Crypto Disrupt got the chance to speak to Blue Whale CEO Will Lee earlier this week as he prepares for a TED Talk in a couple of weeks.
The freelance economy is booming, and with those numbers set to continue rising into 2019, independent workers are looking to see how they can improve their working lives.
Pensions, paid time off, and insurance are all issues that have troubled most freelance workers over the years.
Enter Blue Whale, the decentralized ecosystem for the self-employed.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with Crypto Disrupt, we appreciate it!
Can you tell us how you first got involved in the industry, and how this led you to Blue Whale?
I studied computer science at Stanford University.
My experience operating Verlocal, an online marketplace for creatives, led me to realize the radical shift towards freelancing in global workplace trends. After five years, it was clear the existing system was not optimized for the majority of independent contractors and freelancers to succeed.
They currently face a lack of job security in terms of employee benefits and insurance, encounter high commission fees, with little access to marketing tools to effectively go digital.
What are current freelance marketplaces, such as Upwork, doing that blockchain does significantly better?
The self-governing aspect of the blockchain is a key reason why we exist as an alternative to such platforms – not just Upwork or Fiverr. These platforms connect buyers and sellers, demand and supply. They build an online environment and interface that makes it easy for two sides in any given marketplace to interact and transact easily. But in exchange, they charge extortionate commission fees upwards of 30%.
The whole point of freelancing is autonomy, building an income stream where you can have financial freedom and also the freedom of your time. But when these platforms begin to monopolize a marketplace, they become the new tax collectors, the rentiers of the modern economy.
The Blue Whale Foundation is leveraging on blockchain technology not just to reduce the commission structure, but also to create a self-governing ecosystem where all of the functionalities these tech companies provide on the platform are created, paid for, and used by the community.
In your opinion, what is the biggest problem for freelancers that blockchain technology solves?
Being a slave to a single platform. When you’re stuck with a single platform, and a single company that runs that platform, you are going to face increasing commission fees and not a whole lot of value in exchange. That’s like going back to being stuck at a 9 – 5; except that nine-to-fivers have insurance and benefits.
On the other end of the spectrum, how is blockchain aiding the HR department when hiring freelancers?
Blockchain technology happens to be one of the most secure and advanced forms of what we call “distributed ledger technologies” or DLTs. It’s a “ledger” because it keeps track of a list of transactions shared with people in a network. It’s “distributed” because everyone in that network has an identical copy of this ledger, and they can see all the previous versions of it – like a shared Google document. Now every time a change has to be made, a majority of the people on the network have to agree – or reach consensus – about the change. Once everyone agrees, the change is made, and everyone can see the newly edited version. The fact that its “distributed” this way grants reliability and security as it stores data that can’t be altered without majority approval from the network.
Now in 2013 alone, roughly 3,000 false degrees were being sold. Also, 75% of HR managers have reported catching a lie in a resume. Blockchain holds the potential to quickly and reliably eliminate fraud by giving job seekers the potential to create a digital file of their educational qualifications, portfolios, past reviews, and on the other hand, permits employers to verify the accreditation of potential hires within minutes or hours at most. Traditionally, this process takes weeks to confirm.
It’s no surprise the number of gig workers in the sharing economy has rapidly risen. Do you see this continuing into 2019?
Freelancing is booming. In 2017, there were over 57 million freelancers in the U.S., which is a 30 percent increase from 2016. This number is made up of full-time freelancers as well as those who do a combination of traditional jobs and freelance work. If freelancing continues to grow in this way, it’s estimated that by 2027, half the country’s workforce will be freelancers. Automation has started to make many traditional jobs obsolete. Freelancers’ frequent reskilling makes them well equipped for the future because their abilities are constantly growing and changing as needed.
Can you list a few roadblocks to full adoption of blockchain in the sharing economy?
Well like anything really, adoption will take time – as with all new technologies, people are going to be unfamiliar with it, there are teething issues. But more importantly, I think that a lot of the blockchain projects in the sharing economy right now face challenges with getting people on board with cryptocurrencies. Until those mature, and resolve the issues they currently have with volatility, user-friendliness, it’s going to be a challenge to get the everyday person to trust it.
Now, this seems like it is incredibly difficult, and it is. But I don’t think it is at all impossible. We already trust store and online coupons almost as much as we trust fiat currencies. They’re not backed by a central bank or sovereign wealth fund, but yet they work just fine as currencies.
It seems there’s plenty of exciting plans in place at Blue Whale, so what do you have planned as far as future developments go?
Our strong team of seasoned in-house developers is happy to announce the upcoming release of the Blue Whale Network’s Alpha products in October of this year.
We have two products lined up for release: a SaaS solution for small businesses and an offline-to-online (O2O) marketplace.
Lover of all things crypto, blockchain and AI, professional tech scribe & part of the editorial team at Crypto Disrupt.