James talks about ‘the future of blockchain’ and #dltledgers’ marketing strategy
Tell us a little about your background and what made you decide on blockchain technology?
I have been in Singapore since January 2013 and am active in the local start-up community here. I’ve been an employee, investor, advisor, and founder… much of the time all four. I have backed ~50 early-stage companies, both here in Southeast Asia and across the globe.
I first got into blockchain somewhat by chance, but having now been exposed to the technology and wider industry, I’ve been converted. I believe most sectors will use blockchain eventually, and joining #dltledgers seemed like a great opportunity to get close to one of the “killer apps” before it went mainstream. I have to admit, I had only come across #dltledgers once or twice before, so when I heard about the progress the company had made in cross-border trade, I was both surprised and excited. Back then, although less than a year ago, #dltledgers had successfully digitised over $1bn-worth of transactions. Now we’re up to $3bn. I am CMO at #dltledgers, which means that day-to-day I’m responsible for building awareness about the platform, lead generation, inside sales, and supporting the sales team with our go-to-market strategy.
What is the history behind blockchain technology? What is blockchain’s impact on businesses?
Since it emerged in 2008, blockchain has been through several phases. Satoshi’s white paper first set out a new, peer-to-peer electronic cash system, called Bitcoin. This preceded the launch of thousands of new tokens, known popularly as cryptocurrencies, based on decentralised ledger technologies. It also led to an investment bubble, which centered around the creation of these tokens in initial coin offerings (ICOs). That bubble expanded and then burst in the period between 2016 to 2018, leading to a fairly volatile period of consolidation, multiple indictments, and something of a cooling-off period. Today the perception among the general population may be that cryptocurrencies came and went, but the space is now enjoying something or a resurgence. Some areas in particular, like decentralised finance (“DeFi”) are still very much alive and well. Many still believe digital currencies have a major part to play in replacing traditional financial and monetary systems.
While the general population and media focused most of their attention on digital currencies, the business community has increasingly been looking at enterprise use cases for blockchain. In the last two-to-three years, this has gained momentum. Recent research shows that were three years ago only 25% of businesses were even experimenting with blockchain, 85% of businesses now expect to be using at least one blockchain platform actively by 2023.
Multiple studies, including some great research by IBM and Deloitte, show that while blockchain was once classified as a technology experiment, it long ago made the leap from theory to practice, and many executives recognise it as a true agent of change that will affect their entire organisations. According to the research, leaders no longer consider the technology ground-breaking and merely promising—they now see it as integral to organisational innovation.
The result is that, all around the world, the C-suite is putting money and resources behind blockchain. There are projects of all sizes, and the technology is powering new processes, controls, and even new business models. This is happening in most industries. Payments is one of the obvious ones, but there are use cases in healthcare, media, education, and more. For us at #dltledgers the focus in on trade. This includes the digitisation of trade and supply chain processes, trade and supplier financing, and the tracking of provenance and sustainability.
How does your approach to blockchain differ from other companies?
Although #dltledgers was launched in 2017, right at the height of the ICO frenzy, the founders resisted the temptation to create a token-based business model and raise millions of dollars in an ICO. Instead, they focused on how the underlying blockchain technology could be used to create efficiency and advantages for enterprises. There appeared to be a gap that blockchain could help fill. While companies had an overwhelming choice of enterprise software to help them create efficiency WITHIN their businesses, there was no break-out solution for solving INTER-enterprise friction.
When it came to collaborating with suppliers, partners, distributors, and customers, the same frictions and difficulties persisted. #dltledgers set out to streamline and digitise the processes occurring between these enterprises, and to enable integration and seamless data transfer between parties, which could reduce effort, errors, and delays, and increase transparency and trust. It was decided to apply this to tackle one of the world’s most inefficient, trustless, and sizeable sectors – cross-border trade. Since that decision, the technology has been developed specifically with that market in mind. The platform now incorporates 16 different modules, each focused on a key issue within global trade: trade finance digitisation, transparency, and auditability, digitised trade documents, blockchain APIs, financial institution connectivity, and so on. International trade is laden with archaic, manual processes, a lack of trust between parties, and inefficiencies. #dltledgers’ blockchain platform has been developed to tackle these issues holistically, taking into account the points of view of each trade participant: buyers, sellers, finance providers, carriers, inspectors, auditors, and regulators.
#dltledgers now powers different types of supply chain financing, second and third-tier supplier integration, as well as goods and provenance tracking. As public sentiment around sustainability continues to gain force, transparency, and trust between parties become increasingly important. That’s driving demand for both digitisation as a whole and, specifically, blockchain. What probably makes us stand out is the fact that our platform has now powered over $3 billion worth of trade and supply chain transactions, connecting more than 25 countries on 4 continents, and involving a range of different commodities and merchandise.
What do you believe is next in the world of blockchain?
I think there are three parts to that answer:
Probably the most topical issue involving blockchain is the role of fiat currencies and central banks. There’s a strong argument supporting the replacement of fiat currencies with digital currencies. This calls into question the role of central banks and the meaning of the phrase “monetary policy”. As we speak we’re witnessing some very exciting developments. China, Thailand, the Philippines, and even the USA have started debating a central-bank-issued digital currency, and it won’t be long before some of these become more than just theoretical. My view is that digital currencies will become much more powerful than currencies as we know them today, and the potential of programmable money will open up opportunities we haven’t yet dreamed of.
Although currencies clearly have a major impact on the way society operates, arguably even more important will be the way the world transacts. In the future, it is hard to see how blockchain will not become the standard mechanism for powering and recording at least certain types of transactions. Think of all the transactions that today require authentication by a third-party: the sale of a business, property, IP, content… it’s a long list. Blockchain removes the need for third-party authentication, providing integrity in a way that other technologies cannot. In my opinion, this creates the potential for transforming the way that society transacts. It’s also why many DLT advocates believe that this technology is as important as the invention of the internet.
Last but definitely not least is security and interoperability. There are already many different blockchain platforms. There is no question that many of them will cease to exist. It is likely that we will see a period of consolidation, but there is also a huge amount of work being done on interoperability – the ability of different blockchain platforms to communicate with one another, and share data. Although how this will happen is not yet clear, the surviving platforms will need to find a way to integrate and link to one another, so that transactions can be completed between any parties, regardless of which blockchain platform their identity and data happens to sit on. This will probably involve the creation and acceptance of an international set of standards, such as the guidelines already coming out of the International Chamber of Commerce. How this will play out is not yet clear.
What is #dltledgers’ go-to-market strategy?
I’ve quickly come to realise that the most important tool is education – people still link cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to blockchain. Our key challenge has been to separate the two and explain to the general public how blockchain is the backbone – the underpinning technology that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies use – and its applications run far wider than currently conceivable.
Our strategy is simple – we focus on education. Our aim is to impart the knowledge we possess to our customers, such that they can comprehend the technology as a business solution. That way we empower them to make informed business decisions. COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation and we’re acutely aware that this is the right time to lay the foundation for mass understanding, and ultimately the adoption of blockchain technology. We see ourselves as partners in our user’s digital transformation journey.
Where can people reach out to you for anything blockchain-related?
I’m keen on connecting with people active in start-ups, cross-border trade, or supply chain management. dltledgers is actively seeking customers, partners, ecosystem participants (banks, logistics providers, insurers, freight forwarders…), and anyone whose business is interested in exploring the benefits of blockchain. Please reach out to me on email or on LinkedIn.
Watch the video here