When it comes to achieving startup success, iov42 CPO David Coleman knows a thing or two
Kiara Kealoha, Monday Nov 02
So you’re no stranger to the iov42 team, but for our partners and clients to get acquainted with you, could you please share a bit about yourself and your professional background?
So how I ended up working in the technology space is probably not a particularly typical story with technologists—I discovered my inner geek quite late! Having embarked on a career in medicine, I was two years in when I discovered I was more drawn towards technology and so made the switch to Computer Engineering.
I opted for a program that had a really interesting approach: it began with one year of full-time study, followed by three years with one day a week at university and the rest of the week working in the industry. In the summer before the second year, I was offered a summer internship by a friend working at a software startup. I ended up enjoying this experience so much that I joined the company full-time, completed my degree whilst working for them and ended up staying for about five and a half years. So that was a bit of a crazy time but I definitely recommend a startup as the way to learn!
When that company was sold, I moved on to the investment banking world, primarily because I was aware of the many varied and challenging problems to be solved in such an environment, from the various friends I knew working in that industry. Throughout my time in banking, I was usually focused on the hard problems in building systems but with the last bank I was at, I started to get involved in solving how to reorientate the organization to make more effective use of its technology to make it more competitive in an increasingly competitive, technology driven world. Part of that role was the creation of a cross organisation group setup to identify and address some of the key issues. Through that group I germinated the idea of an Open API programme with a view to help internally but also to ultimately generate new business from the bank’s technology. This was a period of huge personal growth—it placed me straight in the crossover between technology and business and I found myself designing a change programme—this included pitching for funding, getting approval from the executives and ultimately led to me running the programme. That was the first time I’d ever done anything like that, but it was a great experience.
At the same time, this team was exploring all kinds of things, including blockchain, an emerging technology for the banks. The fundamental question? “What are we going to do with blockchain?” If I’m being honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in blockchain at the time, I was more interested in my API programme.
One Friday, a colleague of mine called me up explaining we had been offered a place at a blockchain hackathon that Reuters was running that weekend and he wanted me to come along. Although not massively interested I decided to join in and after a weekend of developing the business case and technical solution, we ended up winning the hackathon! This was my first glimpse into the potential of blockchain and that with the right business application, it could be transformative and a real enabler of new business value.
When Reuters invited us to the next hackathon as defending champions, the bank actually sponsored us to go. This time it was in Zug, Switzerland and we ended up winning again. At this point, I thought to myself that maybe there was something to this blockchain hype.
How did you find your way to iov42?
The same friend that I worked with in the hackathons had been in contact with iov42 and was impressed by what they were trying to build. He wanted my opinion and so I remember meeting the founders in a London pub as they told me their story. I found [iov42’s] idea really compelling and thought that if they could pull it off, they would be building something pretty powerful. My friend ended up joining iov42 and a few months later he asked me to join too. I’ve been with iov42 ever since.
What are you most excited about tackling and/or accomplishing in your position as CPO?
Really getting the business off the ground is an exciting challenge for me. Our technology itself is great and I think the product we have built is great—I may be biased. But in many ways, our ideas have been ahead of their time, which is always a challenge. The market has had to go through a real period of discovery and learning, which is what we see reflected by where Blockchain is in the Gartner Hype Cycle.
As the market starts to slowly emerge from the Cycle’s so-called “Trough of Disillusionment,” everyone will realize what blockchain needs to be able to do in order to meet their needs and I believe that iov42 is nicely positioned to be able to fulfil these needs. I’m excited about this time in the market evolution and our potential role in shaping it further.
Although we’re emerging from the “Trough,” enterprise blockchain can still be a bit of a complex concept for people to understand, which poses a challenge for blockchain and other DLT businesses. On top of that, it can be difficult to describe our product because our approach is so different from other blockchains that are more prominent in the space. My challenge to you is then, how would you describe what iov42 really does, without mentioning blockchain?
In order for interactions between businesses, governments, and other organizations to be successful, there has to be an element of trust. In the past, trust has always been introduced via the legal system. Remember, it’s not that we necessarily trust the people we’re interacting with; what we trust is the fact that if we are somehow ‘let down’, we have recourse through the legal system.
Our technology aims to provide the mechanisms that can guarantee the behaviour of participants. More specifically, what iov42 has done is take these concepts and provide the ability to leverage trust in a way that makes sense to businesses and governments. The most exciting aspect of this is that we have been able to take complex technology based on distributed computing and cryptography and make it easily applicable to real world problems.
Put very simply, we help organisations introduce trust where it doesn’t exist—we are in the trust business. It sounds a bit grandiose but by providing a framework that allows people to be able to trust in identities and their interactions and provide simple mechanisms to apply that to their challenging problems, then this can be the game changer.
Thank you for the succinct, tech-lite summary! For the folks who are a bit more familiar with blockchain technology, could you explain what makes our product so different from other enterprise blockchains on the market?
There’s a few things. First off, we have a different hosting model. We have always believed that people would need blockchain as an infrastructure. At iov42, we provide a trust infrastructure, in the same way that the Internet provides an information infrastructure.
We also took a different approach to build the software that supports the operating model that we believe in. This approach sought to meet the needs of business and governments—you know, the performance, security, and scalability that people expect from an infrastructure.
We fundamentally believe, unlike the more public blockchains, that when it comes to enterprise solutions, identity is key. If generating real world value depends on the interactions happening between individuals and between organizations, you need to know who you’re interacting with. From the outset, the question for iov42 was, “how do we build a platform that allows users to robustly represent and granularly manage their digital identities in order to access and provide goods and services?” And we answered this question by building identity modelling into the core of the platform.
With identity modelling as a central piece of our platform, we then built the modelling capability that allows people to digitally represent their assets in the same expressive way that they can represent their identities. And of course we have mechanisms to transfer and exchange these assets.
Building these easy-to-use identity and asset tools was part of iov42’s larger strategy to answer the market, which was basically asking, “ok, you say [blockchain] is a great technology, but how does it actually solve my problems?” That is why we worked to abstract the complex technology and provide the mechanisms that make sense to our customers.
Put simply, iov42’s platform allows users to access the benefits of blockchain without the headaches currently associated with setting up and utilising blockchain networks.
What would be your dream project to host or help develop on our platform?
I think what we’ve built would be perfect for a national government that is looking to create a technology infrastructure for the future—we provide the perfect integration of identity and asset capability to facilitate the provision of government services. Furthermore, the accessibility of our platform that I mentioned earlier would ideally reduce the complexity and overall costs for many government digital services. On top of that, the zoned approach that we follow when setting up a new, localised network means that all relevant laws and regulations can be integrated into that infrastructure’s governance.
I really like the idea of using our technology to solve a government’s problems whilst still ensuring that the government remains accountable to its citizens. So that would be the dream.
And finally, if you didn’t work in the tech industry, what would you be doing?
I would probably be doing something around video production. Technology is a very creative space and I have always exercised my creativity through programming, engineering and architecting. Now I use creativity to imagine features for the platform and how to solve customer problems. So I think I would always be doing something creative. In my spare time I like applying that creativity and penchant for problem solving to video production. I have even extended that to music and although I only play the bass [badly] I’m actually working on writing a song—the composition is more or less done, but whether it ever ends up with lyrics I don’t know!
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