Two entrepreneurs, time zones apart, are working on building cutting-edge blockchain tech and communities in a big office they call the world.
Typical of the times we are in and the digital industry they promote, these two entrepreneurs work closely together, but in separate time zones.
Their work? Creating an open-source blockchain that will change the way we purchase and use digital assets.
We meet Riccardo Spagni in Johannesburg at 6.30 on a cold Johannesburg evening. Spagni, dressed in a pink t-shirt with an imprint of a pony on it, in his Woodlands office, is the lead maintainer of the Monero project. Dialing in for this meeting is his colleague and co-founder, Naveen Jain, who is based in Oakland, California.
This is an everyday mode of communication, in building their open-source blockchain protocol to help businesses and people manage, transfer and use digital assets. And they’ve called it Tari. For the uninitiated, the open-source model is a decentralized software-development model that encourages open collaboration.
“I like to see myself as the Elon Musk of South Africa, because I’m from South Africa as well,” says Spagni.
He has had a knack for cryptocurrencies ever since 2011 when he found himself mining around in the ecosystem. In 2013, he founded Monero, which provides increased privacy through encryption of transactional information by using robust and recent encryption tools available to safeguard investments. It basically protects any transaction by offering parties absolute anonymity.
Jain got involved in Monero as a miner and also fell in love with cryptocurrencies.
“So when Naveen said to me ‘wouldn’t it be cool to like put natively digital assets on a blockchain’, I was like ‘hmm why’,” recalls Spagni.
Through research and understanding the advantages, Spagni changed his mind.
“I came to realize there was nothing in the market that fit the needs for a highly-scalable and highly- robust native digital assets protocol. So that’s basically what we set out to build,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
The Tari project will exist to allow companies transfer assets such as loyalty points, gaming points and tickets from one platform or user to another without losing value.
“The people issuing loyalty points remain the people issuing loyalty points. And the people writing games remain the people writing games. We are not disrupting any of that. What we are disrupting is them having to provide all that infrastructure on the backend for the issuing of their natively digital assets,” says Spagni.
The team already has investors backing them but they are working two years ahead of the actual launch.
“The real secret of sophisticated software systems is it takes long to build over time…We are doing something that hasn’t been done before, so we are not expecting this to be a walk in the park and our real mission right now is to build the best team in the world that wants to overcome the challenges along the way,” says Jain, on the call from California.
They aim to build a global team able to contribute and work on the project with them, which is one of the stages they are currently at.
“From our point of view, blockchain systems are global systems, they are not geographically focused in any way, shape or form, the network is a global network and so it’s very important that we take a global perspective from the beginning of the project,” says Jain.
Their key focus recruiting contributors has been in Johannesburg.
“There’s an incredible wealth of untapped talent in South Africa,” offers Spagni.
There’s a huge opportunity to bridge the gap and create a Tari lab in Johannesburg where developers can come and work on cutting-edge blockchain tech.
But the developers in Johannesburg will only be a segment of the team. The rest would be scattered around the world creating not only an ecosystem of blockchain but an ecosystem of a working community through online interactions.
“It’s weird because there are people all over the world and there are tons of people in this space that I respect and they are scattered all over the globe so we are constantly talking. It’s like being in a big office with some of the brightest minds on the planet,” says Spagni.
“Sharp people like to work with other sharp people and when you are exposed to that global community of people who are all throwing in and developing this open-source software that’s pretty amazing,” he adds.
One of the biggest industries the team aims to tap into is the gaming industry worth $10.3 billion in the United States alone.
Usually users would buy a game, play it and accumulate points. Once they get bored of the game, they play another and the points they accumulated in the first game goes to waste. But with Tari, the user would be able to transfer their end-game wealth into another game.
“Then nothing is ever wasted and they don’t have to build up infrastructure in one game to abandon it. So that excites me a lot,” says Spagni.
Similar to Bitcoin, Tari’s software will be open-source as well, meaning anyone would be able to have access to it. Jain believes this will allow them to gain the trust of users and businesses.
“The most powerful mode you can build is community so if you have a large group of people that are philosophically and ideologically aligned with your mission, and then you don’t really need to keep the software itself under lock and key,” he elaborates.
“You can open-source it with a highly permissible licence. Because anyone can use it and what it does is it creates trust. I think we’re in a new world.”
Although to some businesses, this may be a problem as they choose to keep their intellectual property, open-source is seen as a disruptor many have an appetite for.
A survey done by Black Duck Software and North Bridge in 2015 found that 78% of companies run on open source. What may have sounded as crazy a few years ago for businesses to put out their data has now became the norm. They found that open-source systems are critical to reducing potential security, legal, and operational risks while allowing companies to reap full benefits.
“To actually create this kind of a system, to earn people’s trust, that’s just a huge challenge and tremendous amounts of fun. I wake up every day, really excited about this incredible opportunity that we have within the Tari community to pull this off and make it happen,” says Jain, before ending yet another call to his colleague in Johannesburg and beginning yet another day of building an open-source world.