Our new Disruption by Blockchain series aims to highlight companies that are leveraging the incredible potential of blockchain technology to disrupt and revolutionize their industry. Through one on one interviews, we'll speak directly with industry leaders to cut beyond the hype and get directly to the heart of practical use cases and examples of how it will change the world, one industry at a time.
The following is an interview we recently had with Jan Sammut, CEO of RefToken.
1. What’s the history of RefToken? How and where did you begin?
JS: RefToken was conceived between myself and my partner and CTO Alex. I had been leading marketing departments in the online gambling space for around 10 years on both the affiliate and operator sides of the fence and was involved in challenges facing both parties on a daily basis. Affiliates were often cheated out of their commissions by merchants who skimmed sales figures, or worse were simply not paid for spurious reasons. Merchants on the other hand were often victims of affiliate fraud. The two sides had been playing a high stakes game of cat and mouse for a decade, when Alex brought Ethereum to my attention. It didn't take long for us to realise that smart contracts and the blockchain were the silver bullet to this problem. After that point things moved very quickly, with both of us resigning from our day jobs to focus on the platform full time and hiring developers to begin building it. Since then, we have launched our prototype and proof of concept and have established a roadmap of very rapid incremental deployments to bring us to a beta launch at the end of this year.
2. Who are the founders and key team members?
JS: The founders are myself and Alex, with Manuel as lead blockchain developer.
The full team:
Jan Sammut, CEO
Jan Sammut is the founder and CEO of RefToken, the worlds first decentralised affiliate platform, as well as ICOMalta.com, a full stack ICO hosting provider. A marketer by profession, he has previously held executive positions at industry heavyweights such as IGT plc, Stars Group, and Highlight Media Group. Jan is a fixture on the European blockchain conference tour and advisor to ICOs with market caps exceeding $1B.
Alexander Anter, CTO
Full stack developer that started coding websites at age 10, founded his own agency which counts tier one casino companies amongst its clients.
Alex is now utilizing Blockchain technology in web applications.
Manuel Granados, Blockchain Developer
A Masters in Computer Science and A.I. and excellent background in Java & Data analysis.
Oleksii Matiiasevych, Smart Contract Developer
Engineering Project Manager at Ambisafe. Saved millions of dollars in July 2017 after the discovery of the vulnerability in the Ethereum multi-sig wallet.
Johann Barbie, Blockchain Advisor
Johann is a veteran developer and entrepreneur in the Blockchain space. He has founded 37coins, a venture that has scaled SMS Bitcoin payments to more than 30 countries in only 3 months. He has also held CTO roles at Provenance and Ambisafe, establishing their respective smart contract based business models.
Per Wolf, Marketing & Affiliate Advisor
Successful serial-entrepreneur with an extensive background in Marketing with a focus on Affiliate Marketing. Currently CMO and co-founder of Savelend, a successful P2P-lending platform.
Desmond Marshall, Industry advisor
With over 22 years of strategic experience, Desmond Marshall is the founder and MD of Rouge Ventures, an investment and strategic consulting firm in Asia, that serves numerous Fortune 500, governments, and new age global companies. They conduct capital raising and advisory on IPO/ICO processes, and other multi-industry businesses, for strategic repackaging and operational enhancements. Mr. Marshall is one of the very first individuals in Asia to be a member of the global Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.
3. What problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for?
JS: The core problem we're solving is the centralised nature of affiliate programs. Affiliates and the platforms they rely on depend on the merchant to provide sales and conversion figures. As the two parties interests are diametrically opposed, both have a financial incentive to cheat. Our objective is to bring this data on-chain, so as to eliminate the possibility of skimming, fraud or withholding of payments
4. What is your solution to this problem?
JS: We achieve this via a couple of methods:
1. Skimming of sales figures: The RefToken wallet sits between the end user and the merchant (in a manner that is non-obtrusive to the consumer), providing the platform with immutable, sales figures that are publicly verifiable on the blockchain.
2. Withholding of payments: All deals between merchants and affiliates are governed by smart contracts. On agreeing on a deal, the merchant is required to place the funds required to run the campaign (in REF our native token) in escrow, governed by the above smart contract. Once the conditions stipulated in the smart contract are satisfied the affiliate is paid out automatically.
3. Cash flow issues: Affiliates' marketing costs are a significant amount of their operational expenditure, and are paid out on an on-going basis, whilst on the other hand their commissions are paid out after 30 days or once monthly. This creates a bottleneck on both their growth as well as the merchant they are promoting. We resolve this by having the above mentioned smart contract disburse payment the instant a conversion is registered and confirmed.
4. Affiliate fraud: This is particularly endemic in Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) deals which are common in high LTV sectors such as trading, gambling, insurance etc. The common structure is that the merchant agrees to pay the affiliate €300 for referring a user that spends €50 (in the assumption that the user will be worth >€500 over 18 months or so). This structure is particularly prone to abuse as fraudulent affiliates find it very easy to incentivise users to deposit the €50 (in exchange for a payment of €70), and pocket the balance. We tackle this by allowing merchants to ‘stack' requirements so that the user behaviour required to trigger a conversion is very hard to replicate by non-natural users (or by bots) at scale. This could involve something like deposit €50, and log in more than 3 times and play more than 4 games, and wager more than €x etc, etc.
5. Why is your industry ripe for disruption?
JS: The affiliate industry accounts for 30% of an online retailer's revenue with over 80% of retailers running an affiliate program (https://mthink.com/?p=10297) despite this it relies on protocols developed in the late 90s which are woefully unequipped to combat today's breed of malicious actor. Over and above that, these protocols cannot handle on-chain transactions or interact with the blockchain in any way. At a macro level online market relies on ad platforms (such as Facebook and Google) which take a sizeable percentage of the advertiser's marketing budget in fees in exchange for their role as intermediary. Combining the two above factors with the thousands of distributed applications that are about to be released in the next two years and we envisage a perfect opportunity to disintermediate online marketing and empower the nascent dApps ecosystem to disrupt their incumbent sectors.
6. What’s the future of your industry?
Prediction #1: Disintermediation.
Prediction #2: On-chain conversion validation.
Prediction #3: Democratisation of large-scale marketing campaigns.