Puerto Rico Blockchain Transplants

And the Nascent-Stage Movement

2018-07-16

Category: Innovation

Photo credit: Coindesk

It has been over five months since New York Times’ pivotal article of the blockchain scene in Puerto Rico. Several other news sources have reported on it and a half dozen blockchain conferences have happened so far this year. All of this has spurred investors and builders to relocate to the island, joining the thousands of existing entrepreneur and investment residents taking advantage of Act 20/22. No one knows exactly how many blockchain transplants have moved, but based on the numbers of people who raised their hands when asked “who here is relocating to Puerto Rico?” from the conference stages, based on the number of transplants participating in social channels and meetups, and based on what the transplants themselves are guessing, it looks like somewhere around 100.


Photo credit: Coindesk

In the interest of gaining insight on the Puerto Rico blockchain scene, I decided a survey needed to be distributed. People are curious to know:

How is the scene growing and who are the people that are part of it?
How are they integrating into Puerto Rico and what is the movement doing for Puerto Ricans?

By getting answers to these questions we can get a better sense of what the scene will need to mature into a long-term powerhouse of distributed ledger technologies.


How the Survey Was Conducted

Responses were collected from Act 20/22 Facebook groups (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and various Telegram channels. Thank you Daplie, Maria Sanchez (Founder of TOPS), and AJ Nora (Founder of EduBlock) for helping me distribute the survey.

Some people have expressed an issue with me excluding locals from this survey. It would very be interesting to see survey results of Puerto Ricans in the blockchain space. It would also be insightful to know more about Puerto Ricans NOT in the blockchain space and to measure their awareness and perceptions of the local scene. Given that the scene is so young and the transplants are currently the main drivers (which is obviously something people involved hope to change), that research feels premature for now. When the time is more ripe, measuring that will be great.

Survey Results

None of the survey questions produced more than 37 responses. So if there are 100 transplant blockchain investors and builders in Puerto Rico then with this sample size we can be 90% confident that the results have a 13% margin of error. That is not very precise but it’s a step up from guessing about the scene as we have been. Some of the results are so overwhelming, though, that despite the wide margin of error you can still learn powerful things about this defining, nascent stage of a potentially enduring movement. For this reason, I do not emphasize exact percentages below for most of the findings.

Here’s the data in raw form:
All survey responses
Investors (not blockchain venture builders)
Builders (people working on blockchain ventures in some capacity, not necessarily engineering)

SurveyMonkey does not export text responses, unfortunately, so the text response to the following questions are listed here.

  • Why did you move to Puerto Rico?
  • Within what industry is your blockchain- or non-blockchain company?
  • What is your role in your company?
  • What do you think the blockchain movement will do for Puerto Ricans?


Ideological Underpinnings of the Scene

The most obvious finding is that the transplants in the Puerto Rico blockchain space are there primarily for the tax incentives. This is not unique to them, though, given that the Act 20 and 22 tax incentives attracted thousands of individuals before today’s blockchain scene. (The tax incentives were instituted to spur economic growth in Puerto Rico during the Obama presidency.) What is incredibly unique about this crowd is their ideological drivers. In the same vein of thinking that prompted Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention of Bitcoin - a response to tax-funded central bank bail outs and rigged monetary policy - this crowd is largely driven by a mission of creating a new era of prosperity (through free markets and sound money) and effective governance brought about by new technology, not government.



To contrast this with the American population at large, the Libertarian party’s highest recorded presidential vote turn out was in 2016 at over 3%. The Washington Post’s 2013 poll of libertarianism in the US revealed 22 percent of Americans “lean libertarian” (emphasis added). Despite the small survey sample, most of the 35 survey respondents that answered the question about their political ideology self-identify as either libertarian or anarcho-capitalist (which is the second-highest represented ideology). So this scene is being catalyzed by a transplant pool that is very different from the average American crowd. This is especially the case for the ones in the trenches - the builders:





Maturity of the PR Blockchain Scene

Where on the island are they? The good majority of blockchain transplants live in San Juan and the surrounding metro area. The most popular alternative seems to be the northwest coast.



What is the socioeconomic status of Puerto Rico’s blockchain transplants? It looks like there is huge potential to build out the Puerto Rico blockchain ecosystem with the financial resources and human capital the blockchain transplants are bringing. About half of the builders founded the companies they are working on in Puerto Rico and about half of the investors are founders of non-blockchain businesses with employees. This is the yearly salary of the blockchain-focused transplants of Puerto Rico:




While the majority of the investors started buying Bitcoin in 2017 or later, the builders have been some of earliest adopters.




How integrated are blockchain transplants into Puerto Rico? Not very. From the builder responses we know that almost all the transplants working on blockchain ventures have been in PR for less than 6 months and all the ones surveyed are renting their homes. The builders are not laying down their roots, yet. From the blockchain investors’ responses we know that about half have been in PR more than a year and most of the investors own their houses. Learning Spanish has not, yet, become a high priority for them. One likely reason is because the Puerto Ricans of professions that they hire speak English.




What industries do the builders and investors represent? From the text responses listed here, they represent a wide variety of industries with no obvious trends.

What else do we know about the builders? Based on the survey responses, most of the ventures they founded or work with have been around for 3 years or less, they work an average of 52 hours per week, they attend about three local blockchain meet ups per month, and they mostly work in small teams of 10 or fewer.

What else do we know about the blockchain investors? Based on the responses of the investors (who are not personally working on a blockchain venture), they work an average of 28 hours per week, about half work with 10 or fewer teammates in their companies, about half work in companies fewer than 5 years old, and a good percentage of them are “funemployed” (20%).

What are the main challenges they experience operating in Puerto Rico? The issues they say they experience working in Puerto Rico largely boil down to bad government (inefficient and corrupt), bad banking (fear of blockchain, slow), and bad infrastructure (power outages, unreliable internet). See their text responses for more insight.

What are the main opportunities they benefit from in Puerto Rico? The strategic benefits they mention from working in Puerto Rico include being part of an above-average blockchain ecosystem, attractive real estate prospects, and high demand for grid-related technology. See their text responses for more insight.

How is Puerto Rico benefiting? From the survey responses of the builders, we know that some hire locals (who are technical) to join their team, most hire freelancers/ assistants (most of whom are given part-time hours), and some routinely hire locals to maintain their homes. The responses of the investors show that they are most likely hiring locals to maintain their homes, but a bit less likely, compared to the blockchain builders, to hire freelancers or virtual assistants or hire locals to join their companies’ teams. Read their text responses to see what they think they are doing for Puerto Ricans.


What are the actionable takeaways you see from this data? Discuss below.


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