With the global cost of fraud estimated to reach nearly US$4 billion, a Thailand-based blockchain startup Band Protocol aims to build an ecosystem for trusted data – taking aim at fake news, information biases and inaccurate reporting.
Band Protocol has recently secured US$3 million seed funding from Sequoia Capital, which formally marks Sequoia India’s first investment in blockchain in Southeast Asia. Featuring an exclusive interview with Soravis ‘Man’ Srinawakoon, an ex-BCG consultant and the Founder & CEO of Band Protocol, this blockchain talk discusses details of the funding, the startup’s mission and vision, and blockchain situation and regulations in Thailand.
We are a blockchain company, and we are trying to build a protocol that serves as a low-level infrastructure for blockchain. Aspiring to be a data-curation protocol, we want to incentivize people to submit data, verify data, and to make sure that these data are trusted, reliable and useful for general consumers, applications or decentralized applications in the future.
Our users can be broken down into three parties: Regular users, data providers and curators. Data providers are the people who want to submit data such as restaurants which want to be Michelin star restaurants or universities that want to be top universities in the world. On the other hand, curators are the token-holders. They hold some certain amount of token. The premise is that if these curators are able to curate a good list, this will generate a positive cycle that will generate more users to provide high-quality data. This will then improve the demand for data providers.
These days, many social media platforms and news publishers are the “gate-keepers” who control information flow and monetize the majority of the advertisement revenue themselves, while rewarding only a small portion to content creators. These big players like Google, Facebook and Twitter are the ones with the power to take down any post or ban any sorts of content whenever they want, but we don’t want this. We want to empower content creators and distribute the power and monetization to the users and those content creators. By doing so, not only will it encourage more creation of high-quality content, but also ensure correct and accurate information for news and publishing companies. Essentially, we want to create this protocol for people to incentivize data and we reward them in Band tokens.
Thailand is taking a friendlier approach, especially towards the cryptocurrency space. There is quite a clear regulation in the exchange, ICO licenses and the plotting of central bank digital currency initiative. Admittedly, there are still details to work out and some might not even make sense for many companies. Nonetheless, I think it’s a good first step and they are quite open to feedback. A lot of the top-notch developers are also in Thailand like Chiangmai and Bangkok, and I’m quite hopeful that Asia is taking a friendlier approach than the U.S., so we might see more innovation happening here soon.
It’s not just Thailand or any specific country; blockchain is a global matter, just like the internet protocol. Two utmost important concerns revolving around blockchain are regulations and education. Since regulation was already discussed, I’d focus more on the education part.
Actually, we were quite lucky. We raised fund in the worst time because this is one of the worst “bear" market in the cryptocurrencies. Since we also work in the token model, that makes it even more difficult. The good thing is, we’ve been in this crypto space for quite a while: our co-founder has got bitcoin since 2013 and we were involved in a lot of projects in 2017. So, we know a lot of crypto funds and a lot of investors. Because I am an investor myself, we co-invest in a lot of projects. At the same time, Sequoia also happened to get more involved in the blockchain space. Then a friend of friend referred us to Sequoia and I realized that one of the Sequoia associates is also my friend from BCG - definitely a small world we live in. We started getting in touch and talked about the token model and all that. It just happened.
From that point, we went to pitch for them. At first before that, we were going to go with crypto funds as a lot of them were happy to invest in us. But then, Sequoia turned up, which really made us think whether we want quick money or strategy money. If you really talk to a crypto fund, it’s only going to be a 1- or 2-year fund, which are not really funds, but they’re more like flippers: They buy tokens and they dump tokens. At the same time, when we looked at Sequoia, it was more from a 5-10-year perspective, which could potentially lead to mass adoption of blockchain and all that. At the end, we chose the latter.
A big portion of the money will go into product development. The main difference between a blockchain startup and a regular startup is that blockchain startup is half a startup and half research, and it takes a lot of engineering effort to make it happen. We need more team members in charge of data curation research. Due to this, we are aggressively looking for more developers and engineers. Next, we need to dedicate a lot of resources into expanding our go-to-market strategy. Part of it is to find the killer app for the blockchain. As a protocol that has a lot of possible applications, the big question is which of those apps will have the likelihood to receive mass adoption - that’s what we are after, the adoption matrix. That goal will require a lot of talking to enterprises, a lot of education and partnerships to build solutions.
Running a startup is painful and extremely difficult! Many people glorify startups, thinking it’s super cool and super fun. I think people often underestimate the effort and sacrifices it takes to run a startup. I also did the same. I knew it was going to be very challenging but it has been many times harder than I thought. Looking at the bright side, I’ve learned to handle stress and pressure better. Building a startup is fun, but it’s not for everyone.