Do you need a blockchain? A simple overview.

Recently, I had a conversation with an entrepreneur that wanted to integrate blockchain into his business. After a lengthy conversation, we reached a conclusion that his project wouldn't really benefit from the technology at the current stage. While some blockchain enthusiasts might argue that most ventures would be better with a blockchain integration, figuring out when the technology isn't right for a project is just as important as increasing its adoption when it is.

In light of that event, I put together some simple guidelines of when you should consider using a blockchain technology or cryptocurrencies in general, what benefits they can give you and what are some downsides. If none of those criteria fit, it might be best to reconsider chasing the blockchain fad for the time being.

1) You can't use the traditional banking system

If you are operating a business that has problems with the traditional banking system, you can use the cryptocurrencies to accept payments. Perhaps PayPal is not supporting your country, charging high fees, or the nature of your business makes you undesirable for banks. Maybe your local currency is under strong foreign exchange control or experiencing hyperinflation. In all of those examples, using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin as an alternative means of payment is an option.

You might have problems getting your customers to pay you in those currencies, but this might be better than nothing.

2) You are sending money internationally

International bank wires can take a lot of time and be expensive. It is possible to circumvent some of that through the use of cryptocurrencies. There are some companies that support last-mile payments, such as Coins.ph in the Philippines, or Abra wanting to create "the Uber for money transfers". You could, conceivably, send a local wire transfer to your local Bitcoin exchange, convert it to BTC, then use those coins to complete the international payment.

Solutions like these are still in their infancy however - you would have to make sure the right companies exist on both sides of your transaction and that the fees are reasonable.

3) Your business is forming close payment loops

If the money in your business is always flowing in one direction, say, from your customer's credit cards, through your bank account, down to your employees and suppliers, there isn't much room for the blockchain. The process of on boarding and off boarding would detract from your business. However, when your business starts forming closed loops of payments, you can start applying the blockchain.

Say, you're moving money back and forth between two countries. You can keep track of the payments on a system like Ripple or Ethereum and only settle the difference at the end of the day, rather than having to perform a wire transfer each time money moves back and forth.

While in this scenario you could accomplish a similar goal with a simple database, the more complex your system gets and the more actors get involved, the better you are fit for a blockchain solution.

4) You have a good infrastructure you can open to other parties

Let's say you are really good at handling the last mile payments in your country. Whether it's a country that's hard to reach financially like China, or perhaps less focused on like the Philippines (going once more with our Coins.ph example). You can do good business there by yourself, but if you open your infrastructure for other people to use, you can be earning an extra income from them. In this scenario, the blockchain essentially acts as middleware between your system and anyone that wants to use your connections. Coupled with a network effects of an open system like that, even a few vendors can form a very appealing web that spans the globe.

You don't need to be handling payments to be in the infrastructure business. Market making, FX trading, international settlement and the like are also very much in demand.

Unfortunately, systems like these aren't very common at this time. You might be building an infrastructure for the future, but at the present you might only get nominal activity at first.

5) You are creating a decentralised system

If you are building a decentralised system, a blockchain may be useful for it. If it's well implemented, it can be a convenient, reliable way to synchronise data across many nodes. You can also create a cryptocurrency token to go along with the system to manage the scarce resources you would be dealing with, whether it's storage, bandwidth, or something else. Decentralised storage, DNS, perhaps a new social network or the like could all benefit from using a blockchain technology.

That being said, a lot of decentralised systems might not benefit from this system. If you're dealing with the real world or trying to use the blockchain just as a settlement layer, you might not benefit from adding a specialised blockchain layer. Similarly, a blockchain won't make a bad project good - making a "Facebook killer" will take a lot more than that.

6) You need extra transparency

You are operating a business that can benefit from radical transparency and accountability. Perhaps you want to show your data hasn't been changed after it was created, or that you have all of your financial records accounted for. That's definitely where blockchain projects like Factom can help you (full disclosure - I work at Factom). One of the core features of the blockchain technology is that the past data cannot be altered without invalidating any future records. And if the records are public, any alteration becomes evident.

The main caveat for this approach is that blockchain-based proof of existence hasn't yet been tested in court, which means the first use of it as evidence would have to jump through some additional hurdles.

7) You want to innovate with the smart contracts

Smart contracts are an innovation in the blockchain space. They allow for the creation of autonomous programs that have access to their own money. This means you can run self-contained casinos, create decentralised autonomous organisations, etc. All very interesting and cutting-edge stuff that you can probably earn a pretty penny by building for and consulting to other companies that want to get into the blockchain space with their idea.

Unfortunately, the space is currently very niche and a lot of the noteworthy projects are very much their own thing. If you know you want to be developing smart contracts and have an idea of what you want to build, you don't need this guide really.

8) You want to build for the cryptocurrency community

The cryptocurrency community is as vibrant as any community built around an emerging technology. There is some good money to be made catering to that, whether by tapping into new markets, building exchanges, wallets, payment processors, all sorts of stuff. There is money to be made in this space if you have the right product to offer.

On the flip side, if you don't understand the market, you might not be able to earn enough money to get by. There have been countless companies that went under or never launched in the short history of the blockchain technology.

9) You want to create a new economy

We are getting into the more contentious use of the blockchain technology - creating new currencies, or "altcoins". Perhaps you are part of a community that wants to start its own currency - maybe based on time, nationality, implementing universal basic income or the like. If you want the currency to be independent, freely traded in your community, you can use the blockchain technology for that. Many have tried that before.

On the flip side, if you want to use this as some means of getting rich or the people you are working with don't have a strong need for their own currency, you might be creating another pump and dump coin that will come and go. We don't need more of those.

10) You want to raise money for your project with a crowdsale

Another contentious topic in the blockchain community - ITOs - Initial Token Offerings. If you have a project that needs some funding to succeed and you can make a good case of how you can integrate it with a blockchain, you can try doing a token presale to get some money instead of looking for actual investors. There have been some good projects that used this model, like Ethereum, but there also have been a lot of bad projects that have gone down this route.

Often, adding a token to a project doesn't make sense or makes the final product worse. ITOs have a bad rep in the community for a reason. Unless you really know what you're doing or are just in it for the money, then you can use the blockchain technology for this goal.


These are roughly the main reasons why you'd want to consider using the blockchain technology in your business or project. If any of these resonate with what you're doing, you might find something to make your project better or at least more interesting. If not, your effort is probably best spent elsewhere.

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