GRTiQ Podcast: 158 Chris Were

Today I’m speaking with Chris Were, CEO and Co-Founder of Verida, a team pioneering a new era of hyper-personalization, where user data is utilized privately and consensually to innovate products and services.

During our conversation, Chris shares insights into his early fascination with technology and coding, his entrepreneurial journey through several startups, and his immersion into the world of crypto. We also explore the origins of Verida and explore the distinction between private and public data in the context of web3. Additionally, Chris reflects on the lessons learned from entrepreneurship and discusses the evolving landscape of technology. We also touch upon the intersection of Verida and The Graph during Graph Hack in 2022.

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The following podcast is for informational purposes only. The contents of this podcast do not constitute tax, legal, or investment advice. Take responsibility for your own decisions, consult with the proper professionals and do your own research.

Chris Were (00:18):

We see a future state where something like The Graph will exist, maybe The Graph will extend their scope or something new will exist where there’s the ability for an individual to anonymously consent to contributing their data into some sort of large global Indexer.

Nick (01:03):

Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today I’m speaking with Chris Were, CEO and co-founder at Verida, a team who’s creating a new era of hyper personalization where user data is privately and consensually used to create new products and services. During this interview, Chris talks about his early interest in technology and coding, his professional start as an entrepreneur in several startups, how he became interested in crypto, and the origin story behind Verida. Along the way, Chris talks about the differences between private data and public data in web3, the lessons of entrepreneurship and the evolution of technology. And towards the end, Chris and I also talk about how the paths of The Graph and Verida crossed several years ago at Graph Hack. As always, we start the conversation talking about Chris’s educational background.

Chris Were (01:54):

I’m a little bit non-traditional with my educational background. So completed high school, went to university, studied a range of different things from nanotechnology. There was one of the first nanotechnology courses in the world here. I was very fortunate to be able to get access to that here in Australia where I live. And then I switched into a Bachelor of Mathematics, pure mathematics and finance. Did lots of subjects, but never actually got a degree because my passion was always in computers and technology. I’ve been doing that since I was late primary school really. So always sort of fell back into that technology space and ended up doing my own startups and working with other startups. So yeah, had a lot of learning, but not necessarily actually got the degree at the end of the day.

Nick (02:35):

Not an uncommon theme on the podcast. Of course, a lot of people stop short of university, but go on to do incredible things like you’re working on now, and we’re going to explore that a lot. But I do want to go back and ask you about your interest in nanotechnology and in mathematics. Take us back in time. What was it in those topics early on in your life that you thought you might carve out a career or some disciplinary learning on them?

Chris Were (02:58):

Yeah, well, I was one of those kids where mathematics was always my favorite subject, probably my best subject at school. So a very logic sort of orientated brain and enjoyed that side of the world, I guess. I think I must’ve been sort of early high school, I read a book by Eric Drexler called Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology. It was just fascinating, this whole idea of these nanobots that could replicate and heal people or that could create new compounds and things like that.


So I think I saw nanotechnology as almost the extreme application of technology in a way within the world that we live in. So that was sort of where that interest came from. And computers back in the early days, Commodore 64s was where I started with programming in basic writing little code programs in I think Year 6 and Year 7 when our school fortunately got a couple of those Commodores. That was sort of mathematics. Again, this logic, this mathematics writing code was all pretty much the same type of thing. And so that fascination and it’s sort of continued and now that’s sort of my career evolved from there.

Nick (04:14):

Well, as you mentioned there, your interest in technology started early. Again, this is a pretty familiar theme on the GRTiQ Podcast, but you started writing code and getting super interested in primary school. What was going on back then and what were you working on?

Chris Were (04:29):

Yeah, I think it was, I guess fascination with this new technology, being able to create things. I was not a talented artist. I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t sing, I didn’t have any of those types of talents, but I could sit at a computer and start to bash out some code on a keyboard and get it to make some sounds or to draw a picture on a screen or create a little game. That sort of fascinated me. There was this, I think almost dopamine hit of creating something from nothing, and that was super exciting as a kid. I evolved that from, as I got older, I moved on from a Commodore 64 to buying magazines that had CDs, discs or even the old floppy discs with different programming languages or different games.


I started coding in Pascal and then C, C++, Perl, just sort of working my way through different programming languages, learning what they were good for and just really fascinated by the space. So I started creating Tetris clones, creating my own little games in C early high school, and it’s just something that was really my passion. I’ve gone on, I guess from there, from writing games and playing in that space to late high school teachers at school got wind that I could write code, and they started to ask me to build little websites for their pet projects. And suddenly I was starting to make a bit of money on the side while at school, and I realized that, hey, this is actually not just a passion, but this could actually become a career.

Nick (06:07):

In addition to this early passion in software and coding, as I look at your background, it also seems like at some point a fire was lit and you determined that you’d wanted to be an entrepreneur. I mean, assuming I have that right, I mean, was that a other early decision in terms of what you want to do with your career is be an entrepreneur?

Chris Were (06:26):

Indirectly, yes. I definitely never set out, I never sat down and went, “Hey, I want to be an entrepreneur,” although maybe nobody ever does, but I guess because I was quite early in the tech space and technology, and also ’cause I was quite young, the path of least resistance was to work for myself. I put an ad in the local newspaper when I was probably 14 or 15 advertising that I could come and fix your computer. My parents would drive me around to someone’s house and I’d hop out and get 60 bucks, $100 for fixing somebody’s computer.


That was sort of the norm for me in a way. So it’s not much of a leap to go from there to then going, okay, well, how else can I make money using technology skills or what are the other things out there, products that people need? So it kind of evolved really from a necessity that there wasn’t really jobs, and as a young person, it was definitely harder to get a job. So I was like, “Well, I’ll just do it myself.” And that evolved. So over the journey, I’ve been fortunate to be involved with a number of different startups and work on a range of different types of projects that use those tech skills.

Nick (07:39):

Given that experience in, I guess becoming an entrepreneur as you just described, what have you learned about it? What are some of the insights or skills, characteristics that you’ve sort of gleaned through your own experience that every entrepreneur should have?

Chris Were (07:56):

I think the first one is it’s a lot harder than you think, even if you think it’s hard. So yeah, I mean I definitely have had a lot of naivety over the years, which again, I think this is probably quite common. You feel like you’ve got a good technology idea or idea for a product and you’re like, “Okay, well I’ll just sell it.” But it’s nowhere near as simple as that. There’s different types of products that need different ways of selling. Different projects have different size and scope.


I’ve had a project where I was basically, it was just me. I just started working on it and started to sell it, and it was a one-man kind of gig, and that was totally fine. It wasn’t going to take over the world, but it was more of a lifestyle kind of business, and that was good fun for a while through to other businesses where raising millions of dollars and you need to build a team and you need to have different skill sets and deal with legal issues and all sorts of things.


So I think that the real challenge with entrepreneurship is being really clear with what you’re trying to achieve, what’s the scope and is it something that… What are some of the challenges that you’re going to face along the way and are they challenges that you really are 100% committed to? There’s a lot of burnout with entrepreneurs. Often it’s incredibly stressful and puts a lot of pressure on people’s mental health and relationships. I think that it’s really important, and this is something I’ve learned is you’re really honest with yourself about why you’re doing something and why it’s important. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices and entrepreneurs, you have to be really clear if there’s sacrifices you are or you aren’t prepared to make along that journey.

Nick (09:43):

A question I like to ask seasoned entrepreneurs is this question about fear and it’s really just built on my own thesis of what makes a good entrepreneur. And my thesis is that most people, or I should say a lot of people have the same desire to be an entrepreneur, do their own thing, but either they’re struck by fear such that they never start or they get in the trenches of it and the fear stops them from going forward. Maybe they hit a wall. And so again, my thesis is that one of the characteristics of an entrepreneur is they’re not afraid to fail. How do you answer that? I mean, are you somebody that isn’t afraid to fail?

Chris Were (10:20):

Yeah, that’s very true. I mean, I have failed, so, and failure probably helps you get over that fear perhaps as well. So doing it from a young age, I definitely had a lot of fear of that. It’s actually hard for me to recall because quite a long time ago, but I definitely had fear and definitely have a lot less fear now. I mean, we all have a certain sense of fear, but I think as an entrepreneur you really have to be able to either manage that or not have that and work around it.


I see it as well with, there’s some amazing people that I’ve worked with or hired or what have you that have incredible skills that if they were an entrepreneur would do really well, but not necessarily fear of failure, but they have other things going on in their lives and they have other priorities. And so there’s a fear there that maybe there’s a fear that if they jump off into the entrepreneur world that they won’t be able to support their family or they’d have to move and things like that. I think fear can present itself in lots of different ways, and it’s a valid thing. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but it’s definitely important to understand the role of fear if you’re going to jump off and become an entrepreneur and jumping headfirst into a project.

Nick (11:31):

So if these are some of then the qualities or lessons that you’ve learned about entrepreneurship, if we shift a little bit and talk about startups themselves, again, you’ve had the opportunity to work on a handful of these things. What in your mind should every entrepreneur consider or think about when you contemplate the success or the potential success of a startup?

Chris Were (11:52):

Yeah, you definitely need perseverance. Startups are notorious for just throwing unexpected things at you, and you need to be able to work through those things and persevere and jump through hoops at times or focus on something that you’re not very good at or don’t like just to make sure that you can get to the next stage of a startup. So that’s super important. You need leadership skills. You really need to, particularly if you’re a startup and you’re building a team, you need to be able to get the best out of the people that you have in your team. Leadership is something that I probably never really thought of particularly early on. And as I had companies that grew to larger sizes and had larger teams and different layers of management, realized that that was a weakness of mine and I had to address that.

[NEW_PARAGRAPH]And so got some support there to help become more of a leader rather than I guess a tech guy, which is where I started. And then probably the other one that is really, really important is I think sales, the understanding of sales processes, how to sell something. In a way, a startup is just a constant sales process, and it’s not just selling to customers, but you’re pitching or selling to investors, you’re selling to people that you want to join your team. You’re running content that’s kind of pitching or selling your ideas or your product. So the ability to communicate effectively, sell something, tell a story that is super important for a startup, and not everyone can do that natively. So sometimes if that’s not who you are as a startup, you need to probably find somebody that is great at that. I guess that’s probably the other part of a startup is working at your own strengths and weaknesses and being able to identify them and bringing other people that can complement you that aren’t the same as you.

Nick (13:52):

Chris, I’m not sure if this is a good question or not, but I’m going to ask it because I don’t have your background and a lot of regular listeners know that I’m not technical. But if we go back in time to the late ’90s when you get your professional start in tech, clearly you’ve been working on it for a lot longer than that, and you look at where we are today in terms of coding in tech, how have things changed since that time? You’ve been on that ride. I think a lot of people working on web3 are relatively new to this space. What are you seeing changed? What’s evolved?

Chris Were (14:25):

Oh, that’s a great question. There’s so much that’s changed. When I was in high school, my mom actually used to work about 15 minutes away from the school and she happened to work right next to our library. So after school, what I would do is I’d walk up basically to the library and I’d have two or three hours in the library waiting for her to finish work before I could go home. And so my way of learning about code that I couldn’t look up stuff on the internet, and internet, it was dial up internet, but it was fairly limited. So I basically learned through reading every single computer book in our local library. That was how I had to learn. And you contrast that today where we’ve got AI and the internet and Stack Overflow, so very different learning process to start with.


That evolved to obviously the internet and being able to search for things online. But early days of the internet, there wasn’t all of the blogs and the forums and support that exists today where you can just Google a tech problem and come up with seven or eight different potential answers. That didn’t exist even in the early days of the internet. So you really had to understand the first principles of what was happening and be able to solve problems yourself. Today, there’s a lot of copy and paste kind of coding that goes on because somebody else has solved the problem and you kind of just grab that solution and apply it, but you couldn’t really do that back then. So that was definitely a challenge. And then we could talk about, I guess programming languages. Programming languages have evolved to be easier and simpler than they were back then.


I had to write shopping cart software in Perl Script, and anyone who knows Perl, it’s a language that doesn’t even look like a language. It’s very hard to understand and read, but that was the norm back in the early days of the internet, almost all of the early shopping cart software was written in Perl and CGI scripts and it was really manual hard coding of every line you had to write yourself. These days we’ve got frameworks. There’s frameworks, there’s things like Node JS with a whole vast library of different developer tools that you can just grab off the shelf and they provide a whole bunch of functionality that you can use. You don’t have to write everything yourself. So from a developer’s perspective, the ability to just grab a piece of code and use it that solves 90% of the code that you actually need to write makes things so much simpler, much more accessible and a lot quicker to build.


So that’s probably been a really important evolution is that vast library of tools. And then more recently, probably really the last six to 12 months is the next evolution that I’ve seen, and that’s things like CoPilot, so AI assistance effectively helping you write code, auto completion of code, code snippets that can kind of be just automatically inserted to understand what you’re trying to achieve, being able to talk to ChatGPT and talk to it and ask in written language some code that you want written and it’ll actually write it for you. So we’re seeing this evolution of coding becoming much more accessible to people and also becoming much more efficient, which is only a good thing. I mean, I’m a firm believer that the more people that we can have building code and technology, the better that we can kind of and more efficient that we can make our lives.

Nick (17:46):

It’s a great overview. And so double clicking on that, at some point, along this evolution of your own experience of tech and where you are today and how you got started, you became aware of crypto. When was that? What was the first impression or circumstance in which you became aware of crypto and what were you thinking about it at that time?

Chris Were (18:06):

Yeah, I think my first touch on crypto was actually Ethereum. When the Ethereum, I guess ICO was happening, somebody flicked that to me and went, “Hey, you’d be interested in this,” and I’m sure there’s many other people with the same sort of story. I looked at it and went, “Hey, this is super interesting” and completely forgot about it immediately after. I was in the midst of running another company that I’d started and that was taking probably all of my attention at the time, and I sort of looked at the theory and went, “Yeah, that looks really interesting, but I’ve got more important things to do.” Poor financial decision in hindsight.


But then moving forward, I sold out of that previous company I was running at the time and looked at what the fundamentals were of I guess this space with blockchain and crypto and looked a lot more closely the technology. And we just really just did [inaudible 00:19:01] and obviously read the Bitcoin paper and I was fascinated by I guess this really fundamental kind of shift in terms of how we can use computers and technology and have consensus algorithms and almost create this new type of societal layer that’s powered by technology. So that was incredibly fascinating and started to look at how I could apply that technology and make use of that for my own projects.

Nick (19:26):

A quick follow up, but was there a moment or an experience you had around this time that was the light bulb aha moment where you really caught the vision or would you describe it as something more gradual?

Chris Were (19:37):

I think it’s like came in fits and starts, but there was definitely a moment where I was very fascinated and driven to think about private data that we have as individuals and what that looks like. I kind of had this realization around, hey, this concept of having a private key, a secret key which can unlock my cryptocurrency, I realized the power of this encryption key that could be used to conduct transactions, interact with others and prove things.


The light bulb moment kind of happened to me then when I realized, hey, that’s amazing for digital assets and cryptocurrencies and things, but that same concept, we can actually apply to all sorts of other things. In my case, the leap that I made was, well, if you’ve got a private key that can control your crypto, you could also have a private key that could control your data. For me, that was a revelation and kind of helped me understand that these fundamentals, this technology could be applied in lots of interesting ways and that we’re really just at the start of discovering and thinking about the impact that this can have on us in the world.


Nick (21:52):

So given your background, you have vast background in web2, you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve started businesses, you’ve succeeded. Why does the world need something like web3? I mean of all people, you should be like, “Hey, this is a fad. Let’s just keep our eye on web2,” but that’s not what you did. You joined web3, so why is the world better?

Chris Were (22:14):

For me personally, my underlying motivation for working in technology and working in startups and building new products is I’m a firm believer that technology can be used to improve the world that we live in. Obviously, it can be used for harm as all things, but I’m a firm believer that technology should and can be used to make the world better for everyone. I guess the web3 movement is very aligned with that. It’s about being able to not just use a product but potentially own a part of the product or promote the product or help build the product. It’s very inclusive and I think that’s a really powerful message. We talked about a minute ago, I talked about how programming is becoming much more accessible, things like the AI programming and the different tools and things like that. There’s a greater capacity now for individuals to be involved in the development or in providing being an active role in development of some sort of new technology.


That’s incredibly powerful and really exciting. I think a world where everyone can be involved is ultimately a better one than where there’s a few massive corporations that control everything, particularly in that digital sphere, which is so important to everyone’s daily lives now. So I’m not a builder of, and maybe this has been a downfall of me at times, but I’m not building technology or software or products to make a huge amount of money. I’m building them because I think that they’re interesting or that they can help us. web3 I think is some ways the ultimate captivation of that where everyone can become a part of this and work together for a really interesting and sometimes a really massive kind of outcome that’s quite impactful across the world.

Nick (24:12):

How then do you frame the seeds of web3? I mean, do you see it as this movement that emerged as a revolution against, as I call it, the sins of web2? Or is it more of just a natural evolutionary step along this, I guess the spectrum of technology or is it something else?

Chris Were (24:34):

Oh, look, I wouldn’t be… I mean my opinion is that it’s probably started out. I mean, if you look at the Bitcoin white paper, that was framed more like a revolution, I would say. I think that’s captivated people. I think that the idea of revolution or of disruption that does captivate people, motivates them. We’ve definitely seen in the crypto space there is a lot of passion and there’s a lot of, I guess anti-establishment kind of approaches and thinking, and then that’s incredibly powerful stuff that helps motivate people, that gets people on board, and that helps drive change when change is needed.


In some ways, if you were looking at this from a marketing perspective, that’s been incredibly successful kind of marketing, if you were to think of it as something that was planned, which I don’t think it is. I think that there is an element there of that disruption and that anti-establishment has been a really significant driver. Where I think it is interesting though, is at a macro level, I think it is an evolution. So I sort of see it’s a bit of both. If you look at history, successful societies, and there’s some interesting research or things I’ve read about this in the past around evolution, and the reality is that corporation has been probably a bigger driver of successful communities and particularly in human backgrounds.


So I think that the web3 movement is fundamentally this sort of drive towards cooperation in a new type of way that isn’t driven by corporations and shareholders, but is driven by community initiatives and passion. So I actually see that that’s an evolution in a way of more mature structure of operating. I don’t think we’ve seen that maturity yet. I think there’s still a lot of learnings to happen with things like DAOs and web3 and different ways of operating governance, but I’d like to think that there’s a maturity there that’ll come, that’ll actually start to make existing corporate structures and things like that look obsolete and look kind of weak in comparison.

Nick (26:40):

Well, I have to ask, because of your background, and again, you outlined it earlier about getting started in technology at a young age and being part of, I guess the emergent and growth of web2, and now you’ve joined web3 and you’re also following that story and that trajectory, where do you place web3 in terms of that maturity? I mean, having experienced it in web2, now experiencing it in web3, I mean, where do you kind place us?

Chris Were (27:07):

Yeah, I’ve always thought that the analogy with the .com boom and bust is quite relevant. So early 2000s, we had all of this hype about the internet, people didn’t really understand it for the most part. You had a select few people saying that this is the future, and it was going to be really amazing. You had people squatting on domain names and then selling them for millions and millions of dollars. You had all of these new companies forming and listing and going, making millions and millions of dollars overnight when they listed on stock exchanges, and then six months later they were broken and out of business. And so I think there’s an analogy there of this new disruptive technology that captures the fascination of people but isn’t truly understood yet in terms of how it’s going to be best applied, what its impact’s going to be, and how to ultimately take best advantage of that.


In the web2 world, we saw newspapers trying to come onto the internet, and when they first did that, they just basically had a PDF of the newspaper and put that on the internet, which we now know is not the way that you would do it on the internet. Now we’ve got blogs and we’ve got discussion forums, we’ve got social media. Social media is an example of a completely new type of media that you couldn’t have thought of if you were just thinking in the context of print media. So there’s a learning curve, a discovery time that has to happen to work out how to best apply the technology and turn that into new products and services that obviously are to become ultimately incredibly disruptful. If we look at where we’re at with web3, it’s been a little bit more, I think it’s been a bit slower in a way.


There’s definitely a similar trajectory there of early fascination, a huge amount of interest, a little bit of uncertainty in terms of how this technology should best be applied. One of the challenges is that the concepts are quite complicated, the consensus algorithms and things like that, performance has been an issue with blockchain, so that’s been a barrier to mass adoption and things like that. I think web3 has a few things holding against it. One is still an early understanding of how to apply this technology for mass market products. And also the technology is still evolving quite rapidly. We’ve seen that with so many different L1s with different technology approaches to scaling Ethereum and these L2s and then zero-knowledge rollups and things like that. So we kind of have this convergence of once we get this convergence of tech maturity and I guess product maturity, that’s when we’ll start to see the mass adoption occur.

Nick (29:54):

It’s a great answer. Let’s jump then to 2019, and it’s around this time then that you launched Verida. What’s the origin story behind Verida? What were you thinking about at the time and was there a specific problem or opportunity you were contemplating?

Chris Were (30:13):

Yeah, so in 2010, I’d started a company here in Australia called Community Data Solutions. And we were building these bespoke CRM systems for nonprofit organizations where we would store a lot of sensitive information. The typical workflow was that an organization would purchase our software, that everyone would have an account. These organizations were dealing with clients that had lots of sensitive issues, so things like gambling, addiction, financial issues, domestic violence, mental health issues. So basically these organizations were entering in case notes and a lot of sensitive information about their clients into our computer systems. And so I’ve got a lot of experience in both building technology to protect user data, but also I really got a deep understanding of the underlying human problems that people were facing in the world.


We were a startup. So as a founder, you sort of have to do a bit of everything. And so probably the first 50 customers that we had, I personally went around the country and trained in our software, and I always asked the same question. I was like, “Okay, ignoring our software, pretend that you don’t know who I am, but what’s some of the biggest problems that you actually face in your day to day?” I was always curious about people’s problems and I realized I got some common feedback. It didn’t matter where I was, who I was talking to, there was a really common theme where it would say, “Hey Chris, we loved your software. It’s solving our problem, it’s doing a great job. But what’s happening is we have these clients that come in, they tell us their story, and we sit down with them for 40 minutes, maybe an hour, they relive a whole bunch of traumatic experiences. I put all of this information into a computer system and that’s great, but then I go and refer this person to three or four other organizations and services.”


And that client then has to go and repeat their story every single time. And it’s traumatic for them to do that. And oftentimes they actually won’t go and get that help because they don’t want to repeat and go through that trauma again. I realized that while we were selling this successful product, it was a SaaS product, it was in the cloud, it was actually causing this human problem because the individuals that ultimately were needing support were getting lost in this. They were losing a sense of their own digital identity and their story and their data. Once I sold that company, I really kind of thought about that problem a lot and realized that SaaS business models, this idea of software as a service computing in the cloud has meant that we put our information into another system all the time and somebody else controls that and we lose control of that data as an individual.


And I wanted to change that. So I started to look at crypto because the concept of not your keys, not your crypto, really resonated. I was like, well, if we can do that with crypto, we can do not your keys, not your data. How do we have ability for user to control their identity and data and actually control who has access to that as opposed to us giving it away all the time? And so it was through that personal experience through that other company that really formed my, I guess, strong take that this is a really important problem to solve.


Around that time as well, we had the Cambridge Analytica hack. Facebook had all this data made available, the Cambridge Analytica took advantage of, tried to manipulate US elections and did a whole range of analysis of people with psychometric testing and things like that. It was really obvious to me that there was also a broader problem here with large tech companies misusing our data. And at some point there’s going to need to be a change there, whether that’s culturally, whether that’s through the tech companies or whether that’s through government regulation. Interestingly enough, we’re seeing all of that starting to happen today.

Nick (34:06):

Where does the name Verida come from?

Chris Were (34:09):

It’s a play on three different words. So verification, identity and data. That’s I guess the three key tenets that I see are really important here. So having your identity, having your data, but just as important, you need to be able to verify the authenticity of both identities and data because without the verification, it’s just a bunch of untrusted worthless information.

Nick (34:32):

That’s a great overview and it kind of steps us into what Verida has grown to become. But to reset the table for listeners and establish some context here, what is Verida and what is it presently working on?

Chris Were (34:45):

We are a web3 organization. We have, I guess a mandate focused on decentralized user controlled data. What that ultimately means is that we’ve developed a decentralized network of storage nodes that can store private information for users. So the data is encrypted on the user’s device, there’s authentication and access controls applied to the data. And then as a user, your data is stored across multiple nodes on the Verida network. It’s sovereign in nature. So unlike other storage networks like, people might be familiar with IPFS or Arweave. Those networks are really designed for public data and as a user, you don’t have any control over where your data is stored, but with Verida, you can guarantee that your data is stored in a particular country, a particular region. You can even spin up your own nodes and not post your data on the network, but host the data just on your own infrastructure, but have interoperability with the rest of the network.


So our focus is really around user control over their data user agency in terms of where that data is stored, we have a real focus on regulatory compliance. So the ability to enforce deletion of your data from the network, enforce deletion of your identity on the network, which is actually technically quite challenging and something that we’ve implemented and is really important to us. So we’re really focused on this user agency and control over data, but that’s as a protocol level. But then obviously, and talking to my point before, you can have great technology, but you need to be able to build product and you need to be able to turn that into something that people can use every day.


We’ve also developed the Verida wallet, which is a mobile phone application that is like an interface to the data storage network. As a user, you can see your data, you can consent to sharing your data with different applications. You can scan a QR code to single sign on and unlock a crypto wallet and data wallet. You can receive credentials like digital passports or driver’s licenses and generate zero knowledge proofs of those to prove something about yourself. So we’ve created this new type of mobile wallet that’s both a crypto wallet, but also a data and identity wallet. And so that is an end user product, but it’s also has an SDK so that developers start to build new types of web3 applications that aren’t just blockchain crypto. They can also use people’s data, digital identity and use that in a consensual privacy preserving way.

Nick (37:20):

Chris, you mentioned a wallet there and a token, and I am curious about how that fits into Verida, and I don’t know if that’s a component of how you monetize the protocol and what you’re working on there, but beyond that, I’m also interested in your vision for how a wallet like this functions in a world where there are a bunch of wallets and they’re primarily used for DeFi and things like that. So what’s your answer to that?

Chris Were (37:46):

Yeah, so the Verida network is a protocol. We are familiar with blockchains where you have a token that pays for gas for transactions. The Verida network, we have a token, it doesn’t pay for transactions, but it pays for your data storage. So the analogy there is you might have five tokens, and the exchange rate means that five tokens means you can store 50 megabytes of data for one month. That’s the purpose of our token. It’s really the utility token on the storage side and people that operate nodes, they can buy our token and stake it, and that gives them the right to earn an income from the network from people that are storing their data with your node. That’s where that comes in. Our wallet is really bringing together all of these technologies into one user experience. So it’s a crypto wallet.


We support a range of different EVM networks like Ethereum and Polygon and things like that. So it’s a traditional crypto wallet, but it’s also a data wallet. So your one seed phrase not only unlocks your cryptocurrencies, but also unlocks your data and your digital identity as a user. So where we’re seeing adoption of this at the moment, particularly with a partnership with Polygon ID, is the ability for a user to have say a KYC credential that’s reusable and they can then, as a user, you could generate a zero knowledge proof on the blockchain to prove that you’ve been KYC’d, but without actually providing any of your personal information. But you could also use that same KYC credential. We’ve got a partner in the United States for inclusive where you could use that credential and open a bank account. So part of the initiative with this wallet is trying to bring together both traditional web2 with this emerging web3 space.


If we look forward, say the next three or four years, what’s happening in Europe is really interesting and exciting. Europe has a digital wallet initiative where in the coming years there’s going to be 400 million people in Europe that will all need a digital wallet for storing of passports, driver’s licenses, other credentials, and that’s not a crypto wallet, that’s a wallet focused just on these credentials and proving your identity across the whole of the Euro zone. And so what we’ve done with Verida is actually bringing these together today. So bringing together this identity wallet, we’re using the same standards as what’s happening in Europe, having the ability to store your data in a decentralized network rather than having to store your credentials with Apple or Google, which we think is a much better long-term solution. But we’ve also paired that with the crypto wallet.


And so that’s what we expect will happen over the coming years in Europe and other countries. There’s going to be these digital wallets for credentials, but there’ll also be central bank digital currencies. So we now start to have this sort of blockchain wallet and really what we’ve built with our mobile app is a showcase of what we think that future’s going to look like. We’ve built it here today. It’s crypto, it’s identity, it’s data, it’s credentials, it’s proving all of that in an authentic way. That’s where we think the world’s heading. Hopefully we’ll turn out to be correct and we’ll see you in a few years time.

Nick (40:49):

So let’s make some distinctions here and maybe it boils down to some use cases, but I think a lot of listeners might be thinking, “Okay, well, what Chris just described there in essence is blockchain and blockchain data. Every time you have a wallet, every time you transact on Ethereum or Solana or somewhere else, there is a transaction on the blockchain. And that’s my data, therefore it’s public data. Here you’re talking about private data and personal data. So maybe the way there is through a use case example or something, but can you just form that distinction a little bit such that we understand what Verida is focusing on? It might be different than like you said, IPFS, Arweave, some of these other data storage.

Chris Were (41:30):

Yeah, sure. So you’re exactly right. So blockchains do have data. They have transactions that have been confirmed, and you can have a smart contract that can store state variables, but that data is public and that data is very small in terms of the amount of data you can store on a blockchain. A blockchain is designed for transactions. It’s not designed really for data storage. IPFS, Arweave, they are decentralized storage networks designed for data storage, but the use case there is storing things like documents or large images or videos. So they’re very well suited to file storage and public file storage. What Verida is doing is private database data. So the use cases that we’re targeting is things like a digital passport that does need to be kept really secure and needs to be stored in a way that can be retrieved very quickly in a matter of seconds or less, as opposed to something like IPFS, which can take minutes.


Things like healthcare data, the ability to scan a QR code at your doctor’s office and receive all of your medical records and sync them on your phone and then go to a specialist and scan a QR code and consent to sharing just a subsection of your medical records with that medical professional. That scenario requires a whole range of technology to make that happen in a secure way. You need to be able to decrypt the data, do filter queries on it, re-encrypt the data. It has to be very fast. There’s a whole bunch of pieces to that implementation to make that a reality.


That’s the problem we’re solving, that private user data and that opens up all sorts of new use cases for web3. If you’ve got health data and you can use that in a privacy preserving way and use that with blockchain, well suddenly you can unlock decentralized health insurance as a new type of web3 product because health insurance needs to know something about the individual to offer that insurance product. But we can’t do that today because we don’t have the ability to manage that private data and do that in a way that protects the individual.

Nick (43:32):

So Chris, as you know, listeners of this podcast are enthusiastic about The Graph and data. And you were talking a moment ago about decentralized storage nodes and people that are active within The Graph ecosystem will recognize that as an Indexer within The Graph Network. And so if you contrast and compare what you are doing with something like The Graph, how do you make that distinction?

Chris Were (43:54):

Yeah, firstly, I’m a huge fan of The Graph. We in Verida early on actually went to one of the early Graph conferences and then we sponsored a hackathon because we could see there’s a really strong alignment there in terms of thinking about how we use data and doing that in really new and interesting ways. So huge shout out to The Graph there. Verida is focused on firstly and foremostly the data for an individual and protecting that. But then the next step of that is using that data in a meaningful way to benefit the individual. There’s lots of different ways that that can happen. One of the ways is allowing lots of individuals to collate their data together in a way that creates value. So if you look at The Graph, obviously The Graph is indexing all this data from public blockchains and creating this new data set that’s valuable, that’s queryable and can provide insights and all sorts of things. And so there’s a lot of value that’s being created there.


We see a future state where something like The Graph will exist, maybe The Graph will extend their scope or something new will exist where there’s the ability for an individual to anonymously consent to contributing their data into some sort of large global Indexer. That Indexer, there could be lots of different indexes for lots of different industries, different purposes and use that to drive new types of use cases and value. Again, I’ll use health as an example. Health is only one area that we can do a lot of stuff with Verida, but it’s a really good use case to talk to. In the future, we could have healthcare researchers that want to research a new drug, and so they could put out a call for people who are using the Verida network, who have their healthcare data to anonymously contribute that data to some sort of healthcare Indexer.


And they could request information such as what’s your resting heart rate which comes and a sign from your Apple Watch, how physically active are you, and you get information from your Strava or your Fitbit. So there’d be this ability for people to contribute this data, perhaps they get some cryptocurrency in return from the researchers for contributing that data. And then there’s this large data set that can be queried and monitored. That’s a really interesting solution because it allows for consent. The user is consenting to the use of their data, which is a really painful and expensive problem in healthcare research. There’s also the ability there to directly reward individuals perhaps with either cryptocurrency or token that makes it worthwhile for them.


That’s just probably one example, but I think that there’s going to be a need for indexing services for querying aggregation of private data done with consent, and that’s going to become a huge industry, a huge space. I mean that’s really the market research space that exists today, and that’s a huge industry in its own.

Nick (46:52):

That makes a lot of sense, and I think that distinction will be helpful for listeners. I do want to extrapolate a little bit from what you said there and maybe apply this lens or use case of what we saw with COVID and the global pandemic. I mean, I think there’s been a lot of fallout there, a lot of concern about what happened with COVID, what were the statistics and the data related to it? Who was being impacted? I’m just curious. I mean, have you ever thought about if Verida was fully adopted throughout the world, how something like COVID could have gone differently?

Chris Were (47:28):

I think about it a lot. When COVID really came about was really at the time that our technology was at the point where, hey, this thing works and it can do all these cool things. And so it was kind of frustrating, obviously looking at what the technology we had and what was happening with COVID and the problems that governments were facing, people were facing and knowing that we had a really good solution here, but obviously we were too early and the timing wasn’t right. Some examples of that is there was so much fanfare around being able to prove if you were COVID positive or negative. If you’ve been tested, when had you been tested? Did you have a PDF that proved that you were negative, but then somebody sort of altered the PDF and put their friend’s name on it so that now their friend can prove that they’re COVID negative?


There was a whole range of really interesting questions around trust and authenticity of health data, personal rights. Do you have the right to request if I can… Have I got a COVID test result? And so what we have done with Verida is we’ve got all this infrastructure now where in theory you could have all of the health services in a particular country could just basically have a QR code that somebody could scan and they get a digital representation of a COVID test result or of their status or of tests that they’ve done, which is an interesting first step. But beyond that, there was a sort of flow on effect of impact. So I know here in Australia we had lockdowns that were quite well publicized and the government started to do initiatives where if you’d tested positive to COVID, you couldn’t go to work for two weeks, then you could get vouchers to do shopping from home, or you had vouchers to get COVID tests sent to you, things like that.


Interesting enough with what we’ve done with Verida is we have an infrastructure now where you could, in a privacy preserving way, prove that you’ve had a positive COVID test and then in exchange receive a signed credential from a government that gives you rights to purchase products or to obtain some sort of benefit and do all of this in a privacy preserving way. Whereas the way that our government had to implement that was you basically had to give all of your data to the government and then they had to kind of put it in through their databases and do their processing, and there was no protections around the individual’s rights there, and it was very efficient and very slow to build these systems.


So yeah, I think there’s a lot that our technology could do in that sort of scenario, but you can’t go from zero to a hundred. You can have the technology, but having awareness of it, having trust of the technology, having it proven and then ultimately getting adoption, that’s a long journey. And so we’re realistic that while we might have the technology, there’s still a lot of steps to jump through before something like what we’ve built with Verida could become broadly adopted at that level.

Nick (50:30):

Chris, that’s a great answer, super helpful for me as I understand the different types of data that exist in web3 and the different solutions that will emerge to address those different use cases. If listeners want to learn more about Verida and some of the things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to connect?

Chris Were (50:48):

Yeah, there’s a few different ways. You can visit, and that’s the website for our underlying protocol and the storage network that I talked to. If you’re interested in learning about the technology, perhaps you want to build or you’ve got an idea that you want to build a web3 product that’s using our technology, that’s the place to start. There’s developer documentation. There’s information about how the protocol works. So that’s a really great starting point.


There’s also, which is where you can download the mobile wallet that I was talking about. So you can download our wallet on your phone, learn about how that works, and if you do that, I’d definitely recommend that you visit our Missions app. So Effectively, you can use the mobile app to sign in, you can start to claim data, so you can go through some of our partners. You can claim credentials like a proof of humanity or identity credential. You can do things like prove your Steam credentials if you’re a gamer. It’s a really great way to learn about the network, how it works, how we’re helping people claim their identity, claim their data and use that. They’re really great ways to learn about what we’re doing. If you want to get even more involved on our websites, you’ve got links to our Discord and our Twitter or X accounts as well, and you can follow what we’re doing that way.

Nick (52:09):

Well, Chris, I always conclude each Episode of the podcast off with the GRTiQ 10, and I ask these questions to help listeners get to know the guests a little bit better, but clearly these answers help inspire listeners to learn something new, try something different, or achieve more in their own life. So Chris, are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?

Chris Were (52:27):

Yeah, let’s do it.

Nick (52:39):

What book or articles had the most impact on your life?

Chris Were (52:43):

So probably one of the ones that had a real impact was the biography of Steve Jobs. It’s a really interesting insight into somebody who was obviously very successful professionally, but also personally he wasn’t perfect. It was a bit of a warts and all, and it’s nice to sort of, I think, peel that layer back a little bit and look at the full person, but from a professional sense as well, his leadership, his focus on user experience, his passion, there’s a lot in there that you can learn from and also look with a clear lens and work out which parts of that you think are worth taking on board yourself and which ones perhaps aren’t.

Nick (53:26):

Is there a movie or a TV show that you recommend everybody should watch?

Chris Were (53:30):

Yeah, definitely. It has to be Black Mirror for me. Black Mirror is, as somebody focused on technology, it can be quite scary looking at some of the Episodes of Black Mirror because you can see how they can become a reality. But I think it’s a really important thing, series for people to watch because you can learn about some of the dangers of the technology, and we all have to be quite vigilant on how we’re applying it and using it.

Nick (53:52):

How about this one, if you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

Chris Were (53:57):

That would have to be Nirvana Unplugged in New York. That’s a great album.

Nick (54:01):

What’s the best life advice someone’s ever given to you?

Chris Were (54:03):

I think the importance of listening and then asking questions. I think that that’s the way that you kind of move forward in life. Also, I guess part of that is sometimes when you are having an important conversation, you can want to fill the void and talk, but you actually learn a lot more if you just pause a bit longer and let the other person speak and learn from them.

Nick (54:29):

What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know yet?

Chris Were (54:34):

I’d say I probably was a bit late to the ball in kind of working this one out, but just the importance of timing. You can’t force timing. Some things just have to be at the right time, and so whether that’s with technology, timing is obviously really important. Some technology is mature or aren’t mature relationships. You can meet someone at the right time or the wrong time, and I think we underestimate the importance of timing. You’re having a great idea, but it could be the wrong time. So I think it’s really important that people kind of think carefully about what they’re doing and if it’s the right time to be doing that or perhaps it’s the future.

Nick (55:08):

Well, what’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?

Chris Were (55:11):

I’m not sure if it’s a life hack, but I really think just not skimping on your physical or mental health. At the end of the day, we’re human beings and we’re not robots, and it’s super important that we have a strong foundation of being healthy and looking after ourselves and everything else can follow from there.

Nick (55:28):

If you look back on your own life experience and observations, what’s the one habit or characteristic that you think best explains how people find success in their life?

Chris Were (55:40):

Maybe not so much a habit, but a focus is, I think just finding that passion. What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? If you’re not getting up and excited to start the day, life can be kind of miserable. So I think if you’re going to be successful, you really should try to find that passion that drives you.

Nick (56:02):

And then the final three questions, Chris, are complete the sentence type questions. So the first one is complete the sentence. The thing that most excites me about web3 is…

Chris Were (56:11):

The ability to put power into the hands of individuals instead of giant corporations.

Nick (56:15):

And how about this one? If you’re on X, formerly Twitter, and I guess now even Farcaster, you should be following…

Chris Were (56:22):

I’m actually going to say Elon, Elon Musk, and I say that because he’s just such a fascinating character and you never know what you’re going to get.

Nick (56:32):

And then lastly, complete this one. I’m happiest when…

Chris Were (56:36):

I’m happiest when I’ve achieved my goals for the day, and I’m able to spend some quality time with the family.

Speaker 8 (56:42):

The GRTiQ 10.

Speaker 10 (56:46):

Can I show you how [inaudible 00:56:47]?

Speaker 4 (56:46):

Podcast over.

Nick (56:50):

Chris, thank you so much for coming on the GRTiQ Podcast and sharing not only your background and your story into web3, but also about Verida and some of the exciting things you and the team are working on. If listeners want to learn more about you and follow your work, what’s the best way for them to stay in touch?

Chris Were (57:06):

You can follow me on X, so Tahpot, T-A-H-P-O-T. That’s the best way to follow me.


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DISCLOSURE: GRTIQ is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any other way connected with The Graph, or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates.  This material has been prepared for information purposes only, and it is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, tax, legal, financial, or investment advice. The content for this material is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The Graph token holders should do their own research regarding individual Indexers and the risks, including objectives, charges, and expenses, associated with the purchase of GRT or the delegation of GRT.