John, Paul, and the other Beatle — Owen — on the road to blockchain: A founders story.
The founder’s story matters. The story sets the culture, foundation, and motivation for the team as it grows. Some of the early banter, struggles, conflicts, and successes carry throughout the entire lifetime of a start-up to maturity. Also, people love stories — people love to tell the story of immaculate conception, how things came to be, and how they evolved to where they are today.
People care about the ‘why’ and according to Simon Sinek, this is how leaders inspire action by Starting with the Why. Check it out if you haven’t.
So what’s our story?
How do you get an Australian, a Brit, and a Canadian all to agree on how to change an industry? Add in a guy from India and we have fair representation from the Commonwealth — actually, that may have been a better name for the company :)
Let me first introduce myself, I’m Paul Neto, CMO, co-founder, generally known as the quiet one and a believer of building great teams that can accomplish great things. Working in early-stage companies, everything is against you, including not enough time, though I believe this provides us with the greatest opportunity to accomplish great things with great people. As the American composer Leonard Bernstein once put it:
“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”
While some have referred to me as a technologist or researcher, I’m actually a geographer by trade. Fascinated by the influence of space on everything we do, my formal education at the University of Waterloo was focused in the early days of computer-aided cartography (GIS) and remote sensing. Collecting, managing, and interpreting data into insights and stories became the core of much of my work, which started at a software company. The pivot came when joining a market research start-up at the time when we were still trying to explain that you actually can do a survey online.
Then we have John Martin, our fearless CTO reigning from Emu Heights outside of Sydney, Australia. A computer engineer, philosopher, and ‘one-day will be’ author — when he’s not hammering out code, he can be found scaling some rock cliff in his spare time. Tempted by skiing in Canada, he landed in Toronto where he picked up a scripting job and consequently entered the market research tech world. The company we were both at was acquired by comScore, where we made it through the IPO and built the first-ever survey router for survey research before leaving to co-found Crowd Science which was venture funded by Granite Ventures of San Francisco and later acquired by YuMe — a video ad network.
Enter Owen Hanks, our tenacious CEO, who after spending a number of years at the BBC (Top Gear) and various media stints around London, UK, founded Appealing Media which was the first mobile-based video technology ad network. Think mobile video before the iPhone — yes he was that visionary and has credit for one of the very first apps to reign in the Apple App Store. Success led to attention, which led to an acquisition by YuMe and sitting as part of the executive team building out an international expansion and operation, which helped position the company for an IPO in 2013.
Blockchain and data science are two areas where industry-wide everyone is seeking (and lacking) expertise, as such we were very fortunate to have Prashanth Ravidran willing to join our founding team. Residing in Chennai, India, we have most of the commonwealth now covered. Having worked with Prashanth in previous projects, and with his expertise in AI, data science and blockchain/cryptography, we were able to assemble a competent team willing to take on a multi-faceted challenge.
Out of the gate, our team became complete with Neil Mehta joining to provide additional engineering depth with his pragmatic approach to software development. While located in the Bay Area, he spent his early years in Canada making him an instant awesome guy that can keep a few cowboys in line and on track.
While all of our beginnings were very different, they have a few common threads including startups, technology before its time, acquisitions, too many trips to Silicon Valley, funding, board dealings, and an IPO or two along the way. The common glue here has been our tenure at YuMe which helped provide an intersection point for the team.
The devil is in the details, but spending a number of years in advertising technology (ad tech), helped establish a perspective that would not be possible elsewhere. Let’s consider the ad tech landscape of 2013. Well funded companies, massive revenue growth, video was in its infancy, data science, AI and machine learning are picking up speed, ad networks competing for ad dollars, and the industry on the verge of a maturity reality-check.
At this stage, much of ad technology was within a small number of tech savvy companies, and an even smaller number of tech giants — Google, Facebook, etc. The industry was pretty much a black box, standards were still evolving or absent, issues of transparency and data quality were running rampant, advertisers were starting to take notice of fraud, and while there were various tools and solutions starting to appear to address these, the collective action was that it was an issue for another day. Enter programmatic advertising and this was all about to change.
Brands and advertisers started to demand transparency while ad viewability became the number one issue to conquer. Advertisers started to take a strong stance against viewability and it took Marc Pritchard of P&G to trigger a step change in the industry when he proclaimed:
“P&G will no longer tolerate the ridiculous complexity of different viewability standards.”
. . . and explained suppliers who don’t comply with the new rules simply won’t get paid. The rest is history and the industry has been on a track to address its fraud, data quality issues, and levels of transparency ever since. It took the brand dollars that drive the industry to stand up and demand transparency and accountability to inflict change for the industry. The implications for the industry were immense and amidst viewability and programmatic, a number of companies failed to evolve and thrive and slowly deteriorated from the inside out.
We lived, breathed, suffered, and emerged from our time in this industry with a few bruises, but were all ultimately enlightened by the experience. Though while the advertising industry was going through a transition, we could see similar challenges starting to emerge in the data and market research industry.
Indeed, the market research market, while a few years offset, was witnessing a number of similar challenges. Since the advent of online sampling and research, there have been countless conferences, talks, panels, research-on-research and concerns over the professional survey respondent, online panel representation, fraud, trust, and data quality issues.
“Only 27% of respondents personally trust market research companies.”
Trust is an issue within the industry, highlighted by the Global Business Research Network (GRBN) trust survey that found 27% saying they personally trust market research. In perspective, this is in line with mobile phone operators (29%) and the secret service at 24%. And while we don’t have conclusive numbers, anecdotally, fraud is said to be around 20–30% which accounts for bots and questionable responses within surveys.
While there are many reputable research panels, there is a general consensus that many operate as a black box with very little transparency or accountability, and many survey providers must resort to search for survey straight-liners and other suspicious behaviors. Further complications are achieved by the generally low payout for participating in a survey. Estimates hover around 20 to 47 cents for participating in a fifteen-minute survey. In an industry where millions of business decisions are being made based on feedback from individuals willing to participate for 21 cents, a collective action exists where poorly formatted, excruciatingly long surveys and poorly compensated individuals are deemed acceptable. This is an injustice for all the good research that is being conducted.
With the emergence of blockchain-based technologies and cryptography on the heels of its first killer app — Bitcoin, the trio spots an opportunity for a step change and vision of addressing some of these challenges. At face value, if we describe blockchain as a mechanism of building trust, accountability, and transparency, is this not a foundation for data quality?
“The vision is to give consumers control of their data and make it widely available as a force for good in society.“
The Measure Protocol vision is to enact on consumer data sovereignty and make data widely available as a collective good for society while protecting and compensating individuals. The ingredients for data quality included by design are:
- A good user experience
- Giving users control over their data
- Compensating users adequately for their data
- Protecting users privacy
- Providing transparency
- Enforcing accountability
- Building trust
While blockchain is not a technical necessity for achieving trust, an acceptable user experience, and data quality, the current ecosystem does not provide the necessary incentives or motivations for a collective convergence towards achieving these. There is no magic here, there is no silver bullet, but there are a number of influencing factors within blockchain and cryptography that cumulatively help reinforce these core concepts. This is where step change leads to a long-term improvement over the status quo.
We could all stand back and wait for things to change but in the meantime, a major industry controller of dollars (brand, advertiser) is likely soon to step up and say they will no longer tolerate how data is collected and managed. Here at measure, we don’t plan to sit back and wait, we’re pushing forward on our mission, about to release our app, running pilots and hope you feel the same urgency to influence the rules of engagement for better data and an empowered consumer.