Ride industry waves, but cut through the hype: Interview with Gospel Technology founder and CEO Ian Smith

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London-based Gospel Technology is data security startup passionate about the secure and ethical use of enterprise data, creating a ‘fabric of trust’ within and between companies, founded on the belief that modern corporations need to put securing their data at the heart of what they do.

Rather than simply restricting access to data as most corporations do, Gospel’s data security platform uses blockchain to ensure secure data access and exchange through a private ledger that provides access to individuals based on their credentials, allowing organisations to retain control of their data once it is shared internally or externally.

With the implementation of GDPR and increased concern over data and privacy for companies and their customers, Gospel’s technology is more relevant than ever. The startup’s platform was even referred to as the ‘first practical enterprise application of blockchain’ by the market intelligence firm IDC.

Gospel’s founder, Ian Smith, comes from a background of designing data architecture for major banks and corporations. Seeing the need for a safe, efficient way to share data, he founded Gospel Technology in 2016. The startup has since raised €7.4 million.

Below we talk to Ian about his background, data security, and his advice for other startup founders.

What is your background, and how did you come up with the idea for Gospel Technology?

Before founding Gospel Technology in 2016, my career and experience was focused on building large scale infrastructure for global organisations. In these roles the main challenges have always been the importance of enterprise data, especially in light of the enterprise transition to cloud consumption and the decentralised nature of collaborative business. I was involved in leading the designs of data architectures in companies such as HSBC, Dell, Deutsche Bank and Lloyds TSB Group. In 2009 I founded my first enterprise software company; Butterfly Software, a data analytics and migration software company, which was acquired by IBM in 2012.

Having worked in these roles, as well as other consulting and in-house roles over the last 20 years, I noticed a clear disconnect between how enterprise businesses store, secure and access their data and how business models are evolving to be data driven and collaborative. This need for a trusted foundation of data with the ability to build in transactional validation within the organisation or even inter-enterprise was clear. This gap was inhibiting the ability to conduct digital trusted business when valuable or regulated data was involved. Legacy methods to work around the existing limitations tended to be costly, slow and manual – meaning high degrees of risk to breach or loss.

I founded Gospel Technology with this issue in mind, to digitally enable every single enterprise and inter-organisational data transaction through a secure, distributed data layer.

Tell us more about Gospel Technology, and what sets it apart from other startups.

Gospel Technology creates a fabric of trust for secure data sharing, both between employees within the enterprise (intra-enterprise) and between enterprises in supply chains and partnerships (inter-enterprise), facilitating better business agility and collaboration.

For many businesses, this problem has only been addressed by methods that negatively impact on a business’ agility and collaboration capabilities (such as restricting access).  Our enterprise data security platform takes an entirely different approach to the challenge of delivering secure access and exchange of data without impacting business performance. Underpinned by blockchain, we use a private ledger to create a perimeterless security infrastructure that provides access to individuals based on their credentials. This allows organisations to retain control of their data once it is shared internally or externally.

How have you grown since you launched in 2016? What are some of the main challenges you have faced along the way?

We’re delighted with the way we’ve grown since the business was founded, and are especially pleased with the successful recent Series A investment round, which involved Salesforce Ventures and IA Ventures. This investment was the first investment in blockchain for both IA Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. This investment is reflective of our focus on real, enterprise client problems that has enabled us to build technology that removes risk and cost from complex business issues. In light of current media around the misuse and lack of control of data we are hitting the market at exactly the right time.

We were also thrilled to have received some high praise from the analyst community, including analyst firm IDC referring to our enterprise data security platform as the ‘first practical enterprise application of blockchain’.

As with any startup, growth hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In particular, we faced an uphill battle with regards to the perception of blockchain, and confusion surrounding its ties to cryptocurrency. One of our biggest challenges has been distinguishing ourselves from the many companies using “blockchain” as a hollow buzzword, as opposed to harnessing the technology to provide a functional solution for enterprises. We do not have any cryptocurrency or association with tokens or currencies. We have taken the elegant architecture of blockchain and applied it to the real challenge of enterprise data governance.

What do you consider to be some of the key factors in your success?

At Gospel, we have a great team of motivated people galvanised behind the vision and the importance of the work we are doing. Our early clients are applying this technology to very complex, yet important challenges in aerospace, pharmaceuticals and HR. As a team, we prioritise the client above all – understand their challenges, the market dynamics affecting their business and the data that they create and consume, blockchain comes in only once we understand this.

Our technology is transformational but ‘non-disruptive’, in that it successfully supports the way an organisation manages and uses their data without interrupting or negatively impacting their business and existing processes.

Our main value proposition is the scalable generation of trusted data across our customers’ organisation, providing an integrated and governable business picture across their entire operating environment.

Our platform allows our customers to retain control of their data once it is shared externally by building a perimeterless security infrastructure that provides access to individuals based on credentials, supporting secure data sharing.

What advice would you give to founders just starting out?

My main advice to founders is to of course ride industry waves, but cut through the hype quickly and focus on the practical applications, which act as a key guide in building highly valuable technology. Value will lead to durability and the foundation of a great business. Find an early client set and go deep into their business challenges and engineer and iterate your technology quickly.

For us at Gospel Technology, it would have been easy to focus entirely on the blockchain narrative and ride the wave of the ongoing hype. However, we have chosen to take a “solution first” approach and that has helped us to develop great relationships with our customers where many of them see us as partners, rather than people that just want to sell technology to them.

Now our technology is strategically embedded into our clients businesses – giving us a great opportunity to support them and develop from within.

What are your plans for the future, and where do you see the company in 3-4 years?

My vision is for Gospel to drive a new way of digital and ethical use of sensitive and valuable data. Gospel has the potential to totally rewire enterprise communications and business processes that cross regulatory, organisational and geographic boundaries – ensuring data control and compliance.

This new model has the ability to unlock new business models and new computational models that will drive industry and society forward without being limited by the traditional business perimeter or data flows.

It is a fact that the really big challenges industry and our society face will only be resolved using data-driven collaboration – where trust and integrity are assured. Gospel will be the foundation that enables this.

If enterprises are to grow and stay relevant over the coming 20 years, they need to break free of their perimetered, siloed infrastructures and embrace distributed and cloud infrastructure. To do this, moving away from hardware-oriented systems to data-oriented and application-oriented systems is essential. I see Gospel Technology at the forefront of this necessary evolution.

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