ValueWalk’s interview with Jacobo Toll-Messia, CEO and founder of Hubii AS. In this interview, Jacobo discusses his and his company’s background, their journey from content aggregator to software firm, how he got into cryptocurrencies, his views on bitcoin, implementing nahmii on Bitcoin, Facebook Libra and the US Congressional Hearings, European coverage of the Libra announcement, nahmii IEO offerings, and the future of blockchain in Europe.
Can you tell us about your background?
Jacobo Toll-Messia, CEO and founder of hubii AS: Following my MSc in Distributed Computing Systems, I’ve spent the last 25 years building systems for diverse industries such as Oil & Gas, Investment Banking, Media, Telecommunications and Blockchain. Originally from Spain, I’ve worked in numerous European countries and I’m currently based in Bergen (Norway) where I live with my wife, three children and handsome dog Todd.
When did you start your firm and what does it do?
The company started about 12 years ago as a software business specialising in content aggregation of local news. Our first product was a success and, in partnership with companies like Panasonic, TCL/Alcatel and mozilla, we provided services to over fifty million daily users. In 2017 we moved into blockchain to help solve the problem of content verification at scale. We then started work on nahmii, our blockchain scaling and interoperability solution, in early-2018 and the protocol has been live on Ethereum for over six months.
What telcos/brand name companies does Hubii currently work with?
We are in advanced discussions with a number of blue chip companies who will build products on nahmii. The protocol itself will be governed by a foundation model and we have recently signed the first member. The goal is to have a minimum of five foundation members by mid-September, in time for the token sale. We’ll announce the first member in the next few days.
What is unique about your journey from content aggregator to software firm?
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of our journey is the fact that we did not set out to build a scaling and interoperability protocol like nahmii. Instead, we had planned to use one of the many Ethereum scaling protocols in development. By early-2018, we realised that commercial-grade Ethereum scaling was likely to be many months (if not years) away; our choice at that point was simple: either build our own scaling protocol or wait potentially years for someone else to do it. We’re not great at waiting around, so we decided to leverage our experience of building scalable platforms to create nahmii.
When did you get into cryptocurrencies?
Hubii AS began to explore blockchain back in 2017 as a way to fix well-known issues in the content space. Some of our team have been involved in Bitcoin since 2011 and have been looking at the scaling problem since 2013. In general, the team are tremendously excited by blockchain and we’re proud to be working at the cutting edge of the technology.
What is your view on bitcoin?
Bitcoin is the gold standard of blockchain projects and we believe its future is secured as a major store of value for the world going forward. We will work together with CoinFabrik to port nahmii, our second layer scaling solution over to BTC as soon as possible. nahmii will then not only function as a usability layer for Bitcoin in addition to Ethereum, similar to Lightning Network, but it will also act as a bridge of value between the two most important blockchains.
What is Nahmii and what is surprising, ironic, novel or controversial about how Nahmii could be implemented as a bitcoin app?
The most surprising aspect about implementing nahmii on Bitcoin is that it is rather trivial to do so according to our recent research work with CoinFabrik. In terms of controversy, we have seen plenty in the Bitcoin space for many years.
Interestingly, we have true Bitcoin maximalists in our team, but being a Bitcoin maximalist doesn’t mean you can’t be pragmatic. We hope that even Bitcoin maximalists in the community will see that nahmii represents a viable approach to scaling Bitcoin, even if second-layer solutions are less well accepted currently. We cannot fully scale blockchains on the base-layer alone, because scaling means more than just greater throughput: true scaling also improves latency, finality and transaction fees too.
Are your clients getting into cryptos? What do you advise them to do?
Many of the corporates we talk to about blockchain have an ever-increasing interest in the technology. We often find that the decision makers cannot always devote the time to understanding what is a very complex topic; this is a common obstacle to proposing new blockchain-based solutions. The feedback we get is often very positive, but there are limited examples of successful implementations that we can point to as evidence of scalable products. Those corporates who have set aside resources to look into blockchain use cases usually run into the scalability problem pretty quickly. Simply put, projects that could theoretically benefit from incorporating blockchain cannot work without scaling. Our general advice for partners at this stage is to concentrate on public blockchains, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. We do advise that the so called ‘enterprise distributed ledgers’ can be useful in certain situations, while also explaining their limitations.
I would think more conservative investors would look down on crypto investment suggestions, is
that the case among your clients?
In general, corporates are capable of taking positions in cryptocurrencies or related items. Their primary need is to be able to comply with regulations; where guidance is unclear, they hesitate. Usually it is easier to invest in the companies who are building blockchain based products directly.
What are your thoughts about Facebook Libra and the US Congressional Hearings in the context of Europe, especially as it pertains to privacy?
What a lot of people overlook is that there are two general sides to the Libra project. There is the non-custodial side, using the Libra blockchain, which can be directly compared to any other blockchain. Debate can be had about decentralisation and security as with any other blockchain, but the key principles are largely the same. On the custodial side, using a wallet like Calibra, you will be engaging with a Facebook product. The same goes for any of the other association member’s products, which I’m sure will also be competing in the same ecosystem. Any product will have to meet the regulations around KYC/AML or privacy in the country it is launched in, this is no different to any other payment product. Users will be protected by regulations that already exist.
If you have any concerns about a particular product then you have a choice, you can also choose to use a non-custodial wallet. In terms of the wider governance of the protocol, a lot can be written about the setup of the Association, but we are in full support of the project in general.
What is the main news around Libra in Europe?
European coverage of the Libra announcement has been, as most blockchain coverage tends to be, ill-informed at best and hysterical at worst. Coverage has tended to focus mainly on Facebook’s involvement and privacy worries, ignoring the wider implications for the blockchain industry. Similarly, few articles about Libra have considered the potential transformative power of blockchain-backed financial inclusion projects. This is something that we’re passionate about at hubii: using scalable blockchains to provide affordable financial services to the unbanked and underbanked.
If you could pass one crypto-related piece of legislation for Europe what would it be?
In general we would prefer to see legislation that is tweaked rather than created from scratch. If you build a product using blockchain, it should be simple to comply with local regulations. Regulatory sandboxes are a great way to allow for innovation, but the same could be achieved by setting out guidelines for how to comply with existing regulations; the Monetary Authority of Singapore have been particularly active at this and we would love to see similar actions in Europe.
Perhaps if there was one particular piece of legislation created in Europe then I would love it to enshrine citizen’s right to access and use blockchains, in a similar way that we are moving to it being a human right to have access to the internet.
What does Nahmii offer IEO participants?
The nahmii IEO offers participants the opportunity to get involved in a genuinely transformational project. We think that nahmii is unique: for the first time, users can benefit from blockchain-level security with the performance of regular transactional systems. The nahmii protocol has been designed to work with any smart contract-compatible blockchain, including Bitcoin. Investors can therefore look forward to nahmii working not just as a scaling solution for Ethereum and Bitcoin, but also a bridge between the two. With so many competing blockchains, interoperability will be the next big question now that scaling is solved. The potential of nahmii is therefore huge: we offer commercial-grade scaling across blockchains. Most importantly, our protocol is built and ready to use today - potential investors can put our performance promises to the test themselves, they don’t need to take our word for it. This is the opposite to how most blockchain companies work; the hubii team are engineers first and foremost, we build products that work. Participants in the nahmii IEO can now be part of the most exciting project in the entire blockchain space.
Any final thoughts on cryptocurrency and blockchain in the European context for Q32019?
It is always difficult to predict what will happen next month or even next week in the blockchain world. I think we can safely anticipate increased urgency in the development of regulatory frameworks for blockchain around the world, with Europe taking a lead on this. Now nahmii is released, we will also start to see real commercial-scale products with hundreds of thousands or millions of daily active users - this will be a first for the space. From our own experience, many of the corporates who want to deliver such products are European-based, giving nahmii a further advantage in the market.