Laura Bailey, CEO and Co-Founder of Zerado, has become one of the leading women in the UK Blockchain community. She was recently listed in the Innovate Finance Women in Fintech 2016 Power List and is a regular speaker at conferences and public forums about Blockchain. We caught up with her to ask about the innovations she is helping to build and about the current landscape for the industry:
” Hi Laura – What was it that persuaded you away from a successful career in finance to work in this relatively new – and perhaps more risky – field of Blockchain technology?
There was not one lightbulb moment but rather there were a few turning points that took me down the path of forming Zerado. While I had a great experience working at HSBC, one day I looked around the table at a board meeting and thought, “I just don’t aspire to get any of these people’s jobs”. I felt it was often hard to create and capture value in such a large organisation and I wanted to progress faster and get things done in my own way. Having specialised in leveraged finance I also wanted to put that into practice for myself. As I discovered Bitcoin and Blockchain, I began doing more research and developing my interest. I began to see a kernel of opportunity for me to reach my full potential outside of banking and start something new.
What are the types of new innovations you are trying to build at Zerado – and why did you choose the name Zerado?
Zerado is about transformation rather than incremental innovation. The word comes from Portuguese and it means going from 1-0 (rather than 0-1). In other words, it’s about going back to square one and creating a step change. The technology already exists now to create a far better client experience but most businesses are not using it and not adapting to it. Take hotels for example – why do we need to check in at reception when we could be given a smart key directly along with our booking confirmation email? This would be a far smoother experience for the customer and it could be done but we are still stuck doing things in traditional ways.
Do you think Blockchain is really just a financial technology or can it also transform other sectors?
At Zerado we take a multi-sector approach and we are focusing on a range of applications including in healthcare, legal, humanitarian aid, energy, identity, and property rights. In essence, Blockchain’s role in this process is about creating value to society, not turning us all into programmers. Many of these innovations will provide a smoother customer experience but the customer never really needs to know they are using a blockchain. Of course, there are bound to be applications in finance but other areas are potentially more exciting for us. Most sectors have a need for data storage and creating trust. If so, there is a potential opportunity to create a solution using blockchains.
2017 is being talked about as “the year of implementation” for Blockchain technology– can you see particular sectors or fields really starting to make concrete progress?
This technology has already been in operation for quite a while. For example, my colleagues worked on a project to reduce counterfeiting of medicines in the developing world actually which started about 4 years ago. More bridges are starting to be built in developed countries too – with supply chain management and provenance leading the way. There have been some intense technical and semantic debates about how we define blockchains – public versus private blockchains and distributed ledgers. Ultimately the public don’t need to know as long as the end product provides a superior customer experience.
Isn’t scaling one of the biggest technical challenges to Blockchain becoming more mainstream? Can an open source software project be made to fit commercial needs?
I think there is a difference here between what is perceived and what is real. Although there is a huge scaling debate going on in the Bitcoin community – to do with the transaction speed of the public Bitcoin blockchain – if open source software is built with a commercial overlay on top of it, there really is not a problem. Look at the current Internet, for example, global corporations like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon are all run on top of Linux, an open source system, and 99% of consumers are totally unaware of this.
How can Blockchain projects take off when there are so few developers or senior managers who are expert in this field?
Blockchain is not actually a complicated technology once you understand it. At Zerado we are passionate about building Blockchain education and strengthening the community – we do a lot of education work with our team and clients as well as external outreach. The key issue is to change thought processes – being able to effect a cultural change within a company is arguably more important than in-depth technical knowledge. If there is strong leadership at the top, good training and knowledge can then rapidly be spread to others, based on this new architecture.
What do you think are the 3 key things companies should do if they are thinking about embarking on a Blockchain project?
This is a great question and I would make the following points:
- Ask why you are thinking about a Blockchain project – What problems do you have and are they likely to be helped by using this technology? Or ask what new opportunity you see to compete in your sector?
- Get good people – you will need people who understand both the technology but also the specific needs of your sector to enable a solution that allows for future opportunities.
- Be prepared for the future – become aware of the impending impact on your sector and also how it links with other future trends like the Internet of Things, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Work with partners who are technology agnostic. This technology is still evolving and you need to create the right architecture to future proof your system so it can evolve with the fast pace of change.
What is your predicted landscape for Blockchain in the future? How will things look for the startups of today as well as for the incumbents who may be challenged by this new wave of innovation?
I think the focus will move more to an acceptance of new business models rather than a competition between Blockchain startups and incumbents trying to adapt. We will reach a ‘new normal’ where companies automatically look to use Blockchains to increase security, accountability and trust in partners. The winners will be those who appreciate this systemic change in the way the world does business and can take advantage of it. Perhaps the true revolution of Blockchain is in allowing the evolution of other things”.