In preparation for the first installment of NetSuite’s upcoming four-part webinar series on blockchain and cryptocurrency, we sat down with Andy Brown, Founder and CEO of Sand Hill East to discuss some of the topics he will discuss in the first webinar, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Part 1: A Beginner’s Guide. Brown has an extensive background working with both big banks and small start-ups—from his time as CTO of UBS, to his current role helping entrepreneurs execute on their ideas.
Q: How would you describe blockchain/cryptocurrency to business executives with little technical background?
A: They are quite different but closely related. Blockchain is an example of a “distributed ledger technology” (DLT) that implements a de-centralized global transaction recording platform for the transfers of digital assets. Blockchains / DLT generally employ sophisticated methods for generating “trust” between 3rd parties without the use of a central authority, which is one of the key distinguishing features of the technology (math & cryptography being the most commonly used techniques to date). Digital Ledgers can be hosted privately or publicly. Commercial examples include HyperLedger Fabric, R3 Corda, Digital Asset Holdings, and many others.
Cryptocurrencies are one of the main use-cases for the implementation of a Blockchain – the most well-known example being Bitcoin, which was created 2009. The underlying ledger that records the history of Bitcoin transactions is a Blockchain. Note that “Blockchain” is frequently considered to be closely associated to the Bitcoin cryptocurrency itself (and indeed the term was first used with the release of Bitcoin), but Blockchain / DLT technology can be applied to many types of digital asset transactions. This is a rapidly expanding market which runs on top of the Blockchain platform; there are now many other use-cases for Blockchain including for land titles, financial services, middle and back office process automation (including affirmation, confirmation, allocation, settlement, clearing, custody, etc.), commodities (gold, gems), food transportation and so on.
Q: Are the benefits of blockchain limited to cryptocurrency?
A: No. DLT can be broadly applied to the transfer of many types of “digitalized” assets between multiple parties. DLT implementations are designed to provide market participants with the security and trust they need to reach agreement on transactions so they can be proven contractually (legally) valid, and irreversible.
Q: What advice would you give executives as they evaluate blockchain/cryptocurrency opportunities for their company?
A: Start off by watching introductory talks on TED, YouTube etc. to get the hang of the kind of use-cases where Digital Ledgers and Blockchain can apply. I would also recommend a couple of books that I have found useful: Blockchain Revolution by Don Tapscott and Blockchain: Trust Companies: Every Company Is at Risk of Being Disrupted by a Trusted Version of Itself by Richie Etwaru.
Regarding cryptocurrencies, there are reasons for (retail) businesses to really understand the growth (and growth in value and usage) of such platforms. When they are not so volatile in terms of their value vs. a known FIAT currency like the US Dollar, they may want to accept cryptocurrencies as a valid form of payment. We are already seeing major (merchant-based) retail platforms start to accept bitcoin and some other cryptocurrencies and that is increasing over time at least for now.
About Andy Brown:
From September 2010 to October 2013, Andy served as Group Chief Technology Officer of UBS. Prior to that, Andy worked as Head of Strategy, Architecture and Optimization at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and was also the CTO of Infrastructure at Credit Suisse. Prior Credit Suisse, Andy was at Merrill Lynch for 10 years holding various positions, including roles as Chief Technology Architect, CIO of Direct Markets, and Head of Networks, Market Data and Email.
As CEO and co-founder of Sand Hill East, Andy and his team offer startups a full range of consulting services and meaningful introductions to key industry companies and players. Andy is also founder and advisor of BizTectonics & Street Scale IT LLC, is a board director for Guidewire (GWRE), MoogSoft LTD, CTO Fintech Innovation Lab, and advises CS Technology LLC, Wickr, EXOU, Revolution Credit, Illumio, Lastline, LMRKTS, DA Holdings, PernixData and Zscaler.
Andy holds a BSc. Honors degree in Chemical Physics from University College London.