Founders Perspective — John Underwood, How We Got Here

May 27, 2018 · 6 min read
Image Credit: John Underwood | Terrigal beach on the Central Coast, NSW — Home to CRDZ

This has been a journey that’s taken many years. And, interestingly enough, it didn’t begin with any idea or desire to end up where we are now: developing a compliant commercial decentralized platform.

The idea that started it all occured to me in about the year 2000. It was inspired from the almost overwhelming challenges and inefficiencies of having to relocate a team of 32 people to Wall Street as part of an Internet startup I was heading. (The amount of paperwork required still gives me the shivers.)

The idea, which was also a fevered wish, was simple. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have all your personal information in the one place; secure, private and easily accessible? How much easier would it be to relocate my team? Beyond that, how much simpler would everyone’s life be?

Like so many good ideas, the timing was not right. The technology to make that sort of thing a reality was not available and we had too many other things to focus on.

Cut to a few years later. I was advising Smart Telecommunications, the major carrier in the Philippines, about the impact Internet Messaging was going to have on SMS reliant carriers. I had just launched UZZAP, a mobile Internet community for Filipinos around the world, and it was handling 150 million messages per day.

During one of my many flights out of Manila airport, I witnessed a distraught Filipina at the immigration counter. She did not want to hand over her credentials. It was obvious she’d been warned that if she lost possession of her credentials she’d be at the mercy of those willing to exploit the innocent.

Again the thought came to mind — wouldn’t it be great for her if she could have her life in one place? Somewhere where all her personal information — including credentials and assets — was immediately available? Where it would be secure and private, under her absolute control, and accessible via her chosen mobile device? She wouldn’t worry about showing this man her credentials then, as they would never truly leave her possession.

So my team and I looked at whether we could deliver at least part of that vision — notarized credentials — through UZZAP.

But we soon realized that people would not adopt a service where all their credentials were owned by a centralized organization. That woman I saw in the airport, for instance, wouldn’t have trusted it.

Fast forward to 2013, when I first came across Bitcoin and blockchain technology. I knew the problem of needing digitized, secure credentials had not gone away but now we had a technology that promised to solve the issue of centralized ownership through its decentralized structure.

I leapt into the technology and started to explore how we could provide a mechanism for digitized credentials. But other related, equally exciting possibilities also came to mind. How could we use this technology to help people like the the Filipina I saw a few years back? How could we offer her more efficient remittances and — given what crypto was doing — and even some savings and incentives?

We kicked off a small team to start exploring those possibilities through a start up, Remitabit. We also were looking to use the technology for more efficient remittance, micro-financing and savings possibilities. During our research and development, we became convinced that ultimately regulators would require identified use if users were going to be transferring funds and dealing with money.

So our focus naturally shifted to exploring cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology could solve that dilemma. Identabit was the result. We felt it was the necessary starting point for solving the challenges we’d seen over the past few years.

By 2015 remittances had taken a back seat and Identabit, an identity based currency enabling distributed compliance, became the top priority. Even then we believed that governments and regulators could and would not ignore the issues associated with anonymous cross-border transactions. We also knew that if decentralized alternatives were not deployed, banks and centralized operators would seize the initiative and suppress the potential of decentralized technologies.

Around that time, I travelled to Virginia to meet one of the smartest people in the crypto space: Dan Larimer from Bitshares and his colleague and father, Stan. We spent almost two years, learning and collaborating on how to make Identabit a reality using Bitshares technology. During that time we encountered a number of technical constraints as well as some philosophical differences.

From left to right: Dan Larimer, John Underwood, Nikolai ‘Toast’ Mushegian & Stan Larimer

Eventually, our respective views on the future of decentralized technology and solutions differed too greatly and we agreed to pursue alternative paths. I set up the nucleus of a team that is with me today and we began working on our central ideas.

Around that time, Hyperledger and Ethereum also emerged as influential technologies with community support. Hyperledger, being part of the Linux foundation, offered more robust, cross-industry blockchain development while Ethereum’s smart contracts promised to provide a potential solution to some of our technical requirements.

As we researched and learned more about both we got a clearer idea of what was and wasn’t possible. For both, there were design impediments that needed addressing, particularly as we were now convinced that decentralized commerce was at the heart of mainstream adoption of decentralized systems.

Without it — we felt and still feel — such systems would struggle to make a real-world impact. Also, without decentralized commerce we definitely could not realise our vision for capturing, proving and enabling reusability of credentials across services all under the control of the owner.

The truth is, our view is different from the beliefs of many in the crypto world. While we fundamentally believe in the core principles of privacy, disintermediation of centralized inefficient organisations and restriction of government overreach, we believe those ideals can still be maintained with regulation.

All it would take are some minor tweaks to the way we deploy decentralised technology. These tweaks would still give us decentralized regulated chains and unregulated ramps, and they would not involve giving up crypto’s original tenets. Most importantly, it would lead to the widespread adoption of the technology.

That is why — after many years of forward, backward and sideway steps — we have designed CRDZ. We still haven’t given up on our ambition to see a world where decentralized technology is driving real change, being adopted by mainstream businesses, users and communities.

But in order to achieve that we have to deliver platforms, like CRDZ, that embrace compliance without sacrificing privacy. That create scale by enabling easy access unimpeded by regulatory overhead. That provide essential functionality for tokenized securities and assets. Essentially, a credentialed, confidential decentralized platform that lays the foundations for compliant ICO’s and sustained business opportunities.

We were too early with both Remitabit and Identabit — the technology and our design concepts weren’t sufficiently refined. But the timing is perfect for the launch of CRDZ.

The technology has matured significantly, while anonymity has become much more of a concern. Mainstream media outlets have been covering the spectacular rises and falls of the crypto market, the success of unregulated ICOs, and the volatile trading of cryptocurrencies. Everyone has heard about the theft and losses resulting from anonymous activities, and regulators are taking more notice and actions in this space.

The world is ready for a response that answers their concerns, and we believe the answer is decentralized commerce.

But beyond that we believe CRDZ, together with the release of services we have in the planning phase, will be the first concrete steps in making the initial dream — life in one place — a reality.


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