“If I’d known how big sending the world’s first text message would be, I’d have probably said more than test!”
In an exclusive interview, Business Leader spoke to Dominic von Trotha Taylor, the CEO of iov42, a trust-building identity platform inspired by blockchain. He chatted with us about iov42, how he took PayPoint from an idea to a public company, and also how he sent the world’s first text message.
What led you to join iov42?
I was brought up in Notting Hill, the son of antique dealers, and after school, I spent 12 years in the British navy, most of which was in submarines during the Cold War.
At 30 and I decided to go for an MBA. Whilst doing my it, I applied to Vodafone but got no response, so I set up a business with a friend of mine. It was a very low-tech, gardening business, looking after house scheme, but it paid the bills.
Then I got a letter from Vodafone, asking if I would help them set up the business in Germany. I spent just over a year out there, and then got involved as a product specialist – particularly in the first instance around text messaging. I was actually the first-ever Product Manager for text messaging and sent the world’s first text message, which if I’d known how big that was going to be, I probably would have said more than test or something random like that!
Following this, I went to Grenada, but got a bit depressed by the fact that all my profits got sucked up by the group. So, I thought I’ve got to get into a start-up, and I found this business called PayPoint. Within a couple of months of joining in 1997, I was CEO and took PayPoint from an idea through to profitability, flotation and then a public company. I was running PayPoint until 2019.
Once I turned 60, I wanted to do something else. I became Non-Exec Chairman of Turtle and then Chairman of iov42, a business that I helped found as an investor, before becoming CEO more recently.
What services does iov42 offer and in what area do you specialise?
When company’s source timber, the first question is ‘are the trees growing on legitimate land?’.
We’ll likely know if it’s legitimate because the local government says it is, but we probably want to know that the workers working there are also getting paid a fair wage, and we can put all that on our blockchain and start to trust it.
Then as logs go through a mill, what probably would have happened is a certification agency would go there and check with bits of paper to see if the logs came from that area and how many planks were being made. They’d also check the shipping invoices that go to export, to allow the logs to get to the exporting companies for a shipping bill of sales and so on. But now, the people working at the mill can put the data onto the blockchain themselves.
As we’re able to track the identity of all the people that interface with the blockchain, we know who completed a data cell on the spreadsheet. So, if something goes wrong, we can go back to that individual. I think the reason that’s so important is that if you know you’re going to be held to account for the work you’ve done, you’re less likely to make mistakes and more likely to put good data in.
What’s the difference between working for a company like PayPoint compared to a start-up and what you’re doing now?
Well, PayPal was a start-up, so in a way the challenge at the beginning was not dissimilar to the one iov42 is facing now. A difference – but fundamentally the same – is trying to sort out where you’re going, to get a strategy, and then get traction and momentum.
At PayPoint, it took us about four years to become profitable, and thereafter, we just kept on growing.
I think the challenge when going from a big business to a small one is always one around clarity and what the business is trying to achieve. Another challenge is getting senior management aligning their strategy, getting the right funding to grow, and then making it happen.
For people who do not know, could you explain what blockchain is?
The best way of referring to it is distributed layered ledger technology – it’s like a big database in the sky. We all know what a database looks like, and the most important piece of data that goes in is what they call immutable, which means it can’t be deleted. That gives trust, because whatever goes on in the database, it’s going to be there forever.
How is 2022 shaping up for iov42 and what are the biggest challenges for getting blockchain out there?
As ours is a new technology, one of the challenges is to spread our message about what the technology can do. Very reasonably, potential customers that don’t know us very well, want to know more about our background, who else is using it, and how can we build a proof of concept for them. The timber trade is a great example of how we’ve done it, and I expect that to happen in other areas.
The challenge for 2022 is to reduce lead times for sales in different sectors during the course of the year, so that we start to become a sales organisation, as our product gets better known and understood.
What does enterprise blockchain look like?
Blockchain is very skewed in everyone’s minds around crypto and currencies, and I think that’s just a big bubble of speculation. Most people are not using the current blockchain mechanisms for anything other than speculating on coins, so that’s not what I refer to as blockchain.
I think there’s a whole new blockchain evolution called enterprise blockchain, which will be less based around coins. It will be more based around providing fantastic services that create greater efficiency, transparency, and trust. Then you don’t need all these big institutions that give us the trust because its already in the core technology.
Are there other fields this technology could branch into?
There are lots of fields that it could branch into because the whole area of spreadsheets has a generic Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), and different use cases are massive. DLT is another term for blockchain technology and it refers to the infrastructure and protocols that enable the secure functioning of a decentralised digital database.
Could blockchain and AI technologies be the key to stopping deforestation in the future?
Very much so. If you look at a company like IKEA, for example, they’d want to know that they’ve sourced wood that has been grown in the right place and that is true to what it says, so they can tell a consumer where the table they’ve bought has come from and that it’s legitimate.
I think the other dynamic around this is the recycling aspect associated with these things – what they call the circular economy. What happens if it breaks? What happens if it needs to be recycled? How are you able to track that properly? And we do that all the way through the supply chain.
Besides blockchain, what else can you see in the future of tech?
It’s difficult to look beyond where I’m currently looking because I’m so involved in blockchain, and that seems like an enormous route ahead.
It’s a statement of the obvious, but it’s been amazing how technology has fundamentally changed our lives. Throughout my career, I remember three years before I left the Navy, I got one of the very first laptops. It was about the size of an iPad and called a Zed88, with four lines on a display to type emails, and I thought that was amazing at the time.
But then you think about technology from then to now – technology just changes so much. Before that, there was nothing. You basically sent letters and telegrams.
I think with Blockchain, it’s a similar thing. In 15 years’ time, attitudes and tech will be completely different. I can foresee situations where consumers have complete control over their own data. Today, we don’t really have control of medical data, for example, but I think all that is going to evolve over time. Consumers will be completely in control of their own data, whether it’s medical data, payments data – and blockchain will facilitate this.
How difficult is it for disruptor companies to compete against larger ones in the blockchain industry?
For any start-up, it’s a challenge and I think everybody knows that, but we’ve got very supportive shareholders. Internally, we have a very open discussion around how we need to go forward, and we will align on that, and then we go and do it.
I’m very lucky that we’ve got some fantastic people working in the business and more joining that are very motivated. However, there are no massive grand plan. You’ve got to just keep working step after step to get there.
What are you hoping to achieve with iov42 over the next year and in the future?
We’re a very young business, and broadly speaking, we are in the ‘pre-revenue’ phase. Because it’s such a new technology, lots of people are saying it sounds good, can we try it? So, we’ve done several proofs of concepts and we’re now getting contracts signed – but it’s not being used full bore yet.
We want to bed that down, we want to get new customers coming on board, and we want to get revenue starting to be produced over the next year or so. As that happens, we’ll work with governments and large organisations to realise the benefits of our unique technology and their various supply chains. That’s very motivating.