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FOR YEARS CRYPTO ENTHUSIASTS have searched for the right place to call home. Since 2009, believers all over the world have come together online to talk shop, speculate as to the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, and bemoan the latest dip in the cryptocurrency markets. But communities are scattered across virtually every social media network. The average crypto trader uses three mobile apps to follow a dozen discussion groups, just to keep up with the lightning-fast market. Group moderators must weigh the pros and cons of each platform, trying to decide which features are must-haves, which are nice-to-haves, and which ones they can (begrudgingly) do without.
The result has been a massive headache for crypto communities. Open API or closed API? Does membership size matter more than cost? Are unlimited chat archives better than monetized video hosting? When a discussion group does settle on a platform, it’s less an endorsement than a sigh of resignation.
“Crypto communities make do because they don’t have anywhere specific to go,” says CryptoSyndicate COO Nick Mancini.
An alumnus of Deutsche Bank’s Innovation Labs in New York, Mancini began his career introducing cutting-edge technology to institutional players. He ticks off his fingers as he runs through the list: “Slack is for work. Facebook is for socializing. Discord is for gaming. And Telegram is for spam.” Smirking. “Or, okay, not just spam. But like, 99% spam.”
“And scammers,” says his colleague David Hoverman, piping up over our Zoom conference. “Don’t forget about them.”
Hoverman is CMO of CryptoSyndicate, a jovial, beaming presence with a midwestern drawl that bites off its own consonants. The afternoon sun is burning through the window of his home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and it surrounds him in an ironic halo. At times he spreads his hands and grins widely, fully aware of his prophetic backlighting and basking in it.
“But it’s not like those problems can’t be solved,” he says. “That’s why we built SynQ.”
SynQ (pronounced “sync, as in ‘synchronous’,” says Mancini, with the weariness of a man who’s endured several hundred renditions of sink-YOU) is the new crypto community messaging app developed by CryptoSyndicate. A business intelligence group turned impromptu software development company, CryptoSyndicate has one goal: to create a platform where crypto communities want to live.
The task is more complicated than it sounds.
The investment engine of the crypto market is the initial coin offering, or ICO. As analogy to the traditional IPO, the ICO is something of a misnomer. Instead of vying for institutional investment, many ICOs seek crowdfunding in small amounts from what are referred to as “retail investors” — Mom and Pop in their bathrobes, sending fractions of an ETH to would-be blockchain startups over their first coffee of the day.
That means ICOs need investor volume to meet their fundraising goals, and they need it fast. ICO communities on Slack and Telegram are full of spam and phishing scams, preying on open-API platforms and the moderators’ desire to avoid alienating potential investors. That’s understandable, says Mancini, but a platform where anyone can post anything is a platform full of conversational static.
“At some point,” he says, “the volume value gets drowned out by all the low-quality discussion. Maybe you’ve got someone in your community who shares amazing technical analysis, but no one ever reads it because it’s immediately pushed down by fifteen shill posts and spam bots.”
The way Mancini sees it, the cryptocurrency market needs mass adoption, a threshold he defines as 1.25% of the global population regularly buying and selling some form of coin. But mass adoption is impossible if newcomers can’t overcome the information barrier to entry.
For new adoptees, that barrier is complex to an unnerving degree. Economics, financial markets, code, network analysis — “do your own research” is a familiar admonition in crypto communities, but the research required is unlike that of any other retail investment market.
“We’ve been in it for years,” Mancini says, “so we forget how intimidating it looks from the outside. The resources that exist aren’t always comprehensive or high-quality. A lot of people end up needing help just to understand the guides that teach you how to get started investing in crypto.”
Historically, the bulk of the educational burden has fallen to crypto communities. Online communities are where newcomers come to learn which wallet is best, how to buy cryptocurrencies, and when to sell. Communities are where experienced investors share their trade calls and argue over the merits of altcoins that have yet to produce a single working product. Wedged between all the serious discussion are stick figure memes, trash talking, and air drops designed to woo hapless traders into investing in one doomed ICO or another. In other words: Communities are where crypto consumer sentiment, that most democratic of market makers, is born.
CRYPTOSYNDICATE CEO ENRIQUE GUTIERREZ would know a little something about sentiment.
A successful web developer and entrepreneur, Gutierrez runs his own IT development firm out of a glass WeWork office in downtown Los Angeles. By turns idealistic and wryly pessimistic about the fate of the crypto markets, politics, and humanity in general, Gutierrez was the first person to introduce the idea of retail sentiment analysis to the crypto space. That might sound arrogant, he acknowledges, but there’s empirical evidence of its truth.
“It started as an inside joke,” he says. “Just something you see online, and it makes you smile to yourself.”
Gutierrez has years of experience performing sentiment analysis on traditional markets, with base accuracy rates in the 70–80% green zone. After a cursory introduction to blockchain, he spent months refactoring his assumptions to make them fit the ups and downs of the crypto market.
In all his years, he says, he’s never seen a sector so inextricable from consumer sentiment as the growing cryptocurrency market.
“Crypto markets are incredibly emotional,” he says. “People get excited over ICOs, these altcoins that haven’t done anything and aren’t going to do anything for the next few years. But the waves of synthetic hype build and build until the price finally pumps.”
Gutierrez began posting his sentiment analysis online in mid-2017. In a fit of tongue-in-cheek pique, he called it “sentimental analysis” — a nod to the hyper-emotional crests and lows of the cryptocurrency market. The name stuck.
“You have to understand, blockchain is a grassroots movement,” he says. “There are a few professional traders who’ve made the transition from Wall Street. But for the most part, these are self-taught, highly intelligent people working a second shift on crypto trading. So a lot of people, they heard ‘sentimental analysis’ and from then on, that’s what it was called.”
By tracking the spread of “sentimental analysis,” Gutierrez was able to gauge his reach as a crypto analyst. At just over 2,500 members, the CryptoSyndicate community is modest compared to six-figure juggernauts like Crypto Coin Trader (CCT). But sentimental analysis eventually made its way to the most unlikely reaches of the crypto space, suggesting that Gutierrez’s reputation stretched beyond the CryptoSyndicate community.
“I used to listen to guys go on and on about ‘sentimental’ this and that,” he says, laughing. “Guys who a lot of the time were full of hot air. We’ll let them remain nameless. And I’d think, ‘I know where you got that, you little f-cker.’”
Then suddenly it was the end of 2017, and the market was flush with optimism (and short-term investors looking to make a quick BTC). First-time traders flooded the space with money they couldn’t afford to lose, looking for someplace to gather intel and get their feet wet in the market.
Existing crypto communities reaped the rewards. “If you draw a trendline on the price of BTC from 2017 to 2018,” Gutierrez says, “the slope exactly mimics the increase in the size of our community over the same period of time.” Buoyed by a wave of new membership, CryptoSyndicate developed a profitable boutique business selling industry and token valuation reports.
Most communities experienced the same parabolic increase in engagement. For groups that were known for high-volume and low-quality posting, the influx of newcomers seeking fast profit made little difference.
For CryptoSyndicate it was overwhelming. “At the time, we were on Slack, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — you name it, we had a presence there. They were all terrible,” Gutierrez says, “and completely unsuited to having useful discussions. But the bigger the community grew, the more obvious the disconnect became.”
The community needed a different platform: faster, leaner, not prohibitively expensive — preferably free, at least for retail users. Crypto enthusiasts were tired of keeping dozens of tabs open to monitor exchanges, news, discussion, and announcements. They wanted one platform, one app, and one address that collected only the most relevant of market information, a platform secure enough to keep away spam and scammers.
“I thought, ‘Why not? Clearly no one else is going to build it for us, or it would already exist.’ There wasn’t some plan to conquer the market,” Gutierrez says. “We needed it, so we decided to build it.” With more than a little irony: “Maybe it would even be fun.”
He started work on SynQ the next day.
FOR THE FIRST SIX months of its life, SynQ was a passion project. The gains of the bull run at the end of 2017 melted away, plunging new investors deep underwater. As the markets dropped, so did community engagement across all but the largest of discussion groups.
Gutierrez remained sanguine throughout. He repurposed his web development team, dedicating them fully to the project of creating a crypto-centric messaging application. Gutierrez is an adherent of Kanban-style agile development, a methodology structured around rigorous sprints over the course of a week. In late spring, the price of ETH tanked, shadowed closely by a freefalling BTC. The team kept sprinting.
“I don’t think we ever thought of stopping,” says Gutierrez. “A bear market is the perfect time to build infrastructure. You want it ready before the next wave of adoption. That’s productive use of the trough.”
As part of preparation for another market run, he began building out their corporate team. First to sign on was Mancini, who had already come onboard as a community moderator and market analyst. At Deutsche Bank, Mancini had risen to a senior role within Innovation Labs’ unique startup culture. It was their job to identify and integrate new technologies into the greater institution, keeping Deutsche Bank at the forefront of would-be market disruptors.
“Innovation Labs was great,” Mancini says. “It was a chance to preview and even shape, in whatever small way, how institutional players are going to incorporate distributed ledger technology into their business.”
But large banks, especially those of the ‘too large to fail variety,’ are self-perpetuating institutions. Excelling in his role, Mancini found himself frustrated with the pace of adoption and the volume of administrative red tape.
SynQ was too good an opportunity to pass up. Mancini was joined later by Hoverman, who was coming off back-to-back-to-back stints with successful ICOs.
In the meantime, the crypto markets continued to drop, recovering just long enough for another big investor to flood the market with coins.
On one memorable occasion, it was the OKEx exchange at the mercy of a bagholder’s failed $413 million bitcoin futures trade. Unable to pay for the forced liquidation, OKEx dipped into the accounts of other users, to the tune of $9 million in socialized losses. Gutierrez has strong feelings about that, to say the least.
“That was 100% market manipulation,” he says, unimpressed. It’s August 2018, and the price of BTC remains mired in a steadily narrowing ditch. “That’s what this entire bear market has been about. Suppress the price, accumulate, dump. Rinse, repeat.”
“Definitely,” Duy Nguyen agrees. Though officially a senior analyst, Nguyen is a jack-of-many-trades at CryptoSyndicate: two-thirds market researcher, one-third community lifeguard. Of everyone on the corporate team, Nguyen speaks a crypto dialect of memes, stream-of-consciousness messaging, and light trolling most fluently. “You can’t do much about that.”
After a moment, Nguyen laughs.
“Oh, well,” he says, mechanical keyboard clicking in the background. The trading chart onscreen contracts, squeezing bitcoin into a hunchbacked mass that inclines sharply at the year 2017. “On to the next wave.”
AS FAR AS CRYPTOSYNDICATE is concerned, the next wave is SynQ.
“F-ck,” Gutierrez says, keyboard hammering. He’s pulling double duty on the team conference call, one ear in an endless rotation of business meetings, the other monitoring a recitative of the devs’ sprint progress.“F-ck, f-ck, f-ck, f-ck.” Pause. “Oh, okay. Never mind.”
Everyone on the conference line laughs. A few days earlier, the SynQ mobile app came out for Android and iOS, capping a long week and a longer month. The corporate team has expanded to include two new members, both women. Dr Crystal Dilworth, of Caltech and Silicon Valley and clients in every pocket in between, has a network that spans most of the globe, like the gold arterials that spread across the canyons of Los Angeles County at night. As Director of Strategic Partnerships, Dilworth’s goal is to amplify the business’s reach by virtue of her own wide-ranging professional contacts. At the moment, she’s trying to convey, in the most diplomatic terms possible, that a slide in the pitch deck is completely wrong.
“I’m hearing that it takes a lot of effort to understand,” she says. “First you have to understand what communities want. Then you have to realize that’s not what’s happening. Then you have to realize SynQ is the answer.”
“Hm,” Gutierrez says.
“Yeah, it’s completely confusing,” Mancini says, throwing up his hands. “F-ck it — let’s just change it.”
“Looking at this version of the deck, I do not see the changes I thought I requested at our biz dev meeting last week,” Hoverman says.
The first thing you notice about SynQ is that it’s fast. Faster than Slack by a multiplier of ten. On Android and iOS, the app is so lean that an appreciative alpha user calls them “blazing” in the community chat. SynQ is faster than Telegram, faster than Facebook — faster than just about any other messaging platform used by crypto communities.
The second thing you notice is the SynQ logo: a white Q on a burnt-orange background, rotated 45 degrees counterclockwise. The tail of the Q is locked firmly at the three o’clock position, a platform solid enough to stand on.
“We’ll do a full rebrand at some point,” says Hoverman. “Right now, the focus is on developing the app and executing the raise.”
It’s rare for a startup to have a functioning product before anyone even sets foot in a pitch meeting. Already CryptoSyndicate has moved its corporate communications to SynQ at the behest of Mancini and Dilworth. If we don’t use it, the thinking goes, why would anyone else?
“Our situation is admittedly not the norm,” says Hoverman. With his personal connections in the crypto space, he’s been wooing community owners for weeks, trying to flip them to SynQ as early adopters. “Companies usually raise money to pay for skills they don’t have. But we could finish SynQ and take it to market with the team we have if the coffers were deep enough.”
As it stands, SynQ alpha is an accomplishment, with features created in deliberate response to the failings of other communications apps. Each community will have its own subdomain, with an assortment of public, private, and read-only channels according to the desires of the community owners. In the upper-right corner of the app, a small robot cameo called TraQ hides a market bot. TraQ is a command-line, IRC-style tracker that pulls in price data from big crypto exchanges. (“That’s minus at least three tabs,” says Hoverman. “Simplifying your life big-time.”) All the comforts of home in one crypto platform.
On the Friday update calls, Gutierrez walks through the latest development updates to the app. Some weeks are lighter than others: a dozen upgrades, bug swats, and UI tweaks. Other weeks, Gutierrez gives up mid-speech, saying, “I’ll drop them in the channel,” by which he means pasting a list of feature after feature, so many that all conversation in the chat is pushed out of sight.
Meanwhile, the SynQ mobile app speeds toward beta release. According to the latest update from Gutierrez, development is not only on-track but ahead of schedule.
Hoverman raises his arms. “You have no idea how happy you just made me,” he says.
Among the team, beta is the secret password to the clubhouse. Beta is the moment when SynQ is officially open for mass business, able to house more communities than just CryptoSyndicate. Beta means a community dashboard listing every community, with spotlights on trending groups and topics. Beta means scale, means proof-of-concept and amassing user growth that investors will find irresistibly attractive.
The business development trio of Hoverman, Mancini, and Dilworth has especially been looking forward to beta release. “I’ve been waiting to send the pitch deck to my guys,” Hoverman says, “but there’s no point in showing a product to communities that isn’t fully functional and bug-free.”
Mancini and Dilworth are taking a different route, planning to hit the conference circuit in late August. Both gifted speakers, their first joint appearance is scheduled for Founder World 2018 in San Francisco. Mancini is participating as a community moderator in the conference’s famed Hackathon, a panel-style display of blockchain startups and ICOs. SynQ isn’t an ICO and has no intention of issuing tokens, so their inclusion isn’t without “friction,” one of Mancini’s go-to words.
“We’re not on a blockchain or anything,” he says philosophically. “But a lot of crypto communities congregate around ICOs. So it makes sense that we’d be there, even if we have to make the argument for it. They might be designing blockchains, but SynQ can help them do it better.”
The old mining truism applies: During a gold rush, a wise man sells shovels. Or crypto software, as it were.
Visit https://synq.tech/ for more information about SynQ, the first application suite designed specifically for crypto communities. For product updates and announcements, follow SynQ on Facebook and Twitter.
CryptoSyndicate is a technology development and communications firm that builds critical applications for the crypto market. Founded by CEO Enrique Gutierrez, CryptoSyndicate began in 2017 as a collective of business analysts, traders, and developers with a passion for blockchain technology. Based on their experiences as a community, they realized that the crypto space needs and deserves specific platforms for discussion, collaboration, and education.
CryptoSyndicate’s mission is to identify gaps in the crypto-space and build architecture to support all the ways that communities grow, interact, and create value. Visit the website at https://thecryptosyndicate.com/.