It was the year of the blockchain, and midway through 2017 Bitcoin - the most popular of the many cryptocurrencies - skyrocketed in value. Those who bought the cryptocurrency in 2011 became very wealthy overnight.
But Bitcoin is just one of many technologies that is successfully utilising blockchain technology to disrupt nearly every industry that exists.
Blockchain is a complicated new technology that more and more web systems are now based on. Effectively, blockchain is a digital ledger in which transactions made in Bitcoin, or other blockchain 'tokens', are recorded chronologically and publically.
The blockchain is typically managed by peer-to-peer nodes, which means the system is entirely decentralised. The digital ledger cannot be found on one single server, it is managed, operated, and exists, thanks to thousands of connected computer systems. This makes Bitcoin and other blockchain technologies incredibly hard to dismantle, and allows the technologies to grow rapidly and without geographical constraint.
Whilst Bitcoin might have taken a slight tumble at the start of 2018, the same cannot be said for these blockchain-based companies who are well and truly on their way up.
Whilst not an exhaustive list, these are some of Australia's top blockchain companies.
The founder of CanYa, John-Paul Thorbjornsen, is a firm believer in how blockchain technology will change the internet as we know it.
"Blockchain is the birth of new technology which will forever disrupt the landscape," says Thorbjornsen.
"We're going to see a new Facebook, a new Google, and new Wallmart, even a new Woolworths, all powered by blockchain."
Thorbjornsen is right at the forefront of the technology, having recently made the pivot to blockchain for his services platform CanYa.
CanYa is a online platform for service providers. Users can advertise their services to build websites or design posters and if you need the job done it's as simple as hopping onto the app to find someone to complete the task.
By placing the platform onto a blockchain powered base, Thorbjornsen has been able to rapidly and extensively scale the app from a local services facilitator to a global one. With no local currencies in place to worry about, you can hire someone via the CanYa app in New York City to build your Sydney based website - simply pay them in crypto instead of losing money when currencies have to be changed from AUD to USD.
What's interesting about the group's pivot to blockchain is CanYa's recent Initial Coin Offering (ICO), where the company created a cryptocurrency called 'Canya Coin'.
"Canya Coin is a multi-platform token," says Thorbjornsen.
"One use is as a consumptive use token that allows providers to access features in the app. Second, it's a rewards token to economically incentivise network effects allowing growth to the platform, and third it can be used as exchange - you can essentially be paid in Canya Coin."
One of the most promising aspects of blockchain technology is the traceability of each 'transaction' that takes place on the tech.
It is one of the most reliable and permanent records of identity and transparency we've yet seen in technology.
This reliability and transparency is exactly the reason why Gennady Volchek, founder of Shping, made the pivot to blockchain.
"In 2012 we started building tracking solutions - a solution to help brands track their products through the supply chain and control counterfeiting and imports. While we were building the platform we realised that besides the consumer safety and the brand protection the platform also enables the consumer to get other product information," says Volchek.
"So we've built this global product database that not only carries information and marketing information but also can utilise our traceability data and provide users with the origin of where the ingredients come from."
Like Canya, Shping developed their own cryptocurrency, or 'token', to act as the foundation of the platform.
"When we started building this consumer centric product database we had to find a way of how to incentivise consumers to use the platform," says Volchek.
"We realised a decentralised digital cryptocurrency would work well as a reward, as it allows brands to reward consumers directly without an intermediate."
The Shping token's ICO went live in January 2018 where the coins were made available to the public. Once it's over, the tokens will only be available through crypto exchanges.
3. Horizon State
Not every blockchain business is in the e-commerce and services game. Whilst the tech definitely lends itself to transactions and trade, there are some entrepreneurs out there looking to use blockchain to upend some of the oldest institutions in the world.
Whilst Jamie Skella, founder of Horizon State, might say his intention isn't to 'disrupt democracy', it's certainly a good tag line.
Horizon State, is a blockchain based platform that he hopes will democratise democracy for good.
Using blockchain to verify votes, instead of a human intermediary, Horizon State says it can revolutionise the way we engage with organisations, governments, and NGOs.
The platform is already being used by Melbourne based MiVote - a not-for-profit that hopes to transform the representative democracy system of Australia into a direct-democracy.
"What we're working on will have a profoundly positive impact on the world by creating an un-hackable ballot box, which will mean that we are taking steps towards eradicating corruption in our electoral processes and our democracies," says Skella.
DigitalX is an ASX-listed player in the blockchain game, and the group really means business.
The company is an ICO advisory services provider, based out of Perth and New York City. The company allows partners to use DigitalX's blockchain technology expertise to deliver products to global markets.
So far, DigitalX is one of the main players to see massive success in the relatively young industry. The company has raised $30 million from traditional investors to allow it to provide advice to Aussie blockchain entrepreneurs.
Being ASX-listed, DigitalX is the perfect place to start if you want to get on the blockchain train but are apprehensive about ICOs and the wildly bullish crypto market.
Melbourne based blockchain startup incubator Blockchain Centre recently inked a deal with DigitalX to sign the company on as a corporate partner.
Martin Davidson, Global Director and CEO of the Blockchain Centre, says the alliance will mean startups at the Blockchain Centre will be able to access a wealth of powerful knowledge.
"As true advocates of the power of blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies, DigitalX will enable our growing ecosystem to access a wealth of knowledge, guidance, and expertise not seen anywhere else in Australia and in the world."
The Coinstop team from left to right: Luke Ritchie, David Melbourne, Chris Pavlesic, Timothy Dickinson and Alex Forsyth
Whilst cryptocurrency might be a digital phenomenon and a futuristic, intangible thing, that doesn't mean you should totally give up on the physical.
The nature of the digital currency means it can be stored on a physical drive. But if you've got hordes of crypto a regular USB won't cut it.
Coinstop is one of the more successful startups in the periphery of the blockchain game. Their business model is selling physical 'wallets' where crypto-investors can store their digital cash.
These wallets don't come cheap though, starting at $150 a pop, but Coinstop would say it's worth it for the peace of mind.
Coinstop was, in fact, one of the first startups to go through the Blockchain Centre gauntlet and have come out looking pretty shiny. The company recently signed on with Blockchain Centre as an industry partner, which Timothy Dickinson, COO of Coinstop, says is the best way to continue generating great blockchain startups.
"Coinstop was one of the first startups to call the Blockchain Centre in Melbourne home. We have first-hand experience of what a start-up might experience in the early days and how to maintain momentum once the engine starts rolling," says Dickinson.
"Through this partnership, we're here to provide inspiration, learnings, and guidance."
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