Invaluable experience from the intersection of IT and logistics

Introducing advisors Ken Lyon and Peter Kaas

Ken Lyon and Peter Kaas joined OriginTrail’s advisory board early November 2017. They have been working together on technology projects for more than 20 years and were one of the early investors that provided the funds required for launching our token sale. They also bring strong domain knowledge with regards to technology, product development and supply chains. In this interview, they explain how they met OriginTrail’s founders and what got them excited about the project.

Hi guys, please introduce yourselves.

Peter: I am a techie at heart, have a background in AI and telecommunications, and have always been fascinated with cutting edge technologies and their applications. During the 90’s I spent a great deal of time setting up Internet providers and developing software connecting Apple’s Newton to the Internet to give people easy access to information systems. Admittedly, that was a bit early days, the technology was not mature enough yet to deliver on its promises. But it did give me a great insight into what was possible and showed me the power of an iterative development process. Additionally, with Newton’s forced demise, it taught me a lesson to never again build my solutions on a proprietary technology.

In the years after I became more and more active as an investor, providing seed capital and development power to promising young companies. One of these was providing visibility systems to 4PLs (aka Lead Logistics providers) for the supply chains of large enterprise companies, something that my company had been delivering on a consultancy basis for many years. 4PL’s use technology and superior process management to choreograph and manage the logistics operations for global supply chains.

Ken: Well I have been working in the freight, logistics and supply chain arena for most of my professional life. It became obvious after a while that unless you have transparency into every aspect of the supply chain, it’s impossible to manage operations effectively.

I started my logistics career in the late 70’s as a freight forwarder and then moved into telecommunications and software development with a Swiss company during the 1980’s. In 1990 I was hired by United Parcel Service (UPS) to join the senior management team in the European HQ and then spent 10 years as a Director and VP of information services there, helping to establish, in 1995, its logistics and supply chain services business globally. This team developed and grew the logistics operations from a $30 million to $900 million enterprise at the point when I left in 2000. Since then I’ve founded, developed and acted as advisor to a number of start-ups. I also frequently act as an advisor to governments, commercial organisations and the investment banking community.

Peter and I have worked together for over 20 years, using technology and especially the Internet to capture and share logistics information. It’s only over the past few years that the technology has been generally available and at a low enough cost, to provide end to end visibility and transparency.

So why did you become interested in OriginTrail and what we are trying to accomplish?

Ken: For anyone who has worked in logistics, it’s generally understood that supply chains are essentially a series of contracts between numerous parties engaged in the buying of components, products and services to manufacture, verify, transport, store and sell to customers. As such, each element of these chains involves networks of participants exchanging data and information with varying degrees of accuracy and clarity.

Peter: Right, currently most of this information is stored (in duplicate and often inaccurately or incomplete) in the various functional silos and systems of each supply chain participant. Each of these systems pass information and control commands to each other. In some cases where systems are lacking, there is only a paper process. Because of all this, having full visibility on the supply chain is problematic, making it harder to operate a transparent supply chain due to challenges with inventory management and other inefficiencies.

I ran into Tomaž and Branimir from OriginTrail last October at the 9984 SUMMIT, hosted by BigchainDB in Berlin. Initially I was struck by their enthusiasm as entrepreneurs, but as we got talking they showed remarkable insights in challenges similar to the ones my company had faced previously in implementing enterprise supply chain visibility platforms.

Ken: We had a pretty clear vision (based on a lot of experience) as to what was needed to provide visibility and transparency on an industry wide scale. After Peter met with Tomaž and Branimir in Berlin, he called me and said I should have a look at their whitepaper and the assumptions they were making. I did and quickly realised they were pulling together all of the technical ingredients we had identified. Alongside that, they had made some initial progress with real customers and were focussed on a segment (food transparency) that had a low tolerance for stuff that didn’t work. At that point we both realised we should find out a lot more about OriginTrail and see if we could help.

What was it about OriginTrail that got you really excited?

Peter: One of the problems we had identified as one of the bigger challenges in gaining widespread adoption — and main reason our prior attempts at supporting 4PLs have failed — was the fact that not all parties involved were inclined or incentivized to share their data with an externalized platform. This created silo’s of information, making full visibility and transparency a difficult thing to accomplish.

Obviously, transparency is a good thing, as fraud or tampering with commercial and other financial records is usually done in secret, with the perpetrators seeking to remain undetected. But in many legitimate commercial agreements or contracts, confidentiality and secrecy is essential. A transparent mechanism underpinning these relationships represents an interesting dilemma if the parties involved in a transaction have a problem trusting each other. I got excited when it became clear to me that OriginTrail offered a unique solution to this impediment.

Ken: Indeed, OriginTrail understood that any general solutions revolved around communities of users and the necessity for open protocols. This is the only way that widespread adoption has a chance of becoming real. Unlike many other attempts to accomplish the same thing, they also realised that it needs to be neutral (i.e. owned by the community, similar to the way that Visa is controlled by its members). These apparently simple principles have been hard to find anywhere in the supply chain visibility domain.

Peter: The open protocol, open-source approach and token backed network ensure that no single entity can easily take control of an organization’s critical processes but still allows for a low barrier to entry for everyone involved. OT’s innovative use of blockchain as one of the key underpinning elements of the solution, enforces the ability for OriginTrail to be ‘the Single Version of the Truth’ for any and all participants in a supply chain, and allows for independent verification of supply chain data provided. In short, immutable transparency. Taking away the final obstruction.

What do you think of the team?

Ken: Since we have joined the advisory board, we have been impressed by the intelligence and maturity shown by Tomaž, Branimir and Žiga. Often in young entrepreneurs, you find fierce intelligence and business acumen, but also impatience and arrogance. In reality each of those characteristics is important and has a role to play in building a business from zero. But often the blend is wrong and arrogance evolves into an inability to take advice, rather than being channeled into determination to succeed.

With the OriginTrail principals, they have been keen to solicit our advice and listen intently when we explain our own mistakes (of which there have been many), in order to avoid repeating them.

Peter: The team has proven these last few years that they understand the domain and are capable of delivering. Now that they are taking it up a few notches we see that they are smartly allying themselves with industry experts. With people in various parts of Europe and Asia, Tomaž and Žiga show that they know what is required for running a distributed team despite their busy schedules. Branimir understands that in these times where development power is hard to find the development of the OriginTrail protocol brings about so many exciting challenges that he does not have to compromise in attracting techies. It’s cool to witness the traction they’re getting.

Ken: We know from experience that it’s critical for any startup to have a great team. No matter how good the idea, a team that can execute is usually the difference between success and failure. This was a big factor in informing our decision to invest early in the OriginTrail proposition, so that they had sufficient resources to start turning the vision into reality.

How far do you think OriginTrail can go with its protocol, and what are the main benefits and long-term potential that you see?

Ken: I think they have been very smart by focussing on a particular sector where transparency in the supply chain is essential. If they can establish a real presence here, then they can transfer many of the lessons across to other complementary sectors. Because OriginTrail is a protocol, it can be adopted across the board by any and all companies and enterprises that have a requirement for accurate and proactive supply chain operations. I can’t think of any customer, anywhere who wouldn’t want their products to come from a company that can do that.

Peter: Applications of the OriginTrail go way beyond the current focus of the team. Once these base layers are in place I expect many new developers will join the Trace Alliance. In the run up to 2020 we’ll see applications in the field of supply chain security, insurance, anomaly- and counterfeit-detection all making use of the OriginTrail network. And even though it is not a requirement for them to do so, I expect many of these higher layer solutions will be open-sourced and that we’ll get a thriving community.

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