We sat down with Michael Jackson, former Skype COO and non-executive director at Volvo and AXA Insurance for a conversation on all things blockchain and more specifically; our core product, peaq.
A technology that empowers people, that can change the way things are done, that can push us into a new paradigm. No, we're not talking about blockchain. Voice over IP was the technological breakthrough which allowed hundreds of millions of people to communicate across the globe and at no cost. It allowed billions of people to be better connected. It was a revolution, and spearheading that revolution was Skype - and spearheading Skype? Michael Jackson.
Michael was the driving force behind Skype's skyrocket, eventually leading to it be acquired by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion. Today another peer-to-peer technological revolution is in motion. Blockchain, or in our case, DAGchain will once again disrupt how we communicate, exchange value and interact with one another.
At Advanced Blockchain AG we focus on helping companies leverage the technology's power so that they in turn can spread it throughout the world. With this goal in mind there a few better people to have guiding us on product development than Michael Jackson.
MJ: My name's Michael Jackson. I'm an engineer by training. Many, many, years ago I worked in the telephone business - the professional side of that - but in 2002 I came across Skype, which everybody now knows. It was one of the most popular peer-to-peer telephone services ever produced. We had millions and millions of users all around the world and we grew it from nothing. It reminds me a lot of what we’re doing now.
When did you first hear about cryptocurrency?
MJ: The first time I heard about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency was back in 2012. I was on a train on the way into London with a friend and I met another friend of mine by complete chance and he asked me to join him for a meetup in the city. So, I went along to what turned out to be one of the original Bitcoin foundation meetups and it reminded me of a few things. It reminded me of how the Voice-Over-IP world was way back and it reminded me how much fun it was to be with intellectual people and entrepreneurs. As a VC then it was quite refreshing, so I joined the community.
One of the first things I noticed was that everybody was super enthusiastic, everybody was extremely clever, everybody was very competent and what they were doing technically was superb. But what I also saw was that most people were very young and they had absolutely no experience being in business. I was happy to bring that element to the table (through Skype). I was actually growing the business side of Skype, making it into a profitable company, making it into a product that people would pay money for; as well as just being philosophically rather good.
What's standing in the way of blockchain mass adoption?
MJ: What's standing in the way of mass adoption of blockchain technology is use cases. We've got Bitcoin, we've got the cryptocurrency side of things, which at some level is working and at some level is not, but let's say the cryptocurrency side is under control. What we're missing now is the promise of Distributed Ledger Technology; which is the ability of multiple organizations to participate [and interact] anonymously or pseudo-anonymously, with full visibility across the world - with their own systems and projects. What we haven't seen yet is real implementations of that that work for enterprises, for business.
Why blockchain? Why peaq?
MJ: I heard about peaq about two and a half years ago, something like that, and peaq was doing their DAG system back then, which was very interesting. When I went into the room, it was full of a lot of really clever, really engaged people, but also, pretty professional. So, I've been following the project ever since then. What I see now is that the original idea maybe wasn't as great as it could have been. It needed modification to fit into the enterprise world and, of course, what the enterprise world needs is not crazy cryptocurrencies, where the value goes up and down every five minutes. It doesn't need networks where you don't know who's in control at any one time or where people can take them over. They want certainty. People who have got businesses running on the technology need to be sure it's working today, it’s working tomorrow, and it's working with the economics that they understand and fit their project.
The peaq project has been a great project; the technical side of it has been fantastic and the team behind it has adapted the protocols, adapted the product itself, to meet the needs of enterprises.
I think as you meet the needs of enterprises, you need people within the organization who have got some experience of dealing with enterprises in the past, understanding the dynamics of how huge companies work, which of course, is tremendously frustrating if you're five people in a room. I sit on top of some large companies, I know how much time it takes and sometimes you just have to let it take time. [In the meantime] helping the different parties understand, that is what I think is the key role of an advisor.
Do you see any parallels between Skype’s early days and peaq today?
MJ: Back in 2003 when Skype started, nobody believed it. The first thing is that it was [considered] crazy to be able to talk to a computer.
Who on earth is going to want to talk to a computer, right? That’s mad.
From the professional side, everybody was really critical. “Nobody's ever going to use a computer to speak to each other in a professional environment, the quality is not going to be good enough”, they would say.
The proof, 20 years or even 10 years after that was that in fact you could use the Internet to speak. Everybody uses it now as part of their day-to-day work, and there isn't a professional video conferencing system on the planet part of a big enterprise today that doesn't work on Voice Over IP.
The technologies advanced a lot, the adoption and the willingness of people to use it, has been proven - but it took a long time and you have to think back to all those times when it didn't work. It was complicated and it was difficult and everybody was against it. So, think how it really was and look back to that time and I think that's where the blockchain world is now.
The blockchain world today is really where we were with Voice Over IP in 2002,2003. It worked, it did some things but it was missing a lot. It [blockchain] needs a lot of stuff added around it - and I think that's where we are.
What do you consider the biggest barrier to blockchain for large companies today?
MJ: Large enterprises have a lot of needs where blockchain is actually pretty suitable. They [large enterprises] are very spread out companies, they don't really know what's going on from one side of the world to the other side of the world, it's complicated and a lot of their processes are serial processes based on paper where something happens and it's given to the next department and to the next department and so on.
The blockchain cuts across a lot of that and allows for efficiency, it allows for a lot of parallel processing - so the use cases are certainly there. They're not obvious sometimes and they also change the way the organization works and behaves. That change in the way the organization's processes work is hugely complicated; it's going to take a little bit of time to get people to understand that. So, you know, the blockchain world and peaq need to find solutions that are fairly straightforward, probably in new business areas within these companies where the processes aren't developed so far and to introduce it into them, becoming embedded in the flow of the business. That just takes time and access to the right people, it just does. Sometimes things take the time they take.
Where does blockchain work best?
MJ: Within the automotive industry there have been a number of developments or ideas put forward for where blockchain works best, a lot of it is around where you have a device which needs to preserve its provenance; who owned it or its history. That's what we know via service books and ID books and things like that. That's an obvious case for a blockchain kind of architecture. Supply chain is another one. IoT devices are another one. There are many things which are actually quite new where this technology works well and it can be added into the existing systems in parallel as they develop without requiring to change.
I don't see anybody being able to change a factory completely within the next generation, they work the way Henry Ford made them in the 1930s. That's not going to happen, but the automotive industry is also going through a tremendous change. Electrical vehicle technology is coming and it's new for them. The supply chains are very, very different. IoT devices and in-car entertainment - people expect different things from their cars today.
A car isn't so much about being able to travel from A to B, every car can travel from A to B, it's no problem. What they can't all do is entertain people as they go down the highway. They need to make life easy for people and integrate with the electronic life that we now know. You don't [want to] close the door on the car and get into a completely separate environment. You want your phone connected, you want services connected, you want ease of use just like you have on the rest of the internet. It doesn't close when you close the door of the car.
Why would large companies pick peaq?
MJ: Large companies would opt to use peaq because they need to use a blockchain solution - they've decided to do that and they need to find the right one that fits their needs, and peaq has been engineered and designed by people who know about how the enterprise world works. So it's suitable for them to use, there's no way a company in the enterprise space is going to go anywhere near one of these crypto projects governed by crazy people; with massive changes in the value of the currencies and all these things - that doesn't work. It's idealistic to even imagine that's going to happen, it's just not going to work. Earlier, I was saying that people are very negative about the future, but this is really a step too far. These guys need to keep their jobs and they don't keep their jobs by putting their project behind some crazy cryptocurrency project.
The telecommunications industry and peaq. Why is that a match?
MJ: The great thing about peaq is it can function as a private network for one company which can be coupled with the same kind of private network from another company, so it's [targeted at] people who have a big system running along themselves, which I saw from the phone world.
A phone company has a massive number of customers and is doing a massive number of things, but it also needs to talk to other phone companies. Some years ago, we developed systems to deal with roaming traffic to make sure that the carriers could interchangeably interconnect the amount of money they were receiving for roaming traffic correctly - quickly and efficiently - through a central point. This is the sort of thing that a public network can do well when coupled on to the edge of a private network - and that's what peaq is engineering towards. We're at a point where big private networks need to cooperate or exchange information with each other in real-time or even post-event - and the peaq network feels like a really good solution today.
What would you consider the best case scenario for peaq?
MJ: The best case scenario for peaq is that the software is used by millions of companies all over the world to do mission-critical things. You can see how important those companies [infrastructure software] become, how financially rich they become. Take Oracle, or one of the big databases that started many, many years ago. They were small and now it's in every single company in the world. So many of the companies in the world use Oracle’s database systems and Oracle became a great company as a result of that.
I can see peaq being of a similar size and success as Oracle in the future.
There's a lot of interest in the world today for blockchain solutions and there certainly seems to be some applications where blockchain is exactly the right solution. As far as I can see, peaq is in a great place. It has got product and it seems to want to follow in that direction [Oracle's success]. I'm very happy to be involved with them and wish that we can do a good job, satisfying the needs of the enterprises.
Advanced Blockchain AG is a German publicly listed Blockchain-as-a-Service company based in Berlin. We build next generation blockchain infrastructure and applications for the world's largest companies and we're the first blockchain company to be listed on the Xetra (Frankfurt) stock exchange.