In our new blog series, we introduce you to the members of the Technical Standards Committee (TSC) – those who construct the processes and standards that allow the rest of us to build on a powerful platform and within a highly professional ecosystem.
Brown has been in the banking and payments industry for over 20 years. In 2000 he was one of the founding team and later CEO of eBucks.com (the world’s first bank-backed digital currency). After serving at FirstRand for 11 years in various senior roles, he was appointed as Head of Alliance Banking and CIO at Mercantile Bank Limited for four years. He introduced banking capabilities to Blue Label Telecoms and then MMI Holdings, serving as an executive with these listed companies.
He has helped create several ‘challenger’ FinTech ventures in the past five years, including BETTR Bank, InterGreatMe and Centbee. In 2016 he co-founded Centbee, one of the leading Bitcoin SV businesses creating an ecosystem using Bitcoin SV to revolutionise payments. Brown was educated at Wits University (Johannesburg) and the University of Oxford.
Role within the TSC
Brown joined the TSC during the inception workshop in London in January 2019. Brown’s strength is strategic planning. He joined to help define the long-term direction and focus for developing the TSC, building the BSV community and increasing its reach.
Brown’s focus is on creating a legally sustainable system to the satisfaction of global regulators. He is bringing this aspect to the TSC being the Sponsor of the Travel Rule standard. The FATF Travel Rule requires virtual asset service providers (VASPs) collect information on the sender and recipient of any transaction. While the industry is divided about the rule, Brown noted that applying the rule in digital currency markets finally proves regulators accept digital currencies as money.
Hacker, hustler or operator?
In a previous conversation, Brown began by saying that every business requires a hacker (someone who can code), a hustler (someone with sales and marketing skills) and an operator (a project implementer). How does he categorise himself?
‘I’d categorise myself as an operator,’ Brown responds without hesitation. Having been a coder back in the ‘80s, a CIO of a bank and the CEO of several start-ups, he has a good grasp of how ‘the hustler’ thinks and their need to constantly be marketing the product.
And yet, having built highly-regulated payment systems, Brown is drawn to attending to fine details and mastering all the legal interpretations. ‘I am strongly achievement-driven, so I really enjoy seeing the idea come to life and customers actually using the product.’
The backstory of the TSC
As one of the founding members of the TSC, Brown is well-positioned to tell us how the committee came about.
‘At the beginning of 2019, Lorien Gamaroff (fellow Co-founder at Centbee) and I were involved in a series of BSV wallet workshops. Lorien was involved in the technical side of the workshops that focussed on the protocol.’
‘The workshops sparked the recognition that we had gotten together a lot of good insight and really good people from the BSV network. They were all coming from different perspectives – some are miners, others represent the Bitcoin Association, nChain, wallets and other businesses that are building token protocols.’
The group saw an opportunity to develop and expand the insights from the wallet workshop by continuing the collaboration in a more regular, formalised fashion.
An atmosphere of co-opetition
What happens when you throw individuals from competing businesses and different focuses within the ecosystem together in one room?
‘We saw a lot of value being generated because of the different perspectives,’ Brown says.
‘We also saw that people were able to put aside their competitiveness for the joint goals of these workshops. We may compete in our businesses, but we are not trying to take anything from anybody else in those workshops. It’s a good collaborative space built around the joint desire to see Bitcoin SV be adopted and scale massively.’
The group’s shared vision of what Bitcoin is, what it can be, and what it can do for the world became the glue that fixed the diverse group into a united front.
Looking back over the TSC’s first two years
The TSC had only just been founded when global lockdowns came into effect, hampering their plans to meet up in person regularly.
‘It’s been a difficult journey,’ Brown admits. ‘It was difficult to keep our enthusiasm up while the global lockdown was keeping us from getting people from around the world together as we had before during CoinGeek conferences and DevCons.’
‘When people are physically together, the interaction is more intense and there are free-floating conversations that can be very useful.’
Although it’s been hard to keep engagement, enthusiasm and commitment going, Brown believes they’ve done well at maintaining a wide diversity of views and setting up the TSC’s processes and structure.
‘It might be boring, but we need to make sure that we’ve got processes and protocols in the BSV ecosystem. We keep asking – if you do this, what happens? What happens next? How do you communicate that proposal to the ecosystem? What should the decision-making process look like?’
Creating standards is a slow process that doesn’t happen at the snap of your fingers, and yet the TSC has already seen its first successes.
‘It necessarily takes a while, because it shows that people are contributing. People are adding value. People are thinking people are challenging, people are questioning. The rigorous process is making sure that all the necessary steps of consultation, review and good governance are being followed.’
Motivation and desired outcomes
Attending regular meetings, in person or virtually, and attending to correspondence and admin undoubtedly makes for a demanding vocation. What motivates these unpaid volunteers to commit to their position at the TSC?
‘Being part of an ecosystem of solutions, technology, businesses, and wise people that is helping to solve the big important problems using Bitcoin SV has kept me motivated. The TSC is one of the mechanisms to do this, and that makes its role an important one,’ Brown says.
‘Time is valuable, but the time spent on this goal is an investment that will pay off in the long run. I’m looking forward to seeing the standards being used by businesses and people I didn’t even know existed – even people from outside the industry. They come up with a great idea and they say, hey, I can use the standard, I can use this protocol, I can use this existing prior art, this advice, this commentary, this common knowledge that exists then in the BSV community. And I can create something valuable and I can solve big problems for people and businesses.’
Brown is an old hand at investing his time in educating regulators and customers, with an awareness that his returns won’t be immediate but will be significant.
‘It’s the same with the education of regulators, customers and when you’re talking at trade shows or conferences. The time you invest will deliver some level of return in the future. You don’t know when, from whom or whether. But you’re pretty sure that if you keep putting your investment into this, the network will return that.
Collateral benefits of the TSC
Another part of the TSC that is often unrecognised is the education process that takes place when the committee members disseminate a challenge.
‘Before you can create a standard, everybody shares their views on the challenge. There are always a variety of different perspectives. Seeing it from other people’s point of view increases your own understanding, so in the end the entire working group becomes much better educated around what the challenge is, its circumstances and the potential solutions,’ Brown says.
‘We often measure success by whether a standard is published or adopted. But the process itself is valuable for educating the working group participants and the Bitcoin ecosystem as well.’
‘Simply having a standards roadmap itself is valuable to the ecosystem. It encourages businesses to think longer term than monthly performance, like customer acquisition and revenue generation. It helps us to lift up our heads, think about the next two or three years to consider the sequence of challenges we have to address and the opportunities that will be created, and how each of us can contribute.’
What skills do you need to join the TSC?
Over time, committee members will retire, and new members will have to be recruited. Brown explains what skills the TSC is looking for.
‘The current committee members boast a depth of technical skills and knowledge. At specific points, we’ve approached regulatory compliance people for their contribution. These technical and regulatory skills are valuable. But it would also be advantageous to have people with a marketing and communications background come on board. Right now, we’re creating processes and standards, but we will also have to start thinking about the end-user of our standards.
‘In the beginning you build things, but you have to start thinking about what you are going to do with everything that you’ve built and who else can use it.’
It is safe to say that, within the hacker, hustler and operator analogy, the TSC could benefit from the contribution of blockchain hustlers.
Hustling for the TSC
Looking back over his first (nearly) two years as a committee member, how does he evaluate the experience?
‘It’s been a real honour to work with these people who serve the ecosystem voluntarily. Our time is an investment to make sure that everything that’s built in the ecosystem works properly, and it’s been an absolute privilege and honour to do it with my fellow committee members and working group participants. They’re smart, balanced, grounded, enthusiastic, and entrepreneurial. I look forward to working with them in future.’
If you’re interested in participating in the TSC, be sure to register as a contributor so we can let you know about the opportunities that become available.