Supply chain solutions: Q&A with the CEO of Transparent Path.
Some might already know I had the pleasure to attend Blockchain Seattle 2018 last September. Eric Weaver, CEO & Co-Founder of Transparent Path, was one of many brilliant speakers on the diverse agenda. However, with so many tracks and speakers on various locations at the same time, it’s impossible to really dive in to the full details of what everyone’s up to.
Transparent Path is one great example that triggers my personal enthusiasm for blockchain. Because it involves the supply chain for products and therefor it can potentially change our daily lives for the better. It’s not only beneficial for the people, but also for the companies interested in exploring ways to do their business even better.
I’m beyond excited and thankful that Eric Weaver was willing to answer more questions about himself and Transparent Path. Not only do we learn more about the potential of the innovative supply chain solutions. He also has a nice scoop to share; two very interesting advisory board members just joined Transparent Path!
You could write a very large book about your career and accomplishments. What is one of the greatest achievements for you personally during your long career before Transparent Path?
Thank you for the very kind words. My best personal achievement? I created the 1,800-member Seattle Flickr photography group in 2005, back when Flickr was huge, and it resulted in five marriages. One could argue that’s more of a great achievement than any business effort!
Professionally, one of the most challenging and satisfying was standing in front of 1,200 automotive dealers for a big US car maker with a goal of convincing them to embrace transparency by putting their pricing online — that the Internet represented a new sales channel and that if they shared pricing and inventory, it would benefit them. They tried to boo me offstage, mocked me, laughed at me, told me to sit down, but by the end of the hour, I had convinced them to hire Internet sales managers and publish their pricing. There have been e-comm sales managers at US auto dealerships ever since.
Could you tell how you got to the point where you decided to start Transparent Path? Because you were actually ‘forced’ to do something better and different, right?
Yes — it was an unexpected layoff. Earlier this year, I was pitching the concept of integrated IoT and blockchain technologies to the clients at Xerox, and they were definitely interested in this idea of IoT+blockchain=better provenance. But Xerox management was in the midst of a (now failed) merger with Fuji, and in the interest of improving their numbers, they laid off a large portion of the workforce. I knew I was onto something of interest to customers, so I launched Transparent Path.
The whole must-read story behind this can be found here.
You are working with Mark Kurtz who is the President of Transparent Path. He advised a variety of respected companies such as Amazon, MARS Food, Microsoft and The Coca Cola Company. Where do you know each other from and what make you and Mark a great team?
Mark and I are both former ad agency guys and management consultants. We’ve both had nearly 30 years each pitching tech ideas to large brands. We’re both classical pianists from the US Midwest (him from Wisconsin, me from Michigan) and we both think the same way. We met at the Seattle Social Media Club back about ten years ago when it got huge, and I onboarded him and his team as delivery partners for the Xerox Customer Experience Practice in 2017. Given all the synergies, his conscientious temperament, sense of humor and his great network of brands and financiers, it made a lot of sense for us to chase this dream together.
I love the fact that the website is very clean and straight to the point. I think the problems and the solutions are clear to your audience right away. Could you explain what those problems are and how Transparent Path can help businesses overcome them with (blockchain) solutions?
I’m glad to hear you think the website is clear because it’s a hard solution to elucidate! The problem is that there are many challenges impacting the food sector right now. Escalating food recalls. Drastically declining consumer trust (in the US). Outdated supply chain practices. Massive food waste. Growing food fraud. Lots of blame being thrown around between supply chain players. And perhaps more than anything, mushrooming complexity around data and process.
Of the latter two, this is primarily a data problem. Most farmers don’t have the time, labor or technology to capture data at scale. Supply chain partners typically track one step forward in the supply chain and one step back, so that no one entity has all the information about provenance. And when something goes sideways — for example, a recall — everyone starts pointing fingers and trying to shift blame.
If all of the players had access to one single source of truth, if no one company could strong-arm the others, and if the data was collected and shared in real time, the entire ecosystem could detect problems much more quickly, and resolve them, before they turned into a recall. Logistics companies could protect themselves against allegations that they had allowed food to spoil. Anyone downstream from the problem would be spared the financial and reputational risk of a recall. And with the data out in the open, bad actors would have nowhere to hide. Good actors would step up and good behavior would be reinforced within the system.
Of course, the Achilles’ heel of blockchain-based systems is garbage in, garbage out. If the farmer lies about the conditions of the cows, if the supply chain partners fudged the data about the temperature in the trucks, then the data in the ledger would be worthless. There’s actually significant risk of consumers losing faith in blockchain for this very reason. Once consumers, or enterprises, lose faith, it’s all over for blockchain as a viable solution to this problem.
We don’t see what we’re doing as a blockchain solution; we see it as a proof platform. We use auditors to verify data at product’s origins, we use IoT sensors to validate what happens to the food along the way, and we make that data available to all the supply chain partners in a consortium blockchain. That way companies have the data to defend themselves. And all the partners can use that data to run prescriptive or predictive analytics, helping them better manage their own businesses.
While blockchain has a ton of hype, and we are seeing hype exhaustion in the market, it’s just one technology we’re using to rebuild trust in a distrustful world.
What is one easy example where Transparent Path is needed and everybody will understand?
You mention it in your question below. Let’s say that a farmer has sold some cows to a big beef producer. The farmer uploads data about the cows’ origins to our blockchain. The vet uploads the appropriate health, antibiotic and hormone data to that same blockchain. A local trucking company picks up the cows (date/time/location gets uploaded) and drops them at the slaughterhouse (date/time/location uploaded).
The cows are slaughtered, and the carcasses are in a refrigerated truck and begin a trip across the US Southwest. A problem with the refrigeration unit lets the temperature rise beyond tolerance and the meat begins to spoil. IoT sensors on the meat itself capture this cold-chain data and store it on-package. When the driver arrives at the cannery with the carcasses, and the sensor data is read, the temperature violation is instantly flagged, and the cannery can refuse payment for the shipment. And all those downstream players — the warehouses, the other shipping companies, the retailer and the consumer — are spared the financial, reputational and health risks. No pulling bad product off of shelves. No destruction of that product. No notifications to consumers that their health is at risk. No lawsuits. No stock price impacts. The entire supply chain is kept honest, and most of the time, they all benefit.
I also read another example about a refrigerated shipment of beef leaving a certified organic farm. ‘’A tired truck driver stops to rest in Tempe, Arizona and forgets to turn on the refrigeration unit. Temperatures reach 140°F in the truck and the meat begins to spoil. The driver wakes up, thinks “whoops,” turns on the unit and drives on. The compromised meat cools down and arrives at the warehouse, and no one downstream in the supply chain has any idea. Later, some kids get sick and efforts begin to try to trace the contamination back to the source.” So my question here is, will Transparent Path also make it possible to prevent temperature to reach 140°F in the first place by sending a push notification to the truck driver before temperature reaches a critical point. Prevention would be the ultimate goal? Or at least a record on the blockchain that proofs the driver has been warned properly?
Our goal is primarily to capture and share accurate information about the origins, environmental conditions and provenance of the product, but your idea about a push notification is a great idea! It behooves the driver and the trucking company to know when something goes wrong. We want this system to help everyone do a better job at feeding people, rather than just covering their collective asses.
And again, when everyone has visibility into the entire supply chain, they can leverage that data with AI-based analytics to help with their own forecasting, resource planning and execution.
The passion behind Transparent Path is to save lives, prevent sickness, reduce fraud and to help stop the current slide into chaos. What do you mean by stop the current slide into chaos? What is the chaos that needs to be solved?
The chaos is the explosion of complexity in the supply chain. That complexity is outpacing our ability to deal with it. We have a lot of data but it’s sitting in silos, or worse, on paper. The average food shipment across borders has between 30 and 200 paper documents. The average purchase order goes through seven changes while the food is being shipped. As more countries import food, as more producers come online, as more technologies, laws, regulations and systems proliferate, the complexity becomes almost unmanageable. We want to create a system, not owned by any one player, that increases simplicity, fairness and introduces some kind of order into this explosion of “data chaos.”
Who else are working at Transparent Path? Can you tell a bit more about the people and their passion?
As of December 1, we will be four months old. Right now, besides Mark and I, Tony Leone is our Director of IoT. He’s a former colleague of mine from Xerox who holds 17 patents in electronics from companies like Kodak, Sun Microsystems and Texas Instruments. We’ve also added Paula Wood, a former Amazon Logistics UX design guru, our two advisors (below) and two interns. We all share the same passions: radical transparency, radical honesty, food safety, empowering consumers, and ethical business practices. We really dislike what we’re seeing in terms of “alt facts” and fake news. We’re really here to give back to society, rather than just getting rich — which is why we’re not offering a token at this time.
What can people expect from Transparent Path in the coming months? And where do you hope to be in 5 to 10 years?
We have our delivery resourcing lined up so right now we’re focused on fundraising and sales. You’ll see us speaking on food provenance at conferences globally. We are just finishing a 14-event roadshow.
In five to ten years? We hope you’ll see our ProofScore™ sensor labels on your favorite food products! You’ll be able to pull out your phone and see where your food came from, how it got to you, and what happened along the way. You and other consumers will also be able to decide which brands and products are the most trustworthy.
Are there any recent exciting developments or partnerships you could tell more about?
We are thrilled to announce two new advisory board members joining our team! First is Craig Herkert, former President of Walmart Americas. He is bringing decades of retail food experience to help guide our offer and approach. Also joining us is Maria Emmer-Aanes, a long-time friend and former client who heads up marketing and sales for Numi Organic Tea. Maria is extremely well-known in the organic food industry and an expert in shopper marketing.
We have been approached by other players in the food provenance space about potential partnerships — can’t say anything about them until the ink is dry.
Is there anything else about Transparent Path you would like to share with anyone reading this? Perhaps I missed some important things. :)
Basically, we believe that “food is ripe for an upgrade.” Our mission is to keep people safe and healthy. To keep brands safe and trusted. One hundred years ago, the late US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “sunlight is the best of disinfectants,” meaning transparency inspires good behavior and dissuades the bad. That’s our motto: shine the light of transparency into the food chain to discourage fraud and encourage better safety, consumer trust, and reduced risk.
How did you end up at Blockchain Seattle 2018? And how was your experience there? Would you recommend others to go next year?
I heard about Blockchain Seattle through a mutual friend, and Jonesy (Dragonchain’s Chris Jones, President of Dragonscale) was kind enough to give me a speaking slot. It was great to see how robust the Seattle blockchain community is, with representatives from Dragonchain, Rchain, LoyalCoin, Token Forum, Tymlez, State of Washington, LifeID, Govurn, and speakers and attendees from Estonia, Australia and elsewhere around the globe.
Should you go next year? ABSOLUTELY. This is a nascent scene and things are happening extremely fast. If you want to stay up to date on the space, you have to attend events like this.
For those of you who would like to follow along on the progress, Transparent Path maintains a Telegram channel. They have a lot of things in the pipe and will be announcing them shortly.