Thomas Power might well be the most connected person in crypto. An influencer who can send stocks flying (in either direction) with a mere tweet, he’s consistently top 10 on the Rise.Global crypto-influencer list, and currently nestled comfortably between fellow blockchain expert, Andreas Antonopoulos and ShapeShift CEO, Erik Voorhees.
Three decades ago, Powers launched a successful career as a technology consultant. He traveled the globe teaching everything from SaaS to social media to needy execs at Google, Microsoft, Accenture and Dell. He got into crypto in 2015 and is now also teaching business leaders about ICOs and tokenization, as well as how the Internet of Things and AI fits into the emerging picture of Web3.
On top of his six directorships, Power’s active in 100 WhatsApp groups and has 300,000 twitter followers. These activities alone generate an avalanche of 1,000 messages a day and he does his best to accommodate all of them. “I always meet a thousand people a year, every year,” he says. “That’s why I’m number one on LinkedIn,” in terms of testimonials received, he means, and maxing out at LinkedIn’s limit of 30,000 connections. But unlike others who’ve reached that summit, “I’ve met all those 30,000 people. It’s taken me 30 years.”
Among those people are Bill Gates and Michael Dell, who Power first met while working for British business magnate, Lord Alan Sugar back in the eighties. Since then, Power has been a Silicon Valley dealmaker and a founder of multiple startups. These days he’s merely a non-executive director, a prolific public speaker and a best-selling author of eight books.
The latest, published in October, is Tokenomics, which Power co-authored with smart-contract specialist, Sean Au. A cornucopia of crypto facts, it’s a “no-holds-barred, in-depth” guide to who’s who, and how to participate in the blockchain economy; a compendium of everything you need to know about crypto, blockchain and ICOs right now. We caught up with Power between speaking engagements in London earlier this month, to get the get his perspective on crypto's movers and shakers, and to find out what he really thinks about decentralization.
And the geek shall (not) inherit the earth
A good dousing in history and religion is a prerequisite to understanding crypto, says Power. The “correction” we’re seeing, the bursting of crypto’s bubble, is a mirror of the dot.com bust of 1998. Just as the survivors of the 5,000dot coms that were around 20 years ago can now be counted on two hands, 99 percent of crypto ICO projects will go bust, he predicts. “All we’ve done over 20 years is swap the word e-commerce for blockchain; dot com for dot coin.”
Meanwhile, our deities are sporting rainbow t-shirts instead of robes. Power sees Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin as high priest of the altar.
“I saw Vitalik last Monday night and it was like Jesus Christ walking into a room,” says Power, his expression deadpan. “It’s a fairytale story and that’s why I think he’s perceived to be Jesus Christ—because he’s written the Bible for geeks. And what a clever thing—an operating system that creates a financial marketplace for geeks to raise capital and fund their ideas without touching the traditional public markets.”
But the crypto faithful should prepare for what’s likely to be their worst nightmare. Because despite all the Libertarian ideals that pepper crypto Holy Land, Power believes that Ethereum—along with everyone else—will, eventually, sell out to the big companies that already control the web.
Fleshing out his thesis, he compares the Ethereum platform with the evolution of Android—going all the way back, from its roots in 1969 as the AT&T operating system Unix, to its eventual acquisition by Google. “Ethereum looks terribly like Android to me, as an idea, a platform, a system—effectively an operating system—with the killer app being the ICO.”
Unless they have an exit strategy as part of their plan, Power thinks young crypto founders vastly underrate the strength of the FANGS, the acronym for the five high-performing technology stocks in the market--Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google. “You can’t compete with something like that. You can’t take them on with your little startup. I think decentralization is a fairytale. Google and Microsoft are already there.”
What we are heading towards, says Power, is something like centralized decentralization. You’d be forgiven for thinking that doesn’t have quite the same disruptive ring to it, but Power believes this is what people want.
“We live in an institutionalized world where we don’t really trust decentralization,” he explains. “We talk about Libertarian freedom—but people don’t really want it.” He offers an example: Brexit, which is currently tearing the UK apart at the seams—with over half the country wanting to remain tied to a central body, in this case the European Union.
As Britain’s Brexiters are finding out, the voice of experience--in Brexit's case, economists--can be hard to ignore. But the future Power envisages isn’t all bad, albeit largely made up of private blockchains managed and financed by the household names we’ve come to know and love/hate. There are, he believes, some outstanding opportunities to change the way in which we live, with blockchains harnessed to guard against climate change, using incentives to manage waste; making us feel good about doing good, instead of all the negative connotations the big brands currently inspire.
“Let’s say [Zuckerberg] launches Facecoin and you get a coin for every like and every share, every listen, watch, invite, photo, event… and you can redeem those Facecoins at the Facebook marketplace, and all of this effort is going into reducing plastic waste and using seaweed packaging…” Power sees this type of scenario as signalling a positive intention, in contrast to the issues of anxiety, privacy and other downers the big brands are are currently battling.
Although, for now, the FANGs may be in thrall only to their shareholders, he predicts that this will change. “Right now it’s all about dick measuring and power. That needs to shift to be all about planet. If these companies switch from being data lords to climate lords, they’ll bring the people back.”
And as regards their prospective blockchain partners, Power says there’s already a good indication of which crypto startups are most likely to be gobbled up, along with the plastic bags. The main thing to look at, he says, is not the market cap, but the liquidity—how much the token is traded. “The more it’s traded, the more people are interested in the stock, for better and for worse. On the crypto compare sites, if you sort them by liquidity—trades in the last 24 hours—those top 20 are likely the ones that the FANGs are going to eat.”
But he still thinks there’s five years or so left to wait, before blockchains emerge at scale. In the meantime, he’ll be busy reading for at least four hours a day, leveraging his awesome social network and advising founders about the feasibility of yet more new tech that they need to absorb. But with decentralization on the side, please. "I want to believe in decentralization,” he says, “but history tells us that half a dozen people will win the game in the end.” And Power is likely to know all of them.