Summary of the first Ask Us Anything (AUA) with Tomaz & Ziga
Dear Tracers, we want to give you first-hand insight into project development. To complement our regular monthly and quarterly reports, we are kicking off monthly AUAs (Ask Us Anything) with founders and team members.
Two of the co-founders — CEO Tomaz Levak and COO Ziga Drev — joined us for the first session on June 30th. We collected questions through our community channels. We got a few dozens of them!
During the hour-long session, no question remained unanswered. Here is a summary of the key ideas and statements from the AUA, with timestamps if you want to jump to the full answer in the video. We arranged the questions by topic and combined some that were very similar into single questions. Answers in this summary are partly edited for clarity.
1. Vision and Plans
Where do you see OriginTrail in 5 years? Do you foresee protocol adoption by larger industry players?
Ziga: We have very positive prospects. We see a lot of bigger players implementing the blockchain to their supply chains. There are several bottlenecks in industry in general that OriginTrail is aiming to tackle with the decentralized protocol. These bottlenecks are preventing companies in implementing the blockchain in their businesses on a scale. Businesses are successful at implementing proof-of-concepts in more of a lab environment, with controlled variables. But, when you try to exchange data with other companies, you need to connect several data silos — and at this point the solution often fails due to data interoperability. This is the first challenge we are tackling with GS1 standards.
Companies are also not willing to share data. OriginTrail provides them several different ways of encrypting data. Our flagship encryption is zero-knowledge proof. This cryptography, first used in Zcash, could be used in supply chains as well. These tools enable the protection of sensitive data and competitive advantages.
We believe OriginTrail can become a preferred solution for companies that have already started using the blockchain for supply chain purposes because they will see it as a crucial part to continue their implementation efforts.
Tomaz: Within a 5-year frame, we will see larger scale of implementations beyond proof of concepts and the OriginTrail protocol will play an integral part.
What is the company’s business and strategy plan for the rest of the year and how do you see this company moving forward?
Tomaz: More specifically, a lot of activities are directed towards working with companies adopting the protocol. Not only within the team, but also on inspiring other actors to be willing to work within the ecosystem and employ their human or capital resources to make adoption happen. Yesterday, we launched the Trace Alliance website, this is one of the activities on an ecosystem level.
Ziga: Implementing a decentralized solution should entail many stakeholders. Involved companies need to do it in an economically sustainable way. OriginTrail’s mission is global and as such we need to make sure that other partners have a vested interest. We see that other partners (in Asia and USA) are even willing to take certain implementation costs on their own shoulders. This is very encouraging. For that reason, we don’t need to scale our team globally in the short term. We aim to grow the adoption of the protocol through inclusion. The Trace Alliance should serve this purpose. We have onboarded some important companies, some of them global leaders in their respective fields. We need to take into consideration business cycles, but we have a very sound strategy on how to attract additional interest from the industry.
Are you trying to hire more people this year? If so, where and for which roles?
Tomaz: We are expanding the team, but it’s important to keep the vision and mission aligned within the team members. But we are always looking for competent people with interest in the field that are amongst the best in what they do. We check every application that comes through our talent pipeline and consider it when there is a need for new team members.
How would you describe the culture of the company?
Ziga: Our aim is to create a group of 20–30 individuals who will take leadership roles. It is not enough just to grow a company. With our global mission, we need to have the best people on board. We are mindful about which individuals we let into our company. They are the ones shaping the culture. The culture is aimed at achieving results. We have always reached set deadlines. I am confident that the team is working extraordinary well. Even with new hires, the culture of working hard and delivering results on time will continue.
What is your day-to-day work in the office like? How is your time spent between different tasks (daily operations, business relations, events, travel, etc)?
Tomaz: We have a very dynamic work schedule. It changes from week to week. We try to segment the tasks in order of highest priority. Travels and building global presence can take a lot out of the day, which sometimes requires us to work odd hours.
In your opinion, what mistakes have been made since the ICO? How do you reflect on mistakes and have you made adjustments and or changes going forward?
Ziga: There are three levels to our approach: vision, strategy and tactics. At the vision level, mistakes are not tolerated. I believe we have a very sound vision of delivering a decentralized solution in a scalable way whilst taking care of the integrity of the data exchange. This vision has been validated through talks with companies as well as through actual implementations. We are seeing positive signals from the market here.
In our long-term strategy, no failures have been visible. When it comes to short- or mid-term strategies, you need to allow for certain changes if a certain strategy becomes outdated. It might happen in the future.
At the tactical level, mistakes (I would rather call them failures) should be tolerated and encouraged. You must not shy away from changing certain things, from trying out new tactics. Small mistakes enable us to gather crucial information, which consistently improves our organization.
The landscape is changing rapidly, certain communication strategies might not be as efficient as the ones that we used before the TGE. We are being faced with increased demand from the market and need to revert certain communications resources we have towards working with companies. If we continued to disregard this demand, that would be a mistake. But we were quick enough to recognize that this should be changed as soon as possible.
Tomaz: To be “afraid” is a strong statement, but it makes sense to be asked this question. The challenge for the entire industry is to make sure that certain use cases that might not have value at their core don’t outpace those that actually want to create something. Sometimes you get the feeling that the technology is not being used to show the best value. If this becomes widespread, larger companies won’t be interested to trial the technology anymore because it will be deemed useless or just not providing value. It can hinder the pace of adoption mid-term. What we can do in response is to be faster than that and come up with tangible value as soon as possible.
What are the most important lessons you have learned in 2018?
Ziga: The power of decentralization is something that surprised us. The power the community has surprised us as well. Feedback from the community is valuable. It’s a privilege to have it now as it is not something you have when building a proprietary solution. We were building a proprietary solution before and it was much more difficult to reach out to companies. Business cycles were longer. Now, with the power of community, it is much easier to reach out to the market.
Are you going to seek more funding?
Tomaz: At the TGE, we allocated 20% of entire token distribution for further development, but the need for funding will really be assessed at the end of the first cycle.
A different point is the development of the ecosystem, to nurture the adoption and implementation. It is important to set up ways on how new business models can be developed or existing business models can be augmented. It definitely requires more capital inflow into the ecosystem as a whole, but not necessarily directly for the team. More for how to build different service provider entities, integrators or others that can provide these services for companies that want to implement something with OriginTrail.
2. Business Development & Protocol Adoption
How is the onboarding of customers/integration partners going, and have you experienced any issues so far?
Ziga: The main barriers to arrive at the implementation of any decentralized solution is that you need to educate people in the company on what the blockchain can be used for. For certain companies, using the blockchain does not make sense. You need to invest more to educate stakeholders and onboard certain integrators for your technology. We expect to see a lot of companies joining this new wave of how the blockchain is perceived. We can work with the early adopters, but in the future, we need to leverage the network of existing partnerships and integrators.
Given the complexity of the product with it being something that has to be worked into the end users use case, rather than being an off-the-shelf solution, have you had difficulty in gaining uptake from newcomers to the idea of blockchain? Can you divulge the overall response?
Tomaz: There are a lot of different stages companies find themselves at. The level of understanding is still very early. Around 10% of companies we talk to have an actual understanding of what the blockchain is. A lot of times it comes down to education, breaking down complex situations, going step-by-step. But, sometimes the questions are already very advanced. Anytime anyone finds out that decentralization makes sense, that’s a positive outcome for the entire industry.
Hi, I think your project seem very interesting. I tried to read up on the white paper but I have very little knowledge of supply chains. Could you please give an in-depth explanation of how your product will help companies make supply chains more efficient? Thanks in advance.
Ziga: Very high-level overview: companies have always tried to attain certain efficiencies, seeking the organizational optimum, but only focused on internal data. Our goal is to seek not only the organizational optimum, but to seek out the interorganizational (supply chain) optimum. OriginTrail does that by providing a neutral layer that enables companies to exchange data in a secure way and with integrity (once the data is recorded, it cannot be changed).
Since the last report, has there been an increase in the number of interested customers, and can you share a number?
Tomaz: We are seeing a constant increase. The quarterly report is out, and, in it, we announced that over 200 companies are already trialing the technology and want to learn more about what we do and how it can help them.
Could you explain why the Trace Alliance website has been delayed?
Tomaz: We set the framework for the Trace Alliance a couple of months back. It came out of the need that a lot of companies wanted to do something on the protocol but could not do it as stand-alone companies. There was no way to handle all the inquiries by ourselves, so we started to think about a platform to help all those companies, provide them something to work together, enable knowledge sharing, access to knowledge. We got a lot of feedback from these companies, We prolonged the process to enable all the companies to feel comfortable joining such an environment, rather than risking anyone having a bad experience with the alliance.
When will you open a US office?
Ziga: The main function of an office is to attract interest and to service companies on the US side. But, so far, we have been successful in doing that even without having an official office in the USA. The plan is to follow a more economically sustainable path and seek a partner to take over this function. This makes sense because the companies and system integrators we are talking with on the US market have a better understanding of how things are being done there. We could say that de facto we are already being represented on the US market, we have not reached an official office yet, but we are addressing it and expect to offer more information in the following months. The US market is being served in terms of excitement and companies coming in.
Do you have any partnerships with Serbian companies?
Tomaz: Apart from the office we have there, one of our advisors, Srdjan Krčo, is from Serbia. We have been working with the TagItSmart initiative, which is an EU-wide consortium but led by a Serbian company. One of the cases we did with them was for wine from Montenegro. We are definitely looking at Serbia and there are a lot of companies that can find their space within the OriginTrail ecosystem. We expect more arrangements in the future, as well.
Why does your solution require the blockchain rather than a centralised database?
Tomaz: We touched on this in the previous answers, but let’s try to give an answer from another direction. For supply chains in general, since the first time they were touched by IT, end-to-end visibility was considered the holy grail. Centralized solutions struggle doing that that. Everytime any single entity comes and says “give me your data and I will be the one to create value out of it,” it just doesn’t happen. Companies are not comfortable giving up their data knowing that another actor is appropriating more data than they have. Another questions is how you can vouch for integrity if you have to hand over the database.
A lot of characteristics of decentralization fit ideally into what supply chains have been looking for. This is why we believe it’s definitely a great change into how you think about making a collaborative effort from a company-centered optimum to a supply-chain-centered optimum.
3. Terms of Service: Token Acquisition for Businesses & Gas Prices
Where does a business that uses the Origin Trail protocol acquire tokens? Would they be expected to buy them off of exchanges? Or has the OriginTrail team set aside tokens for OTC?
Tomaz: Companies that are looking to implement OriginTrail protocol directly into their supply chains would rarely do it themselves, they would usually be looking for system integrators or service providers that can help them do that. Usually, those companies are more technically capable of performing certain tasks, such as obtaining tokens off of exchanges. Our role here is to enables credible and legitimate ways to obtain tokens, also through exchanges, so companies can feel comfortable doing that.
Congrats on the functioning testnet, it’s going from strength to strength. Although it’s only a few weeks in, how do you plan on overcoming the high gas fees that are currently in play on the testnet — lots of people reporting that 1 ETH is being spent every other day, self included? Do you have a solution already?
Tomaz: The testnet is there to be tested. We knowingly went in with certain solutions (especially regarding smart contracts) to support the certain characteristics of the system. These are not final contracts. We have the testnet so we are able to test several alternatives and solutions for current gas fees are already in the works and will get addressed.
Being an ERC20 token, how do you plan to function if the ethereum network get congested with high gas fees?
Tomaz: We are using the Ethereum network because it provides characteristics that we feel our protocol needs to be as decentralized as possible and have smart contract capabilities. OriginTrail doesn’t require super fast, or a high number of, transactions because it follows real-life events. But we are looking at how the landscape is developing. There are a lot of concepts arising and Ethereum also has a lot of plans on how to tackle scalability issues. The beauty of open source solutions is also a large community of developers working on the challenges.
4. Token, Exchange & Nodes
How does your token gain value and if it does, isn’t it a disadvantage to the token users who are using it in their supply chain?
Ziga: Both token holders and users of the system (companies) are thinking in fiat terms. The bidding mechanism is also set with that in mind. If the price of the token in the secondary market goes up, the adjustment will be made in the bidding price and the bidding mechanism will take care that the companies will not pay more for storage because of price volatility. Our aim, as builders of the protocol, is to make sure that the price (as expressed in fiat terms) will not be too volatile. It is important to note that the price for the usage of the protocol is merely a fraction of the value companies get out of the system.
Are you guys really aware of the liquidity issue your token has? Do you have any plans in motion for new exchange listings this quarter?
Tomaz: We are looking at what is going on in the secondary market. We are in talks with the exchanges, looking for quality partners (also connected to the question you have before — the companies obtaining the token). We are working towards finding an optimal set of characteristics for different exchanges that will enable the community members to trade Trace easily.
How many tokens will be recurred for different kind of nodes? How many TRAC will it take to run a master node? When are you planning to make it possible to run a masternode for TRAC?
Tomaz: We don’t have masternode in the technical architecture of OriginTrail protocol. We have written a very nice blog post about the incentive model about the nodes being run on the OriginTrail protocol. It answers most of these questions. A very high level answer would be that the staking we introduced is there to ensure that the network gets value out of a certain node. It’s a much more liquid kind of staking mechanism rather than having a discretionary amount for a masternode.
Will there be a built-in atomic swap on the nodes that we can trade in the TRAC we earn for Ethereum to pay bidding fees so we don’t have to manually keep adding Ethereun to our nodes for gas?
Tomaz: It’s something that would improve the user experience and we are looking into it.
5. Communication & Marketing
How do you plan to address the recent communication issues with the community, or more so, the lack of it?
Ziga: We feel sorry if someone feels there is a lack of communication with the community. We are taking all measures to communicate with the community frequently enough. We are keeping all promises we made in the past: being frequent and thorough with the reports. Now, we also introduced monthly AUAs. By doing that, we are not only allowing the frequent exchange of information between the community (we take feedback very seriously), but also increasing the quality of information. We, as founders, want to communicate the strategy first-hand.
Do you plan on implementing any crypto/newbie-focussed marketing aimed at new users with zero knowledge rather than business users with full knowledge? The language is very different and by bridging the gap there could be the unearthing of many new business opportunities.
Tomaz: It is something we have considered and have also recently been talking about. It is a part of what we are going to do over the next couple of months. With more companies that are coming in, it is becoming more evident. So, we are moving in the direction of being easier to understand and have more to show.
What’s the focus and most important, in your opinion, aspect of marketing/website and communication in general?
Ziga: We are following KPIs and feedback from the community. We see we need to take into consideration not only what we need to do but also the current bearish market. We already have certain marketing strategies and tactics in the pipeline but they are going to come into full effect after we see the market has improved. As we are now traveling to Asia, we are also taking into account the importance of the Asian community.
How can I help with the project?
Ziga: Provide us with the feedback with as much detail as possible. If you have any doubt, we will try to explain during the next AUAs. You can help with creating content, infographics, and educating other stakeholders outside the community.
Tomaz: We have seen great help in the activity on GitHub, reviewing code or submitting proposals. We are coming up with a more structured way to do that. Word of mouth is always positive. Community is the cornerstone of OriginTrail — it’s been a great journey already so far and there are so many things waiting in the future. It’s going to be pretty exciting and it’s great to have you on our side.
The next AUA will come out towards the end of August. Meanwhile, we will be glad to hear your feedback through your preferred channel. Trace on!