For many in the blockchain industry, the critical frustration over the last year has remained constant, and it can be summed up in one word: adoption.
Adoption of ‘new’ can be explosive and viral, and we are at the very beginning of seeing that on the blockchain. CryptoKitties will likely be remembered as the first dApp gone wild, but others will follow.
But serious, large-scale, enterprise adoption of blockchain – the type that creates systemic change – has been plodding, to the point of being almost comatose. While some markets are experiencing disruption, entire industries are less prone to the eager adoption exhibited by some of their subsets.
For instance, the MARKET for financial AI algorithms is in the process of major change, but the overall financial INDUSTRY still looks very similar to how it looked a year ago. This is the case for many of the proposed use-cases for blockchain technology – markets are beginning to adopt, while industries are continuing to eye it with skepticism.
Disruption is, in fact, unwelcome in many legacy industries where evolution is a more palatable approach.
And this is the challenge facing Hope Liu, CEO of Eximchain, as she attempts to persuade the $13 billion supply chain industry that blockchain is the future.
Fortunately, her company’s solution may have what it takes to achieve that goal. Good design.
One Supply Chain Issue Among Many
“We have been working on this project since 2015,” explains Liu, whose company was conceived in the world-famous MIT Media Lab. Her excitement about blockchain, as a thought-leader in the industry, is palpable.
“Back in ’15, ’16, no-one wanted to listen to me… and I almost stopped talking to strangers, because they would say ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t talk to me!’ But I didn’t stop: the only reason we were able to hire our Head of Business Architecture was actually because I talked to him about blockchain when he was my AirBNB host!” (She qualifies that this was in addition to his many years of experience at IBM.)
As an example of Eximchain’s use-cases, she points to dysfunction in the opportunity to obtain credit in the supply chain industry.
“The pain point is that if you are not a Fortune 500 company, it is harder to verify your reputation. Banks find it hard to verify that transactions are genuine or not, because the supply chain is so long. Take Apple – there are so many upstream suppliers that don’t have a direct contractual relationship with Apple, and who get paid later than the downstream suppliers – but they can’t prove an indirect downstream relationship, so the banks won’t extend credit.”
Liu’s point is simple – lack of credit squeezes small businesses, but credit isn’t available because the supply chain isn’t transparent enough to assure banks and lenders that they will be repaid.
The solution, for blockchain enthusiasts, seems obvious. Reputation management is a key promise of the technology and has been addressed extensively already. But any gap in the supply chain opens up the possibility of fraud, counterfeiting – it breaks the trust that the banks need to see, in order to open up access to the 40M small Chinese businesses that cannot obtain credit.
How Eximchain Intends To Create Mass Adoption
Interviewing Liu is like discussing blockchain with the squirrel from Ice Age – her enthusiasm for the project, and for the technology as a while, is genuine, infectious, and rapid-fire. When she leans forward with a conspiratorial look and asks if we have a wireless connection, so she can show me a proof-of-concept, I am as excited as she is.
And the reason for her ‘animation’ becomes clear. The mobile app that she demonstrates is a thing of beauty – in fact, from a UX perspective, it’s almost transcendent, especially for a work-in-progress.
As well as the obvious solutions – such as building out the platform to support SDKs – a key focus for Liu and her team has been the user interface. The people who use supply chain software are not programmers and coders. Which is why Liu describes the necessity for her company’s solution to be “…like the Internet… my parents don’t understand TCP/IP but they can still use the Internet”.
The app is polished, intuitive, and above all, fast. In the space of three minutes Liu inspects a “shipment of coffee”, rapidly logging in and out of the app to illustrate what different stakeholders in the supply chain business are able to see. She demonstrates the various elements of trust – such as the GPS coordinates of the shipment origin – that will help to verify the inspection, and prove the provenance of the coffee.
She leaves me in no doubt that Eximchain is taking a user-centric approach to the demands of the supply chain. It may be people in suits who make the decisions regarding the migration to the blockchain; but it’s the people in hard hats who have to use it.
Adoption Is A Two-Sided Market
“Currently we’re running a lot of tutorials with Fortune 500 companies to teach them how to deploy, manage and monitor a globally-distributed blockchain infrastructure on top of a global platform using our tools,” explains Liu. “We are trying to become the common fabric for the global supply chain business.”
These are big aspirations, and tackling an industry that Gartner suggests will exceed $20 billion in value by 2020 would be a challenge for many of the largest, and most experienced, companies in the world.
Yet Hope springs eternal: Liu and her team are backed by serious long-term investors, and Eximchain has attracted major attention from the blockchain industry – she will be speaking at a TechCrunch event in Crypto Valley alongside Vitalik Buterin and CZ of Binance, after a keynote in Singapore at the World Digital Asset Summit and an appearance at the Blockchain Asia II event in New York.
It’s true that large industries are slow to adopt revolutionary technologies – but when direct users of those technologies are involved in the process, and the interface between the user and the backend tech is more evolutionary in its approach, then the two-sided market begins to appear as less of a mountain to climb, and more of a steep hill.
If Hope Liu can teach a Fortune 500 CEO what blockchain will do for his or her business… and without breaking stride she can prove to an under-caffeinated, supply-chain-ignorant editor how a user will seamlessly integrate it into their daily working life… then Eximchain has a real chance of success.
So, she’s halfway there.