Editor’s note: Blockchainova company and assets are now for sale. Below is our interview with the CEO and Founder, Rob Toth.
Hello Rob. Before we talk about your company, tell us about you and your background.
Okay well, I’m a dual-citizen Canadian and Hungarian and just moved from Budapest, Hungary to Santa Cruz here in the Canary Islands.
I’ve been active online in a business capacity since 2003, though I’d call those first 3-4 years as learning on the job. I spent my first 8 years in affiliate marketing, digital courses, direct response marketing, and marketing consulting. I later produced an annual marketing conference, Canada Marketing Summit (sold in 2013).
In 2014, I went full-focus with business sales, which I had previously done in one-off client engagements. In 2015, I incorporated and we launched OODIENCE, a play on “audience” as a specialized business-for-sale demand generation, M&A and exit advisory firm with a special focus on media channel businesses such as blogs, news sites, local media, city-guide, podcasts, web-TV media, and similar publishers. We also work with specialized or “niche” communities and P2P, 2-sided marketplaces.
I have a team of 5, 6 with me included, in OODIENCE and we currently carry a 100% close-rate on businesses represented which have included a 17-year learn English community, a 30+ year teen magazine (print and digital), an authority raw-foods channel, 4 or 5 city-specific hyperlocal blogs especially across Texas, several “mom-blogs”, an authority investment news blog, a dating community, gluten-free site, and others.
So then what is Blockchainova? What does it do and how did that come into the picture?
Blockchainova is a data-media company that we were building as an organized, tagged, sortable database of the blockchain business community. Meaning, every company founder, blockchain company executive, blockchain-related service provider, blockchain developers, investors who are active in or focus on blockchain and similar.
That’s also why the name was picked. First, it’s keyword relevant, which is valuable in any social or organic searches. But the “nova” suffix suggests “universe”.
While we had several revenue-models mapped out, the core-product was the database access, via an annual or semi-annual billing plan, which I expected to sell for 6000 – 9000 Euros annual-billing.
The data product and business model is comparable to what Pitchbook built and was acquired by one of their first investors roughly 7 years later for $180 million. Though an even closer example and the one I modeled is Greg Galant’s MuckRack, which is a really beautiful product.
In my work on our strategic business sales with OODIENCE, we’ve held accounts with and used each of these services.
With Pitchbook, you gain access to the high-level, relevant contacts in the global investment and mergers and acquisitions markets for a monthly or annual fee that can range from $1500/month to $100,000+ per year depending on the client usage goal.
In addition, Pitchbook publishes great, data-centric content – funding news, analysis, reports and similar.
MuckRack does something similar, though in a simpler business model, giving access to a continually updated and maintained a database of press, journalists and media contacts for annual subscriptions that start at $5000+.
With OODIENCE, I’d say one of our advantages is our data. We buy into competitive intelligence tools, data enrichment credits, market research databases and we have a refined process for identifying contacts at target companies and finding contact details.
So what I was walking in with was this media business experience, our data resources and skills, and familiarity with these similar data-media companies.
Blockchainova’s inception can partially be traced back to a woman, sitting on a panel at the London Blockchain Summit in 2018, that I attended out of curiosity, who made an ignorant comment.
What was the comment she made?
This was just after 2017 crypto-riches and ICO madness.
I watched a growing list of friends who had bought into bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies growing from “tens of thousands” invested to multi 6-figure or even millions in portfolio value. And I just cheered and applauded for them from the sidelines.
But it never held my interest. In fact, to this day, I’ve never bought a single bitcoin or any other coin.
My real distaste in it all were the ICOs. Or at least, 2017’s version of ICOs as today there is a lot more regulation and so besides just the inaccurate and dumb acronym for Initial Coin Offering, it can be a perfectly viable crowd-equity model.
I won’t go into what an ICO is or intends to be other than to just call it a “crowd-funding” model. But that’s not what they really were. In 2017, nearly all of the ICOs being marketed were empty promises, dumb and broken business concepts and just overall packaged bullshit.
I had an interest in the underlying technology however, blockchain. I felt, from what I understood that it can be a real tool and evergreen technology in certain business applications.
I sought counsel from a friend and of the smartest technologists and engineers, Frank West, a guy who has been coding since age 6 (roughly 36 years now) and has witnessed or played a development role in much of the internet that we know and use today. He was keen about the genuine decentralization, or “no middlemen” aspects of blockchain.
To learn more, I flew up to the London Blockchain Summit in June 2018 to really meet the frontline of the industry.
There were a lot of startups, idea men, enthusiasts, and futurists. But there were also the types, such as the one woman, who I’m only singling out as it really was after that presentation that I felt Blockchainova needed to be built.
She was on a panel and had told her excitement about how ICOs have changed everything. Startups need not go through the rigorous vetting processes of Venture Capital and other bureaucracies because she was able to run an ICO (crowd-funding) for her book publishing and raised $8 million or something obscene.
Here was my problem with this: her statements through the entire talk showed the business intellect of dried fruit. Not a problem until you give that type of person a microphone and a panel seat. She was lashing out with playground level arguments about structured, vetted, regulated funding and enterprise processes and instead was loving the fact that folks, from all around the world, who had bought into the ICO hype, had collectively sent her $8 million dollars (roughly) for her book publishing goals and how this a fairer system.
Fair to whom? $8 milion hard-earned dollars had left the pockets of good people from across the globe with absolutely NOTHING in return. No perk, no equity in the company. No benefit. Just the same schill and la-la-land storybook crap that the 2017 ICOs were throwing around.
And I saw an immediate need.
The blockchain space, whether specifically crypto and these crowd-funding schemes or blockchain tech development, had a lot of players. Many of them were fly-by-night and best avoided.
But some had beautiful initiatives. Great projects.
There needed to be a way to discover the professional projects, the serious teams and the contacts and individuals tied to this. In a database that can be sorted by geo-region (if someone is looking for collaboration, cross-promotion, investment, recruitment or similar from a specific region), by roles/titles, by keyword tags. Again, more or less a MuckRack.com play but for the blockchain world.
It, Blockchainova, would provide an annual and semi-annual license-fee based access to this internally built and later crowd-sourced database, borrowing a bit from how Crunchbase grows their data too, but with better internal validation and editorial process. And we’d couple this data-product with data-media – meaning reports, stats, charts, analysis-based content.
Did you pursue investor funding or self-fund?
I first shopped the idea around for 2-3 months, as I continually tweaked the product and business model idea. I spoke to relevant contacts within my own network.
This included guys who I knew were already active in blockchain, investors who were heavily involved with crypto + blockchain, business advisors who had enterprise-level clients that were looking into blockchain and similar.
I was very confident in the product’s value. Meaning, I felt the market would respond favorably. And given my nearly two decades of marketing experience and my media-business specialization, I felt we could succeed in getting it to the market. So I didn’t fear the marketing.
The feedback from my network of contacts was tremendously positive. Again though, this is summer 2018. The crypto high of Dec 2017 was several months past already but the hard-cores felt the price would climb soon enough. So there was still a lot of positivity.
In just a few key conversations, I had verbal commitments for the funding (I was only pursuing 150,000 Euros), I had back-door access to some of the top-media in the industry. I had a verbal contract for a partnership with a publicly-traded development firm. I had a sales-team already being built by an enthusiastic sales leader who has $50 million+ in enterprise sales to his name. I mean, I had every advantage sitting there on a silver platter.
It felt almost as if I wanted to prepare a great meal that would feed many, and the freshest produce and groceries somehow walked their way to my kitchen, prepped, chopped and cooked themselves. It was practically done for me — I just had to plate it.
Or so went the ill-assumed plan.
I’m still disappointed in the fact that I got too caught up in this hype. I’d never seen such an A-team, such a set of Day-1 advantages and “ease” and knew, with stubborn confidence, that we would build this as a great company and I would then, with my knowledge from OODIENCE, sell it for $6m – $10m in 18 – 36 months.
Again, so went the ill-assumed plan.
Absolutely nothing played out as planned.
I still had OODIENCE going, though was soon forced to fully-stop all work there due to time, energy and capital bandwidth.
I expected my involvement to be full-time for a couple of months, part-time for a few thereafter and then by appointing the right management team, along with the appropriate equity to motivate them of course, I’d be able to run the strategy. I even thought, from day 1, that we’d need a different CEO to come in when the time was right.
Well, we never got that far.
I had verbal commitments from 4 investors who, combined, would have been over the fundraising goal. I then had a few smaller contributions. All in all, I was flush with capital — on paper.
I didn’t factor any time cost or resources towards fundraising activity as I was walking in with the understanding that this was check and mate.
Well – one of those investors after just a couple of “let’s sign and seal the deal” messages went silent. Cold. This is a long-time colleague who enthusiastically promised funds and wanted to be part of the project, just did a 180 and went missing in action.
Sure that happens all the time in deals I represent, but somehow I felt their repeated enthusiasm, their voluntary interest in being involved, their verbal commitment and our long-standing relationship meant it was a “for sure” deal.
Another investor said they’d have to delay a month, which turned into three months. No fault to them but the delay wasn’t something I expected.
Another maintained nearly weekly updates citing X reason and Y delay but promising “funds soon”. This continued in some form for nearly 4 months.
I’ll note that I did have a colleague, in all of this, based on trust and our relationship alone, who wired in $10,000 before we even had a corp. I mean I didn’t even have Shareholder Agreements but he sent funds and trusted we’d just formalize it. And, of course, we, did.
But while that was a nice gesture – that $10,000 wasn’t enough. We did have another $30,000 come through for a total of $40,000 in investor funds. And that’s it.
You can’t build a company on that. Correction – you could. People do it all the time. I did it with each of mine in the past. But it’s not the type of Broadway show I bought a ticket to.
I already had a team with some salary commitments. I had costs in all areas: legal, data costs, tech, content.
So yes I ended up paying further bills myself.
I then started outreach to new investors. After all, we were sitting on a LOT of contact data.
I picked 3 geo-regions of interest: Amsterdam, Malta, and Toronto. I had a business in each of these either way and I felt any trips into town could then serve a dual purpose.
I ran filters in our own Blockchainova dataset and sorted based on geo-regions. In each area, I found 300 – 1500 relevant contacts (depending on the region).
I set up email and LinkedIn outreach to some of these and had conversations right away. I then flew to Amsterdam first, where Blockchainova is incorporated, and had a couple of investor meetings in person. I think that was mid-February 2019. I then flew to Malta in late March 2019.
In these talks, I kept hitting this wall of fear. While everyone saw the value of the business, you have to understand that much of the equity-investment market in blockchain were also avid crypto “investors”. And they had just lost money, or, at the very least, had their visions of instant-Billionairedom deflated.
And this was coming to surface.
In no other deal, no fundraising talks, no industry had I encountered such a mix of pioneering enthusiasm mixed with fearfully cautious action.
In short – I gained a lot more “I’m interested in investing but… ” contacts. Sometimes those were “we need a few weeks”, sometimes it was “let’s talk next month”. Either way, it meant that I’d either have to gear up on the investor outreach and push harder, at the continued cost of my OODIENCE company’s deals, or take inventory of where we really were and shutter operations.
In May 2019, I sent an email and Telegram message to our team, including staff, advisors and our investors (both of them).
I voiced all this and stated I’d look to remove myself from the company. This, in effect, also meant we’d close the company.
Naturally, I confirmed that the investor funds would be repaid (with a nominal sorry-interest just for good measure).
But for the previous 6+ months, I had put OODIENCE on full-stop, I had killed inbound revenue, I had no new income yet from Blockchainova as we weren’t market-ready yet and I was still putting in my cash and time just to fix our funding leak.
That’s all okay when it’s your one big legacy project that you’ll stick with no matter what. Or if it’s your first and only business.
And that’s probably the biggest mistake in all of this, me. I had no genuine interest in blockchain. I understood and respected the need for it – but that’s like me knowing there is a definite need for cloud servers, it doesn’t mean I want to meet and mingle with an industry that discusses it all day long.
I came in with a passion for media and data and experience in marketing. But I lacked the interest in blockchain itself.
So, yes, we did take on some funding and I added my own.
What kind of expenses did you hit?
This is just a partial run-down I’m sure but we had:
- A corporation with a holding and operations company structure. And all legals. Advisory, webpage legals, shareholder’s docs, etc. That’s probably $10,000-ish.
- We had our data product. This leveraged some of the licenses, volume-discount data enrichment credits, my data team but we still spent $22,000 I think to build up the data to what it is. Without the “OODIENCE discount”, this would have been 1.5x as much I’m sure if someone knows how to build it in the first place.
- The branding was mostly free as I did it. Of course, some nominal design costs. $500-ish as I have a great designer.
- The webpage and some initial database work on the backend were provided free or maybe we paid something low like $1000. It was put together by a long-time friend who owns one of the more established web development agencies in Europe.
- The channels being set up and initial content, research and writing, plus associated training and editorial process setup – all in $2000 – $3000 for that.
- The sales writing and marketing collateral including the investor’s deck and similar were mostly written by me (work I wouldn’t do for a third-party project for less than $15,000 – $25,000). With my own labor cost on this at $0, it was just formatting and design work, so maybe $500 – $1000 there.
With other odds-and-ends including flights out for those investor meetings, it’s probably $40,000 into it.
Of course, in that – I worked for free while also still paying overhead and select team members’ costs in OODIENCE, which I was forced to push far to the back burner.
The biggest cash loss in all this for me wasn’t directly with Blockchainova, as we built what we built fairly lean and intelligently. No problems there.
But I stopped all new clients and deals with OODIENCE. And the opportunity loss cost of having to essentially turn-off the lights on that business, something I had not expected to do, well that was high. Too high on a business that has seen year-on-year growth since inception and was lucrative in every sense of the word.
Did you generate any revenues?
Yes and no.
Had I kept it all going, I’m sure some of those investor talks from Feb, March, April would have turned into another $60,000 – $100,000 in funding. And that, in effect, would be directly from our dataset.
I also supported one of our team members in locking in a multi 5-figure advisory client. They told me the type of clients they need and we ran the search in the Blockchainova data. There were 200 that we decided to reach out to by email and LinkedIn (and in a later stage, phone + Zoom calls) and we quickly had that deal closed. This was a nominal $5000 commission for Blockchainova itself.
Although that exact process WAS a revenue-model I had planned on. I fully expected to set up contracts with major blockchain service providers, including development + technology solutions where most of their projects were high 6-figure or 7 figures, and we’d offer a targeted sales campaign service and provide this same outreach to then lock in clients for these select vendor partners — and Blockchainova would collect a commission of 15-20%. And we even had one such vendor in place on day 0… but they too ended up a casualty of careless-spending which was too common in the industry, and later a shut-down their operations.
But this would have been a real, day-to-day operations revenue stream where we could close let’s say $1M in deals per quarter as a sales agent for top-tier vendors, and walk with $200,000-ish (20%). Given my own deals and sales negotiations background, this was a natural fit revenue-stream – even though it’s only a supplement to the core datat product (the database) license fees.
Then in May, June, and July, after we decided to pivot or close the operation, I personally sold about 15 licenses. But since we didn’t have the admin panel, customers were getting an exported datasheet. This damages the perceived value and, indeed, the real value as it’s much tougher to sort, filter and find the relevant contacts in a spreadsheet than in a proper, attractive user interface, admin panel. So these licenses were sold at highly discounted prices bringing in roughly $15,000. These were just from hands-on outreach by me as I had already “sent everyone home” by then.
Plug: I’m happy to move a few more copies before we hand all this to whoever the new owner will be – so if there is interest in an internal use copy, get in touch. Any cash that helps us recoup team+time costs is welcomed. Once Blockchainova is under new ownership though, they’ll have full and sole development and marketing rights to the data.
We never went “live” but with these hands-on, part-time, one-off deals across a 90-day period (May – July), we took in $20,000-ish all in.
Which is nice if it’s your first business. But compared to the revenue I was missing out on with my other company, it represented a strong loss for me personally.
We’re in December – what happened since July?
In early July, I ended up in our first acquisition talks with a great company and a great team from California. They were, in 2017, one of the largest valuation companies in the sector.
I got to really know their CEO and we built a great relationship fast.
I have nothing but respect for his business savvy, his personal character and his ability to turn a company around that, even though looked great on paper, had a lot of internal problems.
I still believe they’ll be one of the long-stay and most important players in the industry across the years.
Across multiple conference calls, I met 6 of their team as well.
We had strategy calls not just about the purchase of Blockchainova but onboarding me for their future M&A pursuits and similar work.
The deal, as a whole, was of particular interest.
It would mean a respectable exit for Blockchainova in terms of cash terms — but it also meant that I could see Blockchainova end up being built out while being tied to a great group of humans with a then-negotiated, great compensation package … while still being very available to run and grow OODIENCE.
I mean it was perfect. Great team to work with, good financial terms, great growth opportunities yet lots of flexibility and freedom.
We first had an MOA, Memorandum of Understanding, and they then presented an LOI, Letter of Intent.
However – they had internal challenges to still work through. While I allowed for the time for this, by November we agreed that at this stage, onboarding me and devoting their team and resources to building out Blockchainova weren’t things they could move ahead on.
Maybe in X months, but we closed our talks.
So now Blockchainova is available and on the market.
Who do you think should be looking at this as a purchase? And is the company for sale or just the assets?
First off, whether the end Buyer wants to purchase as a stock (company) or simply buy out the assets and fold those into a corporation of their own, that’s entirely up to them.
In fact, if someone only wants to buy the assets, I already have Buyers for the corporate entity.
You see we, very tactically, incorporated in the Netherlands. Our legal advisor that worked on this has a Ph.D., has corporate law degrees from 4 different jurisdictions and has advised to government and been a guest lecturer at universities. In short, it’s not a ho-hum template setup, like one of those push-button, online, SaaS generated, presto-bingo, you now have a startup (with an utterly weak company structure).
I wanted to have the company protected and easy to transfer, with legally minimized tax. Especially in the then-still volatile blockchain market.
The Netherlands is the 2nd English capital of Europe (next to the UK). It’s one of the most top-voted startup capitals in Europe and even in the world. It’s an unofficial tax haven, or very corporate-friendly. And it’s very bullish and pioneering in all things blockchain.
And our corp structure maximizes the benefits of all this.
Given the uncertainty from Brexit (whereby the UK would no longer be part of the EU), there is even more interest in setting up new companies in the Netherlands but the chamber is back-logged.
So – whether it’s just an asset sale or a stock sale, I’ll be open to either scenario and will discuss with the right Buyer.
As for who should purchase?
Very important: someone with ties to or genuine interest in blockchain. It can’t be another “me”. I brought some critical skills to the project, but without actual interest in blockchain, I was immediately the weakest link.
The perfect and most logical buyer is any service provider in blockchain. Think about it…
They build out the content or media element, just like we started and tie their brand to the entire webpage and all communications, like CMO.com by Adobe or Audible by Amazon or LinkedIn a Microsoft product.
Now they gained a “third-party” media that their service brand is tied to (this is called a brand channel, by the way).
Further, they have a tremendous database asset of sortable contacts for immediate sales outreach.
So yes, a service industry already in the market would see a great growth hack with this acquisition.
But any entrepreneur or team active or wanting to be active in blockchain could really build this. Plus, I’ll remain on-board for all business development strategies. I offer growth and exit strategy work for media channels in my primary business either way — so I’ll just offer the same to the new Buyer.
I’ll provide this, of course, for any serious interest parties, along with relevant Presentation and due diligence materials.
I can say this, I’m not looking for a maximized offer on this. I’d rather have a clean, quick, frictionless deal and hand over the assets to the right new Buyer.
As a hint: I’m pursuing a price that is around the cost of our financial expenses as anyone coming into this would spend that and then some to build it PLUS their own time, and that’s assuming they have the right know-how.
And given that we closed $20,000 in 90-days off just my own personal outreach efforts, with a front-end website that it dated and embarrassing and a back-end that doesn’t yet exist, I believe the real cash opportunity here is evident.
Okay, thank you, Rob. What’s next for you?
Not really next, it’s more of a return of the child I abandoned. And my heart (and pocket-book) bleeds for this mistake. I’ve already re-initiated work with OODIENCE. There were some business growth hack tactics that I never got to employ in Blockchainova that we’ll put into OODIENCE.
So I look forward to taking a lot more blogs, local media, magazines, podcasts, niche community and other media channels to the market to get those successfully sold for their owners.
How can Cryptopolitan readers reach you?
I’m very active on Telegram, it’s basically my “bat-phone”. You’ll find me @RobTothOfficial. That’s also my username on nearly all social channels, so you can connect with me on LinkedIn with that too. But email is best [email protected] (only valid while I still own Blockchainova, then this email transfers to the new Buyer). Or just text my company line: 1-416-639-2227 .
Closing comments for our readers? Any tips?
Yes. I stayed back from crypto across 2017. While most of the quick and “easy” money can be made during an industry’s pioneering and ugliest days, the big and long-lasting money is from stable operations with long-view goals. If you made a quick $500,000 with your Bitcoin and crypto portfolio, that’s really great for you, but know that the opportunity and time to build wide-reaching, high-value brands and achieve 8, 9-figure or billion dollar valuations is just now starting in this market.
Of course, don’t read that as some sort of promise that what you touch will turn to gold. But if you’re passionate about the industry and you plan right and you EXECUTE well, as action is king, then you’re at a great time to build something big in blockchain/crypto now.