When Luc Jodet first heard of Bitcoin in 2013, he dismissed it as uninteresting.
Fast forward to 2018 and Luc found himself co-founding Arianee, a company that is quickly becoming one of the most successful blockchain businesses in the world.
Today, Arianee helps provide luxury brands with digital passports (non-fungible tokens) certifying the authenticity and ownership of high-value, one-of-a-kind products.
When Bitcoin gained notoriety as a cryptocurrency, it was advertised as “digital gold.” But Luc wasn’t an investor, and he wasn’t much interested in real gold - let alone digital gold.
At the time, he was busy working in the renewable energy sector, and shrugged off the cryptocurrency fad without much thought.
But when Ethereum was released in 2015, it got his immediate attention.
Why? Because it added the element of a decentralized computer.
“The idea being that I could actually write some code, push it on Ethereum and it would exist as long as Ethereum keeps on running. And there was no way to censor it. That was to me, fascinating,” said Luc.
When most people think about blockchain technology, they think about it in terms of cryptocurrency and individual purchasing power.
But you can also use blockchain for other things, such as creating digital “passports,” or non-fungible tokens, like Arianee does.
There are three main reasons to create digital identities for physical products.
What exactly is a digital passport, or “non-fungible token”?
When you trade one-dollar bill or even one Bitcoin with a friend, the exchange is equal. But a non-fungible token represents a physical product that is one-of-a-kind.
“If I take one Ether and another Ether, it doesn't matter if I have this Ether or this Ether. It's always going to be the same. I don't have any preference. It's the same thing as a dollar bill in a way. If you gave me this dollar bill and another dollar bill, it doesn't make a difference. It still has the same utilities, same value,” Luc said.
In contrast, “A non-fungible token is the idea that actually one of those tokens is not exchangeable, is not the same as another token. So technically for us, for instance we work with Breitling and create a passport for every one of their watches. Every one of their watches has a serial number. So every one of their digital passports is unique, because it has a different serial number linked to the non-fungible token.”
Several years ago, much of Arianee’s work was focused on crypto and blockchain education. Today, executives are actively reaching out.
“It's really like a financial innovation, the entire blockchain and crypto sphere. So a lot of our work is educating the different brands that we work with,” Luc said.
While at first interest was a low simmer, this year has seen it come to a boil.
“10 days ago when Elon Musk and Tesla announced that he had purchased $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, all of a sudden I have a lot of corporate executives and directors who I speak with who actually now are actively asking me,” said Luc.
Suddenly, blockchain and the possibilities it represents are on everyone’s mind.
Having a digital passport for your item isn’t just cool. It also allows you to insure or resell your item with ease.
“We really see in the longer-term vision is the idea that a digital identity for every product actually enables an ecosystem of services. So what do I mean by this is the fact that you can prove that you own a real product, so you can prove that you own a Breitling watch for instance, you can then imagine having access to a lot of different services such as one-click insurance,” Luc explained.
Today, if you need to get insurance on a watch, for example, you actually need to provide two or three separate paper documents to the insurance company.
What Arianee is doing replaces that inconvenient paper process with a single digital record.
Arianee has been particularly successful because of the rapidly growing luxury resale market.
The market for secondhand luxury products is worth about $21 billion per year. To say business is booming would be an understatement.
“It's growing really rapidly. But actually three quarters of it is linked to the watch industry,” Luc said. “It's actually the product that in the luxury industry is the most resold. And what we're building here is really something that helps or fortifies that market.”
For Luc, the role of CFO is expanded from the classic definition into one that encompasses the realm of decentralized finance.
In addition to the traditional CFO duties, Luc also must help manage how customers get access to the non-fungible token, which is the sole means of payment.
“We have an additional layer. Because of our blockchain and crypto infrastructure our architecture is that we have to deal with those crypto incentives and the life of a token. So the entire protocol is actually completely decentralized.”
Some people say blockchain is the future of everything - but Luc disagrees.
“You hear it sometimes, like ‘everything will be on a blockchain one day.’ I don't think so. And the reason why is because actually blockchains are slower than regular classical databases,” Luc said.
“Even though it's going to, scalability and all improvements are going to make it a little bit less clunky compared to what they are today, they will always be slower than a regular database...So regular databases will always be necessary.”
Just like cell phones haven’t rendered computers obsolete, Luc thinks that blockchain databases will never render traditional databases obsolete. There are good use cases and defining features for both of them.
Exciting innovations on the horizon will apply blockchain technology to the finance market.
“One of the fastest moving developments in our sector being developed on Ethereum, but also on some other blockchains is what's called decentralized finance, or DeFi as they like to call it,” Luc said.
“We're starting to experiment with the idea of using our digital passport, as in the product and the underlying product, as a collateral to get a loan.”
Don’t be surprised if in the future, old-school financial tools begin to have digital counterparts. The crypto craze has only just begun.