19th Column for De Juwelier Magazine – Bitcoin: Een Nieuwe Tulpenmanie

23 02 2018

Bitcoin was the buzz word in 2017! For trade magazine De Juwelier I have had the honor to write columns the last three years, six each year. You can find every single article in PDF format on the Oak Consultancy page.
Multiple requests have come in to post the articles as a blog post as well. So, I have decided that for the first post of 2018, my 19th column for the magazine, will also be published here as well.

To download the PDF, please click here.

Magazine got launched 23 February 2018 in physical format (there is a typo in the footer of the page – it says by accident 2017):

Trade magazine De Juwelier with column by Oak Consultancy

BitCoin: Een Nieuwe Tulpenmanie

BIJNA VIER EEUWEN NA HET BARSTEN VAN DE EERSTE SPECULATIEVE ECONOMISCHE BUBBEL ZIJN WIJ GETUIGE VAN EEN NIEUWE ‘TULPENMANIE’. HET IS U VAST NIET ONTGAAN DAT IN HET AFGELOPEN JAAR DE CRYPTOCURRENCY BITCOIN VAN € 819,- IS GESTEGEN NAAR € 11.712,- EEN GROEI VAN 1.374%! ONDANKS DAT IK EEN ZEER GROTE FAN BEN VAN BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGIE EN ACHTER HET CONCEPT VAN CRYPTO-CURRENCIES STA, BEN IK BANG DAT ER HEEL VEEL MENSEN FINANCIEEL GAAN BLOEDEN ZODRA ER EEN CORRECTIE KOMT OP DE KOERS VAN BITCOIN, ZOALS NU AL EEN BEETJE HET GEVAL IS. MAAR ZOALS EEN VOETBALLEGENDE ALTIJD RIEP: ELK NADEEL HEEFT ZIJN VOORDEEL. U ALS JUWELIER KUNT BITCOIN GAAN ACCEPTEREN ALS BETAALMIDDEL EN ER ZO VOOR ZORGEN DAT SPECULANTEN HUN WINSTEN IN UW ZAAK OMZETTEN IN PRACHTIGE HORLOGES EN JUWELEN VOORDAT DIE CORRECTIE ER KOMT.

We kunnen concluderen dat het buzzwoord van 2017 BitCoin was. Wat is BitCoin nou eigenlijk? Voordat wij hier dieper in duiken is het belangrijk om het systeem dat dit faciliteert, de blockchain, te begrijpen. Simpel uitgelegd is een blockchain een systeem waar er geen centraal regulerende partij is. Betalingen werken zo: per-soon A wil geld sturen naar persoon B. Die transactie wordt een ‘block’ genoemd. Het block wordt naar alle partijen in het netwerk gestuurd, welke vervolgens de transactie moeten goedkeuren. Zodra dit is gebeurd, wordt het block toegevoegd aan de lijst met goedgekeurde transacties, de zogenaamde ‘chain’, en het geld gaat van A naar B. Dit systeem zorgt ervoor dat er 100% transparantie is en er theoretisch niet gefraudeerd kan worden.

Er zijn ook andere toepassingen denkbaar voor het blockchainsysteem, bijvoorbeeld bij contracten, tickets, intellectueel eigendom en meer. In onze branche zou het gebruikt kunnen worden om de handel in diamanten en edelmetalen transparanter te maken. Alhoewel een blockchainsysteem ook anders kan functioneren dan als valuta/betaalmiddel, kan een cryptocurrency niet functioneren zonder een blockchain.

In 2008 werd BitCoin als ‘electronic cash system‘ geïntroduceerd door een onbekende persoon/groep die handelde onder de naam Satoshi Nakamoto. De oprichter(s) bleven opzettelijk anoniem, want het Bitcoin-concept is betrouwbaar zonder een centrale autoriteit als een bank of overheid. Om BitCoin te gebruiken hoef je niet een bepaalde persoon of instantie te vertrouwen, maar gaat het om het collectief wat communiceert via een blockchain. Het internettijdperk had een nieuwe betaalmiddel nodig en het uitgangspunt van BitCoin was dan ook: hoe maken wij een geschikte valuta zonder dat men blind hoeft te vertrouwen op de initiatiefnemers ervan? Dit dilemma – hoe werk je samen zonder dat je weet in welke mate de andere betrokkenen te vertrouwen zijn – staat al enige decennia bekend als het Byzantijns Generaals Probleem. Vertaald naar BitCoin komt het neer op: hoe weet je dat er met een BitCoin-overboeking niet gerommeld is? Dat bijvoorbeeld een slimme hacker niet stiekem een programmaatje heeft geschreven om elke BitCoin vaker te kunnen spenderen?

De architect van BitCoin heeft de daarvoor een oplossing gevonden en gaf dit de benaming Blockchain. Alle computers wereldwijd die een stukje speciale software draaien vormen samen die Blockchain. Het komt er op neer dat álle transacties met BitCoins aan ál die duizenden computers wordt doorgegeven, zodat élke deelnemende pc exact weet welke transacties er hebben plaatsgevonden. Kortom: als je zelf iets weet, hoef je niet te vertrouwen op een ander. Hoe goed dit concept werkt zou je kunnen afleiden uit het gegeven dat de Blockchain nog nooit gekraakt is. Maar nog belangrijker: nog niemand heeft (in theorie) de logica erachter onderuitgehaald.

Waarom zie ik het dan toch als een nieuwe Tulpenmanie? Tot nu klinkt het zeer revolutionair en goed doordacht. Veel criticasters beweren dat het geen betaal-middel is, maar als wij kijken naar de functie en criteria van geld is BitCoin wel degelijk geld. De functies van geld zijn; geld is een ruilmiddel, geld is een rekeneenheid en geld is een oppotmiddel. De criteria van geld zijn; het is houdbaar, want geld bederft niet; het is deelbaar, namelijk twee halfjes zijn exact even veel waard als een hele; het is draagbaar, is het te transporteren of te verhandelen; en het is schaars omdat niet eenvoudig is na te maken en/of omdat de beschikbaar-heid is gelimiteerd.

Als wij de functie en criteria van geld bestuderen lijkt het erop dat BitCoin daadwerkelijk geld is. En, een decennium na oprichting van BitCoin is het niet alleen een betaalmiddel tussen personen, maar kan men daadwerkelijk afrekenen in fysieke en online winkels. Persoonlijk ben ik van mening dat cryptocurrencies zeker toegevoegde waarde bieden, maar cryptocurrencies die geen onderliggende monetaire waarde hebben en zo een gigantische groei doormaken in valutawaarde zijn gedoemd om te crashen. Van oudsher had geld een monetaire waarde, want munten waren van echte edelmetalen gemaakt. Waardepapieren vertegenwoordi-gen daarna een bepaald gewicht in een edelmetaal. Tegenwoordig vertrouwen wij overheden en economieën om de waarde van geld te garanderen. Ondanks dat BitCoins schaars zijn – er zijn er maar 21 miljoen van – duidt een dergelijk explosie-ve koersstijging op kuddegedrag en FOMO, het zogenaamde Fear Of Missing Out. Er zijn inmiddels ruim 1.000 andere cryptocurrencies, waarvan er vele mislukken, en anderen zelfs tekenen van oplichting hebben. Er zijn twee netwerken die hun blockchain anders ingericht hebben en momenteel veel succes hebben: Ethereum en IOTA. Die groeien ook relatief hard in de slipstream van BitCoin, maar deze laatste blijft de meeste aandacht krijgen.

Nu hoor ik u al denken, dit is allemaal heel leuk, maar wat kan ik hier als juwelier mee? Mijn advies is om zeker geen BitCoins te kopen, die zijn inmiddels al te veel in waarde gestegen. Maar ik adviseer u wel om een digitale portemonnee (wallet) te openen, te leren hoe de blockchain werkt en hoe u transacties kunt verwerken. Als juwelier adviseer ik u vervolgens om BitCoin te gaan accepteren als betaalmiddel. Als u geen webshop heeft kunt u gewoon uw klanten het unieke nummer of de QR-code van uw wallet doorgeven – zo simpel is het. Een goede wallet is Coinbase.

Mocht u wel een webshop hebben, dan kunt u betalingen accepteren via het Nederlandse Mollie. Bij Ace Juweliers werken wij met het Amerikaanse BitPay, een van de grootste partijen in de wereld. Mocht u de smaak helemaal te pakken hebben en wilt u toch op persoonlijke titel BitCoin en andere cryptocurrencies gaan kopen, dan raad ik aan dit te doen via de exchange Kraken.

Reageren op deze column is mogelijk door een e-mail te sturen naar alon [at] oakconsultancy.com of te bellen naar Oak Consultancy, tel. +31202602100. Aanvullende informatie is ook beschikbaar op OakConsultancy.com.”

 



The Power of Charity – The Ten Percent

16 02 2018

The Power of Charity and Ten Percent Rule are under rated, they are rather unknown and often ignored. Personally I believe that the biggest misconception of the power of charity is that people believe it is a one way street. You give to someone in need and you just do good to them. But ‘The Power of Charity’ in my humble opinion is a golden triangle: obviously it does good to the one receiving that is in need. But, it also does good to the one giving, plus ‘the butterfly effect’ will make example follow. So, basically it is a triple win situation.

The Power of Charity - Ten Percent

Ten Percent

The Ten Percent philosophy kicks in here. After one realizes they need to give, the biggest questions that arises is: “how much?”.
How much should I give? How much is enough? Is this much enough?
The answer for me is at least ten percent. Ten percent of your disposable income plus ten percent of your free time. Why do I live by this rule? Because of my parents. I updated my site (this site) at the beginning of this month (February 2018) with a new page about this subject (Ten Percent). Here I describe how my parents taught me ‘the art of giving’ and how much to give. The main reason for me to set up this page is to promote ‘giving’. To inspire to give and those that already give, to give more.

Research

After putting the new webpage up I received several questions about why my parents inspired their children to give according to the Ten Percent Rule? That notion was very logical and natural to me, due to our religion, culture and tradition instilled in my family. So, to find more background about the Ten Percent Rule, I did some research:

  • On the ‘Giving What We Can‘ website they inspire people to pledge at least 10% annually. In their FAQs they explain why ten percent: “… We chose 10% because it strikes a good balance. It is a significant proportion of one’s income, in recognition of the importance of the problem and the need to take real action. But it is also within reach of most people in the developed world. There is also a strong historical connection to the idea of tithing, a tradition in Judaism and Christianity of giving 10% of your income to charity or the Church. Islam has a similar practice (zakat) in which those who are able give between 2.5 and 20% to the poor and needy. …”
  • Jane Pratt set up the online magazine xoJane and they feature an article: ‘Why and How I Give Ten Percent of My Income to Charity’ by Allison Kade. In this article she states: “… The 10% number is Biblical in origin (an “overheard in synagogue,” if you will), but I don’t give this money away for religious reasons. In fact, I was surprised when, in a recent conversation, a friend termed this “radical giving” on my part. I don’t think my 10% is terribly groundbreaking, but I do think the “I’ll wait ’til I have more money” excuse doesn’t hold water. Most people should be able to manage it. I’ll show you how I did it, at least. …”
  • Chabad dives in to the Jewish perspective of giving ten percent in an article named: ‘Charity During Times of Economic Difficulty’: “… According to Jewish tradition, a minimum of 10% of our net earnings are earmarked for tzedakah. It is our belief that ultimately we are G‑d’s bankers; in addition to the monies intended for our personal use, He entrusts us with an additional sum—which we are meant to disperse to charitable causes. G‑d created a world of givers and takers. And while He provides for all His creations, he desired that His beneficence reach the “takers” via the wallets of the givers. When doing so, we are not going beyond the call of duty; we are merely faithfully discharging our responsibility. “Charity” is a luxury; during difficult times we cut back in this area. Tzedakah, on the other hand – i.e the 10% that we donate – was never ours in the first place; and delivering it to its intended recipients is certainly not a luxury that can be scaled back. (It should be noted, however, that a person who has only enough to cover his or her most rudimentary needs is exempt from this tithe.) …”

Tithe

Looking at the last word in the previous sentence: tithe, we find another interesting point of view. The definition of the noun tithe according to Merriam-Webster:

“a tenth part of something paid as a voluntary contribution or as a tax especially for the support of a religious establishment.”

Obviously I can not skip the explanation of tithe on Wikipedia:

“A tithe (/taɪð/; from Old English: teogoþa “tenth”) is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to a religious organization or compulsory tax to government. … Traditional Jewish law and practice has included various forms of tithing since ancient times. Orthodox Jews commonly practice ma’aser kesafim (tithing 10% of their income to charity). In modern Israel, Jews continue to follow the laws of agricultural tithing, e.g., ma’aser rishon, terumat ma’aser, and ma’aser sheni.

In Christianity, some interpretations of Biblical teachings conclude that although tithing was practiced extensively in the Old Testament, it was never practiced or taught within the first-century Church. Instead, the New Testament scriptures are seen as teaching the concept of “freewill offerings” as a means of supporting the church: 1 Corinthians 16:2, 2 Corinthians 9:7. Also, some of the earliest groups sold everything they had and held the proceeds in common to be used for the furtherance of the Gospel: Acts 2:44–47, Acts 4:34–35. Further, Acts 5:1–20 contains the account of a man and wife (Ananias and Sapphira) who were living in one of these groups. … Tithes were mentioned at the Council of Tours in 567 and the Synod of Mâcon in 585. …”

It is worth while to read the complete text on Wikepedia as it is very elaborate. I personally learned a  lot from it and loved the historical aspect.

What companies donate 10%

Finally, it is interesting to learn who follows the Ten Percent Rule. During my research I found that these companies & famous people donate (at least) ten percent of their profits/wealth to charity:

Conclusion

I really enjoyed writing this post. It has been very educational for myself and I have learned a new word in my English vocabulary: tithe. I knew the Hebrew equivalent, but the English word was new to me. I had to translate it to Dutch and to my regret it is rather boring: tiende deel. This litterally means 1/10th part. So, ten percent. That kind of makes the circle round again at the end of the article.

If you made it so far, to the end of this post, thank you. I would love to learn how much you donate.

Finally I invite you to read my Ten Percent page on this website.



Social Media Holiday

2 02 2018

My Social Media Holiday has started today and will last until February 14th, 2018. Although I am not on an actual holiday and traveling, I decided to take a week plus off from posting and interacting on all the social media channels I am active on.

Social Media Holiday for Alon Ben Joseph until 14 February 2018

I am a huge of technology, the Internet and social media too. I think that they empower people and can do a lot of good. This social media holiday is a little social experience for me. I want to see what it does to me, to my surroundings and to my social media accounts. The longest I have been offline is almost two weeks for our honeymoon in Africa (back in 2009) and annually I am offline on holidays (literal meaning of the word, the holy days).

So, I am curious to see if I actually miss using my social media accounts. I want to test if I really (still) love it or will this social media holiday make me realize that it is a force of habit and I gain no pleasure and fun out of posting on social networks.

Secondly, I am very curious what reactions it will spark from my surrounding, my friends, my family, my colleagues and other people I am connected to on these actual networks. Will they find it odd that I am doing this? Will it inspire more people to do it? Will they miss my presence on these networks? And, most importantly, will it generate more face time with my friends? Or, interaction in less digital ways and more ‘old school’ ways: actually meet more, talk more and write (read: WhatsApp) less?

Last, but certainly not least, will it effect the actual social media accounts. I mean by this: does your account loose its relevance when it is not ‘fed’. I see the internet and social media a living organisms and I have to be very honest here, I use it 80% (or even more) to promote my businesses. So, will it have an impact on the traffic to my businesses? Will my accounts loose followers?

So, basically, it’s a social science project 😉

I will try to post my findings some weeks later after this project ends. Please share if you have also done social media holidays like these and what your experiences were.



Speaking at Netcomm Suisse eCommerce Meets Fashion Event 2017

14 02 2017

This year I am speaking at a high-quality event organized by Netcomm Suisse in Swtizerland. On Monday March 13th, 2017 the third edition of the international event “e-Commerce meets Fashion 2017” in the Ticino Fashion Valley of Switzerland will take place. This is the event for players operating in the fashion sector in Europe.

Last year in February I spoke at the Swiss event: “e-Commerce and Digital meet Luxury Watches” organized by the national ecommerce association Netcomm Suisse. This was not just a lot of fun, but very professional and meaningful. It was meaningful in several facets: very high quality of subjects discussed, exclusive guests and relevant  to the topics and superb location & organizxation/execution.

Although this is thrid edition of the eCommerce Meets Fashion event organised by the Swiss eCommerce Association, this is the first time attending. And, I am honored to have been asked to speak during this event as well. I will speak about omni-channel retail in the luxury industry.

Alon Ben Joseph speaking at Netcomm Suisse eCommerce Meets Fashion 2017

During this event I will have the honor to share other professionals operating in both the luxury industry and tech world. Executives working at leading companies like: La Perla, Brunello Cuinelli, Merck, Bally, and many more. I am really excited and hope to meet you in person as one of the 650 visitors in Lugano, Switzerland.

Pre-order your tickets via worht CHF 1.100 via the official website: Netcomm Suisse Site.



Book review Zero To One

5 08 2016

My buddy Jonathan Salomon recommended me to read Peter Thiel’s book “Zero To One” back in 2015 already and I only came around to finish it this week. Not only was I totally inspired by reading it, but also regretted not reading it earlier! It was an easy and fun read. Although the topics and main subject are very philosophical and ground-breaking (actually), the book is ‘light’ and easy to read with great examples to accompany the theories projected.

Zero To One by Peter Thiel

So, what was so inspirational and what did I learn? As an entrepreneur I love to read books written by other entrepreneurs and what mistakes they made and especially what makes the successful. Peter Thiel is one of the founders of PayPal and later on teamed up with fellow futurist and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk (a.k.a. Mr. Tesla). If you like reading books about successful entrepreneurs, business books and/or innovative/new theories, Zero To One is a must-read book for you!

Well, if you do not have patience to read this complete blog post, the takeaway secret of Zero To One is:

ALWAYS ASK THE CONTRARY QUESTION!
Most answers to the contrary question are different ways of seeing the future and therefore unlocking the future!

The book starts with Thiel explaining thath he asks every applicant during a job interview this particular quesions; “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”. A very simple quesion, but very hard to ask. I immediately tried to answer the question for myself and after a few moments of tranquilly thinking I came up with an answer. After finishing the book two days later, I re-asked myself the question and came up with another question. I advice you to answer this question for yourself now. At the end of this blog post you can read my initial and final answer.

Few chapters later he explains the Power Rule (of venture capital), which is all about exponential growth. The chapter can be summarised by the first paragraph where Thiel quotes an unverified saying by Albert Einstein: “compounded interest is the greatest mathematical eight wonder of the world”, “the most powerful force in the universe”, or even “the most powerful force in the universe.” His takeaway in this chapter is (page 86): “The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a succesful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined.”

In Zero To One Thiel also gives HR advice in chapter nine op page 113 where he believes in a strong team that is well knit and interact well. He even makes bold statements: “As a general rule, everyone you involve with your company should be involved full-time. Sometimes you’ll have to break this rule; it usually makes sense to hire outside lawyers and accountants, for example. However, anyone who doesn’t own fundamentally stock options or drawa regular salary from your company is fundamentally misaligned. At the margin, they’ll be biased to claim value in the near term, not help you create more in the future. That’s why hiring consultants doesn’t work. Parte-time employees doesn’t work. Even working remotely should be avoided, because misalignement can creep in whenever colleagues aren’t together full-time, in the same place, every day. If you’re deciding wheteher to bring someone on board, the decision is binary. Ken Kesey was right: you’re either on the bus or off the bus.”

Three quarters into the book Zero To One the author Peter Thiel gives a small handbook with seven questions for every business, which he thinks every entrepreneur/company should answer:

1. The Engineering Question: Can you create  breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Obviously if one doesn’t have good answers to these questions, one will run into a lot of bad luck and most probably fail. Answering all seven positively will most probably lead you to fortune and success. And, getting five or six correct might work. A company that nailed all seven is Tesla according to the author.
In my opinion the seventh and last question, The Secret Question, is the most important question and is the main theme of the Zero To One Theory: ask the contrary question to find novel views & ideas. To go from zero to one, to make something from nothing and not copy something existing and make it slightly better. Thiel urges to find new ways to grow exponentially!

To finish this blog post, I said I would give you my answers to the question Thiel asks every applicant during job interviews: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”. As Thiel starts his book with this question, I initally answered the following before finishing the first chapter: “I believe that it is an important truth that retailer businesses that do not convert their traditional brick-and-mortar operation to an omni-channel business before the year 2020, will die. Especially businesses/companies that sell luxury products!” I beliee this is true and I am believing this already since 2008, hence we transformed our family business Ace Jewelers from a classic boutique business into the first luxury jewelry business to sell online and be authorised by premium luxury brands. In 2008 many people did not agree with me and unfortunately few people still today agree with me.
When I continued reading and finished reading this awesome book two days later, I noticed that Thiel is more of a philosopher than a mere businessman. He is a visionary, like his buddy Elon Musk. Really inspiring. What he means with this question is that we need to seek secrets that are hidden and contain the answer to a better future and the way to find them is by asking the contrary question… Most answers to the contrarian questions are different ways of seeing the present. So, looking at the big picture like he Thiel wants you to look at it, my answer became: “Why do people fear change? Because people are afraid of the unknown. To accelerate progress and innovation, one will need to both break dogma and take away ignorance.” So, therefore my answer to the question of what important truth do a few people agree with me on is: “Breaking dogma and fighting ignorance will propel innovation and progress.” In simple language: “We need to teach kids to think more out-of-the-box and basically give them space to grow-up like entrepreneurs. To teach that if one has different views, that does not make the outsiders and that there is no wrong if they do not copy/paste their parents/friends. Only being different can truly make society progress.” It seems my answer sounds simple and logical and obviously not a few people agree with me, but a majority… But, think twice… The majority loves their old rusty ways and are scared of change.
Like Thiel writes on page 63: “Every culture has a myth of decline from some golden age, and almost all peoples throughout history have been pessimists. Even today pessimism still dominates huge parts of the world.” But, I am positive and an optimist by nature and therefore really believe we are at the verge of a(nother) great change in society/societies and the world.