Kristof De Spiegeleer is a serial entrepreneur who is the co-founder and chairman of the ThreeFold Foundation, where he is building the next generation of IT infrastructure, leveraging the power of the blockchain.
We had the chance to discuss his journey building tech companies, problems with current IT systems, and what he believes is the future of the blockchain.
Edward: Kristof, tell us more about your background so that the Hackernoon community can get to know who you are.
Kristof: Since I was 9 years old I have been obsessed by computers & programming. I guess you can call me a nerd. I always had a lot more interest in my computer and the sheer endless possibilities than normal childhood. When I came out of university, I had a hard time finding a job. I was lucky to find a good business mentor who allowed me to build out my first business which was a networking and IT integration business. This was back in 1994 when we were still messing around with coax networks and a super immature IT ecosystem.
A couple of years later, the first global Internet service provider in the world (PSInet) asked me to join them where I could help them to build out their hosting and datacenter business in Europe. This was a crazy period in which our team achieved 2 world records. In 2000, I had gathered enough courage to start my first company. Since then we have founded more than 15 companies, of which 6 of them have been acquired.
Over all those years, we have been working on developing technology to create a more stable technology foundation for the Internet (more scalable database, storage, and automation systems). You can probably call this the boring part of the Internet that you can’t see – the backbone parts.
Around 2014, my life seriously changed. My wife Isabelle was very sick at that time and almost died. Doing something meaningful for the world became really important to us. This is where we started with the current projects going from conscious technology, trying to create a new Internet, and organizing healing retreats on the Nile.
Edward: How has the internet changed since you started your journey, and what do you believe is its future?
Kristof: When I started my career, the Internet barely existed. There was no web browser – something called Gopher allowed us to find information on the “Internet.” It was a free place, at that time it was possible to know all websites. The Internet is one of the greatest things which happened, and allowed the world to become much more global. It started with all good intentions. There were no firewalls, hackers, etc.
Today, though, less than 20 companies own more than 80% of the Internet IT capacity (storage, compute). We became a product and our data is massively abused. The Internet is served out of very big power hungry datacenters. Today the internet is being cut into pieces, countries are installing firewalls, and some are using the Internet as a source of manipulation and control. If we are not careful, the Internet will cease to exist. We urgently need a new Internet.
The future of the internet does not look good. We, ALL TOGETHER, need to change the way how we deal with the Internet. A new alternative is required.
Today, you probably work with more than 100 apps (services) and for each of those you digitally exist and are a product. Your existence on the Internet allows some companies to make more than 1000 USD per year of your data. Your data is not safe, the information you get is often manipulated.
Edward: Tell us more about how the autonomous internet will work for the sake of those that are not familiar with the idea?
Kristof: We need a new Internet which is not owned by a few centralized companies. We need an Internet co-owned by all of us, where everyone is equal, where everyone owns their own data. An Internet which is much more green, which is available everywhere in the world.
An Internet which goes back to where it all started – a network, connecting people who can freely communicate, who are not manipulated, and who can use this network to build out their digital lives in all freedom and neutrality.
This Internet needs to be self-driving & self-healing. It's the only way how a global network of capacity can be created. Since people are not needed to manage the network, the costs are lower and security is much stronger.
Edward: How has your past experience creating tech companies prepared you for this project?
Kristof: Creating a successful company is hard. It's very demanding and finding a balance between keeping your investors happy and delivering on the dreams you had when starting your company is not easy.
This is especially hard if you want to maintain a strong set of values and refuse to give in to greed, ego, and using fear to get what you need in your company. Working with your colleagues in a startup is super inspiring but also challenging. A startup always goes through moments which are difficult sometimes look hopeless.
My motivations for starting my first companies were somewhat driven by ego and frustration. Luckily, we managed to provide very good return for our investors which gave us enough credibility and made it easier to do more projects. At one point in time I became too arrogant. Life was too easy. I was a successful entrepreneur and thought I could do anything. We went through a tough time for a couple of years. I had to find out the hard way what is important in life.
In 2014 we decided to restart all over in a different way. We moved to Dubai. We started working on our current projects.
Today, our projects have very solid foundations. The people we work with all believe that doing something good for this world and being successful in business can go hand in hand. I would never have been able to do what we do now without the lessons of the first 10 startups.
Edward: How did the idea of creating Threefold come around; what inspired you and your co-founders?
Kristof: Well, as I’ve mentioned, the Internet is broken. Over the years we managed to build technology which has serious efficiency advantages. We have created our own operating system, our own blockchain, and our own self-healing automation system.
We believe our system has big efficiency advantages when it comes to storage, and even more so for blockchain-based storage projects.
Our inspiration was to be able to use this technology to redesign the basics of the Internet – a new Internet which is owned by all of us. A new Internet which requires 10x less energy, which is local to all of us, which is more secure, and which is not manipulated. We have a technology company called TF Tech where we develop the technology and a not for profit foundation which represents all the “farmers” of this new Internet capacity.
Edward: What challenges have you faced and continue to face as you try to bring this new idea to life?
Kristof: Funding, funding, funding…
In the current world you need money, lots of money, to achieve ambitious goals. Being able to finance this project without losing our values has not been easy. Luckily, thanks to our founding team and loyal supporters we have been able to raise +20M USD which kept us going till today. We did not want to do an ICO (Initial Coin Offering), we didn’t feel ready yet to go to Venture Capital. We are now organizing an IEO (Initial Exchange Offering) on a regulated public exchange called Liquid. This should be the start of a next phase in our project.
Our teams are very decentralized, we have more than 100 people working on this. So, keeping all of this organized and structured is not easy. We are learning a lot and had even to develop our own collaboration tools to do this efficiently.
Edward: Who are some of your biggest competitors currently?
Kristof: You could say that our network has the capability to be a decentralized alternative to Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. The existing cloud players are huge companies and they managed to get to a certain scale advantage.
Our alternative is very different. It is co-owned by everyone, it's fully decentralized, and accessible everywhere in the world, which will make it a faster and more cost effective alternative cloud service. It's not complete yet – today we think that about +80% of workloads which run on one of the big clouds can run on our decentralized grid.
On the other hand there are blockchain companies like Sia, Filecoin, Holochain, etc. We don’t see them that much as competition, though. We want to be the missing (capacity) layer for them. They can use our grid to deploy their projects in such a way they will be more scalable, private, and secure. In other words we want to collaborate rather than compete. Our storage layer can be used by them as backend for their own projects.
Edward: How crucial is the blockchain technology to the Threefold network?
Kristof: Blockchain is an amazing technology, but it's only a tool. It's not the holy grail.
We have developed two blockchain technologies, our own store of value blockchain and our own blockchain database. The store of value blockchain was developed because at the time when we started there was no store of value blockchain which could securely work without mining and burning energy. Our store of value blockchain is called Rivine and is a proof of blockstake blockchain.
The blockchain database (BCDB) is a very different animal. This is a very unique blockchain which is made to be able to store hundreds of petabytes of storage and is much more efficient than any other blockchain technology we know about. For a 200 node blockchain it is up to 100x more efficient! We use BCDB for many use cases in our network and is very strategic and important. We have ideas on how this BCDB can be used for other blockchain projects as well to make them to benefit from our efficiency.
Edward: Lately, we have seen the enthusiasm on the blockchain technology dwindle with some claiming it’s dead, do you believe the technology is scalable enough to handle such a massive project like Threefold?
Kristof: Yes (-:
Indeed current blockchain technologies have their challenges when it comes to what we call “the blockchain dilemma” problem. In current blockchains you have to choose between security or scale, you cannot have both.
Thanks to our unique design we believe we can deliver both, not just for our own blockchain but for any other blockchain technology. We want to be the missing layer for any blockchain technology to allow them to become more scalable, sustainable, and efficient.
We are not coming from the blockchain world, we are coming from automation and storage world. We have been working for more than 25 years now on how to optimize large scale IT systems. Our expertise has always been in this domain. We developed the first data deduplication system for archive and backup, this became part of Symantec.
After that, we developed the first forward-looking error correcting code storage system which was at least 3x more efficient compared to any other technology and much more reliable. This company became part of HGST (Western Digital).
Edward: Where do you see the blockchain technology in the next ten years?
Kristof: Blockchain technology is there to stay, it was only overhyped. Just like virtualization was overhyped at one point of time. Yet still today, virtualization is embedded everywhere in the current IT landscape.
Blockchain is a fantastic idea and will keep on driving lots of innovation. It should only be used for what it's good at: a store of value and providing consistency amongst a lot of different parties. It will become part of most IT systems of the future. We use blockchain in the same way, we need blockchain technology to make our system work, but it's not a goal by itself.
Edward: We see you are holding an IEO for the TFT token. What is the future of crowdfunding within the crypto industry now that we have witnessed ICOs, STOs and this year the rise to prominence of IEOs?
Kristof: To be honest, I don’t know, this is not my level of expertise.
I did not like ICOs. They remind me of what happened in the year 2000. Also at that time we resisted to go with the hype and stay away from it. We managed to fundraise 10M EUR in 2002, which was in the middle of the dot com bubble crash. This shows that staying loyal to you values will eventually pay off.
We did the same thing now. Our IEO will happen on a strongly regulated exchange. We will have our values embedded in how we do the IEO and will do what we can to make our token not too speculative and keep it linked to the value of our network. We believe that our token is very different in approach.
Disclaimer: I do not have any vested interest in any of the mentioned projects. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and is not investment advice. Do your research.