“Our product saved us from the 2018 crypto winter” — Interview with Andy Ellis from Horizon State
With a lot of cryptocurrency community focusing on prices, it’s easy to forget the original vision of many cryptocurrencies and blockchain products was to empower individuals and communities. One forged blockchain innovator that hasn’t lost sight of that is Horizon State, which has been gaining acclaim in Australia and New Zealand for its blockchain decision-making and community engagement platform.
Today DCEBrief talks to Chief Product Officer Andy Ellis about the difference between representative democracy and participatory democracy, Initial Coin Offering startups with viable business models, the blockchain use case for voting and community engagement, and the challenges of surviving the 2018 crypto winter as a lean startup.
DCE: First, tell us a little about your vision and Horizon State—why does the world need it?
AE: Being fortunate enough to grow up in a country that affords citizens a level of freedom and participation in the operation of its public institutions, Horizon State has always had an appreciation for the democratic processes that empower our voices as individuals.
Decision-making processes are usually limited by the platforms they operate on. There are factors like the prohibitive costs of federal elections, voter apathy and inconvenience, and the risks of corruption and tampering—hot topics at the moment, counting errors and so on.
One of the historical solutions to these problems was representative democracy, electing leaders and representatives as our proxies to serve on our behalf and protect our interests. That’s fine up to a point, but it comes with its own problems. You only get meaningful input every three or four years when there’s an election, and those representatives are serving multiple competing interests including those of a party or coalition. Nor are those representatives necessarily completely in touch with the interests or preferences of their constituents, whether that be a citizenry or company shareholders.
As a system, it’s well behind the technology curve of what is currently possible in terms of internet and mobile applications, devices and connectivity. Assuming those technologies are accessible, it makes it possible for a participatory democracy where ordinary people can engage with their district or business representatives in real time before governance votes are made. Blockchain eliminates the risk of voter fraud and delivers a purer, more direct kind of democracy closer to the Athenian or town hall model.
DCE: How has blockchain assisted in the delivery of Horizon State’s decision-making product?
AE: Blockchain brings so many benefits to the process in terms of security, transparency, cost-effectiveness and faster lead times. Something often in the headlines these days is election security and integrity. A lot of people are concerned about vote tampering. Votes can’t be interfered with in any way on our platform. The proprietary blockchain system means that votes are always tallied correctly. The system is completely transparent and auditable at any time. Voters can verify that their vote was cast and counted correctly.
Because it’s more secure, cost-effective and transparent, it makes regular remote voting by a web application reliable and trustworthy. The portal is accessible on any internet-capable device and works in exactly the same way as those people are already familiar with and regularly use. There are no barriers or learning lead in time. It’s ready to go with all the benefits of blockchain technology without clients needing to think about it.
DCE: How are businesses and public sector organizations using Horizon State’s platform?
AE: We quickly realized that there’s a lot of room in the market for our product suite and countless applications that even we didn’t expect. For example, it’s been used in elections, including a mayoral appointment in the New Zealand town of Porirua, two board elections for New Zealand’s TOP political party, and 5 appointments for South Australia’s state recreational fishing council. There’s an Australian local body council that has picked up the platform for running an internal vote on an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement with over 80% member participation, a world first.
One of the biggest projects that we are a part of is for HLC, a subsidiary of Housing New Zealand who are working with us to provide ongoing community engagement on a large scale $1.5 billion regeneration project in Eastern Porirua, New Zealand. The project aims to design better neighborhoods by improving parks and streets, replacing older state homes, and creating more opportunities for affordable home ownership. Horizon State’s software will be used for the research, polling, and community feedback for valuable insights and smooth operations. The process will involve HLC conducting person-to-person interviews with people living in the area, and securely recording their views and preferences on Horizon State’s software suite via tablet.
There are several companies in the pipeline who want to use the technology for their AGMs.
Shareholders and members can quickly and confidently gain consensus on company issues and direction. Governmental bodies have hassle-free access to accurate community feedback on policy proposals without fear of tampering. That’s a big one, given how much of a public concern online polls being rigged by outside influences is these days.
We can effectively rule out the possibility of vote interference. The sky’s the limit. We can adaptively develop all kinds of engagements depending on what our clients need for any private or public organization needing to engage a community and make decisions.
An important distinction is that Horizon State is chain agnostic. That means we currently support Ethereum, NEM, and Halo blockchains to develop on. We can also submit results to a database if the client requests it.
DCE: There was a challenging industry decline not long after Horizon State’s beginnings which saw many projects struggle after holding an ICO. How did you navigate that to come out with a viable business?
AE: Our business was formed through an ICO in October 2017 with the creation of our Decision Token or HST (Horizon State’s Token — which you can read about the token mechanics of here), and we didn’t raise the sums that others in our industry were at the time. With the crypto winter depreciating the value of our company assets, we found our runway significantly reduced. As a result, we had to run a very lean operation and narrow the development scope to our most crucial product features, recruiting paying clients to produce revenue as fast as possible.
Despite the difficult environment, we made the decision to focus on the strengths of our product to operate a successful business. Our product saved us from the 2018 crypto winter, where many others in our industry fell.
DCE: How is your product being received in the market?
AE: We’ve been increasingly recognized for our efforts and product quality. Horizon State was recently a finalist in the Wellington Gold Awards, and for Best Government Blockchain Project by the Australian Digital Commerce Association. Further, we were selected as a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, which is a path also followed by many prior tech behemoths like Google, Airbnb, and Spotify. Ultimately, though, it’s all the positive responses from our clients that matter most to us.
DCE: And where to next?
AE: At the end of the day, we know we have a strong product with a demonstrated market use case. This is being increasingly recognized, but we need to make more people aware of who we are and what we do. After appointing an advisory committee to our leadership team consisting of business and industry experts, our immediate objectives are to aggressively market and expand our global reach, and we expect to become completely self-sustaining on client revenues in the next few months.
Find out more about Horizon State: