Exclusive Q&A with Alastair Johnson, CEO of Nuggets

Home » Exclusive Q&A with Alastair Johnson, CEO of Nuggets
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Let’s start with your personal story. Our readers love to learn more about top entrepreneurs. Tell us about yourself. How have you become the person you are today?

AJ: I come from the North of the UK (The Midlands if you’re from further North). I learned respect and the value of teamwork at an early stage—a value I still apply to my work to this day. I went to Uni, developed my thinking, then after leaving  got taken down a peg or two along the way. I started in tech during the last recession, which, as it turns out, is a handy training ground for the modern world. As an early adopter of the internet, I quickly rose to the challenge. I had my own tech business for a good number of years, and was fortunate enough to work with some of the best tech-heads in Skype and Microsoft. After bumping into the pain of privacy and security problems one too many times, I strived to find a better way.

I always liked the Jeff Bezos quote where he had to tell everyone what the internet was when he was starting Amazon. I know how he feels; it resembles the initial stages of blockchain.

 

You pride yourself on being a problem solver. Perhaps, Nuggets is a direct result of that trait. You have said that in other interviews. But could you share the details behind what led you to the idea behind Nuggets?

AJ: I had my personal and payment details used fraudulently and had to wait two weeks for a bit of plastic to turn up. After having to input my card number back into numerous services, I thought: “there has to be a better way than this.”

Always lead with the problem, not the tech or the product. Blockchain resolved many of  the boxes that previous tech offerings hadn’t, allowing for a fundamental change in how personal data was stored, owned, and controlled. I was lucky to have a different perspective to those that had come before, and driven enough to set out on the journey that everyone else had shied away from.

                                                                 

The idea was great and the technology was ripe. But how hard was it to start and develop Nuggets? We would like to hear your struggles and victories?

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AJ: I think one of the more recent examples is when it came time to self-quarantine amid the coronavirus outbreak. Coming to the realisation that I had been effectively self-isolating already, demonstrated how consumed I was by the work.

Nonetheless, it’s been an amazing journey of highs and lows. From having to explain, in the early days, what blockchain was and the potential it had (I feel you Jeff), to fantastic opportunities that I would have never been afforded if I wasn’t doing this. I’ve felt on top of the world and—sometimes—like I’ve been knocked off it, but I always end up with the need to do it all again the next day, with an almost evangelical zeal.

I now have a kinship of understanding and appreciation for anyone who has been a founder, big or small, and when you meet other founders, it’s like you’re talking the same language and an empathy that is hard to reach with others.

 

Nuggets’ motto is to “Take back control of your data”. Here are some novice’s doubts regarding the claim. First, wouldn’t it affect the data analytics thing that marketers and companies use a great deal at present?

AJ: You can still have behavioral data on the merchant or services side, which can bring benefits to both merchants and customers. We don’t believe, however, that you need to know my first dog’s name and my email to facilitate an order for socks. There’s still metadata available, but not the user’s personal data. Through reputation and provenance, greater value can be gained than ever before. The old model is broken—if the data breaches don’t teach you that, the regulator will.

 

Following on the previous question, second, is the data really safe when using Nuggets? Data has to be stored somewhere, the users’ devices, for example, which makes the data vulnerable. Isn’t it?

AJ: With Nuggets, the data is encrypted at the source, with a private key that only the user has access to—negating the use of usernames and passwords. The nuggets of information are encrypted individually, hashed on-chain, placed in decentralised storage, and atomised so only the private key holder can access and control them. We believe the future is going to be based around your identity—devices and products will simply act as an interface to the identity that travels with you. You will be your identity combined with multiple biometric verifications.

      

How have the users responded to this disruptive innovation? Could you tell us some stats about the customer reaction so far – both in terms of end-users and business providers?

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AJ: We have had the most amazing response to Nuggets with tens of thousands of advocates. We’ve been approached by the top global banks, payment services, and merchants. And, to have the industry acknowledge the direction as well, has been amazing.

Nuggets has also won a number of high profile awards, including;

  • The Blockchain Project of the Year at the FSTech Awards, beating HSBC and Commerzbank to the prize;
  • The Best Innovation in Security Management award at the FDATA Open Finance Awards, after being recognized as the company that has done the most to protect consumer data.
  • Shortlisted at the Europas Award for Hottest Tech Startup, and shortlisted for five awards categories at the Payments Awards — more nominations than any other company.
  • They were one of only 10 out of 400 global businesses to make it into the final of UBS’s Future of Finance Challenge 2019, in the ‘Foundation Setting: Technology Enablement’ category.
  • Finalist in the MoneyAge Awards for ‘Innovation in Consumer Finance’,
  • Shortlisted for two payments awards alongside companies including HSBC and Mastercard for its use of biometrics and blockchain,
  • Named winners of the Anti-Fraud or Security Solution of the Year 2018.
  • Most Influential Women in Payments 2020 (not me, Seema)
  • 10 best Payments Startups globally in Efma-Capgemini’s Financial NewTech Challenge 2020.

 

We usually focus on industry news related to gaming, betting and gambling. In what ways do you think Nuggets can be a game-changer for the gaming and gambling industry?

AJ: Like finance, the gaming industry is one of the most regulated in the world. Applying the same principles of identity verification, KYC, proof of age, verified payments with reputation and provenance, along with privacy and security, we are sure to make a resounding difference.

 

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Just to clarify, what kind of technological adjustments do existing gambling, betting and igaming platforms have to make to incorporate Nuggets. Is it going to be seamless and quick?

AJ: Onboarding, Access, Payment, and Verification can be quickly executed through SDK, APIs, and micro service container models that make integration modular and easy.

 

We are going through a global business turmoil caused by the Corona outbreak. Once things get back to normal, how do you foresee the situation for block chain technology? Will a new beginning help block chain technology to gain more access and popularity? We would love to hear your views.

AJ: During times of upheaval, disruptors prevail. New technology has been proven time and time again to leapfrog the broken past in order to create a better future. Blockchain will be a part of that, along with other technologies—maybe even a sprinkle of 5G thrown into the mix.

 

About two years ago, you wrote an article that said “Europe has unbridled potential to become one of the leaders in fintech”? Has Europe lived up to your expectations? Do you still subscribe to this view or is there any change in estimate?

AJ: I still think the UK and Europe have some of the best potentials. This map of challenger banks by country globally shows that in 2016 the UK had 40 challenger banks. India, with the next biggest number, only had 8. This gives you a good idea of the potential in Europe compared to the rest of the world.

 

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