 2: Product Market Analysis Altered the Development Course of NEAR
According to Sasha (i.e. Alexander Hudzilin), NEAR’s product market analysis began by talking to as many people as possible about what the underlying value of the NEAR Ecosystem would be. Originally, the NEAR team had focused on scalability - via Nightshade and dynamic sharding. However, after feedback from possible users and investors, a further value-characteristic emerged: Usability. This at the end of the day, is why NEAR is so focused on Developer benefits and ease of use for Users.
“NEAR started really hard on scalability, and then moved into usability. High fidelity feedback with interviews with people helped get us there.”
Point 3: Is There Already A Killer App in Crypto? Matt Cutler Thinks So
One interesting question asked, centered on the notion of a killer application: The app that get’s everyone interested and aware of crypto in one way or another. Sasha’s initial answer focused on the need to bring entrepreneurs into the space. He also mentioned the importance of adoption and the current growth of projects like Audius (Music Streaming Service) as a first step into the world of blockchain applications that are widely adopted.
Sasha’s Take: “The question requires entrepreneurs entering the space. In order to get to a killer app, I think you need to have some of the skills that you can measure by adoption. A music streaming service - Audius - is one that is growing really fast 30% month to month - which also happens to have an economy on top of it. Music is just one example, and hopefully it will be inspiration for podcasting, art, and other music communities. This is the closest I see to a killer app right now.”
Matt however already believes that there is a killer blockchain application: Stable Coins. As he explains in detail - Stable coins are the foundation of DeFi, and unlock an entire world of cross-border transactions for people traditionally not involved in crypto.
Matt’s Take: “The killer app is already here and there is already good evidence of it. They are boring but they are stable coins. The big things holding back this ecosystem was the underlying volatility and mental overhead of asset volatility in various cryptocurrencies. Once you remove that, and you have just a programmable dollar, this is the foundation of DeFi. The DeFi revolution doesn’t really happen without stable coins. 10 years from now we'll look back and say that was the thing that already unlocked it all.”
Point 4: The ‘Normies’ Will Come When There Is Easy Access To Value
‘Normies’ refer to those normal people who aren’t familiar with crypto and don’t understand the future development of the space. In the context of product market fit, it remains important to appeal to the ‘masses’ for widespread adoption. The question posed at roughly the 25 minute mark was simply: How do we bring in new people and how do we look at Normies? What are the tactics there?
Sasha, Zach and Matt all add interesting perspectives on the topic: For Sasha, a large part of it revolves around the need to make crypto easier to understand for the average person, in parallel to the need for further education:
Sasha: “A lot of it comes to education. We need to throw all of the DeFi lingo out of the window. A lot of people cannot get into DeFi because of new words and vocabulary for learning it. We need to reduce the cognitive log and remove the language we use today to explain to people what we actually do. We need people who can break down things in a plain english way.”
Zach added on to this point that, Crypto definitely needs to be made more easy to understand for the average Joe:
Zach: “There is a lot of distaste for the corporate structure. DeGen slang replicates that. There is a level of impermeability to the nomenclature we are using. I would fund a Gitcoin grant, for explain it like I am Five on DeFi concepts.”
Matt response to the question took a larger macro perspective to the cryptocurrency industry, and analyzed it in the context of skillset and the opportunity presented by DeFi:
Matt: “I see this as a massive game, where you have skills levels and a bunch of things that come with that….The normal way of thinking is: Go to school, learn how to code, get a job, make money. Now it is: Go to school, learn online, learn crypto, don’t get a job, make money. You can skip the whole get a job part. It is no longer indirect. Get good at this game, make money. The middle step is eliminated in DeFi. I think that is going to be the whirlpool that sucks everyone in.”
Point 5: Participants and Builders in Crypto Are Often Times The Same People, Will That Last?
One final, and important point to note is the current state of development of the cryptocurrency user base: Right now, most users in crypto are also investors, founders, or actively building out different areas of the crypto ecosystem. As Zach and Sasha discuss, this has important implications for testing the market: Put simply, testing the market is all about joining communities and conversing openly about the space, what is under development, and where value may be residing.
Zach’s Take: “First off, because so much of crypto twitter - the people who are building are also the users - this is kind of unique. You couldn’t necessarily talk about designing products. One of the first ways to test the market is to start engaging in the conversation. It teaches you a lot of the nomenclature that people are using - it teaches you that if you are up on the language it speeds up the time you have to communicate the concepts you are playing with. It gives you a really rapid way to test ideas.”
Sasha’s Take: “There are definitely telegram groups or discord channels out there where you can find early users or early adopters. It is a great place to interview people and understand where they are coming from. So many users are builders of the futures not the bug of the ecosystem. The insular nature of what we are building is accelerating development, and is an early leading indicator that we are on the right track of the ecosystem. For the average user, the traditional retail investor - we aren’t quite there yet, but that is okay. They will come along as we continue to build the building blocks out and enable new experiences.”
As one of the best talks of the entire Hackathon, the panel on Product Development is an important ‘watch’ for any person interested in launching their own product in the crypto space, or in better engaging existing crypto-users to define a market fit. With a bright future for blockchain applications, DeFi, memes, and crypto builders, there is much to look forward to in the industry as it starts to become more and more popular to ‘Normies’ all over the world.
A full transcript of the talk can be found here.