“If you were trying to store a gigabyte of data on Ethereum, it would cost you $10 million to do so — and a gigabyte of data isn’t much. So we’re very centered on storing data and making it affordable.”
The team behind decentralized database platform Fluree starts by examining their end goals first. When looking to create a secure, affordable database, co-CEOs Brian Platz and Flip Filipowski wanted to find a technology that would allow enterprises to efficiently continue building applications, so they didn’t run up against the technical wall that software companies often hit when trying to expand their product suite. They settled on blockchain.
The FlureeDB platform is an open-source, scalable solution that secures data, allows for time-based queries thanks to its chained blocks and eliminates the need to create multiple blockchains for different applications.
“We feel that we have created an environment in which the technology is capable of very high volume transactions and high volume of data,” says Filipowski. “I think that this combination in today’s world does not exist and is unbeatable in terms of the way you can address the data.”
The North Carolina-based co-founders, who have been in the software space for more than 20 years combined, also wanted to bake their values into their company from the very beginning. They incorporated as a public benefit corporation (a B-Corp) so that any future investors or employees would understand the public benefit goals of the company up front.
Here, Fluree’s co-founders share more about their bottom-up approach to software and business building, what it means to be a B-Corp startup, and how their blockchain database works.
How does Fluree’s blockchain-based database work?
From both of those lenses, so the blockchain lens and the database lens, it has a lot of very interesting and important capabilities. From a blockchain standpoint, it is data-centric. An example that we like to give is Ethereum, which a lot of organizations are trying to leverage to build blockchain applications. If you were trying to store a gigabyte of data on Ethereum, it would cost you $10 million to do so — and a gigabyte of data isn’t much. So we’re very centered on storing data and making it affordable.
Our database is also flexible and can be used for all kinds of different applications without having to build a whole new blockchain every time. They can use FlureeDB to program and configure the rules that it runs on. It’s this underlying tool that can be manipulated into all these different uses. That’s very different than a lot of blockchain technology.
Importantly, it’s familiar. We structured blockchain as a database. It’s something all developers already understand. The challenge that we find with a lot of application developers is they need to figure out a way to integrate it. They know where this fits in their app. We’ve got this really incredible capability we call time travel which allows you to actual query the database at any point in time in history and get an instantaneous response. Some of this is leveraging the blockchain characteristic of this immutability history — the historical context of everything that ever happened. No other database anyone else has ever worked with can do this. They can restore a back-up that was maybe made yesterday or a week or a month ago, but they can’t instantaneously ask that question.
Inherently all the applications are much more secure, because we’re actually securing the data at the source. Most of the time people have to build security into the application layer. Then, especially when they’re building multiple applications that are sharing the same database, they’re building security on multiple times.
As a company, Fluree started with the technology first instead of the product. Why did you start from the bottom up?
A lot of that goes to our experience in building large software companies. What we found as we have built companies is that as you start to grow a software company you need to expand into tangential markets and build out a suite of products. You often do that via acquisition or by trying to build new products. It’s always a challenge. This is actually one of those things that kind of throws up a big wall for a lot of software companies in their growth stages because they run into this technology issue.
When we started Fluree we wanted to focus on building a technology that would allow all kinds of different applications to simultaneously share information, data and processes. You would be able to continue to scale, get into tangential products and form a suite without having to hit that technical wall.
We had a lot of experience building software ourselves, so we were our own best customers. What happens after two or three or five years of doing this? What are the issues you run into? We definitely had the foresight to understand what those are and what we could build up front that would help minimize those.
Why were you committed to making Fluree a Public Benefit Corporation (B-corp)?
In building companies in the past, we have always wanted some sort of public benefit component of what we do, especially as a growing company. As a venture-funded company, organizations struggle to maintain that as they scale because while it may be very important to the founders, investors may come in that don’t share the same passion.
By actually setting up a B-corp, which we’re excited about, we’re able to write directly into the corporate charter the public benefit. Any future investors that come in are automatically brought into it; it’s not something we can easily toss aside. The nice thing about a B-corp is that while in a C-corp the primary and only goal is a legal liability for the directors and officers to maximize shareholder return, a B-corp still has that, but it also has the additional goal of furthering the public benefit component.
What’s your current funding status and revenue model — have you raised funding and are you looking for investors?
We’ve mostly funded the business ourselves. We had a friends and family round as well as other angel investors that have contributed thus far. We’re definitely still open to angel investors. We are in discussion with some venture capital companies. Then we have an option of pursuing a token sale.
What FlureeDB can allow is this idea of creating this database in the cloud that anyone can use, and you pay for other people to maintain that database for you in tokens. This might be a company launching a product catalog or something like that and and they can pay this global network of computers to maintain that for them.
The database itself will follow an open source model, where we will charge for service and support for people who are building applications that are relying on this. We’ll also have some licensed versions of the database that are used amongst multiple companies like in a supply chain network.
What’s next for Fluree?
We currently have the beta release of the product out. We launched the beta just four months ago. We already have over 400 organizations, many Fortune 500 companies, some of the largest banks and of course, a lot of startups. The next release will be our production release of our next model, where multiple companies are running a database together. That is coming in June and by the end of the year, we’re launching the fully public, open-source FlureeDB blockchain, powered by tokens.