Vendia’s Tim Wagner, Shruthi Rao on enterprise blockchain


The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs – the idea that a database or API could keep corporate data consistent with its business partners, be they their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics or financial partners.

But despite being one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner, blockchain has also been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations.

“Sometimes we joke at Vendia that we love nothing more than a failed blockchain experiment,” Wagner said. “Blockchain has certainly gone through this amazing hype cycle. We are in the phase after the low point of disillusionment. Probably half of our deals over the last year are substitutes for failed blockchain attempts.”

The operational challenges of blockchain technology, including single-machine limitations, lack of throughput and scalability, high cost, and difficulty of integration, meant many pilots failed to deliver value, according to Wagner.

To solve these problems, he and his co-founder Shruthi Rao, Chief Business Officer of Vendia, reinterpreted the idea of ​​blockchains and distributed ledgers in a cloud-native way and launched Vendia in 2020. The fully managed and serverless Vendia Share platform for building real-time, decentralized data applications enables customers to more easily share code and data across clouds, enterprises, geographies, accounts and technology stacks.

Shruthi Rao and Tim Wagner smile for the camera

Reinterpreting the idea of ​​blockchains and distributed ledgers in a cloud-native way, Shruthi Rao and Tim Wagner launched Vendia in 2020.Photo: Vendia

“We have this thesis here: cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it,” Wagner said. “We took this very different approach, this very cloud-friendly, cloud-scale approach to building it, so the core of our technology is a cloud-centric blockchain. By building in the cloud, we have access to essentially unlimited amounts of storage space, unlimited amounts of network capacity, and unlimited amounts of processing power. This enables us to do things that traditional blockchains cannot: [Deliver] much higher throughput, lower latency, more computing power, much more parallelism, easier integration.”

Vendia has received $50 million in grants to date. Its customers range from start-ups to large medium-sized and large companies in all markets, e.g. B. the settlement of roaming charges in Africa and Asia for telecommunications providers; airline supply chains; large-scale construction management; and the mortgage, hospitality, and automotive industries. These include BMW, Aerotrax Technologies and the consulting firm Slalom.

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“We typically replace early attempts to use Hyperledger Fabric or Quorum or any of those other systems,” Wagner said. “But a lot of these are honestly companies that are staring at the high cost of building everything in a custom way through custom in-house or outsourced development, rather than trying to get it as a platform. One of the hardest things a company can do is ensure that its data and that of its partners is always accurate, consistent, complete and up-to-date.”

The AWS connection

Prior to founding Vendia, Rao was the business development leader for blockchain at AWS, including its Amazon managed blockchain product, which powers the open-source HyperLedger Fabric. Wagner had used the same technology at cryptocurrency company Coinbase.

“The interesting question we kept asking ourselves was, ‘What’s the problem, what’s the missing ingredient here?'” Wagner said. “I would just sum it up by saying that this first generation of blockchain technology ignored the cloud. They ignored scalability, they ignored cloud integration, they ignored the fact that everyone else was migrating to the cloud.”

Rao said she met 1,092 unique customers during her time at AWS. No matter what industry they were in — financial services, energy, media, entertainment, gaming — they all had a big story about why they were “desperately” trying to use blockchains, according to Rao. Customers said they had many partners and investments in many data creation mechanisms – from IoT and mobile to edge computing and digital transformation – but the massive amounts of data generated by these activities remained in partner and cloud stuck silos.

“The problem for these companies was, ‘We don’t get access to our data, which we need to make real-time decisions in a meaningful time so that we can react quickly to market changes,'” Rao said. “Regardless of how much they invested in AI and ML and analytics and all these wonderful data processing mechanisms, they only got a small fraction of the data.”

“I would just sum it up by saying that this first generation of blockchain technology ignored the cloud.”

Meanwhile, in 2018 and 2019, Wagner was Vice President of Engineering at pre-IPO Coinbase, which operated some of the largest regulated distributed ledgers in North America.

“I had this sad realization that while cryptocurrencies and distributed ledgers were for speculation, they weren’t really for business,” he said.

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Before joining Coinbase, Wagner spent about six years at AWS and founded what is now the serverless division — which included AWS Lambda, its serverless computing service — with Rao eventually leading business development for the group.

“When I created Lambda, it was about democratizing and simplifying access to the cloud, rather than renting a server from AWS,” Wagner said. “We envision Vendia as a similar idea: it’s about democratizing and simplifying blockchain skills for customers who then don’t really need to understand how it works. We deliver it SaaS style. They don’t have to use it, and frankly, they don’t even have to really understand it. They can get the business value out of it without necessarily becoming experts at writing solidity or hiring Hyperledger Fabric developers or anything like that.”

“A sense of business urgency”

Vendia launched shortly after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which further highlighted the challenges facing companies in the supply chain and the pressure on the travel industry, especially airlines.

“It took an addressable market that was already wonderful for us and added a sense of business urgency,” Wagner said. “[It] created an even greater awareness and focus on the limitations and lack of appropriate data sharing mechanisms and on the needs and requirements of cross-enterprise data sharing. The focus on cost reduction and efficiency, as well as passenger experiences, business travel and the need for companies to be able to re-plan their trips – some of which have actually been very beneficial to us.”

One of Vendia’s airline customers has about eight joint venture partners to take passengers to their destination. For example, if a customer books a flight from San Francisco to Cancun, Mexico, that airline would fly the passenger from San Francisco to Dallas, and one of their partners would then handle the Dallas to Cancun route.

The initial passenger booking would come through the airline’s Salesforce CRM system. In the past, to provide needed information to its joint venture partner, which is handling the flight from Dallas to Cancún, Vendia’s customer downloaded their Salesforce data into an Excel spreadsheet and cleaned up some of the macros so that only the information were passed, which the partner needed to see, such as B. the leg of the trip, passenger name, passenger name record number, date, seat number and other details. It then sends the information to the partner, who may be using a different CRM system.

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“I had this sad realization that while cryptocurrencies and distributed ledgers were for speculation, they weren’t really for business.”

“It’s all very manual, it’s all very tapey, and throw in the fact that they have eight joint venture partners and many, many more codeshare and segmentshare partners… The point-to-point-to- Point integration, especially on these complex flights, becomes much more difficult,” Rao said.

Instead, Vendia Share takes care of the orchestration of the data exchange between the different airlines. The product allows organizations to have a complete view of all activity and transactions without worrying about their origin, as transactions are immutable through the power of distributed ledger technology, according to Rao.

“We make sure whoever is supposed to get the data gets the data in real-time, within five milliseconds, so there’s no manual back-and-forth involved,” Rao said. “And everything is in the ledger so you can see who you’ve shared [with]what you shared, when you shared… and you can do a detailed analysis of what was shared.”

Support for AWS is generally available, support for Microsoft Azure is in beta, and support for Google Cloud Platform is planned for the first quarter, according to the company.

Vendia announced its latest funding in May, a $30 million Series B round led by NewView Capital. The company, which has just under 100 employees, is using that money to scale its engineering and continue to expand its cross-cloud platform, including support for Google Cloud Platform.

“There’s just this general idea of ​​meeting customers where they are: the cloud they’re in, the APIs or data access they prefer to use, the systems where they have their data, like Salesforce ‘ said Wagner. “On the go-to-market side…we’ve gotten into automotive, travel, and financial services – that’s where we started – and they all have some really amazing business networks and use cases that we can unlock.” But they are equally exciting and challenging opportunities in healthcare, energy, consumer goods and many of these other areas. To get there, we need a larger go-to-market team and more collateral. So that will be the other opportunity: to use those funds to grow and expand our industry penetration.”

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