Is Blockchain For Dummies? Not So Fast
Factom Co-founder Tiana Laurence demystifies this emerging technological advancement
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Once in awhile, a great while, amidst a swirl of PR pitches, tech conferences, boondoggles, expert roundtables, and customer meetings, I'm introduced to someone, and I think: "Can we saddle up to a wine bar and talk for hours because I really really really want to know everything."
When my former talkTECH colleague suggested I would enjoy chatting it up with Tiana Laurence, who is basically leading the Blockchain revolution as Co-founder and CMO of Factom, I jumped. Among other hot topics - which include things like Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and Solar - Blockchain is quickly gaining traction; yet is not fully understood in terms of its implications on the economy, human behavior, and the like.
Tiana has a column on TechTarget where she demystifies Blockchain and IoT, helping regular folks like us understand the potential for globally distributed digital records and the dangers posed by hackers and cyber-terrorists. Additionally, under Tiana's leadership, Factom secured a grant from The Gates Foundation to meet one of the most urgent needs of the developing world: to secure medical records that are persistent, readily available, and reliable. She also fortified a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to develop Blockchain solutions for border security challenges using Factom's technology.
So yes, I would like to know this "badass" thank you very much.
We recently sat down, and I mercilessly picked her brain about everything from what drives her to her soon-to-be released "Blockchain for Dummies" as part of the official "Dummies" series.
Rebekah Iliff: First off, lets get the basics down. What is Blockchain?
Tiana Laurence: Blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. Blockchains are changing how we do business by allowing us to trust one another in economies that have incentives to sometimes act dishonestly. They are computer systems that create identity and build reputations. They are business contracts translated into code. They are engines that let us publish, propagate and immortalize data. They let us trade value and create new sources of value. They are changing our world!
Rebekah Iliff: You used to own a digital marketing agency, where did your interest in Blockchain technology begin?
Tiana Laurence: I first discovered Bitcoin and all the possibilities of this cryptocurrency and payment system through a project at my digital marketing agency. I was hired to help sell Bitcoin mining equipment, and as part of my market research, I learned how to mine Bitcoin. It's something that once you start to understand the value and potential, you just can't let it go and want to learn more. I remember thinking, "there has to be more that we can do with all the energy being burned chasing after Bitcoins." That's when it hit me: Securing data and systems with a Blockchain, the underlying technology that allows Bitcoin to be so valuable, was the answer.
RI: Pragmatically speaking, how can Blockchain benefit businesses, or more pointedly, what businesses will benefit most from the technology?
TL: This is similar to asking businesses in 1979 if they will benefit from computers. The majority of businesses will utilize some sort of computer to function, but it will take time, and more technology needs to be built to make them useful for everyone. Right now, Blockchains are excellent at moving anything of value in a fast and cheap way. We are working on securing records and systems; next will be the identity for things and people and decentralized organizations (DAO). These are new ways to organize groups for things like businesses and nonprofits.
RI: I often grow weary of the conversation around "females in tech" - any thoughts about this? Do you think you've had struggles as a female technology founder?
TL: Great question! I've felt odd about discussing this topic as well. Everyone faces their own challenges but from day one of entering the tech space, I decided to work as hard as I could possibly work, learn and continue learning as much as I could and strive to be the best in my role. I think jumping into the tech space as a founder was my way around. It lets me make my own rules and set my own limitations.
I spend my time looking for solutions and working around illogical situations. I also don't really care what other people say I can, and can't do. The reality is that you can't help how other people feel or what they think...it is out of your hands, all we really have control over is are our own thoughts and actions. But when looking at the general tech startup landscape, I think these companies need to hire more women, pay them what they are worth, and encourage women within the company to mentor other women.
RI: Who are some of the companies leading Blockchain innovation?
TL: There are many different types of Blockchain companies that are focusing on unique capabilities. Ethereum has smart contract and DAO, R3 is working on banking infrastructure, Ripple is exchanging value, and Factom is securing systems and data.
RI: What are some of the broader economic implications of Factom, and what is the company's role specifically?
TL: Factom is working on redundant record keeping problems, proof of compliance, and data integrity. A lot of money is spent on auditing, compliance, and fines for not being in compliance. Our role is to help improve existing systems and processes to help save companies money.
RI: What has your biggest challenge been thus far with launching Factom?
TL: When we launched Factom, very few people knew about Bitcoin or even Blockchain. Let alone why they should care. Now most of the world knows about it and that they should care about it BUT they're still unsure of what they can actually do with this amazing technology. One of the greatest challenges is explaining and demystifying this technology and then differentiating it from existing technology. We will continue to refine our message, and hopefully make it easier to understand and apply.
RI: What are some insights from your soon to be released "Dummies" book that will make us look like rockstars at a cocktail party?
TL: Blockchain is here to stay and but like many technologies will fade into the background to quietly make your life better. It is the missing trust layer for the digital age. It will be the technology that will let you send a bit of cash to your sister on another continent nearly for free, instantly, and in the currency she needs. It will be the technology behind voting from your smartphone. It will be in all the little things and interweaved into the technology you use every day making it all a little better and safe, a little cheaper and a little faster.
If you want to look like a rockstar at your next party, start playing with the technology. Go to Ethereum.org and download their wallet. It is an easy and fun way to test out this technology and start building cool things.
RI: What is the thing - or ultimate outcome you want to achieve - that makes you get up in the morning and continue to drive the vision? I call this your "inner burn."
TL: I love creating value and Blockchain technology is one of the great opportunities of our generation to do so. It is exciting to work on this project because it is giving me the opportunity to shape history and create the kind of world I want to live in and leave for my children.