Should I hire Bitcoiners to work on my Blockchain project?

Many if not most Fortune 500 enterprises have blockchain projects ongoing right now. They vary in size and funding, with financial institutions leading the way.

Very often, enthusiasts in-house at these enterprises are Bitcoiners -- true believers in Bitcoin and its potential to change the world. Working with them brings a number of excellent benefits; not least that the people are often fascinating and brilliant. It also comes with some significant risks and difficulties, enough that I know of at least one large company which has a strict "No Bitcoin enthusiast" hiring policy.

I have more experience than most working with Bitcoiners -- when I launched the Bitcoin Foundation in 2012, I intended to bring together investors, business leaders and Bitcoiners in a structure that would benefit all parties.

The Bitcoin Foundation was ultimately a profound failure with multiple board members now in jail or prison, and both sides (industry and individual) abandoning it. It was the most miserable (unpaid) job I've ever had, first as Executive Director and then as Chairman of the Board, and I've rarely been so happy as when I chose not to re-run for a board seat.

I spent the two and a half years at the Foundation working and thinking hard about how to bring together these two very different groups. With some rare exceptions, most executives I meet are not 'true believers' in Bitcoin.

True Believers

In an equity market, a true believer cheerfully works hard to push a stock price down aggressively so that they can buy more, waiting for the inevitable price rise. This sort of thinking is endemic to Bitcoiners.

In fact, I have come to think of Bitcoin as essentially a religion for its true believers. Bitcoiners do things we usually think of as religious -- they often wear Bitcoin-related logos, they have been known to go door to door in their neighborhoods or city areas signing up businesses and individuals, they very often give away money to bring people 'into the fold'. They buy billboards advertising Bitcoin to commuters. They put in long hours working on non-remunerative projects because it helps Bitcoin in some way.

Like some religious people, Bitcoiners can be prone to slide toward the fanatical -- they may feel pushing forward Bitcoin has a stronger moral imperative than most other obligations. It sounds hard to believe, but if you manage technology at a mid or large enterprise, I promise you that some people like this work alongside or under you. And, they are undoubtedly embedded in your blockchain projects.

Three Categories of Bitcoiner

I roughly categorize Bitcoiners into three categories: crypto-anarchists, libertarians, and high nerds. Stereotypes can be harmful, but I have found most 'true believers' fit into one of these categories, and they each have a unique impact on projects they work on.

Read more at the above links, but in brief, if you have a very solid technical recruiting group in HR, I would recommend looking for and aggressively recruiting a high nerd. Otherwise, I would generally steer clear of a direct hiring relationship. Libertarians can be employed on contract basis with success. It can be hard to distinguish between a motivated anarchist and a high nerd, enough so that it may not be worth the risk.

Identifying and Mitigating Risks

I think it's a fair question to ask a blockchain team who, if any, holds Bitcoins, especially during the specification phase of a project. The answers may be surprising. I work with government agencies fairly frequently and was stunned to find a senior Federal employee at a three letter agency tell me he owned some Bitcoins. His day job varies, but is in part focused on hunting down criminals that use Bitcoin. If the Federal enforcement agents own Bitcoin, your team will too, and it's worth knowing that there may be some conflicts of interest.

As far as motivating team members in a blockchain project, they will likely be highly motivated as long as Bitcoin is an obvious component in their project. Explaining to them that any blockchain technology getting a foothold in the organization is a step forward could be one management strategy to keep them engaged if Bitcoin doesn't fit your corporate plans.