Chipin sat down with Matthew Dibb, the CEO and Founder of Astronaut (and Picolo Research) recently to talk about their current ICO (read more here), how it all started and what their plans are going forward. Matthew is a capital market professional with an extensive history in seed stage investment, venture capital, small cap analysis and corporate advisory. Matthew’s career began in Macquarie Bank, one of Australias leading investment banks, primarily as a fixed income and structured products specialist.
Could you explain what are you trying to solve with Astronaut? What exactly are the pain points that you’ve discovered about your target audience and you’re trying to solve?
Astronaut is seeking to streamline the investment process for those looking to gain exposure to the ICO and crypto market. The problem is, there is so much noise in the market right now. Trying to actually find good quality ICOs is getting harder by the day. With +100 new coin offerings on the market right now, this would take the average investor weeks to filter.
Astronaut’s job is to utilize our research firm at Picolo Research and implement a fully managed investment system on behalf of token holders. This means investing in verified and research-backed tokens with complete management from start to finish.
What’s the toughest or hardest decision(s) you’ve made so far with Astronaut?
I think one of the toughest decisions for us was actually the choice to ICO. We had several private takeover offers from other entities to buy out our research firm (Picolo Research) and said ‘no’ to all of them. For a business that doesn’t take fees from companies, nor subscription revenue from clients, these were really tough offers to pass up. However, the team and I truly believe in something bigger here with integrating a top-tier research house into an asset manager. We are putting everything on the line to make Astronaut the new standard in the market, however, there is no doubt that is has come with some personal opportunity cost.
Who is your competition and what sets you apart from them?
I think the closest competitor I can pick is TaaS.Fund. The guys at Taas have done a great job in terms of performance with their market cap growing from ~$10m to now +$40m. It’s a sign that the asset management space is deeply valued by prospective investors.
The main aspect that sets us apart is our selection process. Astronaut is heavily focused on research and analysis. Our investment methodology has been crafted from experience in small-cap IPOs and private equity. This gives us an edge particularly when we are diving deep into early stage token sales.
TaaS appears to trade a bit more frequently than us. Astronaut would prefer to identify 1-2 opportunities every month that we have spent weeks analyzing before committing capital.
Can you let us know more about your team or peers who’ve helped you along the way with Astronaut? What are the best attributes of each of them?
The entire team comes from an investment and technology background. Similar to a family office or PE fund, we have established what they call an ‘Investment Committee’, where a group of individuals with specific backgrounds debate and vote on a particular opportunity.
With regards to myself, I have been in small-cap listings for almost 10 years in a variety of roles and also as a fund manager.
My operations manager Simon Heikkila is the academic that assists in market research, however, his real strength is controlling IC, trade management and assistance in the product development.
Scott Moore has a background in investment analysis and has been in the blockchain market for several years now. He has been one of the large contributors to Picolo.
Mike Gord is one of the smartest guys when it comes to vetting tech. He sits on a number of blockchain boards and has also run his own consultancy firm. Mike assists us with due diligence in the market.
In addition to this, we have several other Junior Research analysts, developers, and operational staff that all contribute to the success of our business.
What has surprised you or took you back while growing Astronaut and Picolo Research? What happened along the way that you absolutely did not expect?
I think the growth of Picolo Research was phenomenal. When we launched it publicly, we were very unsure as to how it was going to go. Deep down inside, we knew that there was a need for transparent research in the market, but we weren’t sure that everyone else was going to agree.
Over a period of a few months, we organically grew to over 10,000 registered subscribers with no marketing or referral deals.
This was a really nice surprise for us.
Off the back of that, we were shocked by the fact that although our readership and engagement levels for Picolo Research were very high, there was also a large portion of readers who had never invested in any token or crypto.
After digging in a bit deeper to this, we identified the pain points and started our journey with Astronaut.
What are you worried about most while growing the company? Do you have any obstacles or challenges in mind that you want to tackle?
I think one of the hardest parts about growing a business in the token market is the level of noise and distraction that can be created around your initiative.
By the end of our token sale, Astronaut will have thousands of investors all armed with a keyboard and Telegram giving their opinion on our token price, investment methodology etc.
One of the obstacles that we need to face is the ability to remain independent, unbiased and unaffected by what others say.
It is only for this reason that Picolo Research has gained a reputation for what it is, however it is more important now than ever before that we maintain our independent ways and stick to what we know rather than what we hear.
The other challenges we seek to face are more market specific. We will still be issuing reports particularly in the ‘Neutral’ and ‘Avoid’ category. I say this because there is a strict need for the whole market to gain awareness of overhyped token sales that don’t have a business model.
We are afraid that there simply aren’t enough third party and independent research houses expressing such views. This is an obstacle for every investor and one that we stay committed to overcoming by setting a standard in the market.
Did you explore any other avenues before settling on Astronaut? Have you perhaps thought of the idea of a “premium” Picolo Research where paid members or subscriptions form the business model?
There is no doubt we thought about it. I distinctly remember a month after launch we took some feedback forms on how we were doing from the initial subscriber base. One of the top questions asked to us was “When are you going to come up with a premium subscription.”!
There is a need for intelligence in the market. Some would consider a research subscription to be exceptional value for $2500 per year if they make 5x that amount on their first investment.
This was certainly enticing, however, premium subscription businesses are not the way to leaving a long-lasting footprint in the blockchain ecosystem. Our goal and decision to proceed with Astronaut were decided by our subscribers and we haven’t looked back since.
A startup like Astronaut is more prone to facing threats from regulators soon; what plans do you have in place to ensure that Astronaut runs smoothly as the industry matures and laws are made?
Astronaut is already taking progressive steps towards licensing in a number of jurisdictions. Regulations are unavoidable, particularly the bigger you get. We believe that the same goes for all ICOs, whether they are financial and performance-driven in nature or not.
By the end of 2017, we are aiming for regulatory approval in two major jurisdictions for investment.
There are criticisms around the web that suggests startups like Astronaut are trying to “centralize” apps in the blockchain which was supposed to be decentralized. If this is a misconception, could you explain why?
I think sometimes that statement is a bit ironic. Most ICOs launching aren’t completely decentralized nor is it their intention to be. Furthermore, some of the largest token sales end up converting their contributed crypto back into fiat – a centralized and manipulated currency that goes against the very nature of the whole ecosystem.
The fact of the matter is, Astronaut is focusing on a portion of the market that is simply looking for capital gain and return. We don’t claim to be building the next big blockchain tech, nor do we want to. Our job is to support those new initiatives that we foresee as ‘game-changers’ with the appropriate capital to grow.
Astronaut is servicing those in the market that simply don’t have the time nor the patience to invest themselves. For this segment of the market (which is very big), they run the risk of investing in scams or underperforming tokens without solutions such as Astronaut.
We believe that our business is only bringing more credibility and transparency to the entire ecosystem.
What does the market need more, a proven, transparent and research-backed crypto asset manager, or Uber for tow-trucks on ethereum?
Where do you see Astronaut in 5 years from now?
Five years is a long time in the crypto market! Shorter term (2-3 years) we see Astronaut as a leader in the asset management space and a known standard in the market.
We don’t just want to be known for our performance, but for our views and research in the marketplace. Long term, we envision that our due diligence methodology will become a foundation for other investors seeking to access the blockchain investment market.
Are there any plans to expand Astronaut aside from what’s being focused now?
Not right now. It has certainly been a question that has been asked a number of times. I think people are expecting us to raise another fund with a different mandate, however, it is the last thing on our mind right now.
We are putting everything that we have into the current roadmap of Astronaut as our first offering and can’t think about anything else for the short term.
Is it fair to say that Astronaut is the Robinhood of cryptocurrencies? If not, do you plan to move in the direction Robinhood is heading?
I wouldn’t compare us to Robinhood, or Cobinhood for that matter.
While Astronaut is building a number of investor tools and platforms, it isn’t really the core of our business. Astronaut is fundamentally a research house and asset manager. Most would compare Astronaut to a ‘Hedge Fund’ which spends most of its time researching, analyzing and then investing on behalf of retail or institutions.
We have no intention of creating an exchange or DIY platform right now.
If there is one route that we possibly could consider it would be similar to the Acorns model with an automated contribution to a growing managed portfolio. I think this is an interesting business segment, however, we don’t have any short-term aspirations to begin on that journey.
What is your exit strategy (if there is one)?
We haven’t come in with a specific exit strategy as our goal is simply to continue growing Astronaut.
With this type of business model, funds that generally get listed don’t have an intention to become ‘delisted’ or wound up. If anything, we look to grow institutional interest from major investors down the road.
From a personal perspective, funds management is my life, as is the same for the remainder of the team. We have a strong focus to be constantly improving our IC (investment committee) with different specialists to ensure we always have an edge and aren’t subject to and key person risk.
That wraps up our exclusive interview with Matt Dibb, CEO of Astronaut. The ICO is live now and you can still get 20% discount on the ASTRO token.
We’ll be scheduling even more exclusive interviews like this in the coming weeks to delve into the minds of what makes a blockchain startup tick as well asking the questions you want to know the most.
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