“Enough startups in blockchain, now we need something that connects everything”

An interview with Jonathan Knegtel, cofounder of Blockdata

Many people in Amsterdam work with blockchain, but the city lacks a tight community. That’s the main conclusion of Jonathan Knegtel’s research into the Amsterdam blockchain ecosystem. “We need to activate the community.”

Jonathan Knegtel used to pay with bitcoins for the sushi he ordered on Thuisbezorgd.nl — “now that would probably be the most expensive sushi ever, haha”. But that is not what we are talking about today.

Jonathan lives in Amsterdam and is one of the co-founders of startup Blockdata, which collects data on the blockchain community worldwide. The Amsterdam Economic Board asked them to map Amsterdam’s blockchain community. At the first edition of Amsterdam Blockchain City, Jonathan shared the results of his research. We spoke with him before the event; about his passion for blockchain and why a strong blockchain community is important for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.

What is it that attracts you in blockchain technology?

“The fact that you can use it to remove the central authority. I like the idea that you don’t have to trust a person with your private details, but now you can trust a verified network. And if you don’t trust the network, you can publicly verify the code the network uses. The world now is not completely ready for blockchain technology yet; first we have to overcome technical, political and adoption challenges. But we hope that over the next 5, 10, 15 years that there  definitely will be a place for this technology on the global stage.”

How did you come up with the idea for Blockdata?

“I’ve been following the blockchain ecosystem since 2011. In 2014 I bought a bit of Bitcoin,  though my friends told me I was crazy. I worked for several startups in the city of Amsterdam. My last employer was a company that collects and sells data on companies in Europe. There wasn’t something like that for blockchain companies and that is why I founded Blockdata this summer with two friends. Our goal is to aggregate all the information on what everyone in the blockchain community worldwide is building. But more importantly, by doing this we feel we can save humanity time, it simply does not make much sense if every person who is interested in blockchain spends time finding and verifying the same information!

You mapped the Amsterdam blockchain community. What is your main conclusion?

“All the necessary parts are there, but the community is very fragmented. There are startups working with the blockchain, there are co working spaces — only not blockchain focused ones — governments are doing pilots, there are corporates working with blockchain and there are 45 stores where you can pay with Bitcoin. But what we miss is something that ties it all together.”

Why is it currently important to have a strong community?

“As a blockchain company you are nowadays spoiled for choice. There are interesting blockchain communities in London, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, etcetera. If we want blockchain companies to come to and stay in Amsterdam, we need to strengthen our community.”

What can we learn from other cities?

“In Zug, a small town in Switzerland that dubbed itself ‘Crypto Valley’, they have the Crypto Valley Association. Everyone in the blockchain community over there is part of that association. It helps to coordinate the movement of information within the network and it organizes events. In Berlin you have ETHBerlin. They organized a week long conference for everyone in the community. Each member of the community could organize workshops and other sessions during that week. Initiatives like these  help to activate the community. In terms of regulation it is interesting to have a look at London, where the parliament asked companies to send in their views on blockchain technology and regulation.”

So we need a blockchain association in Amsterdam. Who should be the founder?

“I realize that this is easy to say, but hard to actually do. I think a dedicated team is necessary for building long term relationships between the startups, government and corporates. An organization like that should not be completely top-down, like Dutch Digital Delta, which in my opinion has to much focus on bigger companies. But because a dedicated team is necessary, it can also not be completely bottom-up. We need to find that magical place in the middle. An organization like Startup Amsterdam sets a good example.”

What can companies do themselves to strengthen the community?

“Show your face at recurring events, tell people what you are building. Dare to go to companies or governments with challenges that you can solve with your blockchain solution. Connect, help other organizations, and dare to ask for help yourself. The startup scene can sometimes be too much about taking and too little about giving. Maybe we can change that as a blockchain community.”