Sailing Along

Dennis Schouten is from the Netherlands. He studied information and communication technology (ICT) in HR at university of Rotterdam, and subsequently held management roles which involved the implementation of various technologies. He started a company in 2011 to better handle the indexing of resumes, and got into blockchain from there. He found IOTA in Spring of 2017.

Many in the IOTA community have heard about Dennis' projects called SKALY and Freighter, but might not know who is behind them or what they actually do. This interview also goes out to all the aspiring IOTA developers who are looking for inspiration in starting your own project on IOTA. Dennis and the team epitomize the story of persistence over everything, while they continue to disrupt in a variety of industries. Without further ado, let's begin:

HelloIOTA Question #1: We’ve quickly summarized your path to the blockchain world, and ultimately to IOTA. Is there anything we should add to make sure that readers have the proper context for this chat? Maybe your general thoughts on distributed ledgers, what made IOTA stand out from BTC/ETH to you originally, and your relationship with technology in general. 

I first came in contact with BTC right after the pizza payment, from my memory. It quickly got my attention, and so I tried to understand the progress on a global scale. At that time, nobody worried about energy consumption because mining was very easy, although I never engaged with it. Of Course I still have remorse over that decision now. But standing out really means for me progress. Can we elevate society, and are we able to positively impact the future for everyone? I think that is what stood out for me with IOTA. That [positive] overall message is important. 

HelloIOTA Question #2: The origin story of SKALY is that you were reading an article about the obesity rates in the Middle East and decided that IOTA could be the perfect solution for this problem. You chatted with Peter Willemsen and Stan Scharnigg and eventually founded SKALY as three co-founders. How quickly did the idea come to fruition and how receptive were Peter and Stan to the idea initially? How did you know Peter and Stan prior to pitching them the idea? Did you have any experience in the healthcare sector prior to this? Talk a bit about the inspiration for the project and the people involved, and those early stages of building the company.

To be honest, I saw a gap in the e-health sector and shared it with Peter first. I have known Peter since the early days of IOTA. We came in contact at the second IOTA meeting in Amsterdam where I was interviewed by Peter for joining the Iota Evangelist Network. After the interview, we kept on talking and quickly discovered we had a mutual interest in building, developing and sharing IOTA related projects. Stan came into the picture later on when I was assisting Peter with ION, as he was the initial developer. I quickly discovered a deep interest in the application.

I still remember me and Peter discussing all IOTA related projects during a 4-hour drive from Luxembourg (we were invited for an IOTA meetup), and ending with a collaboration to build and develop ION further. Peter and I became good friends where we also did some projects not related to IOTA. But our focus always stayed on DLT, the holy grail.

After doing one of the outside projects, I told Peter about the first SKALY drafts I had made, and we quickly acknowledged this plan didn't yet exist in the medical industry. Also, we knew IOTA foundation was not putting their limited resources into e-health, so we would also fill that gap. Stan came into the SKALY project when it was first drafted on recommendation by Peter. Peter had already worked with him and thought Stan would add value to the core team. Quickly explaining the SKALY draft, we began writing down how to proceed, which ended in a first prototype.

The prototype itself also has an interesting history. Buying a weighing scale, demolishing the scale with a hammer, building from scratch the scale again with a fingerprint scanner and at the same time as developing the software. So you could easily say we were in our first period of SKALY as a hardware and software developer. What we didn't know at that time (and you never stop learning) was that someone patented a fingerprint ID idea for weighing scales in 2004. So that destroyed our initial idea. When talking to the patent lawyers, we were brought back to our focus when we were told there is no software patent for more generally identifying people. This is also where SKALY got its present form. 

HelloIOTA Question #3: Two years ago, SKALY intended to be the global health SaaS company that would enable brand-new business models for insurance companies. The idea was to improve data transparency, integrity, and access in order to give companies the ability to incentivize certain activities that promote healthy lifestyles. Maybe you could lay out how SKALY actually works and use a real-world example? The website mentions the ability to predict weight results via smart scales. This seems like a fascinating use case for industry.

SKALY was intended to be a weight identity and prediction platform targeted towards insurance and medical organizations. To be specific, identity was the first development we made for SKALY and was all about trying to tackle monitoring data in a private and secure way. This gradually formed to an overall platform where prediction was also a part of the SKALY solution. It was also the start of building the second layer protocol Freighter as we know it now. The actual solution here as we see it today is that we are able to transfer data through the tangle in a massive way. When TNO came into play, we recognized that data from various health wearables were not yet protected in a decentralized platform. We all know Fitbit, but privacy doesn't come first and no one knows what is happening with their data. At SKALY it is very simple. You are able to share your health data when you want and for however long you're comfortable. You as a person are able to withdraw your consent and can give another organization consent for another part of your health data you generated. It is powerful but also very new to a lot of health organizations.  

HelloIOTA Question #4: So the dream was to eventually get both health insurance companies and governments on board. Where are we now? How has industry adoption been compared to your expectations? I suspect that potential partners and clients are reluctant to accept the technology before IOTA’s protocol is finalized — has that been true in your experience? Have there been any roadblocks for SKALY? Have there been any pleasant surprises? Maybe talk a bit about the journey of being an entrepreneur in the IOTA space. Advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs who are thinking about working on an IOTA project?

We've learned that building is easier than attracting insurance or health organizations piloting DLT solutions. It is all very hard to grasp and has a very slow policy around innovation. After we stepped into the TNO consortium everything changed, we got recognized, and doors opened up. This helps a lot when you want to present something innovative to policy and decision makers. Working with a world-famous institute like TNO gives us the jump start we needed. We are now able to pilot the solution and also learn from other organizations who are in the consortium or are attached to TNO. Of course, we also wait for IOTA’s protocol to be finalized but it doesn't delay us as we have our own protocol and it does not involve incentives like a token at the moment. I think that is our strong cornerstone here - having our own protocol that can be adjusted when needed. Our 3rd milestone was just released. It shows again that Freighter remains under active development.

If I should give advice to other entrepreneurs, don't end up in a technical talk about DLT and IOTA. Keep it plain and simple, just explain what is necessary to demonstrate the power of decentralized platforms like IOTA. It really helps just to stay on the same level as the organization you want to talk with who doesn't have the knowledge about IOTA and the Tangle.

HelloIOTA Question #5: A piece of the SKALY project called Freighter appears to be a spin off as a messaging solution. Can you talk a bit about Freighter, what it is, what it’s meant to solve, and why it’s so useful? Is it different from IOTA’s old masked authenticated messaging? Will the development of IOTA Streams solve any of this? HUGE congratulations on getting Freighter added to the OMG PSIG RFP! 

As I previously mentioned, rather than a spinoff, it's a necessary second layer protocol we needed to transfer big amounts of data. MAM was not the solution at that time, and although Streams is now more equipped with all bells and whistles, we continue to remain on Freighter. Freighter is fully developed to have a basic smart contract (you could state it like that) but also sends over a huge amount of data without having to wait for other messages to be completed first (Streams). So, actually, you can see Freighter as a torrent client which simultaneously downloads/uploads data. That is important in various industries. 

And yes, we are very happy with Freighter being added to OMG PSIG RFP. A huge step forward for our second layer protocol. But here it all came together because we missed a critical part of certification with IOTA. Within our TNO project there are old school organizations who are certified to process medical data. Wearable health data is free to process, but that not the case for medical records, for example. 

Fortunately I have good contacts with the IOTA Foundation, and asked around who was in charge of the standardization process. That's how I met Mike Bennett. After some emails back and forth, we scheduled a call. We introduced Freighter somewhere in that call, and the rest is history. Just to tell the readers; don't ever stop when you hit a brick wall. Find a hammer, shovel or pickaxe. But always try to find a solution to your problem. This is how we got Freighter into OMG PSIG.

HelloIOTA Question #6: You’re an expert at the very edge of technology and business with the totality of your experience over the past nine years. What’s your assessment of the IOTA protocol so far? What’s holding it back from mass adoption? How responsive are the IOTA developers to needs of the protocol? What are businesses saying about IOTA? And next, where do you see the IOTA protocol going in the future? Should we expect standardization soon? Is there excitement around coordicide in industry?

I am no expert, but I try to educate myself on the bridge of innovation as it is being build. We learn every day, so I don't mind saying that I don't know everything, but if you surround yourself with the right people who are all motivated, intelligent and down to earth you can make real steps. The IOTA protocol is something I never witnessed before. Well, maybe I did witness it, and it's comparable to mass adoption of mobile phones and internet. That is how I see IOTA. Mass adoption will kick in, I am totally positive about that part. Innovation sometimes has his delays, I don't see it as a negative development at all. Just delaying the inevitable, adoption by various industries. Like previously said, I have good contacts within the IOTA Foundation, and all are very approachable and willing to help you out. Of course, it helps me that I have been around since 2017. A good stepping stone is also IEN (IOTA Evangelist Network). A network of IOTA community developers, business developers, communication specialists and more. 

Standardization is a very difficult topic to address. I do have a view of what is going to happen, and on what timetable, but it can change very fast. So let's leave that open for now. But I expect 2021 to be the year of IOTA from what I know, hear, and witness.  I hear everyone talking about coordicide, but no one is seeing the game changer: MANA. It is so critical to actually onboard enterprises that, for me, MANA is the second most important piece of the puzzle next to coordicide.

But what a game changer it will be when it happens, I keep saying that all eyes should be focused on Chrysalis 2 and MANA. I can't wait to see this happen.

HelloIOTA Question #7: And finally, where can we expect SKALY to go in the future? Do you, Peter, and Stan continue to be excited about the direction of the project? Where do you think Freighter fits into the ecosystem over the years to come? Does SKALY plan to stay within the weight measurement niche, or might we see an expansion of its applications in the future?

Haha, what a difficult question to answer. Behind the scenes a lot is going on. Not only with SKALY but also with our video call application ION. Skaly will remain focused on e-health, but is transformed to process all health related data. This will open up more chances in the market, and we have more room to innovate. 

We hope that Freighter continues to be linked with the OMG PSIG, and maintains a significant role with IOTA and Streams. But Freighter won't stop there. It's also being used in ION, and 2021 will be a very interesting year for us as well. We have several products under development and an umbrella corporation name where all can be placed. We hope to launch this early 2021. 

But if all goes well, we will have a huge development in 2021, and you get the scoop. It's called ODIN. What does it do? Still secret, but we hope to bring a lot of smiles to every community member when ODIN is released and implemented. 

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