Blockchain breakout: Nuggets thinks big
Alastair Johnson, CEO and Founder of blockchain e-commerce payments and ID platform, Nuggets tells RTIH about the origins of the company, and his quest to banish passwords and change the way we shop
Nuggets was born, in part, of the realisation that our data is only safe when we control it ourselves, states Johnson. “The current data storage model is broken; we’re seeing proof of this on a daily basis,” he argues.
Personal experience also motivated him to establish the company. A few years ago, his credit card details were used fraudulently online. “The fraud was bad enough; things got worse when I began resolving the problem. First, anyone could have accessed and used my account simply by answering security questions with answers compromised in the hack. Cancelling my card interrupted all the services I had linked to it. When I finally got a new card, I had to go through the tedious process of updating my payment details with merchants and service providers. At Nuggets, we’re committed to eliminating the need for usernames and passwords on all levels. If I have to add one more username and password to get into an account, I’m going to scream! #PasswordsRIP.”
Johnson, who previously led global integrated product development and product marketing for the likes of Microsoft, Skype, Disney, and the BBC, looked into building an e-commerce payments and ID verification platform using conventional technology. He evaluated several cloud and database solutions before deciding that blockchain could meet many of the venture’s requirements with the use of zero knowledge storage, encryption, privacy, security, and trust, all combined with an immutable distributed ledger.
“As blockchain technology development became more widespread, I could see its ability to increase data security and improve e-commerce transactions while reducing the risk that businesses bear when it comes to storing their customers’ personal data,” he says. “I founded Nuggets together with a colleague from Skype. Our combined experience in identifying and satisfying market needs for innovative tech solutions, leading product development and marketing teams, and running our own businesses provides Nuggets with a solid foundation.”
Of the high points in the startup’s two-year existence, being selected for the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s Project Innovate regulatory sandbox has been the biggest. “This gave us the opportunity to conduct consumer testing of the first working version of our platform in summer 2017. Users’ enthusiasm has been amazing, and motivated us to deliver the best decentralised e-commerce and ID verification product on the market.”
Nuggets has also received accolades from CNBC’s Millennial 20/20 Ones to Watch awards, which highly recommended its platform in the Millennial Commerce-Enabler category. It also received praise as finalist in the BBVA Open Talent Global Trends competition, and was named a Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator Semi-Finalist.
Johnson adds that he has been very pleasantly surprised to see that retailers are eager to sign up. “We thought we would face resistance when trying to get them onboard. Instead, they’ve pretty much welcomed us with open arms; you could actually say they’re impatient, as many have said they want Nuggets yesterday. They’ve noticed the problem of customers forgetting passwords; at the same time, they’re not interested in storing credit card details and personal data, especially when data protection initiatives are on the verge of taking effect. All that retailers want to do is log their customers in and provide them with safe, simple e-commerce experiences.”
A notable success in this area has been a partnership with JD.com, in which China’s largest retailer and the world’s third-largest internet company by revenue, has picked Nuggets for its AI Catapult Accelerator (AICA). “Our solution will transform the way everyone shops online. Working with such a massive name in e-commerce is a fantastic opportunity as we further evolve this technology,” says Johnson.
Challenges and opportunities
Working with a nascent technology brings both opportunities and challenges, including acceptance and understanding. Combine that with regulation that hasn’t had a chance to understand the technology and you have a pathway to very exciting times, Johnson believes.
Investors have posed the question, are you planning for the future with this emerging technology? His response: “We have built the Nuggets platform in an agnostic format so we can move to faster and better blockchains as they evolve, providing Nuggets with an opportunity to fast track.”
On the customer side, meanwhile, the focus is on, can you access my data? “No. With Nuggets, you create a secure personal cloud of data in zero-knowledge blockchain storage. Not even we can access this data.”
Opportunities for data theft and fraudulent misuse of payment networks are growing in tandem with e-commerce. False positives and false chargebacks in particular can be a costly, reputation-damaging issue for merchants. Criminals can enter stolen payment credentials to purchase a product; the victims file claims to have the illegally withdrawn funds returned. Not only is the merchant required to reimburse the customer, they also have to pay a chargeback fee to the payment processor.
“As a blockchain-based platform, Nuggets protects both consumers and businesses, keeping all data private. This helps mitigate the risk of fraudulent chargebacks and false positives.”
Looking ahead, the venture is developing its reach with global partners “so we can bring Nuggets to a mass audience”. Although any merchant, service provider, or institution can benefit from its platform, Johnson is especially keen to reach the sectors that cause him the most pain. “For instance, telcos and banks have a ton of security, payment, and communication problems that users like me have to deal with on a daily basis. Let’s get them integrated, so we can start using Nuggets to save time and money, and to gain some peace of mind,” he concludes.