Written by Andrew Seale
When Marko M. Hafez approached Jai Waterman about doing something in the blockchain sphere in 2011, Waterman didn’t want anything to do with it. Sure, they had ties stretching back to their time in the diamond industry, but it wasn’t enough to convince him to get onboard.
Waterman had used digital currencies to help facilitate online diamond purchases, an already risky endeavour. “What would eventually happen is the FBI would kick down your door and that digital currency and anything you had would be gone,” he says with a laugh. “So I said digital currency, stay away, I don't want to go to jail.”
Hafez says Waterman stopped responding to his emails about blockchain, so he dropped it. Still, Hafez kept up with developments in the blockchain sphere
“In 2014, I picked up the phone, called Jai again and said, look this thing is not going to go away, blockchain is here to stay… it's going to be a paradigm shift.”
Waterman looked into it a little deeper (“I knew he wouldn’t get off my back,” he says) and was struck by the blockchain’s decentralized nature. It’s not stored in one spot or controlled by one central figure, transactions are tracked on a public ledger and validated across the network.
“There's no door to kick down, this is unstoppable,” says Waterman. “(I realized) this has to be adopted, and that's why I'm here today.”
So, in 2014, the pair teamed up, co-founding Blockstation.
“We looked at the ecosystem of the stock exchanges and the depository and the brokers and the entire life cycle of how securities are traded,” says Hafez. They realized, in the near future tokens were going to be traded like securities. And like securities, these tokens wouldn’t just need an exchange, they’d need an entire ecosystem for listing, trading, clearing and settling.
Blockstation is that ecosystem. It's a suite of tools tackling everything from order matching for efficient digital trading to anti-money laundering tools, a broker portal, market surveillance and an electronic communication network.
“Our vision was always that all these different tokens or coins are going to need a safe place to be traded and transacted, where customers are protected, there's regulatory oversight, efficiency, proper continuity and disaster recovery, proper custody, all of those things have to be in place to gain mass adoption,” he says. “(And do so) with stock exchanges because we see them as the centre of the financial industry.”
The ecosystem, according to the co-founders, allows all the stakeholders – the regulators, brokers and exchanges – to find their footing in the rapidly changing decentralized economy.
Of course, education is central to their mission. Blockchain, though far from obscure, is still a new enough concept that Waterman and Hafez have to guide clients through the nuances. But it helps that Toronto is rapidly becoming a global epicentre for the technology.
“Toronto is one of the leaders in blockchain right now,” says Hafez. His co-founder says he agrees. “(Population-wise) it’s the main place for blockchain in terms of the number of companies putting out blockchain products and solutions.”
If it’s a “told-you-so” moment for Hafez, he won’t admit it. He’s quick to praise his co-founder and the ecosystem they’ve spent the past four years building on. And 2014 still puts both in early adopter territory.
“In 2014 we're telling people about blockchain and bitcoin and they thought we were crazy, they were like: ‘what're you guys talking about?’ ” says Hafez. “We've come a long way – the vision we saw in 2014 is actually happening right now.”
Photo by Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)