Blockchain is complicated. It’s wrapped in unfamiliar language, conflicting opinions, utopian dreams and it seems there are always more questions than answers. At the same time, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore. It’s not just some alien word used by a handful of people anymore. Some of the largest companies in the world are looking into blockchain, Forbes even released a list of fifty companies with a revenue or valuation of more than one billion dollars who are exploring its uses. FedEx, IBM, Microsoft, Walmart, American Express and Amazon are just a few of them. Countries are intrigued too; Spain, Japan, Australia, China are among the most avid governments in seeing what it’s all about.
Why are people taking notice? When most people hear of blockchain, they think of the Silk Road and the Bitcoin crash. These stories add to their uncertainties but this is just another example of how bad news dominates good news. Blockchain is much, much larger than that. And at the core of it all lies the idea of decentralizing systems for the greater good. With blockchain, ordinary people become active participants rather than passive recipients. It’s the opportunity to create truly public, democratized infrastructures where everyone can benefit, an alternative to our current model where in reality, only a few prosper.
This comes with a fundamental change in how business is approached. Competitors become allies to maximize efficiency and knowledge, optimizing for profit is not the sole aim and businesses stop only thinking about themselves. It’s a disruptive idea in its purest form.
Haischel Dabian, along with co-founders Thom Bergman and Tobias Disse, founded Kryha to help businesses realize what they can do with blockchain, and build solutions for them. Haischel is aware of the difficulties Kryha and blockchain face, and at the moment there is a feeling we just can’t comprehend such a massive shift. But just like the internet, isn’t that the precursor to any worldwide change?
What is blockchain technology?
Blockchain is a way to decentralize digital infrastructures. If you take an establishment like banks, they’ve laid an infrastructure that governs finance and the economies of nations. What blockchain technologies do is decentralize these systems so that anyone can join, participate and contribute to new infrastructures that aren’t owned by any organization. Many people know of blockchain through cryptocurrencies, but it’s not just limited to financials; it can be used in code, automation of business processes and pretty much any digital system you can think of.
Imagine a decentralized network of computers. You have a computer at home and you would like to participate. You can install a piece of software and connect to the network. This network communicates by transmitting messages to each other, and you can do so as well. This doesn’t sound new, but the most innovative part is that built into this infrastructure is a rule set allowing you to collectively agree on the order in which messages arrive and are stored. If I send a message to you and someone else does and someone else does, I don’t necessarily send it directly to you but to the whole network. Everyone gets the same messages in the same order. Blockchains become a record of transactions and everyone who is involved plays a part in making them. Each block is essentially a piece of digital information, and the chain is a public database.
And what specifically does Kryha do?
Blockchain is the next evolution to the internet and poses as a paradigm shift to our socioeconomic fabric. For the first time we are able to build truly decentralized digital infrastructures that will globally increase end-users access to technology. The technology will affect almost every industry, meaning that adoption of the technology is crucial for organizations that want to stay relevant.
At Kryha we want to accelerate blockchain adoption, and we do so by helping organizations with blockchain strategy, concept design and blockchain experimentation & implementation. We help you identify use cases, then we design blockchain concepts and validate them and lastly, we develop these concepts into real working applications. We do this in a blockchain platform agnostic way, meaning that we don’t commit to blockchain platforms, rather we find the best fitting one for the given use case. In short, Kryha helps with the physical and mental transition that comes with embracing blockchain technology.
How did you find your way into the world of blockchain?
I was studying Artificial Intelligence at the University of Amsterdam and first heard of blockchain in a lecture. I didn’t know how it worked; they just presented the idea. But Thom (one of my co-founders) and I were intrigued so we decided to jump down the rabbit hole to see how we could participate. Once I finally understood how it worked, I was blown away. I saw its massive potential and I remember thinking that it could change society as we know it. We joined a student organization called Blockchain Education Network, a global network of students who are interested in the technology and that’s where we met Tobias (our other co-founder). He had just got back from studying at UC Berkley where he also started the student organisation Blockchain at Berkley. We immediately decided to join forces, and that’s how Kryha got started.
Is the complexity of blockchain a problem when trying to communicate the benefits of using it?
It’s definitely hard. A lot of businesses are still in the old mindset of striving to create a monopoly. We’re currently transitioning to an ecosystem economy where the best competitors are those who seek to innovate with other firms outside of their own walled garden. One example is Nest thermostats from Google. Nest started off as a simple smart thermostat that could be remotely controlled by the end user, but now they’re focusing more and more on creating an ecosystem. They’ve realized that they can create more value for their end users by collaborating with others in order to provide a more integrated product. A Fitbit can now notify the nest when the user wakes up and they’ve even integrated with Mercedes meaning that the nest can be notified when the user has left the office.
Admittedly, blockchain adoption has many challenges that still need to be addressed. Besides the technical challenges such as scalability and privacy, there are still political challenges and behavioural challenges.
One political challenge we face is a lack of industry wide standards. These standards can only be defined through industry wide collaboration. If everyone is defining their own standards, then no one will collaborate. This means that organizations would have to collaborate (even with their competitors) or risk being left behind by those who do. It’s not just about generating money and profit. It’s about benefiting the commons as well.
Another challenge is the behavior change required by the end user. In a decentralized world the only things you have to trust are the protocol and yourself. This means that the end user is accountable for their own mistakes. This is very different to how things currently work. If I lose my password, I just ask the organization to reset my password. But in the decentralized world if I lose my private keys, I pretty much lose everything. I know this doesn’t sound attractive, but really this is only because the tools required to mitigate such failures are simply not built yet, but as the technology progresses it will become easier for the end user to adopt.
Do you think your growth will ever be limited by these problems?
I think we will overcome them in time. If you think about when the internet was created, people were really unsure about it, but now we all use it. I think the same will happen with blockchain. Once people start understanding what it means and the benefits, along with the needed interfaces so we can really engage with it, then I think it will be an easy switch.
How have you funded the growth of Kryha?
Initially we received capital from an angel investor, but the main way we’ve been funding Kryha’s growth is simply through the services we provided, and it’s been mostly organic growth from the beginning. However later on, we started a partnership with Hezelburcht who help businesses apply for grants and other funding opportunities. They’ve been a real force in allowing us to fund for more experimental, exciting projects. Instead of just having to build solutions for clients, we’ve gained the freedom and capital to build the tools we want. And it’s easy; they come to us, listen to what we want to do and they take it from there.
I do think it’s a double-edged sword. If you want to realise a project and apply for a grant, you have to come up with a proposal. And even if you’re successful, grants are time-based; that money is valid for a year or two years and only to be used on the proposed project. If you want to pivot, you have to file for another grant. That can become time consuming and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the grant. Luckily, companies like Hezelburcht maximize your chances of success and minimize the time you spend on all the work it takes to get a grant, so those restrictions are made much smaller through someone like them.
On the other side, if you look for an investor, you might get a bigger sum of money which can be used in the interests of the company as a whole, but the trade-off is you give a portion of your business to them, and that’s a big decision. With these two paths you really have to carefully consider which one is best for which project. Luckily, we’ve managed to utilize both options for different things and I think that’s been really beneficial.
Why do you personally believe in blockchain technology?
Blockchain will make access to technology globally available to anyone who has an internet connection. It will further decentralize the internet, just the way it was intended to be. It will break down the walls standing in the way of user participation and lower the trust required for collaboration. And as an end user I can be in full control over my data, I decide with who I want to share my data with and on what terms. It gives power to users, it’s democratic, transparent and can benefit everyone. The possibilities are endless.
We always hear about success and growth, but what have been your lowest points been in Kryha?
I think the hardest part of running Kryha has been spending enough time for myself to figure out who I am and where I want to be. As a small growing business striving to play in the Champions League, it’s easy to constantly jump on any opportunity that arises. You get sucked in to the stress and urgency of daily operations and forget to take time to focus on the essentials. Finding the right balance between what is important and what is urgent is crucial for any organization, especially when you’re starting out.
I’ve also had challenges in finding my own role within the company. Different phases of a company require different responsibilities. In the beginning I was mostly developing and thinking about what we can do and sell. Once we figured that out, we started thinking about scaling the operation. We built a team, but suddenly the team no longer needed me as a developer, they needed a manager. They became more organized, and my role changed again into a researcher, internal teacher/thought leader. So as a founder you have to be able to adapt to what the organization needs, and sometimes transitioning from one role to another can be challenging, because it’s something you’ve never done before.
You work in an industry dominated by screens and code, but we are increasingly aware of the benefits of spending time away from technology. How do you personally try and keep a balance in your life?
It’s all about boundaries and being able to set them for myself and the team. The first year and half of running Kryha I was working week days and weekends, day and night, the whole time. I had to learn (partly with the help of coaching) that you have to say no sometimes and that’s okay. Because it’s my company, I felt like I had to say yes to everything so if someone needed me, I would help them there and then. But it just led to me working extreme hours and becoming isolated from my peers outside of the company.
Nowadays if I don’t have a deadline, a working day is a normal working day. When it’s finished, I shut everything off and that’s that. It’s much healthier. Of course, if I have a deadline things are a little different, and I’ll put in the work that needs to be done.
Final question, how could blockchain help an entrepreneur in making their business more efficient?
Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur with a specific role in a supply chain. Traditionally you would keep records of your own point of view of the operations, as do others in the same supply chain. Keeping separate records usually leads to inconsistencies among the operating stakeholders and requires costly data reconciliation by a trusted party at a later point in time. This means that as an organization you’re constantly in a reactive state because you don’t have the insight on what other stakeholders are doing, and you lack the oversight of the operation as a whole.
When optimizing for efficiency, you could use a private blockchain (it’s blockchain technology but with permissions on who can participate) operated in a consortium. By using a private blockchain all participants are guaranteed to be sharing the same source of truth, meaning that the entire network is constantly aware of the current state of the whole operation. They know what assets are at what location, what is being done to them, and which actor (pseudonymous) from the which organization is handling the product/service. This enables an organization to act more proactively. Organizations are able to collaborate on automating certain overlapping business processes through smart contracts and mitigate the high costs of data reconciliation. In short, it’s more secure, cheaper, more efficient and allows businesses to act proactively rather than reactively.
As an extra note, we’re proud to announce that Hezelburcht recently became a preferred partner of B. amsterdam and they’ve extended their services specifically for the B. community. If you’re interested in finding out how Hezelburcht can help you achieve your goals, come to their subsidy desk in B.1 on Tuesdays or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hezelburcht will also be organizing regular expert sessions at B. in the near future, so make sure you stay up to date with upcoming events through the community newsletter.