Vladimir Vlasyuk on launching startups, NFTs, and team organization «Blockchain is not a panacea»
20 December 2022

About the background

Exactly a year ago, I knew nothing about web3. I only knew about Bitcoin. I knew that people invested money in it and did something strange with it — "mining". I began to get interested in this field with my friends.

We sat down and divided several directions among ourselves: someone took on mining, someone on EVM-blockchains, someone on games. Forming experience from what we read or watched, we held a short educational session every morning in the format of a report and Q&A. I read, understood, and just as I began to apply the knowledge in practice, the events of February happened. That's when many things that were inaccessible with the banking system began to happen through crypto. That's when the knowledge came in handy.

I spent most of my time studying the concept of blockchain. Also, smart contracts on EVM and understanding this phenomenon as a whole from a mechanical point of view. Without this knowledge, I couldn't delve deeper into web3.
I read the White paper and didn't understand why. It's not like I'm planning to study math. There are many channels that help beginners understand everything. Then, based on the spiral principle, you spin — find something new and, using the knowledge acquired earlier, study it.
Before joining web3, I led the technical department at VK. It consisted of several teams and was responsible for implementing the "Ads" product. Many might be familiar with them. I remember, at one point, there were quite a few messages to the support service like "how come I wrote a message on my wall, and it turned into an ad" — people didn't really understand what was happening. Yes, that was our doing.
We tried to provide useful functionality for users of the secondary E-Commerce market. But then, with the aforementioned events at the beginning of the year, Ads ended at some point. Instead, we decided to relaunch a product called Market — a product showcase based on VK user communities.
Around the same time, my friend and colleague first met Yura Lifshits. Yura had launched his new startup, Superdao, six months prior. Soon after, I joined him.

About Superdao

I've been on the team for about 8-9 months. During this time, a lot has changed: direction, strategy, team.
Now the paradigm has changed again. Superdao was creating tools for decentralized organizations and working with them. I was in the Treasury team, responsible for the section showing NFTs and DAO tokens. Our task was to provide DAO users with relevant information about their digital assets, including value, availability, and even the ability to create quorum-based transactions within Multisig wallets.
Now we are working on CRM and wallet-based analytics. In short, we do everything related to web analytics: we read wallets, see which smart contracts they interacted with — we process everything, add weight coefficients, and try to sort wallets depending on the client's request.
The CRM platform is actively being tested. We work with various web3 companies, try to interact with them, and gather audiences for them. All this is done on-chain. Then we enrich the collected data with off-chain information from Twitter or Facebook.

About NFT and crypto in Russia

Now on VK, you can connect a wallet and upload images from it, for example, to set them as an avatar. Cool! They took the first step towards web3. And Instagram has already implemented such a mechanism.
Mainstream media always catches on at the last moment. Remember when those infamous monkeys with a lot of money appeared — that was a year ago. Now Instagram and Facebook are starting to implement things. It's the "look at what Western colleagues are doing and do the same" approach. It's good as a first step.
But I expected something different from users. What I see now, when users take third-party services and mint NFTs with their avatar — just so it fits in that hexagonal nut — is not the target behavior I expected. I was expecting the behavior of a typical holder of a highly-valued NFT — bought an image for $100, set it as an avatar — "look, I have money, and I also know what NFT".
In Russia, the situation with crypto is controversial — sometimes they try to allow it, sometimes to ban it. It's unclear what will happen next, but from a product perspective, it seems that the ban can be seen in a positive light.
You can hide unnecessary crypto specifics in crypto projects for the average user. This simplifies usage. For example, why should your mom, who uses a crypto wallet, see the transaction hash? The information has no value. It's like if Tinkoff Bank showed you some internal transaction identifier. On the one hand, it's cool; from a practical point of view, it's almost useless.
A very limited audience uses web3 apps. For the most part, the industry exists for itself. Developers live for developers in it. Traders live for traders. Products are built poorly: the user still needs to understand what hashes are, know what, for example, a Merkle tree is — in short, all this scary specificity that repels you as an ordinary user.
Blockchain is a tool. And let's not forget about it. It's a technological tool that allows for a quality experience in owning and circulating digital assets. It may not be its only application, but speaking of a tool — just as you shouldn't hammer nails with a microscope, you shouldn't try to apply blockchain everywhere. It's not a panacea. And NFTs are not just monkey pictures. It's a mechanism and access to limited resources.

Recently I saw a cool project. Guys were selling access to a hotel using NFTs. That is, you buy an NFT, come to the hotel, point your camera at the QR on the screen, validate that you are the owner of the NFT, and the door opens. It's like tokenizing access.

About team organization

The first thing to remember is that a team should always have a clear function and work towards a specific goal. Throughout my journey, I've seen various team-building models. For instance, through several functional managers, through the technical lead of the team, or through a product manager.
1. The model rarely survives well in an aggressive environment of deadlines and tasks — managers start to overlap in duties, conflict in tasks, and it rarely ends well. Either divide the functionality between them, which formally adds another manager, or appoint one as the senior and hold them accountable.
2. The model with a technical leader is a bit more fun — the technical leader understands the importance of tasks, can assess complexity, and if not, at the very least, can fix something themselves. Unfortunately, there are often long-term failures here too.
3. The model with a product manager seems more viable to me than the first two, especially if the manager has a technical background. This is probably the strongest strategy — the person understands what the business wants, what it requires, and what the team can do. They can choose the shortest path, balancing between building for eternity and assembling from sticks and acorns.
With small startups, everything is different. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to building a company in this case. But it's essential to remember that it all starts with people. It's crucial to select people based on individual needs, shaping the team culture. Then you need to build on it and try to maintain it.
You need to get guys ready to jump into the fire. This is crucial when launching a startup. Also, you shouldn't forget about such guys — you always need to give them tasks that will interest them. Unfortunately, over time, the set of such ambitious adventures in startups ends, and you need to be prepared for this.
You can search for a team in various ways. At Superdao, we searched through Telegram, YouTube, and other directions unexpected to me. If you have a blog, use it and write about vacancies there — it's very beneficial. If possible, use HeadHunter and other platforms. But the main tool for someone looking for developer candidates is probably LinkedIn. At least, that's what I think. Of course, more qualified HR specialists might argue with me.
I advise writing a resume following the template of American colleagues. Just find an example of IT workers on Google, for instance. Then, model your English resume after it and fill out the Linkedin form. This approach helps structure your thoughts when filling out and simplifies understanding the format LinkedIn needs.

About blockchain startups

When organizing a startup, it's essential to understand what it is. For example, how WhatsApp was created. Initially, it was a company that allowed users to set their online status. There wasn't even a messenger. So, the guys were solving a narrow problem — how to show a friend your current status: "Want to go to the movies" or "Open to offers for the evening".
Identify a problem — think about how to solve it. For instance, you realize you need server computations — start thinking about which technology to choose for it: maybe NodeJS, maybe Dotnet, or perhaps Rust. The same goes for blockchain. Start thinking about it when you understand that you technologically need it, not vice versa. For instance, within a startup that vitally needs to provide payment services from anywhere in the world, blockchain becomes an indispensable tool to achieve this goal.
Should you make the startup code publicly available? If you can dedicate free time to some open-source project, that's one thing. If there's some activity through which you can achieve something, earn money, for example, that's entirely different.

One doesn't interfere with the other, of course. I would answer this question individually for each specific project. There are probably projects where you earn money and at the same time allow its community to develop. Like Wikipedia. But when it comes to some commercial startup, where the goal = solving a problem for money, then it's not about open source, but rather some internal development.

Imagine we're exchanging some NFT. We're told that blockchain will allow us to do this as safely as possible and without third parties — and that's true. But if there's someone behind you with a gun pressing it to your temple, no blockchain will save you.
It seems that the current technical means of working with blockchain are not as convenient as expected. You want to write a website? You have everything you need at hand. In one evening and a cup of coffee, you can draft some prototype that you can already touch. A blockchain solution will require more effort and knowledge. Or hiring an expensive developer. Probably that's why the physical world will connect to this technology a bit slower than we'd like.
You can create some physical service that will work with blockchain. We once thought about delivering equipment to the north of Russia. The essence of the project is this: they accept the cargo, inspect it, press a button confirming its integrity, after which a transaction is signed, the smart contract is executed, and the sender receives the money. Unfortunately, as I said, from my point of view, the physical world is not yet ready for this, and the technical means are too expensive to implement — both in time and money.
The merger of blockchains with the physical world is cool. Developers can open new horizons. For example, you bought sneakers, and they dropped as an NFT to your wallet. Any developer making a game can implement these sneakers, and you'll run in that game in those very sneakers.

About the future of IOI wallets

It's good to use a product primarily as a ready-made tool to solve specific tasks. Again, when you work with DAO, you look at the treasury section: at NFTs, transactions, and so on — while you are still in the context of blockchain as a technology, which, in my opinion, is incorrect. When you look at Tinkoff Bank, you see money, transfers, sender, recipient — everything is straightforward and clear. The same should be with wallets.

I think there will be a technical overlay on IT products that will allow working with wallets in some implicit form, where every action you take will be signed under the hood, thereby creating a set of unique digital traces of the user. Or another option — a multitude of service-oriented custodial wallets. You log into an account using some service. There's a custodial wallet, the key to which is owned by the service itself, but the wallet is attached to you as a user who logged into the platform. You can receive drops and other things from this service, you can even transfer to your non-custodial wallet. I think that at some point, these wallets will turn into so-called profiles on various websites and services. And that's also a possible scenario.

In the future, web3 wallets can technically be linked together. This way, the user will have a complete understanding of their profile collectively, from different sites. I believe the industry is currently shifting in this direction.
The original laws of web3 are weakening. I'm talking about anonymity and decentralization. More companies have started playing in the blockchain, and they are about centralization. I think large platforms will use custodial wallets in the future. Smaller platforms will still log in via MetaMask. But over time, I believe their number will decrease.
What happened after the FTX crash was typical hysteria and a standard market situation. People rushed to withdraw money to non-custodial wallets because something suddenly fell, and everyone was horrified. Whether users will return to custodial wallets is a good question.
Another good question is how to proceed. If you're an ordinary web3 user and have a bit of crypto invested somewhere, organize it neatly. Let some of it be in bitcoins, and some in ether.
If something starts to collapse, it will collapse one way or another — it's crypto. The volatility is high. It's unlikely to change anytime soon.
Everyone is now panicking after the FTX drop. I think the crypto winter will not end for at least another 2 years. There's also a deep crisis in the global market. Now it has reached crypto. And I believe this story will continue to unfold.
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