A Dive Into Entrepreneurship With Alistair Schwab.
I love the sweet thrill of trading Bitcoin. The fact that it is not regulated and fluctuates greatly in price just got me excited and kept me entertained. It’s also, if you have a little more money invested, really stressful. I didn’t have much free money to throw away when I first started trading, so when I put money into Bitcoin, although little, I stressed balls. I checked the price every time I looked at my phone and would spend lots of time selling and then buying again, trying to make money on the small ups and downs of the market.
This, to say the least, was not good for my mental health, so I decided to look at some trading bots that would buy and sell Bitcoin for me, without me needing to stress out all the time. Flash-forward to today, I met someone on the board for the Cal Poly Entrepreneurs club who had some experience interning at a company attempting to predict the price trend of Bitcoin. Although at this point I didn’t have any Bitcoin because of bad decisions I had made in the past, I was still a big enthusiast. Once we started talking I couldn’t help but see why he was the perfect example for the self-made man.
I Was Super Excited to Learn About It
The first step I wanted to take was purchasing Bitcoin, because who needs to research what you're investing in, right? The only issue was the fact that I was 14 and didn’t have access to any money. So, I spent many hours searching for solutions on how I could acquire it without a debit card or even for free. It was very entertaining; I felt like I was soaking up the knowledge of the Bitcoin Gods. Then, something called a Bitcoin Faucet came up. These Faucets give you Bitcoin for “free”, every hour or so. But we know there’s no such things as a free lunch. The Faucet websites were riddled with ads. Everywhere you clicked would take you to another website — most of them were NSFW— which was a mixture of scary and “exciting” as a freshman. I guess the advertisements are their only source of income, and the more clicks they get, the more money they make. But after usually the 8th attempt, you would be relieved to find that a fraction of a cent in Bitcoin is now yours.
Schwab Is Truly an Entrepreneur
Not every twelve-year-old boy wants to become an entrepreneur when they grow up, but Alistair Schwab wasn’t every 12-year-old boy. Coming out of the small ski village of Winter, Colorado, Alistair told me “I had this dream of owning my own business and I called it Alistair Schwab research — I'm not sure exactly what we did,” he laughed, “but I loved the idea of being the boss of something”. I suppose being a firefighter was too cliché. According to Alistair, most of the roads in Winter were dirt and there weren’t too many car washes around. So at the age of fifteen, Alistair started his first company as a car detailer. He worked a few other jobs around town and came to the realization that it was those experiences that “built my work ethic and my attitude towards work and productivity”. He always knew he wanted to get involved in business, and after deciding to attend Cal Poly as a business finance major, he quickly became involved with the Entrepreneur program which would lead him to his next adventure. A company called Unanimous AI.
The Honeybee Example
Alistair explained to be that much like how individual bees work together to accomplish a common goal, Unanimous’s product, the “Swarm”, allowed groups of individuals to vote on certain things in a unique way in order to find the most fitting solution. Alistair himself had trouble explaining this, and it was only by thorough research did I finally understand what he meant. In essence, if someone wanted to place a bet on a horse race, they could get a group of horse racing enthusiasts together and ask them questions relative to the current derby. Taking the answers of the “Swarm”, Unanimous AI would then determine which of the horses would be most probable to win. They started off doing this exact thing, and, according to Alistair, successfully predicted the top four horses in the Kentucky Derby in order. By the time Alistair joined, the company had started to look into predicting the price movements of Bitcoin and other online currencies “considering all these things at the time like Cryptocurrency evolving and really being in the news”; so his job as intern was to research different types of products or currencies that could be of interest to consumers. Luckily for him, right before this Alistair had been doing some technical analysis on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Using these skills, he found that Unanimous was able to predict stock prices twenty percent more accurately than the state of the art technology which at the time came out of Stanford.
Alistair’s other job as an intern was to recruit people to be a part of the “Swarm”, as to better predict the price fluctuations of cryptocurrencies. This is where he encountered his first problems with this technology. Structuring the questions was difficult because he had to ask a wide range in order to arrive at an adequate answer with no biases. Even more so, many of the people in the forums he went to recruit from were only interested in the monetary aspect of this technology, which makes sense, but was problematic for Alistair and Unanimous because they hadn't developed a market strategy yet; which is a huge issue. They had successfully proved they could predict outcomes of certain events and other things utilizing their “Swarm” technology but did not know who to sell it to, or who would buy it. Looking back on it, this is what frustrated Alistair the most - “first things they teach you in entrepreneurship is that you wanna identify a problem, understand your customer, and then see if they’ll buy it” - Instead, Unanimous had come up with an idea and had to search for a problem is solved, and for a customer who would buy it. In all honesty, I see great potential in using this software on a large scale, where thousands of people could give their input on future trends of certain stocks, and then have the results publicly displayed to those who participated. However, once Unanimous was starting to fail, they decided to pivot and sell the “Swarm” technology to businesses, instead of using the swarm technology to sell information to traders. By the time Alistair went home for the summer, Unanimous AI had failed.
But there weren’t only negatives that came out of this experience. Alistair believes the company helped push new technology into an emerging space, even if it failed in the end. He even made a bold statement saying, “people who innovate first hit the wall and fail. It’s the people after them who already have the technology who ride their momentum that become successful”. While this has been proven with things such as Myspace and Hotmail, it’s not the most satisfying thing to hear while pioneering new technologies. And who knows, the Unanimous technology could have been successful — it was the lack of direction and organization in the company that led to its failure. “it's okay if it changes over time, but there needs to be focus”. Another positive Alistair found were new friends and colleagues that he is now working with at a new company he is working for, BoltAbout Electric Bikes.
Alistair was proud to tell me how they went from inside a small startup incubator to owning a ten thousand square foot warehouse. He was able to take the skills he learned from Unanimous and apply it to BoltAbout, finding a viable issue to solve: student transportation. College sucks for cars. In fact, first years aren’t allowed to have cars, and once you do, parking is hard to find. BoltAbout solves this issue by retailing bikes, as well as sell their own. The upside to using their bikes is that you are allowed to rent them, or purchase in monthly payments. Alistair told me “we started out as an electric bike business, then we started getting into building electric bikes for police officers, my cofounder Matt was doing eCommerce, and now we started our co-working location”. And while this sounds nice, Alistair also warned me that they were biting off more than they could chew with all these different ventures and that he was working to re-focus the company as to not fall to the same fate as Unanimous.
A New Inspiration
Alistair has truly inspired me to work hard through my failures. Even after Unanimous AI failed, he took what he learned and applied it to the next task he faced. Recently, I have been working on my own project I want to eventually turn into a business. I now know that even if I do not succeed in my first attempt, there will always be positives to take away from every failure. Life can be unfair, but as long as you work hard and stay dedicated, the rewards will pay off in the end.
Cruttenden, Christopher Love. “A Dive Intro Entrepreneurship With Alistair Schwab.” 23 Oct. 2019.