CornellBlockchain - Medium Thu, 19 Dec 2019 22:31:05 GMT language
A look at VeChain with Jason Rockwood & Cornell Blockchain
Interview Overview :
As part of an ongoing interview series, Cornell Blockchain sat down with Jason Rockwood, VP and GM at VeChain, on December 2nd, 2019, to discuss the mission of VeChain, recent news surrounding the project, VeChain Toolchain™, VeResearch, and a little about Jason himself. If you would like to learn more about Jason please follow his twitter.
The interview was conducted by Trent Davis, the Director of Corporate Communications and Outreach for Cornell Blockchain and a second-year master's student of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. If you are interested in participating in the interview series with Cornell Blockchain or have questions, please contact Trent on LinkedIn.
Below is the transcript of the roughly 30-minute interview covering the topics mentioned above. Please keep in mind some of the transcript has been edited for clarity. The areas that are italicized are Trent’s questions for Jason.
~30-minute interview transcript with Jason Rockwood, VP & GM at VeChain.
(Trent) First could you explain a little about VeChain? What is the company’s mission and how is it currently going about achieving it?
(Jason) VeChain is an enterprise-level public blockchain platform, with international operations in Singapore, Luxembourg, Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris, Hong Kong, Italy, and San Francisco.
VeChain’s mission is to make blockchain easy to adopt for enterprises. In addition to the public blockchain, we also offer a number of enterprise tools that are designed to make using the public blockchain easy to use while still adhering to the governance required by other enterprises.
So far we have had some great successes. We are working with companies as diverse as BMW, DB Schenker the logistics company, we work with a couple of brands of the LVMH Group, and quite famously working on projects with Walmart China as well.
(Trent) I know that you are the VP & GM of VeChain so could you give me a brief explanation of your position and what you focus on?
(Jason) Sure. As a general manager, my job is to be a representative of VeChain in the North and South American markets. We haven’t done much activity in South America yet, although it is on our radar. Right now we’re focusing mainly on building relationships in North America.
My job is essentially to educate and evangelize for blockchain adoption in the enterprise. I speak regularly with academic partners, with enterprises that are interested in using blockchain, often with developers and development companies that are looking to add blockchain services to their portfolios, and I also represent VeChain at community events and conferences. My job is to also help a variety of different clients, regardless of the categories I have mentioned previously.
My job is to help educate enterprises about VeChain’s products and onboard them and then help them problem-solve to make sure their projects can be successful.
(Trent) So now that we’ve set the stage about both VeChain and you, let’s look at some of the recent news surrounding VeChain, specifically food traceability and consumer confidence. On November 13th , 2019 you spoke on the SDL Panel of Blockchain and Agribusiness and said the following: “The bulk of our work is in China where food safety is a major problem, and so when you have mothers who are going into stores to purchase baby formula and they actually don’t know whether it's poisonous or not it is not a gimmick for them. It is actually a serious use of the technology. Now we also work with luxury handbag makers on the high-end as, but we recognize that the American market and their need to authenticate products is going to be very different than what emerging markets look like.” I want to parse this quote into two different questions;
First, can you expand upon the idea that the need to authenticate in the American market will be significantly different than that in developing economies?
(Jason) So the context of that quote was the person who spoke before was pointing out that he felt like the authentication of products in the Western market was a little bit gimmicky. My response was to pivot to the China market and to point out when it comes to food safety in that region it is not gimmicky at all. What I mean by that is in the United States and in Europe, we have very stringent governmental oversight and regulatory bodies, compared to a lot of other places in the world, that ensure that food is safe to eat for the most part. There are still inefficiencies and we are seeing that with agricultural recalls, but for the most part government agencies in the West do a good job in ensuring that products on the shelves are what they claim to be.
However, in a lot of other countries, particularly in China, there is a lack of consumer confidence and there is a high problem with counterfeit goods. This happens not only in the luxury market but also in basic things such as infant formula, rice, etc. So that’s why I think because of our regulatory bodies in the West that I think the likely adoption of this type of technology will focus more on higher-end products, marketing strategies, and consumer engagements in markets like the US and Europe.
(Trent) So the second part of my question regarding your statement at SDL is, why should consumers in developing economies have more faith in products certified on VeChain’s blockchain, when they might not know what VeChain is, than in other products not certified on the blockchain? And how does VeChain hope to build that consumer confidence in its own brand in new markets?
(Jason) Well its interesting because there’s a video where Walmart China and PwC did some testimonials of consumers shopping in their stores you actually could hear the consumer confidence rise when they found out products were backed by blockchain. You can see grandmothers, for instance, picking up mushrooms and authenticating them using the VeChain blockchain who say, “oh it’s been backed by blockchain” and instantly having more confidence in the product. So, I think in the consumers' minds, maybe not in America yet but certainly, in China, where blockchain has bigger visibility, I think that even if the public doesn’t fully understand the technology they understand that blockchain is a confidence booster. Consumers seem to instinctively know that when the data behind a product has been uploaded on the blockchain and certified by other independent third parties, the product itself is relatively more secure.
Now, do they necessarily know VeChain as a brand? No, not necessarily. I mean obviously we hope that in the years to come that the consumer associates VeChain with the technology. For right now we understand that it will be our strategic partners, like PwC and DNV GL, that are going to lead the way on enterprise adoption. It is really not just on VeChain’s shoulders but instead a hybrid approach of VeChain as a blockchain and the trusted partners like DNV GL or PwC.
(Trent) At the same SDL Panel, you also made a statement saying “VeChain charges next to nothing.” This seems to have caused a little confusion among the VeChain community online, so I was wondering if you would be able to say a little more on this topic.
(Jason) The context of that statement was that in comparison to other solutions out there VeChain charges next to nothing to get started, and I really wish I would have said and emphasized the “to get started” part of that.
VeChain has with our VeChain Toolchain™ platform, which is our commercial product, a license fee, transaction costs, and then costs for any IoT or hardware. So those are the fees that are associated with using the VeChain Toolchain™. And in addition to that are any other costs that are either in-house or with a third party for application development consulting, etc.
Now a lot of companies that we speak to discuss their frustration with other blockchain solution providers. They talk about how complicated the solution is to set up, how expensive it is, and how high the initial cost to set up the product is. One of the things that I think is a real differentiator for VeChain is that our product is very simple to set up and use, and it’s not terribly expensive to get started. It does NOT require a massive six-figure investment. So, when I said that statement it was really more as a comparison statement and in ease of use. I hope that in that context my statement makes a little more sense.
(Trent) So that perfectly transitions us into the next portion of our interview discussing Toolchain. To me, one of the more interesting projects VeChain has developed is the Toolchain which is touted as a “Blockchain-as-a-Service” platform. Could you explain a little about how this service works?
(Jason) It is important to understand that there are two different ways to engage with VeChain’s blockchain. You can either go with our public tools, which is using the public blockchain directly and then using all of our opensource tools that are available on our documentation website, or you can enter into a commercial relationship with VeChain and use VeChain Toolchain™.
VeChain Toolchain™ is designed to be a one-stop BaaS data platform. It is very similar to cloud computing in the sense that a business can get started by engaging with cloud services to access infrastructure as needed it instead of having to by all sorts of serves or invest in other infrastructure, they can do basically the same thing using VeChain Toolchain™ to access VeChain’s blockchain technology. VeChain essentially provides blockchain services in a similar model. This makes it very easy for businesses to use VeChain because they can purchase transactions in fiat, they do not need to buy or hold any crypto. We handle all of that on the back end. That is all possible through our fee delegation, which VeChainThor Blockchain has full fee delegation capabilities. This allows us to collect fiat payment from enterprises and then convert it to gas tokens on the back end so the enterprise doesn’t have to hold/secure any crypto. We also provide a RESTful API so if developers want to make a custom solution, they can do that without having to learn how to code in Solidity or another blockchain programming language. These types of benefits make VeChain Toolchain™ a very easy and affordable to get an enterprise up and running on the blockchain.
(Trent) So you quickly mentioned it already, but I would like to dig a little deeper here. If a business wants to incorporate VeChain Toolchain™ into its business model do they need to know how to code or know all the intricacies of blockchain technology to responsibly use this tool?
(Jason) The whole purpose of VeChain Toolchain™ is that it eliminates the need to have to program on the blockchain directly. By using VeChain Toolchain™ for supply chain traceability use cases, which requires no coding at all, you’re able to implement blockchain traceability into your business relatively easily. We also have Developer version which gives access to the RESTful API, and with that you would have to know how to do RESTful API development, but as long as you are able to make those calls then they can integrate their application seamlessly. In neither instance do you need to know Solidity or the intricacies of blockchain programming.
(Trent) The description of Toolchain states “any sized business, no matter how large or small, can utilize blockchain technology to further enhance brand perception…” Let’s say I want to utilize Toolchain as a small business, and you’ve mentioned this but I think it’s important to discuss in a little more detail, do I need to purchase VET to generate VTHO in order to interact with Toolchain and carry out my transactions?
(Jason) Not if you are using VeChain Toolchain™. With it, you simply pay by transactions. There is the license fee, transaction fees, or any hardware like NFC chips, and you can purchase all of that in fiat. That is one of the key benefits of VeChain Toolchain™ is that it frees up small businesses, or even large enterprises for that matter, from having to get involved in crypto.
Now, why is this important? It is important because the regulatory environment around owning and managing crypto is still very murky, particularly in the United States. You know I used to be a CIO in a previous incarnation and I can say without a doubt that enterprises are not yet comfortable holding cryptocurrencies. Your CTO is going to be worried about security risks, the CFO is worried about regulatory risks or fluctuating assets and how to account for crypto on the books, the CLO is going to be worried about regulatory risk, and on and on. There is still a lot of concern surrounding crypto. Enterprises understand that blockchain is valuable but there is no clarity around how to properly and easily buy, manage, and secure crypto. So, if we want to be leaders in driving blockchain adoption we have to provide solutions for enterprises to get around crypto. VeChain Toolchain™ successfully does that, and I think it is one of the reasons why we are seeing so much enterprise adoption with VeChain because we do address these concerns in such an effective way.
I do want to point out however, that sometimes in the community we’ve seen that people will say this means that enterprises don’t need to purchase VTHO or that this doesn’t burn VTHO. This just isn’t true. Just because every transaction still requires burning VTHO, so the economic implication of who is doing the conversion is neither here nor there. It is completely inaccurate to say that VeChain Toolchain™ removes the need for VTHO to be burned. It absolutely requires the burning of VTHO on the backend, and if anything VeChain Toolchain™ ’s impact on this burning is a positive one because it makes it easier for enterprises to access the VeChainThor Blockchain in the first place. By removing the barrier to adoption we actually increase the total amount of use for the VeChainThor Blockchain which encourages a higher burn rate of VTHO tokens.
(Trent) What are some of the responses you have been hearing from companies using Toolchain? Have they seen any direct ROI after implementing this tool or any immediate brand perception changes?
(Jason) The responses we are getting from companies about VeChain Toolchain™ is that they appreciate that it is a straightforward first and foremost. We’ve heard from partners that have spoken to competitors that one of the things they appreciate about VeChain is that our product suite, or Toolchain, is very easy to understand and deploy. The analogy that one company used is that “when I’m looking to buy is tires but what your competitors are selling are cars.” And they appreciate that VeChain offers this very streamlined solution that makes blockchain easy. So the response is very much that the product is effective, straightforward to use and setup, and that it is cost-effective.
And I would like to say as well that we get very good feedback on the quality of the team which is not just myself but also our project managers and technical support team in Shanghai. We really do believe the people at VeChain are one of our competitive differentiators.
In terms of ROI, I think that it is still very early. We probably would have more concrete examples from some of our projects in China so I am not really able to answer the ROI question for our Western brands just yet. I think in the months ahead as more projects come online in the US, we will start to have more data points to address that question in more detail.
(Trent) Let’s take a look at another one of VeChain’s projects that matches extremely well with our goal at Cornell Blockchain. One of Cornell Blockchain’s goals is to increase access for students to learn more about the blockchain industry as a whole and how it is disrupting traditional markets. I see there is the VeResearch Program, can you explain a little about what this initiative is?
(Jason) VeResearch aims to support academic research into blockchain. We’re partnered with several universities around the world, and one university in the US which I am very happy about our research partnership is Dartmouth. What we do is we make VeChain resources available to schools and support them in understanding how blockchain can be used to drive innovation. What we like to do is, for example, is provide VeChain Toolchain™ and then support a kind of ecosystem for understanding the blockchain industry. So let’s say we have some computer science majors and we give them VeChain Toolchain™, and then they go and partner with some students in the business school, they can then set up almost a mini-consulting team that can do business and implementation consulting. You can see how you can create a sort of center of blockchain excellence in an academic environment where because VeChain makes setting up blockchain easy, the developers can focus on problem-solving and on business models. They can actually think about how they can use blockchain to support the success of a project instead of the technicalities driving it.
Now we’re not opposed to that. Some of the research that we do is more theoretical and focused on the protocol level. So some of the research we do is focused on protocol, security, crypto valuation, price predictions, etc. There are a number of academic aspects to it. In addition to the work the professors are doing at a theoretical level, we also have the opportunity for students to learn to develop a consultant level approach to use blockchain to solve problems.
(Trent) If I am a student or a faculty member for that matter, and I want to join the VeResearch network, how would I go about doing that?
(Jason) I would say the best thing to do is to send me an email. If you are located in the United States send me an email and we can have an initial conversation so I know more of what you are looking for. Then I can make an introduction to our Chief Scientist Peter Zhou who heads up the VeResearch program. We can then work to identify what kind of relationship we want to build together.
(Trent) Now let’s learn a little bit more about you and your life so we can give some students an idea of how people like yourself end up in the blockchain industry. If we go all the way back to 2007 we can see you have always worked in tech in some way, from social media evangelist to the Vice President of Mobile Strategy and Innovation for the Miami HEAT, what drew you away from arguably traditional tech positions to working with a disruptor like VeChain?
(Jason) So helping businesses understand and exploit emerging tech has been my personal and professional mission for the last 15 years. Every job that I’ve had has been focused on helping my clients understand and exploit emerging technology, and as I moved away from the advertising world into IT and IT management, I started to expand my sphere of influence for transforming organizations. Rather than focusing solely on tech in the marketing space, it started to expand to the organizational and operational space, which is what I did as VP of innovation and chief information officer. That’s been my sort of trajectory.
In late 2017 I started to really become aware of blockchain for enterprise use. It was sort of reaching a fever pitch on the hype cycle and it caught my attention. I started to really dig into understanding how blockchain was going to be a disruptor for enterprises, and that lead me to VeChain. I realized that VeChain was the only blockchain company that I found that I would bring into the American Airlines Arena, where the Miami HEAT play, I would have had no problem in my role as VP there to bring VeChain into that organization. VeChain to me was a world-class IT company that I would have no concerns about bringing into my own home so to speak. It is because of that level of trust that VeChain got on my radar. Then I also recognized the blockchain overall was going to be the primary driving force for disruption in the enterprise over the next decade. I saw an opportunity to be an early adopter in the space and that my personal mission to help enterprises understand and exploit emerging tech could be more properly fulfilled by focusing on blockchain. It was a combination of my personal mission meeting a great organization that had a killer technology.
It was a trifecta of factors that made the move the right one for me.
(Trent) With the caveat that you are NOT currently hiring for the US market, so for those reading please do not take this as a sign to send Jason a million resumes, what are some of the qualities VeChain looks for in potential employees so they can add value to the VeChain ecosystem?
(Jason) If you are a student and you are looking to get into the blockchain industry, and you wanted to make VeChain a core part of that, then what you want to understand is first and foremost what makes VeChain unique from other platforms. Toolchain would be an important part of that but also understanding just how businesses could use VeChain. It’s important to understand that the core value of what VeChain does is it takes datasets, hashes them, and uploads that hash to the blockchain. So as a student it’s important to think “okay where would that be useful?”
I think that as a student you want to be thinking about the business model. I often say that when VeChain does an implementation you have four different parties. You have the end client that has the need for an application, you have VeChain which is an infrastructure provider, a consulting partner that is in charge of architecting a solution and understanding the business needs, and the fourth party is the developer or technical partner who actually designs and implements the solution. So these are the four kinds of key roles to play.
And I want to make it clear that if you are a student who wants to potentially get into blockchain, or VeChain, working for VeChain explicitly is not the only route. We are a small startup and we do not have a huge headcount, but there are a lot of different ways to be involved in the four roles I said above. Maybe you have a business idea that needs blockchain, or maybe you want to make an introduction to enterprises. People are interested in the ambassador program can certainly contact me and I can put them on the waiting list so when that program rolls out I can be in touch with them. Our ambassadors are going to play an important role in helping drive new opportunities for us, so that could be a way for students to participate.
The second piece, working with VeChain is obviously a possibility, but the third piece is being a consultant. If this sounds ideal then spend a lot of time learning business models, supply chains, blockchains potential to affect current business models. Understand how blockchain will be a foundational infrastructure in computing overall. Look for opportunities to bring that consulting expertise to bear.
And the fourth one is actually being a technical partner. Get a Toolchain test account. Learn to use it and deploy it. Then you could develop a business for yourself doing VeChain implementation using VeChain Toolchain™, and because VeChain Toolchain™ is straightforward to use you get to focus on the application development and adding up business value.
I hope that you can see as a student there is a variety of different approaches you can take to get involved in, learn from, or even profit from the VeChain ecosystem overall.
(Trent) Finally, if you could go back five years ago and master one skill that would significantly benefit you at your job now what would it be?
(Jason) Graphic design actually. I can’t tell you how many times I wish that I knew how to successfully use Adobe Creative Cloud. I find that in my job as an educator, as an evangelist, as a business development salesperson, the need to communicate in a visual language is so important. The need to express your ideas in ways that are visually appealing is very important. A lot of what I do sounds kind of funny, but is PowerPoint. Having a better understanding of graphic design and creating solid visual communications would be a great skill for me personally.
(Trent) Awesome! Well, that wraps up all of my questions for you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and I hope to talk to you
If you would like to read our other interviews please follow the links to the following:
Thu, 19 Dec 2019 22:31:05 GMT language