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Agate Interview with CEO and Co-Founder Hamed Taghvaei

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Hacked writer Joshua Larson delivered a positive review of blockchain based payments platform ‘Agate’ in one of our frequent ‘ICO Analysis’ features just two months ago. Beyond this, the company hasn’t been all that prominent in the news.

At the same time as this lack of coverage: Agate is hosting its public ICO event, in addition to having already released public source code for various aspects of its proprietary blockchain. It’s called ‘Agatechain’.

We decided to reach out to CEO and Co-Founder Hamed Taghvaei to find out more about the company directly, in addition to his thoughts on matters such as mainstream cryptocurrency adoption, Proof of Stake and top tips for future ICO creators.

What is Agate and How did it Start?

Agate is responsible for creating a handful of product solutions for the retail and e-commerce markets, in addition to user-to-user and user-to-merchant payments. In fact, on its website (near the top) the team makes it very apparent that it is proud to bear the label of being the ‘PayPal of Cryptocurrency’.

The company was founded by industry veterans including our subject Hamed Taghvaei who has “spent the past 17 years in the IT industry” where he took “the opportunity to meet [some] great people”.

“These include Hamed Ostad, who is one of the other Co-Founders of Agate. He has an impressive career in banking and payment industry for last 18 years including BPAY which is a very successful payment solution in Australia.

“I also met Ali Dorri who is among the first PhD candidates from UNSW University (Australia) who specifically focuses on blockchain technology.

“Agate advisors who I have met previously include Brenton Smith (former GM and VP of Dell Australia and Symantec respectively) who was working as Country Manager at the time, Dr Nikzad Rizvandi, and Dr Samaneh Movassaghi.”

Dr Movassaghi works for leading IT companies like Google and Philips, whilst Dr Rizvandi is “deeply involved with the Agate AI Engine”.

Agatechain

All of the solutions in Agate’s portfolio share a common foundation upon ‘Agatechain’, the company’s independent, open-source decentralised blockchain.

Agatechain was created as an alternative to pre-existing blockchains with the intention of tackling issues such as “transaction speeds, transaction costs and fees, and volatility” as well as making a solution which is “as simple as possible for mass adoption by merchants and users.

“For example, creating a token can be done in 3 second without any technical knowledge in our GUI wallet or by using Agate open payment gateway API.”.

Taghvaei continues:

“Our main focus with the Agate ecosystem is to resolve these issues.

“By using our iFiat ecosystem, we eliminate volatility that merchants and customers don’t need to worry about crypto currency fiat value at all.

“Running transactions through the agate blockchain with instant settlement with lowest fee will boost confidence of merchants towards accepting cryptocurrency in their physical or online shops.”

Furthermore, he claims to be proud of highlighting “Agate as a comprehensive ecosystem containing Fat Protocols and Fat Application in its different parts. In fact, that’s why we believe it can resolve fundamental obstacles to crypto adoption.”

Key Features

The ‘iFiat ecosystem’ utilises a stable-coin called ‘iFiat’ which operates alongside (and independent to) the team’s utility token, the AGT token. It helps to allow instant cross-token and token-to-fiat payments for business and private users.

Additional products and features as noted on their website and in their whitepaper include a Physical POS Terminal, a GUI wallet and Token Generator Engine (for creating coins and ICOs). Standard integrated functions include smart contracts, scalability and a block explorer.

Hamed Taghvaei in particular highlights the project’s AI engine, which was designed

“to help those who want to spend their crypto in the highest value. When users want to spend their crypto within the ecosystem or transfer it to their debit card, they can use our AI capability.

“Agate’s AI engine uses Andrej Karpathy, Tal Perry and Christopher Olah’s methodology and we have made a version of an RNN called a Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM).”

Taghvaei on the Industry

Whilst speaking to Taghvaei, we decided to take the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions that were not directly related to his project. In return, he gave us some observations and advice on the industry.

1. On Regulations

“It’s obvious that for any new technology and innovation there are lot of barriers, including regulations in financial market. There are not as many strong and clear regulations about cryptocurrencies or the idiosyncrasies of trading, exchange, mining, ICO, etc.

“We can see lot of positive initiatives from governments across the globe which will help this industry to shape up and grow.

“In Australia, there are certain rules for trading cryptocurrency and exchanges and the Australian government is working on ICOs specifically as well. I believe this will give more confident to companies, investors and consumers to use this technology.

“It is worth highlighting that putting too much red tape for entrepreneurs will slow down the adoption process, but it is clear that cryptocurrency is here to stay.”

2. Advice for other ICOs

“As an advisor for start-ups for few years I would say while there are many factors to make a business or ICO successful or failure but if I want to highlight top five elements for an ICO.

“I believe them to be as follows:

1. Make sure there is a real use-case for your blockchain project.
2. Investors invest on good teams including advisors, so make sure you gather the best ones available in the market. You must also ensure that they are relevant to your ICO.
3. The best idea without a product won’t sell, so make sure to create your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) before pubic pitch.
4. Community is your main asset when it comes to crowdfunding so please build and handle your community with care.
5. Never forget that an ICO is simply a crowdfunding method and that you are starting a long-term venture, so make sure you design a sustainable business for future growth and support.”

Partnerships & Final Words

Hamed Taghvaei ties in parting advice with information regarding the status and nature of one of their key partnerships:

“In order to deliver a successful blockchain project you need more than just a good idea, product and committed team. You should consider it as a business.

“We consider ourselves lucky that we partnered with Engenesis as a venture builder at an early stage of Agate project. This partnership has given Agate an unmatched advantage in the market in terms of solution development capabilities.”

Other notable partnerships include the ACDA (Australian Digital Commerce Association) and FinTech Australia, of which Agate is a member.

Future features as visible on the company’s roadmap include the launch of the Agate Blockchain Main-net in Q1 2019. This is in addition to smart contracts and plugins / apps for WooCommerce (in Q2 2019), Multi-currency and multi-language support (Q3 2019), and the acquisition of a banking license (in Q4 2019).

The public ICO event is now on, with 65% of total supply (490,000,000 AGT) allocated for sale overall. The soft cap of $2,000,000 has already been surpassed, and the team is aiming for a hard cap achievement of $24,206,000.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Interviews

GDPR “helps transparency” and “honesty”: Brendan Eich, Rafal Szymanski and Sam Kim on Digital Advertising in 2018

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When thinking of industries which could potentially benefit from decentralization and distributed ledger technology, digital advertising and marketing may not be the first to come to mind.

When looking at a list created for Forbes by Bernard Marr entitled ‘Here Are 10 Industries Blockchain Is Likely To Disrupt’ published July 2018, for example, these sectors didn’t even feature.

Despite this, there have been some prominent examples of blockchain based solutions that focus on the space. Both in the form of currently released tokens, as well as forthcoming projects and ICOs.

1. Brendan Eich, Founder of Basic Attention Token (BAT)

Basic Attention Token (or ‘BAT’) has been the subject of a large volume of press since its launch last year for a myriad of reasons, not least due to the success of the coin itself and its ICO. BAT has recently suffered like the rest of the cryptocurrency market, and yet still resides at a respectable 32nd place in the CoinMarketCap ‘top 100’ listings on its homepage.

A large reason for its success can be attributed in part due to the fact that it was created by much of the same team behind Brave: a free, open source web browser which supports mobile platforms iOS and Android. It’s also available on Windows, macOS and Linux.

The Brave browser incorporates ad-blocking software with the intention of reducing unwanted and intrusive marketing. The result is a promised increase in browsing speed, in addition to options for users to anonymously support their favourite websites.

Behind and within both teams sits Brendan Eich, best known as the creator of renowned and highly popular programming language JavaScript.

In September 2018, Eich wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. According to the Brave website the letter, in summary, stated that “the character of GDPR is congruent with the United States’ understanding of privacy,”

More recently, in an interview with German marketing paper Horizont (46/2018, 15th November 2018) Brendan Eich took a shot at one of the most dominant forces in digital advertising at present – Google. In the piece, he stated that:

“All information from which the user’s digital fingerprint could be reconstructed remains on the user’s computer. And we go so far in this strategy that even at Brave we do not want this data… we believe that Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ must be supplemented by a ‘Cannot be Evil’ policy urgently.”

2. Rafal Szymanski, Founder of EasyVisual and Global Tech Makers

EasyVisual is a mobile advertising network and Global Tech Makers (website under construction) is a company which “actively develops IT products in the B2B and B2C sectors.” We reached out to the founder of these companies, Rafal Szymanski, recently about digital advertising.

Specifically regarding GDPR, Szymanski stated that he believes that it “helps us to create a more transparent and honest market.”. This comes from a perspective of the market as an area which “has rather strict rules for us as people working in digital marketing.”.

Whilst many have seen this legislation as a potential obstacle for blockchain-based businesses in Europe, the words of both Szymanski and Eich echo those of a study performed by a UK university which I covered earlier this month.

He continued:

“Though on one hand, it may seem that now our opportunities are limited, it is not so. The opportunities are limited only for those who do not want to lead a fair game. If you are an honest player, newly applied principles can be viewed as new incentives for looking for new solutions and strategies that will meet the market’s requirements.

“To go forward you should be ready to introduce changes to your business if it is needed. And I don’t think that speaking about digital marketing in such a wide meaning, there is any sense to speak separately about the future of the industry domestically and internationally.”

Regarding new technologies in general and how they may be affecting the industry, Rafal talked about “virtual and augmented reality” and how it “can be used to improve customers’ experience, making ads more interesting for them”.

“AR as well as VR provide us with an opportunity to build interactive forms of advertising which will increase the effectiveness of our work. Though right now these technologies are not widely adopted in marketing and advertising, I hope that in the future it will happen.”

3. Sam Kim, CEO and Co-Founder of Lucidity Tech

Lucidity Tech is an open-source blockchain based protocol for the advertising sector which seeks to become a comprehensive service provider focused on transparency of data usage. According to the official website “the ability to have access to a transparent, clean set of data from across the programmatic supply chain is game-changing.”

The protocol utilises decentralized technology for absolute “accuracy, security and consensus” and like Rafal Szymanski, we reached out to the people behind Lucidity. Subsequently we got to speak directly with CEO and co-founder Sam Kim about his company, blockchain and digital advertising.

Kim “firmly believe[s] that transparency is the most pressing need of the industry today”, falling in line with the ethos of Lucidity at present, and elaborated with the claim that:

“It’s been the most important issue since programmatic advertising started. Advertisers today have to trust that they are getting what they paid for. But it’s very clear that it is not happening today.

“It’s like ordering steak at a restaurant but getting a salmon plate instead. And, they insist you pay for it anyway.”

This is because,

“They are activating their customer data to run CRM campaigns, look-a-like campaigns and use multi-touch attribution to conduct cross platform campaigns. But all of this investment is useless if your vendor decides to cheat you and run the advertisements outside of your desired location.”

The full version of this interview with Sam Kim will be published soon, and will feature content that’s completely exclusive to that you have just read.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Fighting Fraud, Improving Campaign Performance “Tangible Benefits” of Transparency in Advertising – Sam Kim CEO, Lucidity

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advertising

We speak to Sam Kim, CEO and Founder of blockchain-based eco-system, infrastructure and operational platform: ‘Lucidity’.

About Lucidity

Lucidity is an open-source blockchain advertising protocol seeking to supersede and overcome current conventions and market leaders in the digital advertising sector. Core tenets advertised include total transparency and “authenticity” for all data stored and transacted, to its distributed ledger-based foundations.

What Lucidity is, is an Ethereum-based ‘Layer-Two’ solution which implements a combination of unique internal and tested external technologies. One of these is the Ethereum scaling solution ‘Plasma’, which allows for the satisfaction of huge-scale transaction processing requirements. This in particular benefits the field of programmatic advertising, which strongly incorporates real-time data gathering, processing, and responses.

According to Kim, the team is working “on a Lucidity version of Plasma Cash which is the most efficient, cost effective, easiest to use and simpler than the other versions out there.” Which they have made “available to the entire community.”

“we built our own flavour of Plasma called Plasma Bank. It supports generalized state transitions and is account based. Unlike other versions of Plasma, our Plasma Bank relies on a Proof of Stake consensus rather than on-chain proofs and challenges. This implementation allows us our platform to operate at the scale of digital advertising.”

It also includes a dashboard that offers a graphical representation of these metrics across various marketing events or campaigns, ensuring that the advertiser is constantly informed with the most up-to-date information.

Key features as listed on the website are impression verification, payment tracking, and fraud prevention, while the site also lists an achievement. At the 2018 Digiday Technology Awards, Lucidity recognised was recognised as the ‘Best Marketing / Analytics Attribution Platform’ of the year.

Defeating Advertising’s Adversities

Sam Kim states that “The primary goal of Lucidity is to bring transparency to digital advertising” with a philosophy shared between himself and the company that “transparency is the most pressing need of the industry today.”

“In fact, it’s been the most important issue since programmatic advertising started. Advertisers today have to trust that they are getting what they paid for. But it’s very clear that it is not happening today. It’s like ordering steak at a restaurant but getting a salmon plate instead. And, they insist you pay for it anyway.”

Advertising has always faced controversy. Concerns have resulted in government-imposed censorship or outright bans, to voluntary free-market regulatory bodies and user-friendly practices.

Today, the problems with digital advertising count: intrusive pop-ups, the threat of viruses or malware and even spam mail have contributed to a public perception of advertising as playing it loose and fast with laws and ethics.

More specific examples of this include the use or abuse, and inter-company sharing, of private user data – and the transparency of how this information is used and stored.

Kim continues,

“Fighting fraud and improving campaign performance are simply one of the more tangible benefits of transparency… The other goals of transparency include: 1) supply path optimization, 2) elimination of discrepancy reporting and billing reconciliation, and 3) data activation”

How It All Started

Whilst Kim “wish[es he] was the brains of Lucidity” he concedes that the core idea behind it originated from the mind of fellow executive team-member Miguel Morales, who acts as CTO. Prior to involvement with the MetaX ICO and TCR: Kim and Morales met fellow co-founder (and company President) Sam Goldberg whilst working together at ‘The Mobile Majority’. As such they have a shared history and assumed level of comradery.

Kim has had conflicted opinions about blockchain in the past. Whilst (like for many others) he first heard about it from “one of those Bitcoin enthusiasts back in 2013 who steered all conversations towards Bitcoin” who “dragged [him] to an event” at which he was “blown away by the enthusiasm of the audience”.

Sam Kim is a Korean born American who possesses academic credentials from Columbia University. He is the foounder of a firm called ‘Edgepoint Group’ which trades Vietnamese commodities in the US market, and more recently founded ‘The Mobile Majority’ (now Gimbal), and ESDF Management. ESDF operates partially in the video-games market and recently received investment from Bluehole, developers of popular title ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’.

Miguel Morales on the other hand is a systems and application software architect with over 10 years of tech experience, including the development of blockchain based attribution systems; full stack development (including automated cloud infrastructure and machine learning systems), and DApps.

Sam Goldberg has strong entrepreneurial credentials having founded multiple companies at this point, in addition to being a licensed patent attorney. Whilst working at Mobile Majority with Miguel and Kim, Goldberg successfully raised over $20 million in capital investment. He also contributed heavily to revenue growth, and the establishment of key strategic relationships.

One of the later additions to the team has been COO Nikao Yang, who is perhaps best known for his role at AdColony (a company which he co-founded). He was picked by the team because:

“the three co-founders were always big fans… we were incredibly excited by the opportunity to bring in a really experienced leader with experience building high growth businesses through product innovation.”

Other Examples of Blockchain in Advertising

There are examples of other blockchain based solutions with the superficially similar purpose upending the status quo of digital advertising.

Basic Attention Token (BAT), for example, has been receiving support from high-profile exchanges such as Coinbase and was created by luminary Brendan Eich (JavaScript, Firefox). It has also partnered with the oft-reported on (in 2018) Brave blockchain based mobile web browser.

According to the website marketing of the BAT, there is an unresolved issue concerning the relationship between the advertisers, audiences, and the purposes of original content on the internet (or its artist’s vision).

The team claims that: adverse to the purpose of advertising, viewers of content are incentivised to ignore or skip sponsored materials as they do not want their time or attention wasted. At the same time advertisers tend to pay the creators of this original content proportional to time spend viewing or engagement.

Lucidity, Crypto and the Future

So, what does the present and future hold for Lucidity? Well, the company “recently announced our case study with Toyota where our transparency solution helped Toyota improve their campaign performance by 21%.”

Other partners associated with Lucidity include: AppNexus, Viamedia, Giant Spoon, .fearless, Zig., Dex.Top, The Richards Group, Audience Group, CPXi, Sourcenext, and Saatchi and Saatchi.

When asked about potential threats or challenges facing the crypto sector in general, Sam Kim responds:

“Many blockchain companies are delivering products that actually aren’t utilizing the blockchain.

“They’re simply taking centralized data, transferring to a decentralized database and calling it a blockchain solution. That is just one example of what we at Lucidity call ‘blockwashing’.

“If the community continues to deploy these faulty blockchain solutions, businesses will catch on and abandon their eagerness to experiment with blockchain.”

Lucidity appears to be growing despite the current state of the market. Kim continues that:

“We currently have offices in Los Angeles only, but we also have staff in Brazil, Korea, Ukraine and Poland. We think the natural 2nd office will be in NYC after which we will explore markets in Asia where blockchain adoption is high.”

Final Words

Whilst the team’s whitepaper isn’t immediately available on their website, an archived version can be accessed easily through a quick Google search or using this link.

It contains important details about the technology, principles, and planned execution of the project, not least of which the token economy which it will be based around: ‘Lucidity Tokens’ or ‘Marketing Analytics Tokens’ (MATs).

No details for a private sale have been announced as of writing.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Empire Hotels “Will Change the Hospitality Industry” – Renato Dimarzio, CEO

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We decided to speak to Renato Dimarzio, CEO of Empire Hotels. Dimarzio is a man who hopes to defy this expectation with his distributed ledger technology platform which is focused on the hotel sector.

Discussion topics included his career background, the founding of Empire Hotels, his goals and plans to penetrate the market, the product, and more.

The State of Hospitality

Hospitality is one of the oldest and most persistent industries to exist since early civilisation (such as the inn at which there was no more room).

For the hotel sector in particular, increased accessibility of travel via increasingly lowering prices in the face of inflation has only served to increase the demand for accommodation worldwide. Recent studies have concluded that the largest geographic markets by hospitality sector account for 37-38% market share.

The conventional nature of hospitality has often been opposed to technological change and integration (much like with restaurants) and as such, we have seen little in the way of blockchain developers who attempt to cater to the industry’s requirements. This is an issue which Empire Hotels seeks to resolve.

Benefits of Empire Hotels

According to Renato Dimarzio “The hospitality industry nowadays is mainly centralized, which leaves the user database unprotected. The use of blockchain brings an alternative for the consumer.” Furthermore, “blockchain prevents double booking and it is the safest way to keep user data”.

Other problems cited by Renato (as well as the brand’s site and whitepaper) include the high administration fees charged by many of their competitors: like booking.com, hotels.com and Kayak – ranging between 10-25% of final cost. By comparison, the fees incurred by Empire Hotels will be “be as low as 3% in crypto and 8% in fiat”.

When asked regarding the fundamental objectives of Empire Hotels, Renato Dimarzio summarized the company as “a blockchain based platform that will provide many services: starting from choosing and booking the hotel, through to the end of the stay.”

How it Works

Empire Hotels is creating a mobile app which offers features such as checking in and out, spending bill updates, room temperature control, hot-tub heating and more – with the aim of increasing efficiency in spite of cultural or language differences. Another is the ability to facilitate cross-border hotel booking and payment transactions.

Renato Dimarzio is no stranger to hospitality, having been a regular traveller in his previous career as a self-described entrepreneur as well as a decade of experience in the property sector. This contributes to “A strong eye for details” as well as the inspiration for the product itself.

He pitches Empire Hotels as follows…

“Imagine that after a long journey you come to the hotel and you can go straight to you room, not to forget, the room would have the perfect temperature, your tub (if there is one) would be heated in the way you like it, and the room will be opened with your smartphone. Not only it will save time but also it will give a peace of mind for those travelling a lot.”

The primary source of income the company hopes to generate comes from the sale of promotional packages to hoteliers as well as hardware, on-boarding them to the service and encouraging adoption through the offer of free advertising.

Empire Hotels and Regulations

Renato Dimarzio is a “Brazilian born and London based entrepreneur. Being in London since I was 16”. The company is also based in London yet it is registered in Switzerland, a choice made “because it already had a sophisticated set of regulations in place for crypto/blockchain companies.”

Like the distributed computing of blockchain technology, the headquarters of Empire Hotels (like many others involved heavily with crypto – such as the flight of Chinese blockchain enterprise to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore) is transient and doesn’t require permanence in any one location.

Also for regulatory reasons, Dimarzio and Empire Hotels have recently “had several amazing discussions with Bahamas government which plans to be the next Malta in the space by introducing a more reliable set of pro cryptocurrency regulations.”

Whilst the hotel and hospitality industries have been threatened by workforce problems in the UK as a result of Brexit, cryptocurrency companies have enjoyed something of a free reign of operations during the secession period.

Despite this, the government has increased attempts on regulation with the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority): establishing a ‘Cryptoasset Taskforce’ and proposed consultations regarding the prohibition of derivatives sales.

Now and Future

Renato lists a variety of key partnerships in our discussion. For security the company is working alongside Netverify (which “helps to prevent fraud. fake or stolen ID usage”). Others include Accubits, who “is actually pushing [Empire Hotels] out to the market” and AppInventiv: an “app development company, based in India”.

Empire Cash (EPMC) is the token which Empire Hotels has produced to settle payments for services as well as distribute rewards “and won’t be subject to processing overheads”. It is an Ethereum based ERC-20 token with a total supply of 367,200,00 EPMCs and an ICO public sale which begins mid-November. According to the website “All tokens unsold during the Token Sale will be burned.”.

The service interface will be available to customers through a mobile app for Android and iOS, with a fully operational 1.0 launch scheduled for launch December 2018 (and subsequent launch of a payment platform by February 2019). When describing the app, Renato described it as follows…

“when you download the app, you can see which hotels you are around, or in a chosen area and you can make the booking using FIAT or EmpireCash. The main tools are available already. In the next upgrade of the app other functions will be available like, live bill and automated door lock.”

This app is currently in beta mode for a select number of participants with plans for continuous improvement post-launch based on customer and hotel feedback – as well as data insights.

“Initially we will start in the United Kingdom, USA, Brazil, and with plans to expand worldwide.”

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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