Jesse Grushack on blockchain: “Adopt, adapt, and innovate – or face extinction”
Jesse Grushack is part of the team at ConsenSys, the venture production studio that builds decentralized applications and various developer and end-user tools for blockchain ecosystems, focusing primarily on Ethereum. He is one of our guest speakers at Music 4.5: Blockchain and the trust issue on 26 April in New York. We caught up with him ahead of the seminar to chat about Bitcoin versus Ethereum, the benefit of smart contracts, and why – when it comes to blockchain – resistance is futile.
-Jesse, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Can you start by telling us a bit about your professional story, and what led to your role at ConsenSys?
At the end of 2010, I fell in love with both electronic music and Bitcoin. The interest in Bitcoin came out of my studies in Economics and Computer Science, but once I started dreaming of a decentralized world, I couldn’t look back. On the music side, I started by writing and shooting for DancingAstronaut.com, using journalism as way to score free tickets and photography as a way to get backstage. When it was time to find a summer internship, Bitcoin was still in its infancy (requiring candidates to be senior developers or cryptographers) so I opted for a position at event production company, ID&T, learning marketing and business development.
I continued in a part-time capacity at ID&T throughout my senior year at Union College, ultimately leading to a job at SFX Entertainment, where I began to manage the RFID access and payment systems for our festivals. SFX taught me a lot about business and made me aware of the many inefficiencies throughout the industry. After leaving SFX in December 2014, I spent some time sharpening my programming skills because I knew I wanted to pursue blockchain technology. I joined ConsenSys a couple of months later and have been there for nearly a year.
-Can you tell us a bit about the origins of ConsenSys, and what its status is today in terms of employees, clients, and ongoing projects?
ConsenSys was founded in late 2014 by Joseph Lubin, who is also one of the founders of The Ethereum Project. Joseph saw a need to start creating applications that would leverage Ethereum, so he decided to invest his time into building Consensys. In only 15 months, we have gone from a small product development studio with four employees to a multi-faceted organization with almost 70 employees across four continents. Blockchain technology is a very new concept, so about five months ago we formed ConsenSys Enterprise to act in more of a consulting capacity. We formed a very exciting partnership with Microsoft and pioneered Ethereum Blockchain as a service on the Azure Cloud. We have many other high-profile clients across many industries from finance, accounting, energy, and now we are starting form partnerships in music. ConsenSys has about 30 projects across different industry verticals, so we bring in domain experts to help us solve pain points in specific industries.
-ConsenSys was recently mentioned in a New York Times article about Ethereum, seen by some as the much-improved successor to Bitcoin due its ability to provide smart contracts. What are some examples of this being practically applied?
Smart contracts are essentially small pieces of code that live on the blockchain and execute autonomously. What this means is that when an agreement is put into place, the software executes the outcome when the requirements are satisfied. An example of this could be a simple bet. If I were to wager that Kanye West will win a Grammy for ‘The Life of Pablo’, and you wanted to bet against me, we would have to find someone who would take that bet for us (since I do not trust you) and pay the winner. On Ethereum, we could write a contract to hold both of our monies in escrow, which would then pay to the winner immediately and automatically after the Grammy is announced. This is a very primitive example, but it exemplifies the power of the network. It allows for systems to be synchronous without having to trust each other’s data.
-You believe that blockchain can change the way business is done. What’s your vision for five years down the road? How do you hope blockchain will have changed the nature of business in the near future?
That is a very difficult question. We are moving from a document-based world to a data-driven society and change is occurring faster than anyone can anticipate. When computers were introduced to business, databases were seen as the ultimate tool, but the problem was that our information was still based on documents. There is no universal way to summarize every article, contract, or legal agreement. Every system does translation differently, which necessitates gatekeepers to translate between parties, even if both parties are from the same region. So I don’t like to put a time frame on this transition, but I envision a future of hyper-efficient networks, the removal of intermediaries who consume more value than they provide, which ultimately leads to more value in actual creation.
-In our discussions about blockchain as it relates to music, time and again we come up against the fear that a lack of trust between the necessary stakeholders (artists, rightsholders, labels, etc) will impede any successful solution based on blockchain. Do you think this can be overcome, and how?
The music industry has been refusing to adopt technology since way before the internet, but the internet was the first major change that almost broke the industry. I think companies will have to be willing to adopt, adapt, and innovate – or face extinction. The internet was great for the artist and fan, but bad for the corporations. Since the rise of streaming we have seen that music companies can once again turn a profit. The rise of platform exclusives could ultimately be their death as the digital providers fight for their share. What happens when the new Kanye album is on Tidal, the new Drake single is on Apple Music, and you pay for Spotify? Do you start paying $360 per year to listen to all your favorite artists? Something has to change.
-We’re looking forward to hearing your presentation at Music 4.5: Blockchain and the trust issue on 26 April. You’ll be focusing on who stands to benefit from blockchain, which almost begs the question – who stands to lose?
Adapt or die. While that might sound a bit extreme, I think that there is more value in adopting blockchain technology than in trying to prevent it. Companies will have to take a look in the mirror and ask what they care about more; the artist or the money. Those who care more about the money will do everything to prevent this change, but I do feel that while they might succeed in delaying adoption, the change is inevitable.
-Are there any speakers you’re looking forward to hearing at Music 4.5?
I am looking forward to speaking with all of the speakers at Music 4.5 and the collaboration that will ensue. This is not going to be something that Ujo Music can do alone and most people stand to benefit from getting involved.