I’ve been reflecting on the importance of leadership. And not just because being a good leader is the most important thing that we can do for one another, but also because May 1st marked my four years at the helm of the Stellar Development Foundation. Normally, I commemorate my Stellarversary with a blog post… but it was a busy month for our team – from our company retreat in San Francisco to announcing our Meridian 2023 plans and travel to meet with our ecosystem – so busy in fact that I hadn’t had a chance to put into words what this occasion means and why it’s such an important date for my leadership journey.
Coming to SDF, I didn’t appreciate all that I was getting myself into. I had high expectations but not a real sense of the challenges to come. Leading an emerging technology to mainstream adoption is no cakewalk, especially a disruptive, potentially game-changing technology. But the truth is, leadership matters, and during the past four years, I’ve come to appreciate just how much it can make or break the future of an industry.
Four years (1,490 days, to be exact) have gone by since my first day at SDF, and a lot has changed in blockchain and crypto. We are worlds away from 2019 when any news story about crypto or blockchain led with an airdrop, the price of a token, or what new meme coin was being created. Back then, there was little discussion of the regulatory environment, or how policy could benefit the industry. Most of the leadership we saw was technical leadership, and unfortunately, those discussions just didn’t get the media attention they rightly deserved. Fast forward to today, we now have leadership in the industry, with a diverse set of voices having important conversations that encompass technical, marketing, business and policy. And, all of this new leadership raises a question for me … What took so long? This space has been developing for 14 years, and only now are we seeing this level of leadership and industry maturation.
Given my background, I can’t help but ask this question through the lens of the Web. Why did one emerging technology, the Web, path to maturation look so different from this industry?
Well, there’s the detractor’s answer: blockchain technology is a scheme. But I think we can all agree, and even Jamie Dimon does, that blockchain has the power to change the world at the same scale that the Internet did.
The real, much longer and more complex answer is, the path is not that different, but the Web changed the landscape so much that it made it harder for groundbreaking technology like this to take hold and for true leadership to take shape. Let me explain.
The Web was born in 1989, but the Internet was developed years earlier, sometime in the early 1970s. Unlike the world we live in today (because of the Web), there wasn’t the same way to reach people. Social media was in-person, in small groups or through newsletters. Information was disseminated through the newspaper or through news stories on television. Leaders had more time to develop, learn, build and grow because they didn’t have the transparency, and the tools to rapidly critique and comment that we have today.
Even though the Internet was developed years earlier than the Web, outside of educational and technical circles, it wasn’t really a topic of conversation. And, even though the Web was invented in 1989, it wasn’t really “born” until August 6, 1991 when the first web page launched - and that page was instructions on how to use the Web. And it wasn’t until the browser was created that the technology that made up the Internet and the Web took the shape of easily digestible products. And it was these products that drove the development and growth of the technology rather than the technology itself driving that growth. People were enamored by the new products without even a thought about what technology supported those products. The products were the vehicles that drove the attention and user demand, and the technology was the rail upon which they were delivered. Looking back with knowledge of our industry in blockchain and crypto, I wish this technology could have grown in the same way — during the time before you could turn into a meme overnight or irrelevant hype could come from a tweet. It just makes more sense for meaningful innovation.
But the Web brought us social media, the rapid and easy organization of communities, news from all over the world, and the ability to amplify the good, the bad, the truth and the lies. So when blockchain technology brought us digital assets, commodities and utility tokens took on a life of their own. Instead of product driving the technology as in the early days of the Web, the technology took center stage because of the digital assets and the secondary market. Most of the attention, at least for most of the last four years, has been on speculation and trading and mostly on individuals who were happy to hype their token on the social media stage rather than a product that might change the world.
We are finally seeing this happen, where products are driving this ground-breaking technology, and this important evolution brings me back to leadership. Just like products, leaders need time to develop, grow and be born. This last year has been unforgettable as we watched some individuals fall from grace and take a lot down with them, and yet it forced our industry to mature. The leadership that we are seeing now through product development, policy engagement, regulatory commitment, and the focus on user needs is making this industry better. There is stronger attention toward using the technology to drive real user value. And more focus on getting product innovation into the social conversation.
In any industry, leadership – true leadership – pushes progress, maturity, and innovation. We are seeing it now in blockchain and it’s accelerating our path forward. A lot has changed in the last four years and I’m excited to participate in creating what’s next.