3 QUESTIONS TO PETE TOWNSEND, FOUNDER OF NORIO VENTURES
They are our clients, our friends, good contacts or just people we met in the crypto-community. They have new vision, they are running great projects, they are developing new services or they just want to share their story. Once a week (maybe more or maybe less depending of your feedback!), Havas Blockchain will interview key people of the blockchain ecosystem.
(1) First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and about Norio Ventures?
After 21 years in the asset management and hedge fund industry, I launched Norio Ventures two years ago. I expected that it would take three to five years to re-align myself from someone with deep operating experience in financial markets to a venture investor with strong conviction on the future of financial market infrastructure. I already had the strong conviction, but I needed to adapt my knowledge of how others invest into a model for how I’d invest. To shed my corporate skin and think like a startup, I’ve spent the last two years helping tech startups in my sweetspot, i.e. those that share my vision on how financial markets will be operating in the next five to ten years.
In short, I help them get their product to market and get ready for funding. I do everything from helping to build their team, organize their operations, introduce customers and other helpful souls, navigate regulatory and political tides, craft marketing and media strategies, build their investor pitch and more. I challenge the entire business model and market timing, run ‘pre-mortem’ sessions to remove investor blindspots, and generally help them do what they need to do pre-funding to be successful after funding.
Because of where my passion lies, I work mostly with fintech. However, I’m a lot more interested in the type of fintech that intersects with blockchain, distributed ledger technologies (‘DLT’), cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and machine learning, than personal financial management apps, for example. Monetizing my passion means working with both startup founders and those within established businesses trying to change the financial world from the inside, so I’m more naturally drawn to B2B (‘business-to-business’) propositions than B2C (‘business-to-consumer’).
I do some corporate consulting as well geared towards the future of the financial markets and how to get people moving in the right direction. New skills honed by crafting a few podcasts for 11:FS in 2018 and now producing the ‘Money Never Sleeps’ podcast (with my pal Eoin Fitzgerald) have also led to some entrepreneurship-themed media projects. Over the last two years, I’ve built a portfolio of business relationships and activities that are all connected in some way to my vision for Norio Ventures. I’ve misjudged some opportunities along the way but I’m honest with people when I know my ability to help them is limited.
(2) How would you describe and analyse the Irish blockchain & crypto ecosystem and what are your favorite startups or projects from this ecosystem?
The fintech-themed blockchain and crypto ecosystem in Ireland has spawned from the perfect storm of big finance, big tech and a naturally innovative mindset of the Irish people. We are a country of only five million people, so the ecosystem is small scale, but Ireland ‘punches above its weight’ in terms of the depth of expertise across multiple industry verticals relative to the population. For example, the government programs such as those run by Enterprise Ireland made the investment agency the second-most active fintech investor in the world in 2017, and the deal flow continued in 2018.
With the immediate use case in financial services for blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (‘DLT’), we’re seeing an increasing number of fintech startups in Ireland with blockchain/DLT at the core of their platforms. What’s encouraging, however, is that these startups know that blockchain and DLT are just enablers, and we’re seeing the word “blockchain” towards the end of their pitchdeck, rather than on page 1 in the elevator pitch.
In addition to the startup ecosystem, large multinationals like Mastercard, Fidelity and IBM are running blockchain/DLT projects from Ireland, and global and local professional services firms are also building solutions here with their Irish and wider EU clients. We span across industries in Ireland as well with both startups and corporates bringing to market blockchain-DLT geared projects in infrastructure, aviation, media, security, health & safety, construction, travel and supply chain. Specialists like ConsenSys, Coinbase and Wachsman PR have launched in Ireland within the last 18 months, and are growing fast. Industry initiatives such as Blockchain Ireland and meetup groups like BlockW help to provide a focal point and rallying cry for the Irish ecosystem, and government agencies are active in these groups as well. In terms of my favourites, I’m close with both QPQ and FXCH as Norio Ventures are advising both, and there are a few more in the pipeline!
See the map below for a recent compilation pulled together by ConsenSys Ireland.
(3) According to you, what is the future of crypto & blockchain technologies?
The digital asset revolution began with individuals buying bitcoin as a digitally-unique asset over ten years ago. The way in which financial services are delivered has become far more digitalized since 2008, not only with the apps we use, but at the very core of how financial markets operate. In 2019, we will see mainstream investment funds issuing shares as digital assets, or tokens, that can be delivered securely to a digital wallet owned by an institution or individual. We will see clearing houses, exchanges and central securities depositories bringing order and safety to the wild west of digital assets that spawned from the crypto markets. I know, as I’m working with a number of these players and I can feel their ambition, I share their vision, and their traction with real customers is leading to significant venture capital funding.
This is just the beginning though, as major financial services players are making investments in digital asset infrastructure, and some are supporting institutional clients trading crypto. Some are more public, like Fidelity Investments and Mastercard, while others may be wary of the historical connotations related to crypto and are more sensitive to opinions of those less informed on the benefits. However, crypto trading is not the end game for these institutional players making investments in digital asset infrastructure, as the real opportunity is with digital versions of traditional assets, which is another blog post in its own right.
Something to watch for will be the eventual issuance of a digital currency by a central bank, most likely by a nation struggling with financial inclusion. I’m quite curious to see which of the current day cryptocurrencies will survive beyond BTC, ETH and ZEC, as to me, they’re like the Amazon, Google and Paypal of the dot.com era.
Only time will tell.