The CEO and co-founder of WORBLI shares his views on the future of cryptos, how ICOs will rise from the grave, and why he put away his acupuncture needles for blockchain.
Domenic Thomas has every right to feel tired. He has spent his every waking hour this year getting WORBLI, the enterprise blockchain platform he co-founded with Craig Kellogg, Robert DeWilder and Sam Russell, ready to launch. He talks to Blockleaders at a particularly fruitful and busy time in his project’s development. Its mainnet was launched successfully as an independent distributed network forked from the EOS blockchain on 1st November just gone and users will be able to register on the platform by the time this article is published. As we speak, he is managing a token sale.
Launching an ambitious platform like WORBLI in the midst of a bear market, on the back of the virtual collapse of the ICO boom, has presented challenges, and Domenic speaks openly, in his measured American drawl, about the darkest stages of this journey, and is illuminating in his viewpoint on blockchain and the future of cryptocurrencies.
Domenic envisages WORBLI as a platform that removes the obstacles preventing businesses and users from adopting blockchain technology, by building a system that exists within established regulatory frameworks, thereby allowing the creation of fully compliant applications, with simple ramps for moving from fiat to cryptocurrencies. He believes that this platform has the potential to bring blockchain into the heart of financial services.
“As a cryptocurrency user, and someone who participates in the environment, I’ve always been painfully aware of how difficult the process is. For there to be any level of mass adoption, and any type of reasonable user experience, we have to be able to move between traditional and digital assets. Because of the existing regulatory environment that we find ourselves in, that is not always easy to do right now. We decided that if we got the right group of professional people together, and spoke to the regulators to allay their fears and concerns, that we could accomplish this. By doing so, we could create an opportunity for new types of financial and banking products that would be available for anyone in the world.
“The idea of creating a bank on the blockchain has been around for some time. As a byproduct of trying to do this, we discovered that we needed a compliant blockchain, which didn’t exist. For us, a compliant blockchain isn’t a walled garden. It must be open to the spirit of blockchain, where people can build financial products that are both accessible and sound enough to satisfy regulators around the world. With WORBLI, a developer who has a great idea can launch it on our chain knowing that regulatory requirements - KRC/AML and so on - are already satisfied. There is a lot of value in that for the user and the entrepreneur. The network, in fact, was a side effect of the original idea, but we have found that it is the most valuable part of what we are actually building. Because whether or not we go on to build an actual bank, we have created the opportunity for anyone to go on and do that.”
The idea of WORBLI, and its development, has been years in the making. But to arrive at the juncture it has now reached, Domenic needed EOS. Its mainnet launch in June of this year was, for him, “a game changer”.
“With EOS, Dan Larimer took the lessons he learned with Bitshares and Steem, to build a platform that is ready for mass adoption. Blockchain is still an emerging industry. The technology is just starting to mature to the point where, from a business perspective, we can start seriously talking to enterprise customers about launching services on the blockchain. We literally only got there this year, with the launch of EOS.”
There has been much talk lately on the demise of Ethereum, once seen as ne plus ultra of blockchain technology and the best argument against the assertion that Bitcoin is the only show in town. Is it too early to write it off? “I think what people are going to see is that there is a new hybrid business model that is developing in this industry that is going to drive its growth in different ways than in the past. At its core, it is the decentralised ethos that gives blockchain its strength. The network is where blockchain gets its power. If we don’t build business models that mimic that, we are going to lose a lot of its inherent advantages.
"EOS is the shiny new toy, and it seems to be the best tool out there, but Ethereum is adapting. The bar has been raised. As we see things work well on EOS, the core development team at Ethereum are going to adapt accordingly. We are watching open source software going mainstream. Occasionally we discover valuable features of blockchain projects later, long after the hype has died down. The future is definitely going to be universal blockchains that are interconnected, not one blockchain protocol that is the clear winner.”
But Domenic is far from a decentralisation maximalist. “Creating consensus with all these different people around the world is not easy. You need someone to start out making decisions. Everybody has a voice, but what is the process of hearing those voices? How do you decide how that works? You can’t run a financially compliant blockchain by starting out decentralised. Bitcoin didn’t start out decentralised. It started as an individual with an idea, and then a small number of people became the initial decision makers, and it expanded from there. EOS itself has suffered from not having a process in place to begin with.”
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WORBLI struggled at times with raising funds, with the low point for Domenic being a five-week slog from one speaking event to the next with zero results. Despite this, he is optimistic about the future of ICOs. “Everyone was astounded by the huge success of ICOs last year. It’s unheard of that you could just throw out an idea in the form of a whitepaper and raise $40 million dollars in a half hour. I don’t think that was fueled by rational behaviour. It was fuelled by speculation and greed. And of course, it was manipulated heavily by whales. It’s unfortunate because the idea of an ICO is an innovation. It’s an evolution of crowdfunding.
"Traditionally, capital has been a gatekeeper model, and that is limiting to business development - having to go through venture capitalists. It limits the ability of an individual with an idea to go out there and obtain funding. ICOs also spread the risk effectively. I think that’s a great way to do things, but there needs to be a better layer of accountability for the people behind the ICO. Consumer protection organisations exist for a reason. Last year’s ICO market was completely unregulated. Anyone with a whitepaper and a slick marketing message could go out there and raise capital. Crowdfunding ideas in the blockchain space with accountability for the people behind the scenes will still exist in the future, I believe.”
The company has raised the funds it needs and is on schedule to deliver on the promises of its whitepaper. And there aren’t many platforms who can say this. For the past year, Domenic has been working round the clock trying to make his dream a reality. He has had to make sacrifices and, as a former healthcare professional, he understands the need for a good work-life balance, even if this is out of reach for him at the present time. There have been tough times along the way.
“Anybody who undertakes something of this magnitude and doesn’t question whether they are doing the right thing is in some kind of denial. The fundraising has been very difficult, impossible at times. There was a stretch when I was on the road for about five weeks, where I was trying to get in front of people to raise funding. I didn’t raise money in that five weeks whatsoever. I felt like I was giving endless pitches, chasing ghosts. But I’ve always believed on a gut level in what we’re doing. The adversity you face to get across the finish line will be worth it in the end.”
Domenic is clearly not afraid of pressure. Indeed, finding pressure points was his original calling in life. He worked for many years as an acupuncturist, perhaps a surprising background for a fintech entrepreneur. “I had enough of medicine. It’s a difficult system over here in the US, dealing with insurance billing and access problems. I had been involved in Bitcoin mining from the early days and was fascinated by the technology. So I was interested from an activist point of view. When Bitcoin mining changed from graphics card to ASICS, I got out of it. I studied programming and found I wanted to build stuff.”
His healthcare training affords him an acute awareness of the need for a work-life balance, even if the scale of his current undertaking has temporarily deprived him of spending time doing the things he loves best. “It’s the nature of the beast. It’s been very hard to walk away this year, even for a day. But we’ve hired some great people now and I expect things to get easier. I don’t want us to develop a Silicon Valley tech culture, where everyone is standing around the water cooler talking about how many hours they work in a week. I’m an active dad. I’ve two boys, ten and twelve. I’ve coached, been involved in the Boy Scouts. It’s been tough with all the travel. I’ve always loved working with kids and I miss that. I’m looking forward to building an organisation through our foundation to maintain the broad network and be able to step back a little bit.”
The ultimate aim for WORBLI is to hand over the reins of power to its community. Domenic and key members of his team have recently signed two-year contracts and whether he stays on beyond that will be up to the community to decide. What does success look like for Domenic and his ambitious project? “The support has been really good so far. We’ve raised a substantial amount of money. We have over thirty block producers supporting the network, which is a big accomplishment within the EOS community. I’ve been developing those relationships all year long. We’ve launched the network; the blockchain is live; we are well on our way to satisfying compliance in terms of KYC. Once we have built an effective fiat-to-crypto gateway and gathered the right strategic partners, I will be able to say that the mission is accomplished. Developers will be able to build some really cool financial platforms and services.”
Where most entrepreneurs hope to lead their company, expand, diversify and make more and more money, Domenic is determined to keep WORBLI true to the spirit of blockchain.
“The plan has always been to get the core platform in place and then slowly decentralise the stewardship of the network. The commitment that we’ve made, with the two-year contracts we have signed, the community will decide who will be on the board of directors, and that board will decide whether or not to renew my contract. We will serve at the pleasure of the community and we will find out at that point if they want us to continue.”
Read more about WORBLI here.
Connect with Domenic on LinkedIn