We talked to Žiga Drev, founder of OriginTrail about supply chains and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Žiga Drev: Surprisingly well. I did catch the disease in August but got better rather quickly without severe symptoms. My family members are all okay, perhaps one good positive (pun intended) is that we all spent more time together during this lockdown.
Our team settled with the work from home policy almost immediately last year, when the virus started spreading across Europe. I am very proud that as a team we have shown resilience, and even managed to achieve large growth of the OriginTrail ecosystem and Trace Labs organization.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded OriginTrail.
Žiga Drev: We started the project as students approximately 11 years ago. Interestingly, already back then, we started in a decentralized way of collaborating together. My two fellow founders – Branimir Rakić and Tomaž Levak – and I, all lived in different countries. Branimir in Tennessee (US), Tomaž in Malta, and myself in Latvia. That distance, however, was not an obstacle for the first opportunity we got to improve transparency and trust in food supply chains.
The initial project that put our imagination to work was born after my partners and I had a conversation with my dad – a farmer and a passionate advocate for quality local food. He is also in charge of a farmers cooperative that successfully connected hundreds of farmers in Slovenia to launch a common national organic brand for beef products. The challenge back then was to help the brand stand out in the marketplace and differentiate their products against cheap and inferior quality products. We immediately felt that the best way to convince the hearts and minds of a consumer was to provide a tool allowing for radical trust and transparency. Thus, we developed the first rudimentary product for food supply chains that later came to be known as OriginTrail. Later on, it became apparent that the same technology can be used for just about anything in global supply chains and beyond to other data-centric industries.
How does OriginTrail innovate?
Žiga Drev: OriginTrail is an ecosystem dedicated to making global supply chains work together by enabling a universal, collaborative, and trusted data exchange. We believe sustainable supply chains are only possible by allowing people and organizations to benefit from trusted knowledge exchange. There are huge problems facing these industries right now, namely around how to share data sustainably on a large scale and ensure things like trust, transparency, ease of use, and interoperability of data. This is where we come in.
It all starts at a foundational level where we base all of our work on three principles – neutrality, inclusiveness, and usability. To effectively achieve these principles, we take a two-pronged strategic approach whereby we have Trace Labs, which is a core technology provider and a more traditional company, and then OriginTrail, an open-source decentralized ecosystem. There’s quite a lot to it, but simply put this approach, and these principles, allow us to provide an unparalleled service that avoids many issues the industry is currently facing such as potential vendor lock-in, data silos, and ensuring data integrity. The decentralized ecosystem that is OriginTrail is integral to solving these and then Trace Labs helps provide the tools and technology to use the ecosystem as well as acts as a champion for overall adoption.
Our mission is to connect all of the dots and to make sure that data is easily accessible across all mediums and that it’s always verifiable, transparent, and trustworthy. If it isn’t, it can result in serious issues in everything from food safety to compromising private information. Importantly, we use globally recognized standards such as GS1 EPCIS that are built into our framework and ensure that data shared via the Origin Trial protocol is compliant, easily understood, and can be truly agnostic in that sense that anyone can use it whether they be traditional businesses or other blockchain ecosystems and solutions.
To date, we’ve been successful in deploying value-adding solutions with large enterprise-level clients such as Oracle, BSI, SCAN, and many others. These are quite significant organizations that have large market shares and provide essential services behind the scenes of many globally renowned brands and companies. Specifically, SCAN members alone represent combined annual sales of $1.25 trillion USD and have more than 18,000 factories as part of their database. Our solution allows them to streamline their supply chain and importantly, to do so in such a way that is scalable and doesn’t sacrifice any security or other integral processes. Our focus and our mission are of a global nature and our technology is built to be as scalable and as easy to use as possible.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Žiga Drev: The pandemic has definitely changed the way we, and all companies around the world, operate and has limited our ability to network and to do various other business development tasks to an extent. However, it’s also highlighted the importance of our core mission by stressing the importance of being effective in things such as contact tracing, vaccine tracing, global identification, and of course supply chain management. Now more than ever people are aware of the importance of data and of having easy access to data that can be trusted and verified. The downside to not having it is just so large.
Business-wise, all systems are still a go for us, we’ve been working successfully as a distributed team for some years now and we’ve been able to continue pushing forward with many of our internal milestones such as a new and expanded roadmap for 2021 and the development of a multi-chain blockchain solution that will enable us to more effectively scale and grow our ecosystem long-term. Really, there’s a lot to cover so I encourage everyone reading this to visit our website at origintrail.io or to join one of our many communities to find out more about the exciting things we are working on and why they are so important.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Žiga Drev: Perhaps the most difficult decision was to transition from working in two offices in Slovenia (Ljubljana) and Serbia (Belgrade) to working from home as a distributed team. Although this was done as a preventive measure to keep the team healthy, the serendipity effect showed us that we can work at least as effectively remotely as in a more traditional fashion. Almost a year after we instated the work from home policy, we have even started to recognize further benefits of such working arrangements and it has even changed how we source and seek talent. Now, we have a much more global perspective where we are more flexible and adaptable with our processes.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Žiga Drev: We’ve been working as a distributed team for a while now so many of the tools we have used in the past, we just continue to use more of them. It’s challenging at times, but thankfully we have a skilled team who have been working together for a long time so the friction points are quite low and product and quality have not suffered.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Žiga Drev: This is a bit of a tough question because due to our core mission there aren’t really any competitors. Instead, we see everyone in the space as potential collaborators. Our vision has always been to be a bit of a bridge between the benefits of emerging blockchain technology, including private and public blockchains, as well as existing legacy systems. At our core, we want to be the solution helping to enable all of these separate groups, organizations, and niches, to effectively communicate with one another without sacrificing security or any of the benefits that either system provides such as immutability or speed and ease of use. No one is really doing that right now. Private blockchains exist, public blockchains exist, and legacy systems exist, but they don’t effectively talk to one another. The OriginTrail protocol makes sure that they can and it does it in the easiest, most cost-effective manner possible that is also able to optimize existing business practices. As for our plan to stay in the game, well, it’s all about continuing along with our mission as well as being adaptive to the needs and wants of the various industries as well as our partners. Already we’ve expanded our focus to complementary areas and we’ve also sped up technical production on our new blockchain asset to ensure we are able to overcome some of the scaling issues that Ethereum continues to face. Thankfully, we have excellent partners to help in this regard such as Parity Technologies – the creators of the technology behind Polkadot – and xDai, an excellent layer two scaling solution for Ethereum.
Ultimately, it’s all about providing a solution that the market needs and wants and that optimizes existing processes as well as creates new value. We’re doing this right now and we’re going to continue to build onboard new partners and businesses and create the tooling and ecosystem necessary to fix the fundamental issues in the supply chain industry today.
Your final thoughts?
Žiga Drev: Data is such an integral part of our lives and it’s going to continue to become even more and more integral as we move into a more globally digitized world. As such, our mission and our core objectives are only going to become more and more important. Data needs to be trusted, it needs to be easily verifiable, and it needs to all speak the same language. There are so many use cases from this that include everything from supply chain management to certification to identification and right through to true data autonomy for the individual. What’s really needed is the protocol to do all of this, and this is what we provide and what we are continuing to perfect and fine-tune.
It’s a lot to digest and to understand but the importance and scale of this mission really can’t be understated. I would encourage everyone to check the links below to learn more about the OriginTrail ecosystem, our organization, the solutions we provide, and then to also connect with us further if they are interested in working with us, or even for us (we are always on the hunt for exceptional talent).