We have the latest in what’s happening in the world of blockchain investing and the future of telecommunications straight from one of the industry’s leaders, Dean Karakitsos, whose approach to designing and launching new technology has helped shape the industry. A visionary innovator in disruptive technology for the past 20 years, Karakitsos is the co-founder of Bloxy.info and Qrypton.io as well as the founder of Bloqchain Science, which builds secure decentralized systems using blockchain technology for identity solutions, tokenization, smart contracts and lightning network applications. Recently NYNJA’s co-founder and CSO, Marshall Taplits, and NYNJA advisor and mentor David Harris discussed the future of communication, commerce and blockchain technology.
David: We are currently on the “NYNJA roadshow”. We have been to Malta, Korea, Tokyo, Dubai and are presently with Marshall Taplits in Singapore. Marshall is Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of NYNJA and we are speaking with Dean Karakitsos, Founder of Bloqchain Science and co-Founder of Qrypton.io. Marshall why don’t you start by giving us a bit of background in terms of where you’ve come from in the telecom space, and how you came to be involved in blockchain.
Marshall: Thanks David! I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York, and I grew up in New Jersey. I came to Asia about 16 years ago. My telecom background originated in Quality Assurance and I became specialized in prepaid and postpaid billing while I was consulting for Comverse, which was at that time second to Amdocs in the industry. I worked on billing implementations for companies like Alltel (later bought by Verizon) and VimpelCom in Russia. Later, I developed a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platform and we launched an app which supported internet to phone calls as well as callback calls. During the development of this platform, I became more familiar with signaling, least-cost routing, billing on Asterisk and all the surrounding technologies.
In terms of blockchain, I was introduced to bitcoin at the end of 2011 – maybe early 2012 – through one of my friends who was mining bitcoin when it was at $2. I read Satoshi’s white paper and it blew my mind. I had that same feeling as when my cousin showed me the web in 1996...the kind of amazement where you know that everything is going to change. I started to use it as much as I could and my passion for it grew. Later, around 2015-16, it became obvious to me that there was going to be a whole new industry out there: cryptocurrency-based communication platforms, and that they will be global and frictionless by default. I knew that this was where we needed to be. I also developed a passion for the Future of Work as I had been extremely active as a buyer of services on various freelance networks like Upwork, Fiverr and 99Designs. So we took what we knew about the telecom space, about blockchain, and about managing distributed teams and freelance workers and we created NYNJA.
Dean: Cool. So I’m originally from Greece - from Athens Greece. I got started in the market data business back in the late 90s. I developed an emerging terminal for South-Eastern Europe before I moved to telecommunications, starting with VoIP. You have to imagine that back then, the first gateway that we tested was called Orca from Nuera and we paid around $200,000 per E1 port in order to have VoIP. The quality was horrible! Over the years, as VoIP technology matured, I went into the wholesale business. I was doing transit traffic and reselling voice to exotic destinations. For this reason, I travelled all around the world and signed an interconnect agreement with most of the push-to-talk networks. In 2006, I had the idea to turn from wholesale to retail and come to the United States. I formed a VoIP provider and started competing with Vonage. Vonage was on the retail side, so I decided to go after Small and Medium Enterprises. We developed a Fixed Mobile Convergence platform. That was actually very successful and around 2012, I sold my company. Later, some of our software became part of the BlackBerry Enterprise server. So from 2014, I was trying other technologies. I got involved with Ecommerce and Amazon businesses. At the same time, I started looking into blockchain. I didn’t like Bitcoin; I took note of it in 2011, but for many reasons, I didn’t think that it was something professional. Even the logo, I didn’t like. But when I heard about blockchain in 2014, I was pretty amazed. Actually, I lost sleep over it and in 2016, we formed Bloqchain Science. Our first project was called IPSOS, InterPlanetary Social Operating System. It is an operating system that consists of multiple layers, enabling control of identity, money management, remote education, and remote work. But back then, the available tools were immature so we started building our own tools. That’s how we got into the building of smart contracts and blockchain platforms. Last year actually, we did a lot of smart contract auditing and built on different platforms on blockchains like Ethereum, Stellar, EOS, NEO, etc.
David: You know, your experiences intersect in so many ways. In fact, Dean, I didn’t realize you’ve built Amazon businesses – that’s something that Marshall and I have done together over the last few years. Marshall still has an Amazon business that is operating quite successfully.
Marshall: That’s something that I didn’t mention just because it wasn’t relevant to blockchain but I think we all have many interests, we all have a million unique experiences. Listening to you introduce yourself, I can see a lot of common background.
David: Very interesting. Dean would you please tell us a bit more about Bloqchain Science and IPSOS. What sort of projects are you guys working on now?
Dean: Our first project was IPSOS, which is still under development. We’re looking to partner with members of the United Nations and we expect to have some kind of product by the end of this year. Besides that, we have different projects as well. We’re building an energy exchange. Also, we’re going to introduce an Ethereum explorer next month and blockchain analytics tools on bloxy.info. I think there is going to be a breakthrough in the exploration that we see right now in terms of data depth analysis and visualization because we not only get hidden data from the blockchain, but from a lot of different sources. Also, I forgot to mention that we’re running a private ICO for Qrypton.io, which is an internal project at Bloqchain Science. It is a private index fund that gives a lot of flexibility to investors to get exposure to the crypto world.
David: Are all of these internal projects? Are you partnering with third parties or other companies?
Dean: All of these projects are internal.
David: Are your teams in the U.S. or are you working with teams in Europe or Asia? Where are you actually building the technology?
Dean: In different locations. The headquarters are in Lower Manhattan, New York, where we have approximately 16 people. We also have six people in Singapore and seven people in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
David: Right. Are you self-funded? I realized that you’re doing an ICO presale for one of the projects but with the other, was there seed money or private equity involved to get started?
Dean: No, we haven’t acquired any capital so far for Bloqchain Science. The only project that we’re sourcing funds for is Qrypton IO.
David: It’s an interesting time out there for blockchain funding. Marshall, maybe you can give a bit of an update where NYNJA has come from since its conception 2 years ago, the path that you’ve come along, and where you’re at today?
Marshall: Absolutely. It’s been a wild ride. We started by raising funds from friends and family – a few million dollars to help us launch development. From our past experiences, my own and NYNJA’s other Co-Founders’, we knew that if we weren’t well-funded up front, we wouldn’t have the “leg up” on development that we wanted. Going into an ICO we wanted to make sure we had a product that was well on its way. From the beginning, we wanted to make sure that our launch coincided with the ICO. We made swift progress and six months in we started to get additional interest and raised another $2M or so, which was great to keep everything moving ahead with development. Now we are in the private sale of our ICO, where we’ve done fairly well so far. I will not be disclosing the numbers yet, but we’ve had quite a bit of success, specifically in Asia, and have generated some strong momentum. It’s not too big of a surprise as our core team has been here in Asia for more than 15 years and this is the area of the world that we’re most familiar with. We’re currently on our “roadshow”, as mentioned earlier. It has been really nice to see that we have not only been seeing interest on the investor side, but also in the product and the platform as well. People have been very supportive in the concept of what we’re trying to achieve. We’re trying to change the way people work. We’re trying to make sure that the next 2 billion people that come online have an economy to grow into – one that’s frictionless. We’re trying to fix payment, obviously, as well as reputation and all the problems that currently exist around data security on current platforms. We have had really great feedback and our public ICO will run from August 15th until September 15th. We also have a BETA release of the platform in August, with token generation planned for October. It is a very exciting time and we’re on track to go live this December.
David: Dean, have you had a chance to look at the website, see the product, or watch the video on how the NYNJA communications layer or the real-time labor marketplace works?
Dean: Yes, I did. I was impressed from the user interface, which looks different from what we have right now. I am very curious to work on it and to see its functionality as a communicator, marketplace and platform. It looks very promising.
David: You know NYNJA is in alpha right now, there is a large group doing tests to optimize the communications piece. For example, there is a NYNJA office in Korea where everybody is excited to try it on their phone even though it is still in alpha. We are currently getting feedback from experienced users to help us make the best platform possible.
Marshall: It is important for us that our vision for NYNJA goes far beyond just a messenger. What we are doing to empower billions of new mobile users with an opportunity to participate in the global digital economy is really the key.
David: Yes, I remember there was some early mis-underrating of the vision - or rather, the messenger piece was so cool it seems it was being over-emphasised and people were missing the point about the fact that this is cross platform, that it can be synchronized across devices. And the other layers to the platform - the smart-wallet, the digital marketplace and real-time labor services platform were being overlooked or undervalued.
Marshall: That’s true, we didn’t get our own communications quite right. In fact, we are currently re-working our whitepaper to better communicate the mission and the vision. The communications layer is the foundation that you need in order to do almost anything - if you can’t communicate you can’t collaborate. This is especially true as people begin to lean on messenger-based communication as opposed to email. Here in Asia that’s the way it already is, but in other parts of the world, it is just beginning to change. Currently, we are having intense focus groups to get user feedback and make sure that it’s extremely intuitive. People, when they use NYNJA for the first time, are pleasantly surprised. It has been fun to design a new user interface and user experience when, in many ways, people consider it “done.” We believe there is progress to be made. By integrating a multi-currency smart-wallet and a marketplace in which users can earn money by doing virtual services, we believe that we are really providing something of unique value.