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Building an ICO Dream Team

- Building an ICO Dream Team

Nearly half of initial coin offerings (ICOs) fail. In February, analyzed ICO statistics from TokenData and found that 46 percent of ICOs in 2017 tanked, leaving a trail of broken websites and neglected Twitter accounts. Some of these were outright scams, but others had the best of intentions. The key for potential investors is sorting the wheat from the chaff.

One telltale sign of a specious ICO is the absence of information about its team. Conversely, a solid team with a track record suggests that an ICO means business. Armin Ebrahimi, founder and CEO of ShoCard, has been busy mining his contacts to craft a solid squad in preparation for ShoCard’s May crowdsale.

Ebrahimi might be one of the best people to start a company that uses blockchain technology to protect and share digital identities. His 30 years in Silicon Valley include a spot as senior vice president of platform engineering at Yahoo!, where he looked after its registration and anti-platform services.

His time there from 1998 to 2008 placed him at the heart of a growing company as it scaled from 10 to 450 people. It also gave him a front row seat to watch the internet grow from infancy to the force it is today.

Six years after he left the company, it began losing hundreds of millions of customers’ personal information — including his — in what would become one of the most significant data breaches of all time.

“You don't think they're going to be so careless with it,” said Ebrahimi, lamenting the firm’s trajectory after he left. “Yahoo wasn't in the same spot, and it took its eyes off the ball.”

However, these breaches gave him valuable insight: The world needs a better way to manage identity. Now with ShoCard, Ebrahimi plans to use blockchain technology to do it. As he saw during the dawn of the web, he plans to capitalize on this new emerging technology that he believes will change our working paradigms in the future.

This time, he hopes to use a robust team of his own choosing to engineer that change, spanning not only his leadership team but also his broader community of advisors and investors. As it goes through its initial phases, he said that a startup like his needs a mixture of skills.

The launch team must have the go-to-market experience to help get the technology into the public eye, but also an ability to look to the future rather than the past when developing a new way to manage identity.

“For disruptive technologies like blockchain, you must have the ability to question previous ways of doing things,” he said. “Sometimes blockchain firms have great teams, but they still have elements of central services inside them. You must be flexible and be prepared to challenge your preconceptions.”

To that end, he has bought Gaurav Khot on board as chief technology officer. Khot brings over a quarter-century of experience building scalable systems. Ebrahimi also enlisted the advisory services of experts including Naveen Agrawal, who is currently the lead for federated identity at Google.

Ebrahimi also has worked hard to secure experts with proven track records in bringing new technologies to market. These include Mike McBride, former senior vice president of worldwide field operations at the cybersecurity firm Lookout, and Bob Tinker, who served as founding CEO of MobileIron from 2008 to 2016.

“Bob built out a network of about 15 thousand enterprise clients and 15 million users on that, and took the company public,” said Ebrahimi. “He is technically savvy, but his background is all go-to-market.”

The other key factor in building a robust startup team is connections. ShoCard’s investors include the likes of Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang and Morado Venture Partners’ Ash Patel, who was the chief product officer at Yahoo!.

“We have used our VCs [venture capitals] to broaden our reach,” Ebrahimi explained, adding that part of the networking process involves giving value rather than merely looking for it. Rather than reaching out to people only when needing something, it is essential for entrepreneurs to always look at what they can give back to those in their contact book.

With his dream team in place, Ebrahimi is already looking to the future. “The next stage, after the ICO, will involve both adding to existing resources and also bringing in talent that is not in place today.” He said that one of those areas is marketing talent.

That’s the other thing about fast-moving startups. The required skills — and the team that provides them — are always evolving.