A Conversation with Íko Systems

Interview with Michael Eaton ‘18, Lisa Condoluci ‘18, and Sivan Sud ‘18

What is Iko Systems, and what sparked your desire to create the company?

Michael: That is something that has definitely been taking us awhile to align in all of the founders’ visions really because we all have big, long-term goals for it. We describe it as a functional, organic design for your home. We were all brought together because we wanted to solve food problems, and we all want to do that in very different ways, but we all think that food is a really big problem whether it be in Manhattan or Texas or Botswana or Southern Africa. This is the first way we are going to be solving this problem, by allowing it to grow efficiently at home. Oh and how it started! Want to hear a little bit more about that?

 

Yeah, sure.

Michael: I come from Botswana, which is in Southern Africa, and you can’t believe how different it is from Ithaca, you know? I grew up on a farm; it’s pretty lush, and we have a lot of space and a lot of sun. Coming to Ithaca, it’s cold and dark a lot, as you might know. I just tried to grow plants one day in my home because I am used to eating food I grew myself, and the seeds I tried to germinate didn’t even grow much. The ones that did didn’t even grow much. So I said that I would build something for myself, and because I am an engineer like making things, I started talking to my friends. The next thing I knew, I had friends working with me and trying to market something. Pretty organic.

 

How did you come up with the name Iko Systems? I believe you were called Petal before?

Sivan: It’s a Japanese-inspired design. Michael has always been really into drawing and a Japanese vision, and we once found this handle for a website iko.systems. It fit perfectly with ours because we are all so focused on environment.

Michael: Yeah, initially Petal was something we first just latched onto, and it stuck. You know, we didn’t really think much. We thought, “That’s fine, it’s quick and easy… you can get it right.” And then quickly, Petal became the name of the company and also became the name of this initial product. It was almost like a revelation. We realized we’re become one-dimensional. And we’re not going to be able to grow our vision until we get a better name with a better structure and a broader potential. So we said that we should come up with something that’s not just linked to one product. We’re not a product; we want to be a brand-- a brand that produces products and produces something that is exciting for the user, not just one product. We thought about so many different options, and we threw mood boards around and naming ideas and graphics. Eventually, “ecosystem” is something that came about because we are producing systems, and it kept on cropping up-- the word “systems.” We’re making systems-- complex systems, feedback systems, etc. as engineers, and we thought “ikosystems.” It’s a play on words, it’s fun, “I-K-O” on your keyboard is next to each other, which is kinda cute. We found out that “iko.systems” was available as a domain and we were like, “this is so cool” and we had to go with it. It has definitely allowed us to broaden our scope for what we can do. IKOfriendly, IKOsystems, IKOnomical: you can play on words all day. People gravitate to it; it’s fun, but people mess it up too much, which is annoying.

 

Was this product originally some kind of ragtag piece of machinery that you put together? What was kind of the design for it? What was the design and business process you went through in order to actually come to the product come to life?

Michael: Yeah… it’s pretty funny. The funny thing is, being mechanical engineers and engineers in general, you want to make things; that’s what you want to do. The first instinct is that I can make this today. The first thing I did even before I asked my friend for help was put wood together build a frame. It was half my height and a bit wider than me, so it was big. So I said this is what I was going to do: I’m going to build this big product and it’s going to be controlled and there will be water flowing through it. It’s so jank. We hooked it up the first time to water, I even had a pump, and I was so confident. I had it in my living room at the time; water was everywhere. It looked terrible. So I told myself, “We have a long way to go.” Since then, we’ve built so many different types of prototypes; we’re still testing them out right now. It’s just been amazing, starting off big but then realizing it wasn’t an efficient prototype. Let’s go small, perfect some aspects of what our design should feel like, the electrics feedback, and grow. Once again, I think it was kind of organic. We started off wrong, but then we started small.

Sivan: A big help to that was being admitted to Rev’s Hardware Accelerator. They have really great resources, and we were able to rapidly make a prototype and really iterate our design and nail it down.


 

How big is the base product right now?

Sivan: It’s about 18.5 inches wide, 11.5 inches high, and 6 inches deep. It’s like a large shoebox.

 

Are you planning to expand to a bigger product, or is it more so for a home-design?

Lisa: The vision was a three-tiered system. You have your different layers where you could grow arugula, lettuce, and bigger greens on one of them, and you could grow your cilantro, parsley, and basil on another. Right now we are trying to perfect the one-tiered system, and we’re also going to try going deeper and adding two layers as opposed to one.

 

Are you targeting people on the high end and looking to grow their own plants?

Sivan: Right now we have narrowed down to three customer segments. One of them is a cook, someone who cooks so they don’t necessarily want the level of involvement a traditional gardener wants. The second one is someone who tries to display more exotic plants, and the third one would be gourmet--someone who wants better taste. One interesting thing we are researching is basically adding flavors to the herbs by process. So that could be a great differentiator for us.

Michael: That’s very special-- the control we are giving them. Just adding to what Savan said, you asked about high end. The first time I had this problem, The first thing I did was look online. What’s out there? What can I solve my problem with right now? I bought two products and I was disappointed; that’s why I’m on this journey, because I was disappointed by what’s out there. There’s nothing with quality. Everything out there that helps you grow at home is plastic; it has no story, it’s non-compostable, and that’s what we are trying to do. That’s what we do: it’s high end, it’s quality, it’s something that can fit into a stylish home next to other quality products.

 

So it’s not just food plants that you are supplying for, it’s other plants as well?

Sivan: That depends on what we ultimately decide to target but now we are mainly focusing on herbs.

 

You mentioned that you are from Botswana. Do you plan on launching there or sticking with the U.S. for now?

Michael: Botswana has too much space and sun and not enough of a population for it to be successful there. The United States is the perfect place to own a business and is perfect for innovation. We are looking at a lot of other seasonal places-- places that suffer agriculturally through seasonality. We have been talking to a lot of people in Europe, especially London where they have a lot of problems with rain and not light. Israel is another awesome place for controlled agriculture. But we are definitely lucky to be in America, especially the northeast, for a start.

 

Speaking of Israel, one of the problems they face is with water usage. Does your product take into account water usage?

Sivan: The plants only uptake exactly what it needs, so it is very minimalist when it comes to water usage. We use very few resources to make these organic pods. It all goes along well with our story of helping the environment.

Michael: Being environmentally conscious when it comes to agriculture is synonymous with being precise, and being precise with agriculture is also being sustainable. We provide the utmost form of precision at this scale. There are no evaporative losses from our system which is unique. There are very cool forms of equalisation in our system which is cool. We are inspired by systems from places like Israel that do a lot of good agriculturally.

 

Do you pour the water into your system, or is it hooked up to a faucet and connected all day?

Sivan: Now we have a reservoir inside that keeps water. Our target is to have it keep water for about a week. We have sensors inside that tell you when you are low on water. Something we could look into are the restrictions where you can put it, especially in cities. One of our goals is to have it easily installable, so experts do not have to come in and do it for you.

Michael: All you have to do is add water in the top of the pod and then it waters the plants. We have a goal to make it mainstream.

Sivan: That is something we learned from customer discovery: the level of involvement that these people want. Maybe they like watering it and form a habit around the product and begin to use it more.

Michael: We also have vacation mode for when people travel. People who travel a lot on vacation or for work definitely fit into our customer demographic.

 

What are the next steps for you guys?

Michael: We have been going down an awesome path with Cornell and eHub. Right at this moment we are recruiting more people; we are trying to maybe double our team. We have had a lot of interest. Hopefully we can get this out to alpha-testers before the winter break. The product can be in homes for the winter season which would be amazing. By the time we graduate we can hopefully be selling. Making revenues by then and getting it into people’s hands would be great. We will most likely stay in Ithaca after graduation. This is a phenomenal place to be with our resources and advisors for a small company like us. So, yeah, the next stage is to get it to people, start making money, and expanding the product.

 

A big differentiator for us is that our system creates an isolated environment. It is actually closed off from the regular environment, so we could control the temperature and humidity of the system which allows us to create flavors in plants that you wouldn’t normally get from this environment. We can grow a plant as if it was from Italy. No one does this now, so it is super exciting.


 

A Conversation with TIPTOE&'s Luke Hong Gi Baek, Hyun Kyoo Choi and JinHyung Moon

Interviewers: Mike Sosa and Hayan Lee

Interviewees: Luke Hong Gi Baek, Hyun Kyoo Choi, JinHyung Moon

Hayan : Our first question is what is Tiptoe& what is your desire to create the company?

Luke: Tiptoe& is a social fashion enterprise which transforms the traditional fundraising T-shirts into a streetwear for a cause. We have a team of 50 members currently consisting of designers, alumni, and students. Last month we launched a crowdfunding project to support the victims of school violence in South Korea in which we raised up to $2,000. 30 percent of the profits will be donated to our partner NGO combating school violence which specializes in providing counseling and school supplies to the victims. To raise awareness, we are trying to further our partnership with 1 Million Dance, YouTube content generators, and Hip-Hop label in Korea. Tiptoe& started with 2 questions: why are fundraising T-shirts poorly designed and why is streetwear always associated with social resistance. These questions made me wonder how can we create synergies and add values by combining these two conflicting perceptions. By combining street wear’s provocative design with fundraising’s good cause, we aim to redefine the culture of donation, and we believe fundraising can be fashionable. We want to prove that a good cause doesn't necessarily have to precede desirable consumption. We want to empower millennials to realize that donation is not just for successful rich people, but it could be also for anyone who consumes fashion

 

Mike: By school violence, Do you mean bullying?

Luke: All kinds of violence are happening in South Korea, and school violence has been the most significant issue in South Korea.

 

Hayan: How did you come up with the name “Tiptoe&”?

Hyun Kyoo: We were thinking and questioning why is fundraising supposed to be done by rich people and why fundraising T-shirts cannot be fashionable. So we wanted to symbolize this lesson that even the smallest thing can change our perspective. We came up with an idea of a man standing on his tiptoe. It doesn't take much effort to just stand on one’s tiptoe, but it can allow him to see new perspectives. So we decided on Tiptoe& we’ve added And next to Tiptoe. It was to help us brand our name when we do some collaborations with NGO.

 

Mike: Why did you choose School violence for your first project?

Hyun Kyoo: We want to handle something that we have experienced and we can really sympathize on. We have like 15 members in Tiptoe& right now, and, except 1 or 2, we're mostly in college right now, so it's not been so long since we graduated high school. So we decided to touch on school violence since we can really work on it to give solution to the school violence in Korea. As Luke says, school violence has been a very severe issue in the past few decades in Korea.

 

Hayan: Is there a particular reason that you chose Korea as a first location to launch your company? Can you expand on more, what kind of school violence are happening in Korea?

Hyun Kyoo: This again comes from the question we had for our brand. We asked ourselves why fundraising is not as active in Korea as in U.S., because T-shirt fundraising events is very active in the United States but not in Korea. In Korea, donations and charity are considered something that rich people or adults can do but not students. We want to show the millennials that by consuming their fashion products and buying what they want, they can donate to the social cause that they sympathize with. So we wanted to implement a culture in Korea, and school violence has always been severe in Korea. In the past few weeks, the most viral news in Korea media was this middle-school girl that was bullied so severely that her wounded picture shocked many people.

And to add on, the age of the bullies is decreasing year by year. So the age group with the most offenders are in the elementary school right now. Now 5th and 6th grades kids do a lot of things related to school violence. I think we need to start and educate them from starting school violence since they're so young, which can eventually prevent and block adult violence and future crimes.

 

Hayan: As a startup company, it must have been challenging to increase awareness of your brand name. How did you raise your presence in the consumer and retail market?

JinHyung: As you mentioned, the initial target customers are Korean millennials. In Korea, the fashion trends of young people are massively influenced by K-pop, K-drama, or any kind of art exposed in Korea. Knowing this, we decided to approach many influential celebrities so they can wear our product and introduce our brand. Some of them have already posted pictures wearing our product to enhance our social awareness of social violence. That's the first marketing strategy that we did, and we have some Facebook posts related to fashion or social responsibility. Additionally, have a business related Facebook page. We created a social media buzz, which is such a vital strategy and was really successful. These are the two main strategies we conducted for raising the presence of our brand.

 

Mike: What struggles did you guys face when you were first crowd funding?

JinHyung: We actually encountered two struggles. The first one was that a lot of customers using cloud-funding platforms are interested in technological products rather than fashion-related products. So we had to induce the inflow of customers outside of the cloud funding platform. So as I mentioned, using the main two strategies we conducted, we were able to induce those customers so that we can drive sales not only just from customers currently using the platform but also from those outside of it. So that was the first struggle that we faced. The second struggle was vendor management because we actually installed the supply chains in Korea, but we are all in the States. And because of the limited budget and the time, many factories didn’t want to produce only a few products because they can’t really make a lot of profit out of those limited numbers. But we assiduously contracted many factories in Korea. So we were able to deliver our volume with them. They know that we are nonprofit, and we are trying to do something good for the betterment of society. So we were able to establish a supply chain in Korea.

 

Hayan: I know that Tiptoe& has a really huge focus on social awareness, so are you guys planning on addressing other social issues for future products or any other partnerships for future products?

Luke: Our business model is that every project deals with a different social issue, and we’ve been tackling just school violence because we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean NGO combatting school violence. We are planning on a collaboration event in December that a few sculpture artists from EY University, one of the most prestigious Korean colleges, that have contacted us for collaboration. They are planning to host an exhibition with the theme of preventing school violence, and, by collaborating with them, we will dress their sculptures with our products and sell our products at offline stores. By maintaining a good relationship with 1 million YouTube content generators, the huge pop label that we have worked with, we want to expand our partnerships with them for our marketing purpose.

 

Hayan: Are you planning on expanding your market outside of Korea, possibly in the U.S.?

Luke: Yes, so in fact we want to start a club at Cornell to establish a local presence. By providing our resources, we want our club members to design clothing with a local issue and raise awareness. After we get a taste of the U.S. market, we want to expand it as a business. Also, as a business we have been in contact with three Cornell students from Hong Kong who are interested in our business model. So, if they execute their plan, then we are ready to provide our resources and start a similar business in Hong Kong.

 

Mike: I know you mentioned that elementary school kids are a proponent of school violence. Are there are reasons that you think people believe this is the case? Why does school violence start so young?


Hyun Kyoo: I think the main reason is that kids today mature really fast compared to the previous decades because of the media and social networking system. It’s not just the kids that are the problem; I think it’s the unconscious culture in itself. Like in Korea, the rank really matters. Rank consists of age or social position and your power socially. I think that very conservative culture in Korea evokes even the kids in primary school to get more violent and eventually bully their peers. It’s a very sad thing to see.

Conversation with Rahul Mukherjee '20 about Cornell Impact Investing

What is impact investing and how does the club employ it?

Impact investing is different from other regular forms of regular investing. You are investing in organizations that not only generate some sort of financial return but also some level of social return. For Cornell impact investing, our club, we are introducing our analysts to the idea of impact investing. We are partnering with some of the top impact investing firms in the country. One of them is ImpactAssets; we are working with them to help with market research due diligence and for our analysts to sort of gain some experience. Currently, we are at a stage where we are preparing our analysts to do that type of research, so we created an analyst development program to teach the basics of finance, creating validation models, and things like that so that they are prepared for the next semester. In the long run, we are preparing to manage our own investment portfolio; we are currently talking with alumni and other impact investors to lead investing projects hopefully related to CALS and their work with agricultural projects. Also in the long run, we're hoping to offer consulting service to other impact investors or impact investment firms, so that we can provide them with some of our own services such as market research.

 

What made you initially want to start this club?

Impact investing is currently one of the largest fields in finance. Personally, I've always been concerned with ways to solve problems like global warming and things like that - so working on technologies that sort of help mitigate the effects of climate change. It's a combination of my interests. I have been involved with conservation sciences and renewable energies for a while. Having been involved in that and also taking a summer internship in finance, I sort of found an overlap in my interest. I believe in the future people are going to invest in renewable energy and projects that will help benefit society, and I think we need that more than we ever needed it before. I did research on that last spring, and I also contacted some of my other friends who had also heard about impact investing. We did some research over the summer and contacted a lot of impact investing firms to learn the model of impact investing and how that process works. We then made it into a club, and hopefully we can get others interested as well. We're actually one of the only impact investing clubs in the country.

 

 What can a student learn from participating in this organization?

Getting involved in finance takes a lot. Something, I think, something that differentiates Cornell Impact Investing from other clubs at Cornell is that we made a promise that we're not just going to take people from AEM or people who have backgrounds in finance. If you take a look at our analysts, they come from all kinds of majors: engineering, bio, hotelies and ILR. Given that kind of diversity, it is very hard in the first semester to get them directly involved in impact investing. So, the first semester, the analyst development program is just geared toward them learning the fundamentals of finance, And in the semester right after this, the analysts will actually start doing hands-on projects, and they can actually expect to actually understand the ins and outs of impact investing. Some of this relates to their own experience. For example, the engineers that we have in our club have already begun to understand opportunities where they could invest because given some of the engineering projects they have worked on and the real-life opportunities they already know of given their background. So, the first semester is just really the development program, helping them get involved in impact investing, and from then on they’re working on hands-on projects in which they start learning everything they need to know from finding the right opportunities to actually allocating our resources and our investment funds in those projects.

 

What do you think is the future of impact investing?

If you think about our country as a whole, there are different housing projects and developments that haven't taken place yet. Our government hasn’t been able to fund some of those projects when it comes to education and things like that. I think there have been significant issues surrounding that, and given our political climate as well, I think that has contributed to our problems. We are constantly fighting on where we should allocate our resources - whether that be the military or education - so I think impact investing definitely helps with that because now you have people who are actually mindful on some of these issues, working to get involved in that. People have found opportunities where they can not only get some sort of social returns that help society as whole, but they can generate some sort of the financial return from it as well. I think this type of model hasn't been explored before. Given our constraints with how we are able to use our resources and our federal budget, people are more mindful and want to get involved in this field. So that's where I believe the future of impact investing is going to be. We are going to see the growth of different technologies that haven't been able to emerge because there hasn't been suitable investment opportunities. So I'm excited for sure.

 

What are some of the challenges you faced so far?

One of the prime challenges for us was actually getting ahold of some of these impact investment firms. This club, Cornell Impact Investing, was something that was thought of 6 years ago. There was an effort to create an impact investing club 6 years ago, and I am still in touch with the person who initially led that initiative, but the reason that they were never fully established was because they weren't able to talk to any of these impact investment firms.  They wanted to make their own impact investment, and the impact investment firms didn’t think an undergraduate investment club was going to offer anything useful. With our club, we talked to some of the impact investment firms and said that “we are more than capable to create a successful program, just allow us the opportunity to first train our analysts and gain some sort of credibility.”  It was a challenge for us to just talk to them and say what we wanted to do and getting them to listen to us. Some of the other challenges that we are currently facing is receiving funding. Like I said, we are in talks right now, and hopefully we are going to get a lot of funding for next semester to start managing our own investment portfolio. That is honestly, for now, one of the only challenges that we are facing, but things are going well for us.

 

Conversation with Adi Agashe '17, co-author of Swipe to Unlock

1.     What prompted you all to write this book?

A few years ago, I spent a good half an hour searching Amazon for a book that would help give me a high-level overview of the tech concepts I needed to know to excel at interviews and better understand the technical implications when making business strategy decisions in the tech industry. I found that nothing of the sort existed. The information I sought was scattered across the web, written with various levels of presumed knowledge. Although there are hundreds of books to teach beginners to code, I found nothing to help me better understand the underlying technology concepts.

So my friends from Microsoft – Neel Mehta and Parth Detroja –  and I decided to write a book to help people interested in working on the business side of tech understand things like how Google search actually works or the business rationale behind why Amazon changes product prices 2.5 million times a day. Our book is called Swipe to Unlock — check it out on Amazon!

We have been reaching out to clubs and career services at universities to get the word out. We broke even a few weeks ago and recently hit #1 Best Seller on Amazon.

2.     Many employers use a student’s degree as a signal that they have mastered their area of study. Do you think students without STEM degrees, even if they ace the tech side of the interview, would still be at disadvantage when compared to students who do just as well on the interview but also hold a STEM degree?

I don’t think you need to know how to code to work in tech, however it is extremely difficult to get offers without having a high level understanding of how everyday tech — think Spotify, Snapchat, Apple Pay — works under the hood.

I think my high-level understanding of tech really helped me in my interview. For example, if you are applying for a non-software engineering role at Google, you most likely won’t be asked to explain how Google’s ad-targeting algorithm works. But they might ask you how you could increase ad revenue from a particular market segment. If you know how Google's ad platform works, you'll be in a far stronger position to come up with good growth strategies. Little tech-side insights like that helped my interview answers stand out from the pack.

3.     The tech industry is constantly evolving at an incredible speed. Even engineers with strong computer science backgrounds have trouble keeping up with these developments. Do you think Swipe to Unlock would provide students without backgrounds in STEM a strong enough foundation in tech to continue developing with the industry; let’s say 5 years from now?

We plan on updating the book with new insights as the industry changes.

4.     What advice do you have for our readers who are interested in pursuing a job in the tech industry?

I did a lot of networking. Essentially, I would reach out cold to people who currently had a job I wanted via LinkedIn. People are actually more receptive to a 15 minute chat with a stranger than you might think. The key to getting people to be willing to chat with you is really personalizing the message to why you want to talk to that particular person rather than why you want to chat with someone with their job. For instance, if you mention that you and your perspective conversation partner both went to the same school, majored in the same subject, or worked in the same industry previously, and you wanted to learn how those experiences helped prepare them for their current role, that would be much more effective in getting a response. You can expect someone with a competitive job gets several messages daily asking to chat. Make sure your message isn’t generic if you want people to make time for you.

Book link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0756MTX6K

Video Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqCcDS63hZE

Conversation with Joseph Ferrara ‘19, Eric Hu ‘20, Brian Guo ‘19 about Cornell Blockchain

Why did you start the club and what made you interested in the industry?

Joseph Ferrara: I started learning about bitcoin and blockchain about a year and a half ago, and I got a buzz. I couldn’t stop learning about it. I started mining bitcoin, which wasn’t very efficient, but I started researching and talking to other people on campus about Bitcoin and blockchain; it just flew over their heads. In the end, I realized Cornell had IC3,  the biggest research organization blockchain in the world, but no one realized Cornell had that resource. We started coming up with the idea to get a club going to educate people on this new industry.

Eric Hu: I briefly learned about bitcoins in high school, and then last year my friend who goes to Berkeley got me immersed in it after telling me about the blockchain club, which is a really big student-run organization in blockchain space. I tried to look into why Bitcoin is valuable and how that applied to blockchain technology. I realized over the summer that was where my attention should be instead of where the prices were.

Could you describe, at a high level, what Bitcoins and blockchains are?

Joseph Ferrara: Blockchain is a way of taking any data or transactions and making it immutable and transparent so that you can look back on the data and know that they are real and verified without any human interaction or role in storing that data.

Eric Hu: It’s a glorified data storage system. The blockchain data structure is something that you’re beginning with, and you have many layers on top that can increase its abilities. Decentralization is the core.

What excites you about this industry and what do you see as the biggest challenges or risks?

Joseph Ferrara: The idea of having a democratic system of storing data has been around for some time, but Bitcoin was the first use case. Having an entity to interact with other people on a peer-to-peer basis has never been done on a large scale before. A new industry is branching off in which applications ranging from any industry, such as healthcare and Equifax, you can eliminate those kinds of issues. Blockchain can transform this idea of third-parties holding off data.

Eric Hu: The most interesting thing is it’s a technology that would revolutionize the way we see data. This is a more logical step of how we store data effectively which can be applied to any industry where a database is needed. It’s more secure and by far more effective and faster. The challenge is every time you have new space, most of the people don’t know what they are talking about so there are a lot of misconceptions out there. There’s no authority to separate the truth from false information. This leads to a lot of people who don’t understand the technology, and for people who do, it’s very difficult.

Joseph Ferrara:  The creation of the club is that real science and real education takes place, and that’s how you can be more educated and understand the technology.

What’s stopping some  of these industries from adopting this technology? Also, what examples do you have of people using it effectively right now?

Joseph Ferrara: The concept of blockchain data structures is not new, but companies are just beginning to understand it. We know that companies are interested in it, and they are trying to figure out ways to implement it to improve data security. IBM, for example, uses Stella Lumans to make transactions internationally and reduce fees that way. IBM is relying on a blockchain that they created recently, and they are trying to get government processes to use blockchain. JP Morgan also has a core blockchain network that they are using. It’s slow because it’s so new, and there’s a lack of supply of people who can develop something like this. As it becomes more well-known, people will get interested and use it, but as of right now, people don’t understand how to.

Eric Hu: We are currently in a hype phase about this technology, but it’s just an idea not a product. Companies are going to throw millions of dollars at it, but they are not going to succeed. There’s probably going to be a big change in the way companies try to race for it.

How do you guys see Bitcoins impacting the economy?

Joseph Ferrara: I would say the traditional investor doesn’t partake in bitcoin. The money is stored in a valueless data and no one knows what it is. The traditional Bitcoin person does not believe in traditional equities either, or investing/contributing. About the deflation aspect, that’s caused by a more recent trend in interests.

Every blockchain has its own rules but there are blockchains that do not have a finite amount that are being constantly created.

Brian Guo: I think also, the main thing about bitcoin and cryptocurrency is that you can buy very very small amounts, and when you have things like that, how much would it get traded would be in tiny increments; it wouldn’t really impact the deflation outcome.

Do you recommend people to invest in bitcoin?

Joseph Ferrara: I don’t want to provide any investing advice since it’s such a new market, but we are in a hype phase and this is when you should be cautious since you don’t know where the market is going to go.

Eric Hu: It’s also very similar to any stock, so you need to know where you are putting your money. If you do know the risk, and know the reason why this token has its value, make sure you choose a token that’s useful.

Joseph Ferrara: The standard rule about when you're investing is that Bitcoin has no real face behind it. When you're looking at actual companies launching ICOs,  look at the team, who is behind the team, what is their mission, what is their roadmap, what are their social media pages about. But if they're just focusing on the money aspect, then that is a sign not to go with that. You want to look at these aspects when investing. But definitely be cautious during this time.
 

Eric Hu: It is following this whole trend where if you have crowdfunding, there is this similar aspect where sometimes people are throwing money at nothing. I think with more regulation, things will become interesting but safer for the person who wants to invest. All I am saying is security is very important.. If people are choosing to, then they should understand how to do this.

So you mentioned regulation and ICOs… what is your view on the Chinese government banning the whole ICO idea?

Joseph Ferrara: I think governments are a little wary about this new technology, like where is the money flowing to, where is it coming from. I can't say for sure, but maybe China is trying to put a pause on it, understand it more, and see how they can implement correct procedures to progress. It is definitely always going to be around, this new type of market, but it is about how to regulate it in  a way where you can see where this money is coming from. It is going to be difficult, because like Bitcoin, it is not tied to any entity. I mean you can’t say Bitcoin will live on forever, but I'm saying that the idea of the way it is being built is that it can essentially go on forever.

Eric Hu: With China, it is an interesting case especially, it is expected.. A country that wants to control their monetary outflow is so important. In traditional investing, you can't bring money out of China. To think that they allowed Bitcoin trading and ICOs to occur for so long is pretty surprising in my opinion. I think they did the right thing, and I think because most ICOs are not very good, essentially most will fail and are somewhat scams, I think a pause on these ICOs until more regulation is in place is the right thing to do. In this whole Blockchain space, there are so many people who don’t know what they’re talking about and are just thinking about making quick money. People are putting a lot of money into this, for some reason, in things they don't understand, and that is very problematic, so I think the government is doing the right thing.

Could you guys talk about, for potential new members, what your club meetings look like, what you have to offer, and what your recruiting process is like?

Joseph Ferrara: At our most recent meeting, we had professor (Gun) Sirer come in and give a talk, which was really interesting.

Eric Hu: Professor Gun Sirer is an associate professor here in Computer Science, and he is the co-director of IC3, which is Cornell’s Blockchain research group. He is also our advisor. He is a very big, prominent person in the blockchain space. He has been studying decentralized systems for a long time, so to share his research and what IC3 was doing was incredible, because he is a very influential person in this space. Most meetings are essentially our education series. The main reason why we developed it is because, other than the fact that there was no credible source at Cornell specifically, the class closest to Blockchain is a 6000 level Computer Science course on cryptography. That is really not the best way, if you want people to learn. So our G-Body is pretty understandable; it’s not that technical. We kinda flip between non-technical type things, implications, markets, softer things, and then the technical aspects. Brian is our tech head who just understands the technology behind it.

Brian Guo: Yeah, understanding the protocol, what we are actually dealing with when we talk about Blockchain: how it works, how transactions are made, how they actually get sent out to the network, and how everyone agrees on the one state of the network.

Eric Hu: Yes, so that’s our general bodies. And then we have two branches from there: our tech branch and our business branch.

Brian Guo:  Right now we are doing first level recruiting for the tech branch; I actually just came from that.  We are recruiting people who don’t have to go through the education series right now because they already have done their own independent research and know enough about the Blockchain space to join the tech branch. They known enough about protocols and technical details of it. As for the tech branch, for this first semester, we are mostly focusing on helping out with the education slides in the technical sense, because the ideas every other week are focused on understanding Blockchain itself from a technical aspect. We’re also focused on working on creating workshops in order for people to get from the point at which they leave the general body, to the point that they want to be, in order to start developing with us. As a project, we are creating essentially an SVB client in Bitcoin implemented as a smart contract in ethereum.

Eric Hu: Essentially, they're converting an outdated language into a currently used language in Ethereum which is a very popular blockchain.

Brian Guo: Aside from Bitcoin, Ethereum is probably the second most popular blockchain, and we are essentially creating a client for Ethereum that functions as almost proof that you send the coin to a certain address.


How did you guys get up to speed with the industry, and what resources did you rely on?   For prospective members, what resources would you recommend and how do you advise them to start getting involved?

Eric Hu: It depends on how much you want to understand. If you really want to understand the technical side...

Brian Guo: Yeah, this is a question that gets asked to me at the end of my interviews a lot: how would you reccomend getting into this space? I always say that the one truth about what is actually happening is in things like the white papers for ethereum. That is the protocol, that is what people base their own development on. The white paper is the user-friendly version of the yellow paper which is the official protocol that includes all the off codes that you don’t really need to know.  But Ethereum has a whole Wikipedia section. There’s a great book called mastering Bitcoin that explains Bitcoin in a user-friendly way that's great for people to understand.

Eric Hu: If you’re looking more for what our business branch is focused on, which is blockchain  consulting, then like if you’re doing any finance internship, you want to keep up with the news. Coin telegraph, coin desk are things to understand what is happening in the first place, and keep up with markets. I think the most important thing with that is not just the news, but the implication of why they’re doing that. Why did china bankrupt their currencies and ICOs, and how does that play into the governmental role? For example, Russia is implementing the Crypto-Rupel. Is that Blockchain, is that not? It’s not, but that is a very good question. There are a lot of things that happen. Things link together, and if you look from a really macro perspective, there are huge trends, even in the last few months, about how things develop, and the news is the best way to get your information.

Joseph Ferrara:  On top of that, I think it's important if you're going to look into the business side of it, it's definitely important to understand what Blockchain is, but if you can just learn about it to the point where you can talk about it in a conversation, just like understanding the surface level of each aspect. You can go on Youtube and watch videos. If there is a term you don’t know, like what is a Merkle Root, you can look up: what is a Merkle Root? There will be be other terms when you research, and you just keep basing it off things you don’t know. It's like a domino effect, eventually things will start coming around the circle and you will start understanding it a little more. It’s not going to take a week but...

Brian Guo: I just wanted to add on to something Eric said: with sources like Coin telegraph, Coin Desk and things like that, take it with a grain of salt. Their intended audience is just the general audience, and sometimes they'll explain it in a way that’s intended for people to understand. The translation from how they explain it to how you understand it will not always be so accurate, and even how they explain it will not always be so accurate. There are actually a good number on Reddit that are part of the community that develops Bitcoin. For the technical side I would recommend going into what is called “The Gitter,” which is essentially a Slack channel. It functions exactly as a Slack channel as a byproduct of of GitHub as opposed to Slack, where a bunch of developers get together, and you can post any question on the chat, and something will get back to you with a response.

Eric Hu: We are in such an early stage that essentially any figure in the blockchain space… you probably will be able to talk to them, and that's actually incredible.

C : You’ll be able to meet them in real life. Like the creator of Etheron himself, I met him in real life. And a group of people came to the IC3 conference at Cornell, huge figures in the space, and they were all normal, casual people. That is the byproduct of the fact that we are just starting out in the space.

To wrap up, what do you guys hope to accomplish in this club? How do you see this playing out in the next year or two? If you have any comments about Cornell's involvement, and if  you think there are things the school should focus more on? You mentioned there is a lot of research going on so any views on that?

Joseph Ferrara: I definitely see this club going to the point where, hopefully, we will make it a one credit course… We are just starting off, so our lectures, we are always tweaking to make them adjust to the audience that we are working with. I don’t know, we are just rolling with the punches.

Eric Hu:We would like to get a one credit course, one, so that Cornell data science has that, and so that there is some recognition that this is a certification, to some extent would be incredibly beneficial, not just for us and our credibility but for the people who are learning it. So they can show on their resume to anyone in the field that I took this class. That definitely gives you a leg up over 99 percent of people in this space. We definitely want to do a hackathon of some sort. We are partnered with Blockchain at Berkeley on the West Coast, and also we are talking with Colombia Blockchain Labs and with the Blockchain Education network, which is a nonprofit. We are trying to develop this certification. For example, if you go into finance, you have to pass a bunch of tests before you can start trading. Similar thing, you have to pass some tests in order to show that you are competent in the space before you can interact. With the tech branch, we want to have a project team of some sort. With the business branch, we want to have a more established consulting structure. Right now, our clients are mostly sourced from startups we worked at, which is a pretty good deal flow, but we want bigger companies; we want to be recognized in the space. It is something that if your company had been audited, then your code has been security audited by Cornell Blockchain means something. Other than that, just making a community. It’s pretty cool.

Brian Guo: As a representative of the tech branch, my goal for Cornell Blockchain is to have a good set of projects where we can say that we were the first ones to think of this and implement this. To really establish our legitimacy. We caught onto this wave pretty quickly, and having the amount of resources we have, and all the established professors being at Cornell, it is a great advantage to us, really. It’s a great resource for us to have to be able to rely on them to help us out.

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