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The Big Interview

Q&A: Pixie’s Greg Barden

Following a remarkable career leaping from the battlefield to the rugby pitch, one entrepreneur is giving small businesses the tools to pick a fight with the big boys

At the age of 20, Greg Barden became the youngest person to complete UK Special Forces Selection before joining the elite Special Boat Service, seeing service in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries across the world. He then captained England’s rugby 7s team. Today, he has transitioned into the world of technology creating a payments app that brings together local independent services. He’s fighting an epic battle against the likes of Amazon by helping the many Davids fight the Goliaths who he says want to “take over every part of our lives”. Here, he explains it all to Coin Rivet’s Olivier Acuna…

 

Coin Rivet: Greg, from boy wonder in the elite special forces of the UK’s Royal Marines to becoming involved in blockchain and crypto, how did this happen?

Greg Barden: Yes, a good question that I ask myself sometimes. Well, it mainly came out of experiences whilst I was serving in places where you’d probably expect for certain things not to be experienced, for example in Afghanistan and Iraq, and actually getting out on the ground and meeting local people who weren’t trying to hurt you or whatever else, but actually just trying to get on with their lives and I always and always revolved around a community situation in which locals traders and small business owners in some of the most worse places such as Baghdad, Basrah etc, had a common thing to just get on with their daily lives. This was the same in many places around the world, and for whatever reasons we were there, but where I actually was able to meet real local people; the majority of them just wanted to get on with their lives, live in relative safety and bring up their families. These things stuck with me all through that time.

I left the military and had an interim career playing rugby here in the UK. It was in that time that I already had an underlined passion for technology, and I just kept coming back to these experiences and how they changed my thinking, and I’m looking at where the world was at that time or still is, I suppose; and where am I going online where there’s more convenience on demand or convenience to isolation, you know, ordering and living our lives more and more from the comfort of our sofas and behind our screens, which has a place in our society; this isn’t a damning of that, but we’re also human beings and we need social interaction and it came to my belief that independent businesses give us this common ground where we can get out and meet each other in this neutral environment and where we can experience each other regardless of where we’re from and our religion and so on. So, that is the underlined passion and idea, but what was obviously missing and where the world was going was that technology was massively underserving the local economies and the likes of Amazon and here in the UK the supermarkets and other online marketplaces were drawing more and more people through price and convenience over which independent businesses cannot compete because they have costs that are usually higher than online marketplaces; they’ve got premises, and therefore rents, utility bills, etcetera, which means they have to be able to offer something different as opposed to convenience and price, and what they can do is provide that personal relationship, the knowledge, the experience in and around whatever it is that their selling

There are actually local butchers, bakers, pubs, cafes, shops – you name it – these people are out there trying to make a living, and they can offer us something very unique and very different to what the likes of all these online places can.

CR: Can we say in more straightforward terms that today your fight is no longer in wars or conflicts around the world, but against multinational corporations that in one way or the other are taking over smaller business?

GB: Actually, these multinationals want to own every part of our lives, so if we are blunt, then yes! I don’t want to live in a world where it is sanitised, and one or two companies own every part of our lives. I want a diverse place or marketplace where we can go and experience each other and different things; independent businesses provide that to us.

CR: Explain why Pixie and what is so unique about Pixie?
GB: Pixie is mission-driven: we are obviously a technology-based company. We’re driving it forward with our mission continually making sure that we remain on course. What’s different about us is that we only serve a specific market that is independent businesses, which are classified as five units or less, so no franchises, no chains, no online stores; they have to have brick and mortar and be within our local communities and we’re trying to create this local world. Through Pixie’s platform, you can discover these places which are getting harder and harder to find as they get pushed by franchises, chains and multinationals to the peripheries and as we lead faster and faster lives and people expect things on demand. We’re trying to find solutions to these problems and trying to put these amazing places within our palms, and through our smartphones, so you can quickly and easily discover them and, crucially, being rewarded for doing so. Independent businesses by nature are fragmented, and they’re out there fighting the big guys and everything else that comes with operating as a small business on their own. We’re trying to create this umbrella that unites them so that they become not just one David but thousands of Davids taking on the big Goliaths and having an impact on society. One of the ways we’re doing that is by creating a loyalty scheme that sits across all of them. We call it the ‘all for one and one for all’ after The Three Musketeers that allows you to go in and earn points in one business that will be equal to real money that you can spend in any other local independent business creating a much stronger local economy. That can be knit from New York, San Francisco to London to Sidney to Johannesburg; eventually, that is our mission.

CR: This sounds like Pixie is picking a fight with companies like Amazon. Is this something that is in your mind as you carry out your mission?

GB: Yes! That’s what we’re doing at Pixie. This is my personal battle, I suppose. However, we’re trying to be very positive because independent businesses can’t stand on their own two feet. They just need help in letting people know that they’re there. However, yes, Amazon wants to own every single part of our lives. We know they’re going back to brick and mortar as Mr Bezos is doing in the United States. He and his Amazon aim to be the only player in the game. I believe that if one company owns every part of our lives is to be absolutely detrimental to our society and culture.

CR: How would you briefly explain what inspired you to create Pixie?

GB: I want to live in a world of diversity, different experiences and I believe independent businesses are at the heart of that.

CR: How would you explain how Pixie works?

GB: Pixie is an app you can download off of Android and Apple stores, and you use it very similarly to Airbnb through which you can discover local independent business across different communities in the UK for the moment, and eventually, around the world. Once you find these places, you want to go and experience you go in and pay using the app at which point you earn rewards universally across all the businesses. The more you use Pixie, the more rewards you accumulate as real money that you can then spend back at all these businesses.

CR: You’ve already basically explained it, but could you tell us just how Pixie plans to disrupt the business sector?

GB: I believe the middle ground is that people are either online or actual shopping experience. So there should be a place for convenience and rightly so. Here in the UK, we’re already seeing the main High Street where bigger chains are migrating to online, leaving space for independent business to grow back into from an experiential sort of quality over quantity. We at Pixie believe as a team that us as human beings we need that, we want that in our lives and independent businesses can provide that and then we have a choice between convenience and price, experience and quality, but not only that, independent business can compete on price; it’s just a point that we need to get across in our narrative going forward.

CR: How many users does Pixie have currently?

GB: We have over 5,000 in and around Bath, Sherborne, Frome, which are our three first communities. These users are active and using Pixie as a form of payment at the local independent businesses they have decided they want to experience and they are earning their reward points and spending that money locally. We’re growing into Bruton as well as London as our first international city, from which we aim to expand to the rest of the world.

CR: Is there a shopping volume through Pixie that you can already reveal?

GB: Yes, we keep track of what we call a transaction value which is currently at more than £250,000 going through the payment system. This is money not going through Visa or Mastercard, but through our ‘emoney-based’ system, through which we will be running our hybrid cryptocurrency in the future.

CR: How high do you estimate that transaction value to go and in what period?

GB: Our model relies on scalability, and our mission is to create a more local world, so we’re projecting to grow to about 100,000 businesses in the next five years. The transaction value is expected to grow exponentially, but it’s based on how many users we manage to get onto our platform and the average transaction value and volume, which is what we’re driving forward at the moment.

CR: How do you see yourself, your team and Pixie bringing about change within the crypto and blockchain space?

GB: As we see it, no one has cracked the utility of blockchain in the real world, and there’s been lots of talk and lots of promises, especially, in 2017 when the majority of the money was raised. I believe that is mainly because people have come more from a blockchain point rather than from the real world, from on the ground and understanding how the technology can impact. We’ve been doing it for four years now.

We’ve been pounding the streets, understanding the problems and the issues facing not only independent businesses but users, so we looked at blockchain from a holistic standpoint. It can it solve a problem from our experience, and the answer was, categorically, yes, and so we’ve gone about it from a ground-up point of view rather than saying blockchain can solve this said here are the problems and asked ourselves, can blockchain solve this? The answer is yes, and we see a real-world use for blockchain and creating a local currency that drives value to our local economies and more and more around the world.

We’ve got several mechanisms to ensure that through the rewards and creating a circle economy and driving value into our token which is the key thing. The more we can drive value into that and the more users we sign on means more money being spent locally, filtering through local hands creating and stimulating liquidity in our virtual currency creating a circle economy so that it is not being exited back into fiat currency, That’s the key aspect of our decision to migrate our platform to blockchain.

CR: In general, what benefits do you believe these revolutionary technologies will bring to the world?

GB: I’m going to stick to blockchain here. If you think of our mission to grow the local economy in effect what we’re trying to do is create a decentralised world which takes us back to Amazon, which is trying to become the only player in the world, similarly with fiat currencies and central authorities control other aspects. Pixie wants to be at the centre of creating a decentralised currency that fits the purpose and serves our mission and our users and businesses to ensure that more money remains within our local economies and that is not going off to Visa or Mastercard, the Amazons and the central banks of the world but instead through blockchain, through this amazing technology that has this massive potential if utilised in a way which isn’t about speculation and self-gain through price variation. That this story migrates to real-world use solving real-world issues and ensures greater equality across the world by more money filtering through local hands.

CR: Do you believe crypto and blockchain can solve the global issues and problems that politicians have not been able to solve?

GB: One hundred per cent! Blockchain has this ability to decentralise power and ensure that more money is distributed more democratically. It has the potential to enable people to spend money and receive money through a local currency. The possibilities around creating liquidity in our local economies that have been left out here in the cold by banks. It’s harder and harder for people to get loans and kickstart their own careers and entrepreneurship and that we are relying more and more on the bigger chains. That we need to create this local liquidity which blockchain enables us to do and I’m hoping Pixie will part of that solution by offering among the things mentioned above microloans to stimulate local entrepreneurship to create those local businesses to bring back that ownership to our local communities which leads to pride and so on.

CR: What is your stance on regulation?

GB: We’re all for it. We’re making sure Pixie stays ahead of regulation. We’ve made sure our token and our ICO goes above and beyond. For the time being, I cannot mention that partners we’re working with until it’s time to announce them publicly. We want Pixie to be used in the right way, by the right people. So from a KYC (know your customer) and our side, we’re making sure that Pixie stays ahead of any regulatory requirements that have already been set and with which we already deal with; I know the regulations very well, and we’ve made sure that as part of our migration to blockchain that we’ve stayed ahead of that.

CR: What’s your stance on centralisation and decentralisation?

GB: I believe that the more ownership among our communities has an impact on society. So I’m very philosophical about this. I believe in decentralisation. I think that the more ownership that we have within the local communities and at the micro level, so from our understanding Pixie has the mission to create that more decentralised world through independent businesses being able to thrive. We support this through a decentralised currency, by which a better way of life can be promoted.

CR: Do you believe cryptocurrency will one day substitute fiat currency or will they co-exist?

GB: I indeed believe they can work side by side. I think, from what I can understand at the moment and through Pixie’s glasses that we can run side by side. We want the Pixie token to stand alongside any fiat currency in the world. We want people to eventually price their goods and services against the Pixie currency as well as fiat. There’s a reason why we’re going down this currency route, and I feel it’s fit for purpose and solves real-world problems. We know that fiats are centrally-backed and so it’s very secure, and they have their part in helping. I believe in several cryptocurrencies gaining traction around the world although maybe on a more micro-level in a more specific marketplace. So, at Pixie we don’t want to replace fiat, we’ve got a very specific marketplace we want to serve, and we don’t want Pixie to be used in franchises or chains or online. I believe technology will enable money to be moved around efficiently and securely enough for currencies to co-exist.

CR: Do you believe governments, banks and multinationals implementing blockchain despite its decentralised nature?

GB: I do, I think it’s a matter of time. You can see where the market is already going and how they’re trying to create their instruments to tap into this asset class. The utility of it and the significant potential it has, and I believe governments, banks and multinationals want to make sure they take advantage of its potential uses.

CR: What has been your most significant challenge?

GB: We came from a real-world problem, so we had to find a solution because we didn’t want to build our own protocol. There are many clever people out there doing this, and in a more advanced way than us, so we had to carry out major due diligence around the right blockchain protocol that allows us to solve the real-world problems we are targeting. We went through our process and shortlisted, and in the end, we chose Stellar for a whole host of reasons. It was a very lengthy but excellent process to understand where the broader market is. In effect, we’re putting our eggs in one basket with Stellar, and we do have the confidence in their team to fulfil their mission where they want to take their protocol and whether this aligns with our mission and the utility of our currency. So that was a huge decision for us since we are pivoting our existing platform to blockchain. We have an excellent relationship with Stellar and feel that they can support us in our vision with our own currency.

CR: Tell us of the highlight of your career within blockchain and crypto?

GB: Definitely, our first payment going live. That was two-and-half to three years in the making and then seeing the following payments going through. So seeing people using Pixie in the real world has been very exciting for all of us at Pixie.

CR: Where do you see you and Pixie in the next 10 years or so?

GB: I’m the founder of Pixie and the CEO at the moment and driving the company forward as hard as I can while creating the right culture. And while doing this for four years now, my appetite is stronger than ever. And knowing we’re about to take Pixie with blockchain. I want to be steering this ship taking Pixie internationally and to have as significant an impact around the world in line with our mission that one day you can get off the plane wherever in the world you may be and pull out Pixie and discover somewhere amazingly unique and local and seamlessly, without worrying about exchange rates, and use the Pixie token to pay for local goods and services and have a fantastic experience meeting the locals and what have you with Pixie at the heart of that. That’s our vision, and that’s our mission.

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