The Future Of Travel Using Blockchain Tim Bos Interview With Reimagine 2020 Full Transcript
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos talks about ShareRing ID, the current problems with authentication, blockchain adoption, and much more!
Yonah Hochhauser: Welcome back to Reimagine 2020. I’m Yonah Hochhauser, today I’m glad to be joined by Tim Bos CEO at ShareRing. Tim, thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks Yonah, good to be here.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: Now Tim, for those viewers of ours who might not be familiar with who you are, do you want to give us a little background of who you are and how you got into Blockchain?
I’ve had a history of running my own business. I started my first business in the mid-90s, in 1996 actually doing some jobs after work, helping companies understand computers and the internet and all that sort of stuff.
Then I gave it up and moved back into working in IT. I worked for a video game company for a while as a general manager for their IT operations.
I worked for an investment bank for a while, doing strategy for Asia-Pacific. I worked for a Microsoft/Accenture joint venture, so I’ve worked for a lot of big companies.
Then I was sort of left all of that sort of area in 2004 and started my own company, doing cloud services for GPS and fleet tracking and vehicle tracking and things like that.
I did that for a number of years, sold that in 2008, and that company quickly became a 100+ million dollar company. Then in 2010, I started a P2P caravan rental business, like Airbnb but for campervans. I sold that to a publicly listed company in 2012.
Then around 2012-2013, I had this idea to create this platform for the sharing economy. The idea was basically that any company could come in and run their own sharing and rental business on top of this platform.
We started to develop it and very, very quickly realized that with the rigid way that systems like APIs and all that is developed, it was very, very difficult to create this one size all economy, like what Amazon has done for shopping.
Shopping’s easy, basically someone goes online, they find a product, they buy it and get it delivered. But rentals and the sharing economy is very difficult because the rules behind every type of rental can be vastly different, the workflow and the reviews and all that sort of stuff.
We basically just moved it into doing car-sharing. We started the car-sharing platform called Keaz and ran that for a number of years. I sold that earlier this year to Wunder.
In the meantime, we started ShareRing. ShareRing is really developed around our dream of being able to create a versatile platform for the sharing and actually a number of other economies.
It’s what we call the backbone for the next-gen sharing economy It contains things like identity management, which I’ll talk a lot more about soon, a rental platform, a reputation platform, a payment system through ShareRing Pay, and a number of other things.
I really sort of came up with the idea of using Blockchain for ShareRing in 2016, after the Ethereum Whitepaper came out. That sort of made me look at it and said, wow, this really cool idea of running these smart contracts in a virtual machine on top of blockchain technology where you could create an interface that’s not rigid.
Anyone can build what they want on top of this platform and have this flexibility that we wanted to achieve. That was really the birth of ShareRing.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: Wow, you’ve really had your foot in many different industries, and I’m sure that gave you the know-how and the knowledge base to help propel ShareRing forward. It’s interesting, you mentioned one of your first jobs was actually explaining the Internet.
Explaining Blockchain to Potential Customers
Yonah Hochhauser: I feel like there’s a lot of carryovers when it comes to Blockchain because this technology is so new and it has similarities to the Internet in terms of that is basically a protocol layer. It’s essentially something that you don’t necessarily need to know how it’s working unless you’re working on the back end.
Do you feel like, just like before a lot of your time was having to explain this new technology, something that it’s very hard to visualize? If you’re a person who’s not familiar with the technology, it’s hard to visualize new use cases. I’m sure if you go back to the beginning of the Internet, people said, what do I need this for? What do I need email for? I send mail physically.
Do you find that you come into similar scenarios here where when you’re trying to sell a product or push a product or build upon this technology, you’re often having to kind of explain and sell what Blockchain is to the customer first?
Totally, totally. You know, the interesting thing is it takes a long time to figure out how to explain it so that anyone can understand it. When the Internet first came out, I remember saying to my partner at the time and I had this computer, actually the Internet was around for a few years first.
I jumped on a search engine and I said, you can look at anything in the world, what you want to search for? She’s sitting there and she goes, Barbie. And that was the first thing that she searched was Barbie and it’s just like, oh, this is lost on you [Laughter].
Before that, I was doing things like dialing into bulletin board systems and creating things called multi-user domains and all that. But to try to explain to people what that actually is and what you could potentially do and what the potential was is incredibly hard.
It’s probably taken me two years to get to the point where I feel like I can explain some of the benefits of Blockchain and we’re still sort of finding out more and more benefits of Blockchain as people develop different protocols as well.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
What Advantage Does ShareRing Have In Travel Over Its Centralised Competitors?
Yonah Hochhauser: Well, let’s use a ShareRing as an example. If someone wants to travel now because I know you guys chose travel as one of your first use cases, so let’s say someone wants to travel, they have options. They could go to Kayak and any of these travel aggregators.
How would you pitch it to them to say, ShareRing, because it’s powered by Blockchain it actually gives it an advantage here over any of these centralized options out there?
It’s a good question. We basically looked at this when we started doing the travel stuff as travel version 4.0. An interesting thing about travel is the technology behind it has been stuck in the dark ages for so long.
A lot of people look at it and say, well, all I want to do is book a hotel, go to the hotel, check into the hotel. But through that process there are so many inefficiencies there.
The first one is the collection of someone’s identity information. I have to sign up on a website like booking.com, I have to enter my information, I have to confirm it all then I book a hotel.
Then when I go to the hotel, I have to tell that hotel all of my information again, they give me a little bit of paper that I have to fill out by hand. I have to give them my passport and they scan my passport.
It’s just such an inefficient process. We looked at that and said, well, if we use a Blockchain identity process, where we can actually have this self-sovereign ID that I’m in control of, it’s not stored on a central server. I can give it to the booking engine, so the bits and pieces that need to be done, and I can do a booking in one click.
I can go to the hotel, the hotels already got my information because it was sent to them in advance because I approved it. I don’t have to give them my passport because I’ve given them an approved ID. I can basically go get my room key or use my mobile phone, go straight to my room, check-in and I’m in the hotel.
It’s also not limited to just a few of these large chains that lock you into using them. It gives people flexibility across the board and you can use it for hotels, short-stay apartments, and things like that.
We took that and said that’s what travel needs to be. It’s the same with flights, like the process you need to go through to book a flight, do the pre-check-in, check-in, get your visa, to when you arrive at the airport and you wait in the queue.
There are so many efficiencies that you can create just through a really good blockchain-based identity platform. And you add a huge amount of security there, you had traceability there, you add trust there. For us, it just made sense to go down that area as the first use case.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: I think people are realizing that more and more today, you know, as far as the Internet and smartphones and data really permeates our life more and more, people are starting to realize the importance of protecting and having control of our data.
Because up until now people didn’t know five years ago when they would just press yes for everything what they were really agreeing to, and the amount of data and value they were given away.
How Much Access Do Service Providers Like Hotels Have To Your ShareRing ID?
Yonah Hochhauser: When we’re talking about this ID management on the blockchain, kind of what ShareRing is doing, you mentioned if you want to traditionally check-in to a hotel, you give them your passport, they’re copying it and that’s just laying around. Now there’s another copy of your passport out there in the world. That’s not the most ideal situation, especially if you’re traveling to certain areas.
When we’re talking about IDs on the Blockchain and you need to provide your ID to the hotel, are they actually getting a copy of your ID? Or are they just seeing it on the Blockchain? Is it kind of like a zero-knowledge proof, they’re seeing that there is an ID there, there is an approved passport? Or do they just have viewing privileges? how does that exactly work in terms of the access that the third party has to your ID?
Yeah, it’s a great question. The way that we do it is basically on the blockchain we don’t store ID, and as you said we store the fact that we have an ID. What we also do is we store a digital fingerprint of that ID.
For example, what I do is on the app, I sign up to the app, I do a photo of my passport, we scan that, I might do a photo of my driver’s license or any other information that I have. We call that our Folio, which is our ShareRing ID.
ShareRing ID is not just limited to identity documents, it could be insurance papers, it could be a graduation certificate, it could be a COVID test, it could be vaccination proof, like anything can actually be stored in there as long as it’s something that needs to be verified or authenticated and something that shouldn’t change.
What we do is we scan the passport, we do a digital fingerprint, which is like a hash of the passport, and that hash is stored on the blockchain. The other thing that’s stored on the Blockchain is the person or the company that verified that passport. For passports, it might be us that verify it. So we go through a process to validate it.
If it’s a COVID test it might be the test center that validates it. So it’s the validator and the hash that is on the Blockchain. Then when I check into the hotel, what our system does is it actually does a watermark over the top of the image of the passport to say who it’s going to, the date that it’s going to, and the digital identity.
We do that in a way that doesn’t actually break that digital hash of it, so we can watermark it and it doesn’t break the hash. That does get sent to the hotel, at the moment it’s required because the hotel still needs to prove to say the government or something like that, that they’ve actually checked you in.
But if that document leaks or someone steals it or anything like that, we know exactly where it’s come from because we know that if it leaks and we see a copy of the passport, it’s got the hotel identity on it, my identity, the hash and all that sort of stuff. It’s fully traceable and it reduces the chance of it being reused as well because it’s got all these watermarks.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: That’s a really ingenious solution there because you’re essentially making the hotel liable. You’re putting the onus of responsibility on them because of that watermark. So that is a wonderful solution. Traveling for many people is a stressful event. I just traveled, I’m in South Africa right now, that’s why I have a different background to our viewers.
It is stressful because as we’re leaving the apartment, I turn to my partner and I say do you have our passports? Do you have all our documents? We keep it in a Ziploc bag. Essentially our entire ability to travel is just held in this Ziploc bag. It can be lost, it could be stolen, it’s 2020 in my mind IDs and verifications, all these things should be moving digital.
There’s no reason why if I lose a booklet, a booklet is my passport, the thing that gets me in and out of countries.
How ShareRing Solves The Lack Of Authentification With COVID Tests
Yonah Hochhauser: You mentioned something very interesting there, you mentioned also COVID tests. I had to take a COVID test to fly and I had to prove many steps along the way that I had a COVID test.
I was actually really upset because I had to pay a good amount of money for this COVID test. And what was the proof that I had to show? It was a printed piece of paper on a regular A4 paper that said my name and said I had a test. I could have printed it out on my computer.
You could have changed it, it could have said yes you’re positive and you could have just changed it to say no. We’ve had reports of that from a few other people, all they have is a printout or even a PDF file, you can go in and enter the information or put someone else’s name in.
That’s exactly the sort of thing that we’re trying to help because what sort of evidence do you have? It’s almost like it’s done just for the purpose of show, without really any real sort of seriousness to it.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: Yeah like a lot of things about the airport such-as airport security, at least in the United States, it’s proven again and again that the TSA, which is the airport security America, they test it from time to time and consistently 90% to 95% of illegal weapons and contraband get through. It’s more for the show, it’s to make you feel safe. Oh look they’re checking I feel safe.
I was so shocked when I saw this COVID test, it was a joke. My high school diploma was a harder thing to fake than this. When we’re talking about the Blockchain in ShareRing, right now if I do get that COVID test on ShareRing, I could use that to travel. I could show that hash and with that watermark as well when I pass it along?
That’s the type of document we call verified at source. What that means is instead of the test centers sending it to us, or sending it to you and then you putting it in your ShareRing ID. What happens is that the test center actually scans it at the site, sends it into your ShareRing ID, and then it becomes part of your ID.
What we then know is, number one you own it still, so that becomes your own private data. But number two is we know that it hasn’t changed between the test center and you. And then when you send it to the airline or the government for the visa, we know that it hasn’t changed between those pathways as well.
It’s something that we’ve developed, we’re talking to a number of countries, we’re talking to a couple of airlines and then also suppliers at the airports for when you go through the entry gates and things like that.
We’re in very advanced discussions. We’re actually changing the dialog a bit to be more about vaccinations. For some of the airlines in countries, they want to know if people have been vaccinated to determine the risk profile as well. So that’s where we’re sort of changing the dialog a little bit.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: That was going to be one of my questions. That seems like the next logical step. Of course, as the vaccination starts to roll out, I’m sure that countries will require or want to know when you come in if you have the vaccination.
Are Governments & Airlines Aware Of Blockchains Capabilities Around Sharing Data & Verification?
Yonah Hochhauser: When you actually approach these government agencies or these airport suppliers with this technology, one, for the most part, were they aware of this capability of this use case of saying, hey, this is a trustworthy way of sharing data and verification?
Two, is it how hard of a sell is it? Are they into it? Are they saying, wow, this is really great? Or are they confused and say why don’t we just maintain a database?
It’s interesting because first of all, getting in the door to talk to them has been surprisingly easy to get the discussion going with them. The first question they ask is, where else have you done this?
As a startup, it’s very, very difficult to do that. So our approach is to partner with larger companies that have done stuff like that before and then partner and basically go in as a partnership.
Some of our partnerships with companies like Tencent and those sorts of ones actually help us a huge amount in that discussion. The next question is, which is really interesting, which comes directly from the test centers, is why should we trust you with our data?
For us, it becomes a marketing and educational thing for them to understand. Well, you’re not trusting us with your data. We don’t get the data. You’re trusting yourself and the person you’re giving the data to. That’s it and that changes the dialog.
The next answer is this is too much work. We’re like, well, it’s actually it’s two clicks. But what we’ll do is we’ll put one of our people inside your test center for a while and actually do it for you. That’s sort of where the discussion is at the moment in that area there.
It varies in terms of the response we’ve got, but we’ve found that we do have good, positive answers to move the discussion forward. We’ve done endless amounts of sort of use cases and process flows so that they understand it.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: I think it’s really interesting because if you look at COVID in the effects that it’s had, so it’s had a lot of negative economic effects. But in terms of macroeconomic trends, we’re looking at on a big scale societal trends. It’s actually accelerated a lot of things that were happening anyway.
We’re looking at the retail market, retail was going online anyway, and they say that because of COVID it has accelerated in the course of 10 months, its shot forward 10 years in terms of online shopping adoption in many other areas. I think here if we’re looking at use cases for the Blockchain, I mean ID verification seems like such an obvious one.
Could Vaccination Verification Lead To Blockchain Adoption By Governments & Organisations?
Yonah Hochhauser: Right now you guys are doing tremendous work in your negotiations for this vaccination verification, If this works and it takes off, can you see this as being kind of a big push for Blockchain technology adoption by authorities and organizations?
If they see it works here, then it becomes a much easier to sell? Oh, by the way, while we move over your whole driver’s license system on to the Blockchain, why don’t we move your medical records onto the Blockchain? Can you see this really being kind of like a tipping point for Blockchain?
Yeah, I do. But one of the things that we need to make sure of is that we consider interoperability. We’re not going to try to be the one and only there are other identity platforms out there.
I think the important thing is to say, well if the United Arab Emirates is adopting this blockchain technology for identity verification. We need to make sure that we all have a plan to make it open enough for us to have interoperability because when we do that, then we get better and more widespread adoption of that technology.
Number one is to get the trust on the blockchain, which I think is happening now. When we talk to governments, they’re not saying “ooh Blockchain this is for crypto and crazy”. They understand more about why blockchain can be useful, especially in countries like Thailand where they’ve been very, very quick to have a positive view and adopt Blockchain in a number of areas.
I think these sorts of real-world and real benefits are actually going to be a catalyst for more widespread use of the technology.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
Yonah Hochhauser: Talking about interoperability, DeFi shows the value of that. We’ve seen it again and again just this money legos as I’d like to say in the explosion it’s caused. When we’re talking about ShareRing, did you guys build it from the ground up to be interoperable?
Or are you guys in talks with the other ID blockchain projects? Because you recognize that kind of benefits everyone here to play nice together. Is there a dialog between you guys to make sure this happens?
Yeah, a great question. We built it from the ground up to be interoperable. Everything that we did has an open API. Everything that we’ve done actually allows other people to integrate with it, even without Blockchain knowledge and experience. We’ve got a standard API that you can integrate with to utilize the identity system without any blockchain knowledge.
We’ve got plugins that we’ve been developing that allow people to say, put a plugin on a WordPress website and you can use your ShareRing ID to sign-in to that WordPress website. We get rid of passwords basically in that sense because you just scan the QR code and you signed in. For us, it’s really, really important.
The other things that we’ve done along the way are where we’ve seen a better standard compared to what we’ve actually been developing. We’ve done our best to just change what we’re doing and adopt that standard.
There’s a number of identity-based standards that we are adopting to make sure that we can guarantee a bit more interoperability so that there is the portability of the identity across different chains as well.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
How ShareRing Removes The Need For Passwords
Yonah Hochhauser: You mentioned you don’t need a password because it’s already there. That’s another thing that if you ask users of the Internet, which is pretty much everyone in the world these days, that is one of the most frustrating things on the user experience side.
Then one of the biggest security loopholes on the back end is these passwords because once you’re getting passwords and people require passwords and because you need to remember so many passwords, you end up making it the same across devices. You make it a word instead of a random string and hash of numbers. It’s a word that could be guessed.
This is constantly been the most frustrating part of the Internet, as well as the biggest security hole. Do you think that with this Blockchain solution like you guys offer, we will finally, finally see the end of passwords?
I believe that we can. I really do. I think that when you sign up for a website, websites need bits of information about you, and the most basic is a name and email address. But others might need an address, maybe proof of identity, you might be signing up for a bank or something like that.
So it’s not only the removal of passwords, which is great in itself. Effectively your biometrics, your thumbprint, or your face scan on your phone becomes your password to get into all of these services.
We’re not only saying that we’re also saying the ability to very, very quickly sign up for the services without having to sign up to this one, spend ten minutes there, 10 minutes there, and 10 minutes there. It’s like sign up once, scan the QR, and you are signed up for 10 services in two seconds.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
QR Codes VS NFC
Yonah Hochhauser: When it comes to QR codes, it’s very popular in this sphere in terms of removing the need to type in a random string or hash of numbers. My question is why not NFC communication? Is that merely because more people have a camera on their phone to be able to scan a QR and not every phone has NFC? Because in my view, NFC is more convenient.
It’s more universal, and NFC can be more convenient, but it’s more QR codes are very much universal. Every single phone has a camera on it. You also don’t need to worry about is this type of NFC supported by this phone? Apple only just recently allows you to do stuff with their NFC chip as well. So until a year ago that that was off-limits.
For us, it just makes sense to do that. And in the future, we don’t know what version of NFC there will be or what will be supported. But we do know that cameras are going to always be there.
If I want to sort of get access to a website, there’s no NFC on my computer that can scan with my phone to get access so that it makes it so that it covers digital platforms as well as physical platforms.
ShareRing CEO Tim Bos
How COVID Has Affected ShareRing’s Plans
Yonah Hochhauser: Especially when we’re talking about COVID and with ShareRing, I think it was the first major use case to go with travel. I’m assuming that decision was before COVID hit [Laughter].
My question is this obviously it’s definitely a speed bump in your plans. One, how big of a hit has it been just because COVID out of all the industries travel has really, really been hit.
You could look at it in two ways. One, it slows the roll-out, but two it gives you more time and the ability to fix up and optimize. But how big of a hit has it been?
Two are you guys thinking of now potentially focusing on different use case until COVID, or we ride it out?
Yeah, it’s really interesting. A lot of companies we’ve seen over COVID, Blockchain companies, start-ups, and those sorts of things basically looked back and they said, OK, the only way we’re going to get through this is if we cut staff and we hunker down, we spend as little as possible and getting this for the long haul and then come out after the sun shining again.
We took a different approach and we basically said, OK, so travel is not happening at the moment. We’ve got this roadmap of products and enhancements that we want to do with the travel products.
We made a very, very focused decision to go back, look at the blockchain technology that we developed, the middleware platform, and the apps, and really spend this time where everyone else is hibernating, actually growing our business and building better products and more things into our products.
Our team has doubled in size since March. We’ve hired more people, we’ve opened a new office. We’re moving into a new office in Thailand, it’s a four-story and we’ve got all four floors. We’ve got someone basically renovating that for us at the moment. We’ve grown substantially.
We’re negotiating with some companies to make investments in them as well and their strategic investments because they’ll bring lots and lots of users to our platform. We’ve launched our e-commerce platform as well, which is ShareRing Shop, which we’ve got partners in Australia and Thailand for.
If if you had said to me in March when everything started shutting down, where are you going to be in nine months? I probably would have said hopefully travel will open up again and we can start selling that. But now with the plan that we put in place to say, let’s grow in these areas, let’s look at other uses of ShareRing ID.
We’re talking to banks, we’re ta