The word “blockchain” tends to conjure images of cryptocurrencies and the volatility that comes with them, leaving many regular Joes (and Jills) wary. But blockchain technology has myriad other applications. One of them is managing things like digital assets — think concert tickets, in-game purchases and other digitally scarce commodities. Three visionaries are building a blockchain protocol called Tari to do just that, and hoping they can help create the next generation of highly skilled blockchain developers in South Africa in the process.
Tari is the brainchild of Plettenberg Bay resident and poster child for cryptocurrency Monero, Riccardo Spagni, and two US-based entrepreneurs and investors, Naveen Jain and Dan Teree. In addition to developing the Tari protocol, the trio hope to upskill South African developers in the nascent blockchain sector. The company won’t reveal how much it has to invest, but has big-name backers, including Redpoint, Trinity Ventures, and Pantera.
Blockchain tech and digital assets: a perfect match?
“We think digital assets are a great use case [for blockchain technology],” says Jain. He envisions a digital wallet where individuals can store — and crucially, transfer — digital assets while abiding by the rules of use dictated by those selling them. He says end-users tend to get the short end of the stick with digital assets today, whether it’s being charged enormous markups on concert tickets by scalpers, or being confined to a walled garden, blackmarkets or other fraudulent environments when it comes to in-game items. “We think there’s an opportunity for a frictionless experience”, he says, adding that Tari should be able to “reduce fees associated with transfers” in the process.
Spagni says he and his cofounders didn’t want to build their solution using an existing blockchain protocol because none sufficiently suits their intended use cases. “We didn’t want to build on Ethereum… it’s too general purpose,” he explains, adding that rather than building a protocol in the hopes that people will find a use for it, Tari is intended to address genuine, real-world concerns from the outset.
Not your regular incubator
It’s Tari Labs, however, that’s really piqued our interest. The world is awash with tech incubators, but aside from providing useful contacts in the case of the big name ones, we’re generally sceptical about the value they offer. Spagni says Tari Labs’ unique approach and grants system to assist people to build interesting products that address the broader blockchain community’s actual needs, make it a very different sort of incubator.
“Where we differ [from traditional incubators], is that this is more about putting people in a room who have a latent ability, and letting them develop that latent ability and contribute to something that’s amazing,” Spagni says. Those involved in Tari Labs will “learn to become blockchain experts, which is good for the ecosystem as a whole”.
“We’re not incubating start-ups,” Jain says. “We’re incubating developers who want to build open-source software. All the software Tari Labs develops will be open-source, with highly permissible licences… ultimately we’re building a network, and the more participants it has the more successful it’ll be, but it starts with a core group.”
Spagni says he envisions two sorts of people being interested in Tari Labs, those who’re based in Johannesburg, want to work out of the company’s physical workspace in a Woodmead office park, and want to learn the Rust programming language, and those who don’t want to — or are geographically prohibited from — working in Tari’s offices, but still want to be involved in its projects. Interested parties are encouraged to visit the Tari website and click on the “contribute” button.
Passion not profit
“There really are very few blockchain developers on earth,” Jain says. “We’re talking about building a core team of devs in Joburg and getting them up to speed on the latest developments on blockchain. We want to get them up to speed on Rust, which is probably the best tool you can use to build a protocol. I think that’s really powerful, and it means we’re going to have an incredible group of devs who can mentor, speak, and educate.”
Spagni says Tari wants to focus on “under-represented groups in the blockchain community”, and that inclusion can only be fostered “through education and mentorship”.
Jain adds that decentralised communities, of the sort Tari wants to build, make it possible for developers to work on projects that interest them without worrying about shareholders’ concerns. “We want to empower people who are in it for the passion, or the art of it. And we want this to set the community apart.”