Mr. Gagik Yeghiazarian is a man of many occupations, past and present. After graduating from American University in Armenia and Harvard University, he pursued a career in tax and legal. Following this experience, he became the CEO of Armenian Development Agency, co-founded Forbes Armenia, and several other businesses, in order to, eventually, land on the blockchain technology.
In cooperation with Slovak DECENT, he co-founded and runs the Blockchain R&D Hub in Armenia, which launched in October 2016. The goal? To create products and solutions that enable a convenient, direct, and secure exchange of digital content on the global level. It looks like they are on a good track.
During his visit in Bratislava, we had a chance to sit down and talk about his story and the decision to become part of the blockchain community. We also discussed why he sees the blockchain as the future of content distribution and when that might happen. If the topic resonates with you, welcome to the interview. If you are a newbie, I invite you to learn something new.
In October 2016 you launched the Blockchain R&D Hub in Armenia, in cooperation with DECENT from Slovakia. Why did you decide for Armenia?
R&D Hub in Armenia was initiated to help DECENT build its platform that is going to serve masses for digital content distribution. We are targeting the resources Armenia currently has and which have been built for over several decades. It started during the Soviet Union when Armenia was one of the main knowledge centers with a large university and student base and institutions that were addressing many industries.
At the present, it is transforming into a hub for high-tech IT industry not only for the former Soviet Union but also for the whole world. There are specific directions that Armenia has been active in. Chip design, AI, machine learning, big data and cloud computing, to name a few. These developments and the ecosystem in Armenia per se were very attractive to make the partnership and look for the resources for blockchain technology development.
How successful are you in attracting the best minds in the field?
First I was a bit skeptical about our potential to bring in the senior level resources from Armenia fast because the field is highly competitive and saturated. Companies compete for the best people. The salary level per developer or scientist in the industry is similar to the European level. The rest of the industries are left behind, but this industry is on the level of Europe or the US. It is a result of high demand.
We already have a small team that joined initially but to our surprise, we already managed to hire some people and still are in the process of hiring. The magic notion of “blockchain” attracts a lot of interest from the top community. There are traditional industries that have nice and steady environments but many people are fed by that. And the new fresh air that comes with our initiative and the blockchain technology is very attractive, especially for the young generation that sees it as the future.
DECENT‘s founders are Slovaks, part of the team is based in Bratislava. Where do you see the role of Slovakia in spreading the blockchain over the world?
We have a lot in common with Slovakia. Being centrally located and not very big is a good advantage which can draw the attention of certain industries. If Slovakia addresses the industry of this new economy the fastest way possible, you become one of the centers of the blockchain. It’s an open space and the whole world is still looking what is going to happen in the field.
They are waiting for some leaders to do the initial work. You can see that most of the blockchain services and products are still in their prototype stage. Everyone is expecting a breakthrough technology that could start scaling this prototyping into real products. When you look at the blockchain-powered economy, compared to the economy as a whole, it’s just a small grain in the field. By becoming an important hub for the new economy, you can make the difference. Not only for Slovakia, but from here to the whole world. Matej [Michalko – co-founder of DECENT – editor’s note] is working on it already. He is building the awareness around the world, especially in China. It is remarkable work he has been doing already, and we are eager to join.
How is the Hub‘s work going to be organized? Will you hire developers on your own or you let teams in to work on their projects? What is the strategy?
There are two streams. One is the core development which is the main mission of the Hub – to create a technical team to work on the core platform of DECENT. Then the Hub will expand to work on over-the-top platforms.
Within the DECENT family, we have to address many different content types such as text, music, e-books, streaming, etc. We are going to bring partners to work with us from all over the world so the industries will come to us as the supplier of the technology and knowledge base for their blockchain solutions. Afterward, with the industry knowledge, we can jointly build services and products that we can scale.
We have already launched the testnet of the DECENT platform, together with a strong international team that works with our Slovak partners and is still growing. We are on track to delivering the promise, being very enthusiastic about the prospects.
Scaling is the second important initiative of the blockchain Hub. We will mobilize the blockchain resources not only from Armenia and Slovakia but also from around the world. We already have partners in the US, in APAC, in the former Soviet area. Europe is jumping in. We are in the talks with Africa.
What about the future?
As of the future, at one point I hope we‘ll establish a lab next to the hub dealing more with the research issues. We have many researchers working with us, and we are about to start teaching a full blockchain course at the University of Hong Kong this fall which we have been also designing. As the leader of our Academic endeavors, a lead academician with world recognition, Dr. Christian de Vartavan Tutunjian, has recently joined our team. With his support, we are are building our presence in the research and academic world fast.
What was your personal path to blockchain?
There was a lot of thinking behind my decision to become part of the blockchain economy. With my companies, we have been building several products that were literally screaming for blockchain. We were trying hard to find a solution, but the real world was not providing it.
If you want to have mass participation without a high cost of building mobilization and motivation of partners to come onboard to work with you, it is not possible. When you want to distribute something that is created jointly, you have to find intermediaries, little structured systems. This all led to the understanding that there should be something in this digital world that I can address. As Armenians, we have a huge diaspora in the world, and we faced the dilemma of how not to assimilate and maintain the nation. And I was an active promoter of the concept of creating a new reality. The only space I saw was the digital world where you can make up your own rules. One of my diploma works was also about a virtual state.
Which is quite close to the blockchain.
The blockchain is practically all about that. If you want to establish the society you dream about, then blockchain is where you can have it done. In the past, I needed maybe 50 words to explain what I wanted to do and how to frame it: partnership, privacy, security, it should be immutable, huge trust built in, publicly decentralized, and so on. And all of these words can be replaced with a single one – blockchain. Everyone speaks about blockchain but the word mining has a similar weight for me. People participating in the new economy can be rewarded knowing their work will be appreciated, their rights protected and no one will take their revenue from them. I think of it as new decentralized wealth distribution. Over the time mining can change its name to sharing or participation. Mining comes from the Bitcoin sphere. So far we can use it. Later on, we can change it.
Where do you see the blockchain in 10-year time?
The blockchain already has done its work. It is a building block of the future. When I say blockchain, I see it as already working technology and proven fact.
The future of the economy is without money, without currency, with harmonized markets, where the demand and supply are balanced across the whole market. That is the way to erase borders, break the cycle of inefficiency, and build a real economy that the whole society will benefit largely from. I see the blockchain substituting the word democracy at one point in the future.
What about the nearest future?
Based on our experience, we don’t believe in major breakthroughs at the moment. The trust is not yet there, everyone is holding back to see what’s going to happen. Not a lot of capital is being invested in the blockchain technology. A small amount of money is poured in, just to test the grounds. But we are all in the same race. It is an important endeavor, and we keep the doors open for potential partnerships because you need everyone to participate in order to make it really work. Once we call blockchain an open economy, then we should be open to everyone. Blockchain brings a lot of greed down to earth. You need partnerships and the belief of larger society to enable blockchain work globally. This is economy built for masses. Once you have the trust, you can move mountains. That’s why it is important that all the promises made are also kept.
Do you think we are already in the phase of early adopters?
Blockchain got featured for the first time on Gartner Hype Cycle in 2016. We are still very early market and the field does not really exist. However, eight years ago no one even heard about Bitcoin, it was just a white paper to be published and people started to use it. In the fin tech industry, we are definitely in the phase of early adopters. Once products come on board, many people start using it. The trust that is within the community is remarkable. People are supportive. They want it to happen, including industries and governments.
What does the blockchain need to „make it happen“?
We are building products that will serve masses. In all our discussions, we talk about how we are going to integrate the products with the existing systems. You can not build a product that is isolated and doesn‘t work. People have habits, they use certain products and services.
You also need to bring in not only the partnership of the masses or peer-to-peer community but industries need to become partners as well. For example, if we talk about energy, there are a lot of regulations. Everywhere we go, we interact with the real economy which we are disrupting. There is, understandably, a lot of resistance and misunderstanding because we are changing the way of doing things that already exists. A great example is the blockchain reputation system which will replace the existing centralized and censored reputation system.
Once you open the „Pandora box” called the blockchain, you get everything out. One of the most important aspects of blockchain is that the society itself becomes the auditor of every transaction in the open marketplace and you will not be able to cheat anymore.