Bryan Feinberg, CEO of Zephyrnet in NYC and Partner-at-Large of Blockchain News recently interviewed South African Internet entrepreneur CEO Vinny Lingham on his latest startup Civic.com. Lingham was the co-founder & CEO of Gyft – a mobile gift card company, backed by Google Ventures before leaving to launch Civic. Civic has already received $2.75m in funding from Social Leverage, along with a number of VC firms active in the bitcoin and Blockchain space including Pantera Capital, Blockchain Capital and Digital Currency Group.
Feinberg: Can you give us an overview of how Civic is changing the world?
Lingham: Civic aims to give every consumer the ability to control the use of their personal information by connecting them to a network of responsible companies that will send notifications and permission requests to them, in real-time, whenever someone attempts to access or use their personal information.
Feinberg: When did you have the infamous “Ah Ha” moment regarding Blockchain? You are launching in an area of Blockchain where there are not too many companies nailing it? How is your approach different?
Lingham: The Ah-ha moment was when I was sitting on Necker Island, at a Blockchain conference hosted by Richard Branson. We spent more than 50 percent of the trip discussing how the Blockchain could be used for identity, and, more importantly, the later possibilities of using Blockchain to provide seamless and error-free voting applications. I recognized that this space was wide open and that there was indeed an opportunity to build an important company here.
Feinberg: There has been so much noise in the industry lately about vertical commercial breakthroughs? When you anticipate your first profitable quarter?
Lingham: Profitability is not a metric that important companies need to focus on while in the startup phase. If Facebook or Google focused on being profitable in their first 2-3 years, they would have built the wrong product for the market. We are focusing on solving the problem, elegantly, for all market participants.
Feinberg: Do you have API strategy and what you are you doing to support those companies looking to deploy a Blockchain protocol to their suite of identification products?
Lingham: Our entire business proposition is built around becoming an API-driven identity layer for companies, with a beautiful front-end interface for consumers.
Feinberg: Do you see Blockchain as a solution for National Identity Initiatives?
Lingham: I see the Blockchain as an important part of the solution for the global identity crisis where 20 percent of the world's population has no form of identity whatsoever. I think we need to think about this as a global, not local, problem in order to solve it.
Feinberg: Is there some innovation going on we should know about?
Lingham: The real innovation is happening deeply below the surface. The key is building technology that will be unquestionably secure, cheap and globally available. Innovation in this sense comes from an amalgamation of technology, cost reduction, distribution and economies of scale. Providing identities to seven billion people around the world is going to be a massive undertaking.
Feinberg: We see large enterprises starting to make strategic investments is the space? Is the market environment really heating up or is it necessary for any data dependent company to have a Blockchain strategy mapped out? What does your map say?
Lingham: I think the nature of the immutability of the Blockchain means that it will become an absolute necessity, from the perspective of audit controls and data integrity, that it forms at least some part of the overall strategy for any company. Traditional data stores have never been this secure.
Feinberg: It seems you are in the right place at the right time. What advise do you have for startups in the space and what is the next sector to get “BlockChain Fever”?
Lingham: My advice for startups is that you need to solve a real problem, first and foremost. Blockchain is only relevant if it allows you do to things that were never previously possible, provide massive cost savings or creates novel ways to improve security. You need to think deeply about how important it is and how the user journey is impacted. Most end-users do not understand bitcoin or Blockchain, so the more hidden it is, the better and potentially the more powerful it becomes.
Feinberg: If you could travel ten years in the future, where do you think the industry will be focused?
Lingham: I think we will get to the point that companies are building “clean” user bases. There are too many companies that exist today with bloated user numbers, which includes bots and fakes accounts. I'd like to see us get to the point when only verified user accounts are considered in evaluating the size and reach of a company, and when comparing it with other companies. It's pretty crazy that anyone can open a Gmail account and then proceed to create fake social network accounts. And I think the focus on privacy vs. anonymity will come into play at that point – you don't have to be anonymous in order to have privacy.
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