In the crypto space it is rare for a project to find user adoptation. In that regard, Ocean Protocol can be considered a success already. Boosting clients such as Daimler, Roche and Unilever. With their V3 release however, a whole new data economy will be created.
Ocean Protocol co-founder Bruce Pon is proud and very excited about this breakthrough release. “People are using it right away”, he says on a Google Meet call from Berlin. “It’s the first time the public can interact with the protocol. Under the hood, the architecture has been massively simplified, making it more reliable, decentralized, and unstoppable.”
On the Ocean Market everybody can sell and buy data, but also invest in it. These datasets are interesting investment opportunities and could become the next big thing in crypto. Where ICO’s and De-Fi turned into quick-rich schemes, purchasing datatokens offer something of true value. Something that can change society forever.
“It’s the first time people can put a price on their data. If you can make money from it, people will be incentivized to use it.” Pon compares it to the – at the time – outrageous idea of renting out your apartment to strangers. “Airbnb showed this was possible. They had various tools, like rating of users, guarantee of payments, etc. to create a base level of trust between buyer and seller. This is what we need to do for data as well.”
Building an ecosystem
The team behind Ocean Protocol will not be able to do this on their own. That’s why they made their software open source: allowing others to set up their own data exchange marketplaces and create tons of other services on top of it. ”We are building an ecosystem with enterprises, general users, crypto developers and crypto natives. We need all of them to create value.”
How do you convince enterprises to sell and share their data? “To make it clear that they can make more money sharing that data than holding on to it”, explains Pon. “If the IT center can become a profit center, all of a sudden you have a CFO who wants to figure this stuff out. I believe that it is a backdoor to propel enterprises in understanding tokens and the data economy. It will legitimize the crypto space that wasn’t possible before.”
Doing business development
With decades of consultancy experience in the automotive and finance industries, Pon has mastered the art of prospecting enterprises. “We understand the profiles that are a good fit for us. We measure them by three criteria: they have a use case we believe in, they have a dedicated team that doesn’t treat it as a side project, and there is leadership support. Someone who’s willing to put his reputation on the line for this.”
Now that with V3 the interface design of Ocean Protocol has been greatly improved, business development has become a lot easier. “We can’t handle all the requests that are coming in right now”, says Pon. “We now choose to work on the projects that make sense on our side. For others, we might engage the IBMs and Accentures of the world saying to them ‘Hey we think this is a good use case, here is V3. We can help you with the architecture support but why don’t you guys take this on.’ That is how we scale this. We are a small team that likes to focus on the tech.”
Changing the world
Ocean Protocol could not have come at a better time it seems. Debates about how Big Tech is using data, the rise of AI and the introduction of digital currencies are in full spin. It is enticing to wonder what role Ocean can play in all of this. Pon weighs in: “I think governments will be asked by their citizenry to guarantee a universal basic income as we go further down the path of AI, robotics and automation. We see Ocean as a way to provide for that as well. It allows 7.5 billion people to play a role in the data economy.”
Pon recognizes that monetizing data can have a negative side as well. “You can have very dystopian views on this.There are actually farms now where people only exist to generate data. Is it worse than gathering crops by migrant workers? That’s a moral question. It could also lead to a world having only twenty data gatekeepers. It’s all possible.”
With society in 2020 being in a constant state of uproar, Pon is hopeful that the advent of decentralizing technology will create a bright future. “I think we have hit a breaking point already, where the pace of change is not digestible for the majority of people. Humans are emotional beings, and the tech world – based on math, stats, pragmatism – is not. A more emotional interface can change this.”
A long road
The release of V3 looks like the beginning of Ocean’s ascent. It might take two decades for the company’s vision to be fully realized. A vision Pon has developed with co-founder Trent McConaghy. The two Canadians met in 1993 at the University of Saskatchewan. Pon was his mentor during those first years: “We had some really good conversations. Trent set up a company in his second year of engineering. Saskatchewan is not startup central, so to go against the grain at an early age is a very good sign. I left Canada and went into consulting and twenty years later Trent called me. He had also moved to Berlin and had an idea for a project in the blockchain space. We talked for 5 months about it. I got convinced and sold my company and jumped on full time with Trent and his wife Masha to do this in 2014.”
Their working relationship is a success. “Trent is a true visionary. He works really hard and our values are much aligned. In the early stages we had a lot of argue points and it may have looked like a bad marriage from the outside. But we were fleshing out ideas and that could become emotional. The great thing was, we never took things personally.”
It is his passion for tech, utilizing collaborations on all types of levels and wanting to create something for the greater good, that really stands out when you hear Pon talk. “I am hopeful that the crypto community understands why we should use our power to design systems that include everybody. I don’t think it’s helpful that you have millionaires in this space who are masochistic people. That believe that you’re on your own in an Ayn Rand kind of view. I’m of the idea that we’ve all been given a privilege and tools.
There is a real opportunity for change. Crypto is a general purpose technology. Very powerful. Whereas the Internet was mainly developed out of Silicon Valley, crypto is developed across the globe. It can’t be stopped.”
Listen to the full interview on YouTube. Bruce Pon talks about their involvement with the EU’s Gaia-X group, working in the crypto space, why banks will have to adapt to a decentralized infrastructure, and his NLP studies. Listen here or play below.