The way I think about Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the like.

Ever since I told people I have started dabbling into bitcoin I get asked about it all the time. People are curious about this thing that is more and more frequently showing up in headlines. For simplicity, I’m going to reference bitcoin throughout but it’s largely shorthand for altcoins (excluding ICOs which is a whole thing unto itself that I won’t currently touch with someone else’s free money).

Questions generally come in a few flavors:

  1. What do you mean you’ve bought some bitcoin? I think I’ve heard of it but it seems out there.
  2. Ha! You mean you’re one of those suckers that have gotten conned into that bitcoin thing?
  3. Bitcoin, I’ve heard of that. Isn’t it an investment?

I have yet to have anyone ask out of jealousy of missing out on the spike through this year. I have also yet to meet many others who have bitcoin that want to talk about it. Most of the conversations turn theoretical fast for one good reason: you can’t really do much with bitcoin yet.

But for the rest, here are my answers to the common questions I get. This may help you decide if it’s right for you or maybe just give a few more people a comfort level with this new-fangled technology.

I think I’ve heard of it but it seems out there. It’s perfectly fine for most to have not heard of bitcoin but it still feels surprising. Buying bitcoin the first time is a bit daunting. You have to sign up for an account to purchase it through, you have to make it through big disclaimers about private keys, you have to worry about accidentally losing everything. But never fear to ask for help, there are more and more people that have gotten into it over the past twelve months. You must definitely do your research if you are going to jump in though.

Sucker that got conned. I get this a lot. Many, many people (possibly a majority?) think that bitcoin is like the tulip craze: here today, gone tomorrow. I get a lot of joy out of answering this particular question because most people don’t understand the current US (or global) financial system. The US Dollar is based on trust, central control (opaque), and a couple centuries of track record. Bitcoin is based on trust, decentralized control (open source), and a 9-year track record. Look back at the first few decades of US currency and see how it behaved. This leads to:

Isn’t it an investment? Bitcoin is NOT an investment because it is based on something different than a typical investment instrument. For the most part, there is nothing you can go out and spend your bitcoin on that you can’t more easily buy with your Visa card. And with the current growth path of bitcoin, few are clamoring to spend bitcoin when they can buy things some other way. The price of bitcoin (as far as I can figure) is based on a combination of (in order of impact on pricing):

  • Speculation that bitcoin will be worth more in a month than it is today.
  • Speculation that bitcoin use cases will begin to be deployed at scale over the next 12 to 24 months.
  • Investors that don’t understand what bitcoin is but want to be part of it.
  • Technology companies building companies around altcoins.
  • People that want to put their money in a place uncontrolled by the traditional finance industry.
  • People in countries facing currency crises and needing a safe place to put it.

(For what it’s worth, I fall into the first two buckets and sometimes the third.)

Bitcoin still doesn’t have the technical maturity to make it something I’d recommend to someone that isn’t jumping to get it. It’s hard, easy to screw up, difficult to understand, and definitely not a typical investment. But while not for everyone, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

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Why the death of Net Neutrality is important within the CRE space.

As you may have heard, the FCC recently announced a vote in December to gut their net neutrality regulations and essentially let telecoms do whatever they want with the internet. For those not aware, these rules were put in place in the ancient days of 2015 because it was becoming clear that the lack of competition in the space was driving improper behaviors.

At its core, net neutrality ensures that telecom providers (Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum, etc) must treat all data on their network the same way. It doesn’t say they have to price access to their networks at a certain rate or force them to make upgrades. It simply makes the principle clear that data is data.

It seems obvious on the surface, why would anyone treat some data differently than other data? A great example is that AT&T now owns DirecTV. Without net neutrality rules in place, AT&T could put in place pricing that streaming DirecTV over their network is free (as long as you pay for the package) but streaming any other television related data costs an additional $100 per month. Essentially they are using their market position to arbitrarily limit competition from other TV providers.

Net neutrality ensures a level playing field for large and small companies. Under the current rules, Google and Facebook cannot go to Comcast and pay for faster connections to their services. Without net neutrality, Google could pay Comcast (or others) for the privilege of making YouTube a preferred service that streams for free at 4k while all other video services only get low-quality streams. Suddenly start-ups in the video space are forced out of business because their customer base is disincentivized from using anyone but Youtube.

Removing net neutrality rules simply gives big telecom providers new, artificial ways of making money off the backs of their customers without adding any value back.

So why is this important to CRE? Because our technology sectors are just beginning to take off with none of them really big yet. CRE Tech is truly a start-up environment and without net neutrality, all start-ups will immediately be at a disadvantage. Groundbreaking CRE Tech is not going to be low bandwidth, it’s going to involve AR, VR and high-quality video. It’s going to require large amounts of data. It’s going to grow like crazy over the next decade.

With net neutrality in place, there are no barriers to this growth and all companies will get to compete on their merits. Take net neutrality off the table and suddenly it’s not necessarily about who has the best product, it’s about who has the best relationship with Comcast and Verizon.

Personally, I want the market to decide winners and losers. Comcast can’t be trusted to do right by customers of their own services, why let them decide the future of CRE Technology?

What can you do? Contact your representatives to tell them to protect the current rules either through direct legislation or through applying pressure to the FCC. The current rules are not perfect and could use some improvement but getting rid of them is not the answer.

Back to Android after my iPhone experimentation.

For most of this year, I became an iPhone user for the first time ever. I even posted some of my experiences. I’m not willing to call it a failure but I am glad to now be back on Android (hello Pixel 2 XL!).

There are three primary reasons that I’m glad to be back on Android. They may sound trivial but they are huge (in order of importance to me):

  1. Keyboard. iPhone’s keyboard is crap. There are no two ways about it. Their keyboard was designed to operate on a 4″ phone and it has never been updated to provide more functionality on a larger screen (numbers on the top row for the win).
  2. Notifications. Android has built notifications into an art. iPhone treats notifications as a river of information with no filters or controls whatsoever. Give me smart notifications all day long.
  3. Widgets. Yes, iPhone has widgets on their notifications screen, technically. But these widgets aren’t the flexible, adaptable, placeable ones available on Android. There’s nothing better than a well-placed widget on the home screen.

There are plenty of other reasons that I prefer Android over iPhone. But after just a single week I’m already much happier with my phone. Sometimes comfort is the key.

Are your design principles forcing you to favor one medium over another?

The mighty smartphone currently rules all information gathering mediums. I much prefer to read the news on my phone versus my computer. I strongly prefer facebook on my phone versus a computer. About the only thing I prefer a computer for is for writing and video.

Too often people confuse a larger screen with the ability to cram more information in. Check out cnn.com. On a desktop, it shows three columns of news with four distinct sections and an enormous headline. On mobile, it’s simply a vertical stream of news you can scroll past. Your brain doesn’t need to sort through the information format.

I played trombone in jazz bands through college. I wasn’t great but I was serviceable. But I learned an invaluable (if cliched) design principle during those many years: value the white space. If you fill every single moment up with sound there is no place for the mind to stop and appreciate what it just heard.

You don’t have to cram as much information as possible into people’s faces just because the screen size supports it. How often have you seen PowerPoint presentations where someone decided to decrease the font size on the text so that they wouldn’t have to edit it to identify the real key points? Editing is about ensuring that the person reading is given the ability to absorb and process. If you focus only on absorption, you quickly overwhelm your reader.

Simply because you now have a 65″ television screen doesn’t mean that you should start including more information into the scene. A clean landscape view actually has MORE power on a larger screen because you can understand the scale and depth much better. Simple should always triumph overcomplicated.

Are you letting simple win?

Announcement: It’s not Gen Y changing the workplace, it’s Technology!

[Editor’s Note: I hate the term Millenials so I use Gen Y to help avoid many of the common mental stereotypes that exist around the term.]

Everyone in the CRE space is familiar with the sensation of seeing articles talking about how Gen Y are changing the way work is done. They don’t like to go to offices, they don’t work from 9 to 5, they text instead of calling, they prefer social media to email. The tropes are many.

I get very frustrated reading this because it’s not a Gen Y thing, it’s a technology thing. Smartphones and internet connections on the go make it convenient to work whenever and where ever necessary. Social media platforms are a better communication platform than email. Text messages are more convenient than phone calls. This isn’t something that is true for just Gen Y – Baby Boomers and Gen X operate the same way when introduced to these tools.

Is it true that Gen Y has adopted these tech tools faster than others? Of course, they started using it as early as elementary school in many cases. It takes time for others to learn about it and time for developers to make the tools enterprise friendly. It takes even longer for organizations to figure out how to push it out and get unfamiliar employees comfortable with it.

This isn’t a generational battle, it’s a technological revolution. Don’t confuse the two.

Technology should influence your internal processes but it should never dictate what you must do.

There is a lot of technology in this world that tries to get you to do things its way. You know the systems – the ones that talk about how you don’t need to customize or configure them and in 90 days you’ll achieve millions in operational savings. Let’s call them “Miracle Systems.”

Miracle Systems can almost always be spotted with one easy test: they promise tremendous value with a very short implementation window.

They usually start with a statement about how they have been designed by industry leaders that understand the process better than anyone ever has before. They’ve done the hard work of building your requirements in so that you don’t need any changes for them to implement quickly.

Here’s the secret: no technology will ever work unless you do the hard work first of understanding your processes and ensuring you can fit the technology into your workflow.

Most technology fails because users don’t use it correctly or at all. It’s usually not intentional neglect either. If a user is required to submit a monthly report to the COO showing the change in square footage but the new system doesn’t allow them to track the change in square footage, you likely aren’t going to get good adoption of the system. If the CFO requires a specific NPV calculation to be used by the new system doesn’t run it correctly, the analysis will likely happen outside of the system.

90 days is never enough time to implement any new process. It takes 90 days just to understand the current process. It can take a year to implement a new one. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Process drives Technology drives Controls drives Process

So much of the work that we all do is recursive. When you do Thing A, it causes you to do Action B. Action B dictates that you generate Report C which indicates that you need to do Thing A differently.

The trick to the entire process is to realize the truth in the above cycle. There is no process meant to remain the same forever. Processes are meant to change. Patterns in data start to shift. Growth curves eventually stop. Eventually, New York real estate will reach a peak (but who knows when?). Anytime we think that we have finally found a process that can just keep going we will find a surprise.

Once you understand the feedback nature of various tasks and outcomes, you can start to streamline and speed up the overall timeline.