Tech Liverpool: The Great Reset & Building a (openly corrupt) $1 Billion Network
A follow up piece to one I wrote in November 2015 — “Tech, Intellectual Property and Unicorns: The Green Shoots of a Revolution in Liverpool”
Today is Day 12 since my worst symptoms of what I am 98% certain was Covid-19. Luckily I have had mild symptoms, the worst of which, fatigue, is still lingering.
This has given me plenty of time to reflect on the post I wrote, the tech scene in Liverpool / the World, and given me impetus to join the mission to inspire change in our economy.
I feel I am joining a bandwagon, which is a great feeling…
“For many of the leaders whom we work with, who are mostly CEOs and executive teams of Fortune 100 and 500 firms, and also often older economy companies, this pandemic is the remover of illusions. It is a sudden opening-up of the windows and seeing what really is. The winners will be those who are already building new systems; shifting from multi-stakeholder capitalism to more distributed leadership and management systems; shifting from top-down authoritarian control both in civic structures as well as in business.”
“The Great Reset: What will need to change after the crisis”, written by Tim Leberecht. Published March 30th 2020, by The Journal of Beautiful Business. A great read.
In My Green Shoots post back in 2015, I proposed a SMART objective for Liverpool’s tech scene — “Foster a Unicorn within 8 years” (a Unicorn being a company valued at over $1billion).
Four and half years on, I’m taking the view that this is not going to happen, and even if we were on track for it to happen, I no longer believe that achieving the goal is beneficial for society, or the people of Liverpool.
I’ll explore why in this post, and also highlight why, being an eternal optimist, Liverpool is perfectly positioned to foster a collaborative, inclusive economy of the future, tail-spinning out of the disaster movie we are currently living through each day.
What’s really nice about saying that, is that we have a team of smart, hungry civil servants at the heart of The Liverpool City Region’s Combined Authority (CA) where one of the pillars of their Industrial Strategy over the next 20 years is ‘Tech For Good’.
Wow. How refreshing.
Embracing the above-mentioned & thought-provoking work of Mariana Mazzucatu, the CA Investment team (led by ex-Googler — we forgive you — Mark Bousfield) are looking to nudge our economy into being truly inclusive over the next 20 years.
Liverpool is perfectly positioned to grow, foster and then export “Tech For Good” products, services and technologies. More on that later.
From a personal perspective, working in this environment, I would like to see £1 billion decentralised networks operate in a locally focused, transparent manner, where greed is written out of the system and the name of the game is cooperation.
I have been putting the ground work in to kick start one such network over the past year along with co-founder and all around good egg, Zarino Zappia. With the ideas, structure and theories being developed made possible by the ‘Web 3’ movement, its people & technology.
If you live in the Liverpool City Region, you’ll be invited to join this network further down. If you don’t, and are still interested by the end, maybe you can take our technology and kickstart a spoke of our network in your area.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
People are volunteering in their hundreds of thousands. But at the same time, tens of thousands are catching a deadly disease.
Families are conversing more, pulling together and realising what’s important. But at the same time, many families are scattered across the world, or their own towns, unable to meet up and share a hug.
Neighbours are learning about each other, caring for the vulnerable and connecting in ways previously unseen. But neighbours are also stock-piling, and spreading conspiracy theories.
With various levels of lockdown in force around the world, many people have found themselves with time to reflect on the world we live in, how it works and what they care most about. Many are seeing their lives fall apart.
This is a time of unprecedented strain on us all. But I think it is also a time where truly amazing things can happen.
“…the optimists believe, there is hope that we might begin to see the world differently. Maybe we can view our problems as shared, and society as more than just a mass of individuals competing against each other for wealth and standing. Maybe, in short, we can understand that the logic of the market should not dominate as many spheres of human existence as we currently allow it to.”
“How Will The World Emerge From The Coronavirus Crisis”, written by Peter C. Baker. The Guardian, Tuesday 31st March 2020.
Nice to know I’m not alone.
Liverpool’s tech scene has come on a long way from the list of around 60 companies I published back in 2015. Since then, the tech scene has easily doubled if not tripled in size, had some great successes, and now boasts multiple tech companies valued at over £10,000,000.
Some of the stand out successes and progress made include: Living Lens, led by Carl Wong, being recently acquired by Medallia; Nova having co-founded over 70 tech startups the past 4 years; and Ditto, who now have 22 offices in 19 countries.
However, based on my experiences the past 4 years — given our starting position, our budget, and the local environment — I no longer think it was a SMART objective to have fostered a Unicorn by 2024.
I spent nearly 3 of those last 4 years working in Colu, a digital wallet / blockchain / smart city tool.
I spent a lot of time in Tel Aviv. The city is awash with capital and houses the Innovation arms of Google, Facebook, Paypal and Ebay to name a few. Must also mention, Tel Aviv’s population is 100,000 less than Liverpool’s 👀
I met two 25 year old entrepreneurs, co-founders of Portis, who raised a seed round of $1.5 million to build a tool to help users with on-boarding to Ethereum (a decentralised computing platform). Let me be clear, they were not super geniuses, the idea was not exceptional, they, like most other startups, might easily fail.
At this moment in time, the ecosystem in Liverpool is a long way off being a traditional Unicorn breeding environment, mainly due to its lack of early stage capital. However, given the opportunities around “The Great Reset”, what we do have, is probably better…
We have a strong sense of community.
By population, we have one of the smallest “Most Economically Complex” economies in the UK.
We have one of the best places to start a business in the country.
We have a switched on Regional Government looking to create change, kickstart a healthy, early stage capital environment, and leverage technological advancement to foster an inclusive society.
For traditional tech startups, all of the above is great. For “Tech for Good” startups, it’s amazing.
For me trying to kickstart decentralised networks built on open source technology, it’s freaking awesome.
An on-the-ground example of why our small, very well connected, community driven environment is a fertile ground for change, collaboration and innovation, is a story I heard from Professor Iain Buchan, giving a presentation regarding the Civic Data Collaborative health project to senior civil servants from the Digital Department inside the Treasury.
Iain described trying to set up the same project with a wide variety of stakeholders across the NHS, local trusts, GP’s, local government, SME community, in Manchester.
Over a period of 9 years, he tried, and got nowhere close to starting.
After moving to Liverpool, it took 2 years to get all the partners, agreements and good will required to start this project, which could have significant consequences for how care is delivered across the globe.
(FYI this is not an anti-Manchester dig. With a much larger population, I’m sure many organisations based in Manchester simply didn’t have the capacity or headspace to engage in innovation side projects. But it’s an example of how and why innovation should be flourishing in Liverpool.)
I mentioned at the beginning, that I don’t think creating a $1 Billion company would, in the end, be that good for Liverpool and the majority of its people.
I used to think this was a noble goal to be a part of, but after experiencing more of the world, reading Thomas Pickety’s book, Capital — where he provides hard data on how unequal the world is, and how it’s only accelerating towards the haves and have nots — I changed my views and want to do something about it.
A succinct metaphor for most of my views is this dude having $122 Billion all to himself, I think that is really messed up from a human perspective-
In these strange times, when many people have time to reflect on what’s important to them, what makes them happy and what their purpose is, I also think it’s a great time to talk about money.
Whether it’s an understanding that money is not a great motivator in a knowledge economy (which author Daniel Pink eloquently describes in his books and various You Tube Talks) and that motivation comes from mastery, autonomy and purpose…
Or an understanding that after reaching a certain level, money doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Somewhere around a £70,000 — £200,000 a year in income, happiness starts to level out. So how much happiness does striving to be a millionaire for years on end, or climbing the greasy high-stakes pole, actually end up giving people?
I don’t know the answer to that obviously, but what I do know is inequality across the globe is causing misery.
Once you have significant Capital (money), you start making more money than ever just by doing nothing. Your money makes more money.
Meanwhile, workers are seeing their living standards stay the same across most westernised economies.
These thoughts are what led me to the thinking behind The Robin Hood Smart Contract, where individual capital gains can be limited and for example, any excesses can be redistributed back into the network locally.
In Web 3, money, currencies and networks can all be programmed.
You can write rules for money to be sent somewhere based on someone’s actions — for example, someone could listen to a particular podcast and because of that, 50p could be sent directly from the listener’s wallet to the creator’s. As this was written into the rules of the network, it is similar to a contract, but one that cannot be broken. These ‘smart contacts’ are what govern Web 3 projects.
Our podcast creator, above, might set a rule that if the listener wants to listen to the same episode again, they might only be charged 5p. This rule is set in stone within the smart contract.
This is all possible in Web 3 land, based on the nature of how data can be collected, actioned, owned and distributed within these networks.
The theory behind the Robin Hood Smart Contract is that it will allow product / network founders to write rules about what happens when their network becomes successful.
This type of thinking was previously not scalable, not cost effective or not relevant for most multinational tech companies to be even considering, before Web 3 came along.
What if, instead of $122 Billion being sat in one human’s bank account, doing not a lot, that human instead got 5 million quid, made a nice home, helped his family lead happy, comfortable lives, and then had a hand in reinvesting that $121.995 Billion+ locally into his community? What if others followed in his footsteps? How would the world look?
Our network, Roost, is starting in the property industry. Initially focussing on lettings, we’re aiming to bring joy to landlords & tenants in both the private and social housing sectors.
We will have a decentralised token and store of value, alongside a limited company and traditional business model operating in Liverpool.
Although we have global domination in mind, as every young start up does, we have no interest in the traditional model of expanding and opening up offices all across the world.
We want the technology to proliferate, capturing value through the decentralised token and allowing others across the globe to run and build their own local businesses on the back of our technology.
The reason the post is partly titled “…building a (openly corrupt) $1 billion network” is tongue in cheek but still relevant. Since the network’s inception (a pre-MVP on Android), we have been meeting landlords, letting agents, tenants, and housing associations, asking for insights and feedback.
Those insights provided our decentralised network with value. So the network gave those individuals value back, in the form of a % stake in the network — 250,000 tokens, locked for 2 years. It perfectly expresses how these networks can exchange and store value in new and interesting ways, making collaboration between people easier. To be clear, at the time of giving, the tokens had 0 value, as there has been no activity on the network, but we hope in the future, they will. It certainly helped the people in the room understand when we were talking about when it comes to new business models and new ways to exchange & store value.
Our Robin Hood Smart Contract, governing any capital gains achieved within the network will have these top line rules baked in…
The maximum individual capital gain will be £3 Million, any excesses will be redistributed back into the local network where the person lives. (this includes the founders)
Early stage investors will be limited to 10X their investment with no cap. Any excesses- back to their local community.
Later Stage Investors will be limited to 10X returns or the maximum capital gain (whichever number is the smallest). Any excesses- back to their local community.
There are nuances (for example the maximum capital gain should be higher when the tech moves to cities like London or New York) and a lot more detail in the actual contracts, but this gives a good flavour.
Why do this? Why redistribute locally?
It’s about opportunity.
“Place-based challenges, from low-quality housing and entrenched deprivation, to poor air quality, impact the health and wellbeing of people across the City Region, perpetuating the systemic forms of inequality that act as powerful barriers to opportunity in their lives.”
An Excerpt from “Liverpool City Region CA’s Industrial Strategy Draft, March 2020”.
I see it everywhere.
In London, you walk down one street where rents are £1500 a month for a one bed flat, and yet two streets over you have families living in poor quality housing visiting food banks every week. Humans from any race, religion, or background are adaptable and can achieve amazing things. This has been proven time and time again. The problem is opportunity & environment.
I am passionate about creating opportunities in my local community, especially for the little guy. The last 7 years I have been a Trustee at Awesome Liverpool, where ten of us give a £500 no strings attached grant each month to projects that make Liverpool more awesome.
We funded 8 bee suits for kids, so a lady from Bootle can educate kids on bees and wildlife right through. We funded a grassroots organisation called WOW Women of Wearables UK to help them run classes for girls on wearable tech. We funded an art / community interest project that tied scarves around trees in the height of winter for homeless people to pick up.
The point is, over this time, I’ve learned that communities and people just need a bit of help and support to create joy, learning, and happiness in their local communities.
Hopefully this sort of thinking can proliferate alongside other “Great Reset” thinking and projects, so that my son Dylan will be growing up in a world where locally focused, sustainable communities (not ravaged by climate change) are thriving.
So now you know what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.
We are running lots of open online demo’s and presentations on the network at present — just email us to join one! Our MVP app and network will be launching by the end of April (app store review dependent, they are a bit backed up at the moment) and we are going to keep our progress of the network as transparent as possible.
If you live in the Liverpool City Region, and you’re a landlord, tenant or you work in a housing association, or live elsewhere and are generally interested in learning more about our product and network, please feel free to say Hi at email@example.com.
Similarly, if you have ideas about how our economy can tailspin out of this crisis with different values, want to learn more about Web 3, or want to turn your community or business into a collaborative economy, I’m more than happy to Zoom.
My first post piggy backed on the enthusiasm and goal of winning the Premier League in 4 years, set by Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool FC back in October 2015.
He said what was most important is that, as fans, as a club, we believe.
(A year late, but this worked.)
I’m not 6ft4 or German, and my teeth are not as spectacular, however I hope I created some belief that post-Covid, The Great Reset is possible, and Liverpool could have a big part to play in it.
Will just take some belief.