Shiv Madan knows a thing or two about building a customer base. He cut his teeth at eBay, Accenture and Lehman Brothers before moving on to become COO at Time Inc.’s music brand NME.co in Asia. More recently however, he's taken his skills and dived into the murky world of tickets for live events with his latest startup, Blockparty. In this interview he explores his journey from finance to fighting ticket touts and why promoting your business should only start when you have something worth promoting.

How did you first get into blockchain and the decentralized web?

A friend of mine runs ‘Synechron’, a fintech solutions company in New York that is part of the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance.  He told me about blockchain over a coffee in 2014. I read a book or two and realized that it could help solve the ticketing problems that I was having at a music festival in New Jersey that I co-owned.  During 2015 I dug a lot deeper into blockchain and got really excited about Bitcoin. I used to be a macro prop trader at a bank and was taken by the impact Bitcoin could have on global finance.

When did you set up your company?

I co-founded Blockparty in September 2017.  I spent a lot of time during 2017 at the Galaxy Digital Assets weekly happy hours in New York and met founders who were doing really interesting things in crypto, like the guys at Hedera and Basis. It was an exciting time.

Hire a team of builders. Build first and don’t shill until you have a good product and early revenue.

What need does it serve?

Blockparty is an event ticketing protocol. Ticketing is a horribly flawed industry that is wrought with fraud and opportunism, at the hands of brokers, bots, and scalpers. It’s not uncommon to turn up to a show with a ticket you purchases on a ticket resale site and find out at the gate that the ticket is fake. Also, bots buy up tickets in advance and they fleece you when they sell those tickets in the resale market. Name a problem that blockchain can solve, and most likely you can find that problem in the ticketing industry.

Our technology comprises 4 parts:

  1. Non-fungible tokens–which are used because tickets are inherently complex (drinking age, VIP or General Admission, seating is non-fungible etc.)
  2. Smart contractsare in-part used to ensure re-sale prices are capped, and also to  enable the original ticket seller (or the artist) to earn a share of re-sale ticketing fees.
  3. Digital identity–we used encrypted biometrics such as encrypted facial recognition to attach to the NFT and ensure that the ownership of a ticket remains intact no matter how many times a ticket has been sold.
  4. Sidechainswhich enable faster transactions so that large events (such as Coachella, which has 100,000+ people) can sell tickets quickly without the system stalling, and so attendees can enter gates quickly. We built a special purpose sidechain that algorithmically batch processes transactions onto the Ethereum main net to enable transaction speeds of up to 400 tps).

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Have you launched other companies before? What were they?

Before this, I was Founder and CEO of Ability Wearables, a wearable data (machine learning) company. The main purpose was to predict if a driver was likely to fall asleep at the wheel. We mainly worked with enterprise clients like Dupont and BP and eventually formed an exclusive partnership with Samsung to distribute the solution.

Can you give us a summary of your career thus far, how did you get here?

I started out in tech–first at Accenture in strategy consulting to tech companies, then in strategy at eBay. After an MBA I switched to investment banking with Lehman Brothers and then moved within the industry into derivatives trading at Dresdner Kleinwort. That was all until 2009. I then worked at Time Inc as COO of a music division in Asia. I was always into music and, as a side hustle, I started buying up stakes in music festivals and tours as a way to be more involved in the space. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building the ideal skillset to run Blockparty–tech, finance, economics, and media.

Did you know?

I used to DJ, mostly techno and house. You still might see me occasionally around New York spinning at events that we ticket.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building a business in this space?

Any startup has its myriad of challenges. In this space, the biggest challenge has been navigating the regulatory environment.  The goal posts have shifted substantially since we launched our whitepaper. I am thankful that we decided to focus exclusively on building product first, because that enabled us to weather those challenges.  We launched our alpha product after just four months, and then our beta after a further three months later (by May 2018). And we demonstrated token use case months before formally launching a token.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given when it comes to being an entrepreneur in this space?

Surround yourself with the right partners. Law firms, accountants, advisors, investors. The better you can get, the more likely you are to be able to weather adversity.

What advice would you give to someone setting up a business in the decentralized web?

Hire a team of builders. Build first and don’t shill until you have a good product and early revenue.

If you built your business all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have focused more on the crypto audience first as a client base instead of trying to pitch to mainstream live events. The crypto audience loves what we’re doing, and the live events audience doesn’t really care. They like what our technology can deliver but they don’t care that its blockchain and they are only now starting to care that we have crypto payment options. It’s the age-old question of product/market fit, which we are now dialing in.

What project or projects are you most excited about (that aren’t yours!)

There are some great companies and projects out there. Amongst the newer ones, my favorites are Metal Pay, Beaxy, Hxro and Fomo Hunt. And amongst the bigger companies, I like Binance, Cosmos, and Tendermint. Driven, passionate and paranoid leaders who don’t stop until they’ve delivered a great product and grown a user base.  

Surround yourself with the right partners. Law firms, accountants, advisors, investors. The better you can get, the more likely you are to be able to weather adversity.

What is (or what will be) blockchain’s ‘klller app’

Bitcoin is the killer app. No question.  

What’s the difference between setting up a company in the decentralized space versus regular business?

It’s the mindset. The goal of a decentralized project is for smart contracts to govern an economy or industry, rather than a single organization or groups of companies. It requires a mindset of creating a system that will work whether you are there or not, and ideally that you can step away from, as Satoshi and Vitalik have done. With a regular business, you rarely think about how you can step away and for it to run successfully without you.  

How would you describe blockchain to someone who has never heard of it before?

Blockchain is a database of transactions that is replicated in real time on many different computers. It enables people to verify that each transaction is legitimate. As a result, people are able to transact without needing to trust each other, because no single group controls the system. Each transaction is verified by a bunch of other people in the system. And those people who verify transactions are rewarded with cryptocurrency.