Interviews with Da Hongfei & Li Jun

My meetings with the founder of NEO and Onchain’s CEO, and the chief architect of Onchain’s newest project, the Ontology Network.

Li Jun (left) and Da Hongfei (right) stopping to allow fans and journalists to photograph them after a successful launch event.

This Monday I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Ontology Network, a new ecosystem designed to interlink blockchains and enhance trust and speed across the Internet. The launch was held at One Chase Plaza, a skyscraper property in lower Manhattan owned by the Fosun Group, a multi-billion dollar Chinese investment firm backing Onchain, the company behind the Ontology Network.

The event also featured a presentation on NEO, the blockchain cryptocurrency listed on countless crypto exchanges, whose founder Da Hongfei is also the CEO of Ontology. I knew he was a big deal before I got to the event, but hearing one latecomer freak out and run over to Da to ask a question after his friend told him, “the founder of NEO is here” admittedly made me teem with excitement. You see, it was only two hours later I got the chance to interview not only Da Hongfei, but also Li Jun, the chief architect of the Ontology Network.

Li is attentive to detail, yet focused on the bigger picture. His background studying computer science and communications, working at the China Futures Financial Exchange, and an MBA make Li a dynamic hand to sculpt the future, something he has experience in. He recounted to me what it felt like to be a part of a “team sponsored by Paul Allen of Microsoft”, where he helped “cement the web then known as ‘next gen internet.’” Li told me that his work at Ontology is for him in the same vein: something that will be a staple of our world in a decade.

He is gentle in his demeanor, using his hands to emphasize his words as if he were sculpting the image in front of me. His insights are more philosophical than technical, which is not surprising given how adamant he is about coders having a scope beyond the technical aspect. “Blockchain is an architectural innovation, [it’s an] economy more than a [technical] design, so you need a different background to design a successful public platform… [you] cannot only care about the technical aspects.”

His colleague Da is not so different. Da studied economics and computer science, which he says gave him the worldview he has. Because of that view, when he discovered Bitcoin in 2011 he quickly recognized its potential from both the technical and social perspectives. Da told me in our discussion that, “in 2011 there was no Bitcoin community, not in China.” However, by 2013 Da had been a vanguard in getting China’s BTC community going, though he eventually moved on to his own blockchain, NEO.

Despite being the founder of NEO and one of its biggest figures, it is not a cut-and-paste partnership. “Ontology will have its own token system, though we will encourage them to use NEO,” assures Li; Da went even further to say that “if there is user demand [other cryptocurrencies and fiat could be used to purchase the native token for Ontology].”

Still, when I asked Da how NEO’s community would feel given its preferential status in the Ontology Network he made it clear that much is being done to ensure that coders working in NEO’s open-source environment to develop new apps for it are not left empty handed. “We reward our community: Blockchain Explorer got ten thousand NEO tokens…fifty percent of tokens are reserved… but we reached a deal with Council of Zion, and we gave them one percent, one million tokens, for development over the next five years.” Ten thousand tokens are “equal to about three months salary” Da elaborates, but confidently added that “[their worth] will go up as NEO grows.”

This seems likely. While in New York, Li says Onchain plans to meet with CoinDesk to discuss the former investing in the latter. NEO will in its own right see an expansion that will make it more workable within the Ontology Network: the NEX. Neo Exchange or “NEX is a decentralized exchange” with the “features, functionality, and experience of a centralized exchange” Da explained.

Da expressed his desire to make Ontology the next step in blockchain by making it totally trusted. Currently he sees lack of trust as the biggest difference between some cryptocurrencies and what Ontology can offer:

“[Blockchain without trust] can work like Bitcoin or other blockchains… but if the blockchain wants to be a big success, to be used by the real world, in the real economy, we need to somehow bring real identity into the system.”

While Onchain will try to build a more complicated network of blockchains more complex than Bitcoin, Ontology like Bitcoin “will use a bottom-up strategy: we will not use government power to build Ontology.” It is Li and Da’s intention that eventually the Ontology Network will connect objects, industries, and countries.

Of course, such a feet is not accomplished over night. Separately asked how long the entire roadmap Onchain has paved for Ontology Li said, “around five years, depending on the scenario.” Da was perhaps more guarded and stated three to five years, although it may take “ten years to fulfill the roadmap we’ve drawn for Ontology.” With a long road ahead and a growing number of companies working in blockchain there are some strong advantages for this project. Namely, that such an ambitious project is currently without a rival.

“We have not found another team, maybe [some teams working on some] specific [segments of Ontology’s vision], but not the infrastructure of ecosystem-level design. We may be the first team to pursue this.” Li’s humble brag is understated: Fosun’s investment is more than a good omen, it’s fuel. “Fosun invested knowing that open-source [blockchains] are profitable. Because blockchain, you use it to built trust, [and] if you cannot have open source for that, you are holding back trust as the sole developer.”

It will take a great deal of effort to get more groups using blockchain, but with already a score of areas where blockchain could seriously improve trustworthiness and/or efficiency it is safe to say their vision is bold but bright. If there will be an ICO neither would confirm or deny, but during his keynote address Da took a moment to clarify the legality of ICOs in China. Similarly, while NEO itself “will not do a fourth [round of investment”, Da said, “NEO has already been well received in American crypto-communities. I have been given a lot of warm welcomes. It’s a good idea [to use NEO] to attract investment.

If investors are anything like the NEO enthusiast I saw raving about Da’s presence, I’m sure the “digital gold” will pour in.