On December 1st, 1913, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an automobile. His innovation reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes, allowing for mass production and ushering in the era of the automobile. In early 2000, the founders of Netflix Reed Hastings and Marc Randolf, offered to sell their then two-year-old DVD rental company to the much larger and more powerful Blockbuster for $50 million, but were flatly rejected. Nearly twenty years later, the streaming company reported $20.15 billion in revenue, while Blockbuster had filed for bankruptcy almost a decade prior, and Hastings has attributed their contrasting success to promoting a culture that emphasized innovation over efficiency.
The world does not move forward by maintaining the status quo. From the adaptation of the assembly line within modern manufacturing to the boom in streaming services, human progress must always be a result of those who look beyond what the world already has and see what it has the ability to accomplish. One such person is Gurps Rai, who has within his career been a constant predictor of trends both within the world of financial services and more recently technology and entertainment. Almost exactly one decade prior, he became the first person in the world to facilitate a commodity trade using virtual currency, understanding not only the important yet nuanced role the international carbon market would come to play in the Paris Agreement, but also the increasingly large role cryptocurrencies would come to play, with the total value as of December 18th, 2020 totalling more than $645.7 billion.
Although he found success fairly early in life, Rai’s origins are humble. He grew up in a poor neighborhood, and was often discouraged from dreaming by those around him who had experienced a hard life. Despite being raised to believe that his lack of wealth would bring limitations to his life, Rai refused to accept that he couldn’t achieve anything he set his mind to, and as a young adult he found his way out of poverty and into the financial services sector. Using his forward-thinking abilities to handle foreign exchange transactions for large businesses based in the commodities market, he became successful within the space and it was here that he first learned of the global carbon market.
The topic of climate change is a complex one, but the science behind it can be explained quite simply. When greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are emitted, more heat gets trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere, raising temperatures globally and destabilizing the climate. Carbon markets aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively by setting limits on emissions and enabling the trading of emission units, which are instruments representing emission reductions. Trading enables entities that can reduce emissions at a lower cost to be paid to do so by higher-cost emitters, thus lowering the economic cost of reducing emissions. For Rai, it was clear that these carbon credits had the chance to make a huge impact in climate mitigation, especially if the cost-savings generated by the carbon market were re-invested adequately.
Meanwhile, Nike had a similar idea. In the late 1970’s, former aerospace engineer Marion Franklin Rudy introduced to the company the idea of placing tiny air bags in the soles of shoes to soften impact. This was the start of the company’s signature Nike Air cushioning, which grew greatly in popularity throughout the next decade, especially as researchers at the University of Tennessee discovered that athletes used less energy when running with the Nike Air cushioning compared to other conventional running shoes. By the 1990’s the Air sole defined Nike, but it was also in that decade that the company discovered a major issue. The gas they used to keep the units inflated – sulfur hexafluoride – was an industrial greenhouse gas that was 22,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide, and their usage of it was contributing significantly to global warming.
Although there were no regulations at the time forcing companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Nike voluntarily made the decision to reduce their carbon footprint and set a goal to completely phase out their use of sulfur hexafluoride. They employed polymer chemists and process engineers, built an analytical lab, and customized equipment for testing, and by the year 2006 had managed to make every product in their line sulfur hexafluoride-free. The elimination of the greenhouse gas not only drastically reduced Nike’s carbon footprint, but also produced for them millions of carbon credits, and although the reduction had come at a substantial cost to the company they sought to pay it forward. Working with Winrock’s American Carbon Registry, they sought to sell the carbon offsets issued to the company and donate the proceeds to protect and replant Brazilian forests. Additionally, they decided to list them for sale on Hub Culture, a social networking site that lists thousands of products only available to purchase using its own cryptocurrency: the Ven.
A cryptocurrency is a digital currency that can be used to buy goods and services, but rather than a physical asset preventing double-spending and counterfeits, it uses blockchain technology – a distributed ledger similar to a database enforced by a disparate network of computers – to ensure security. Although Bitcoin is widely regarded as the first modern cryptocurrency, in fact Hub Culture had released the first application for Ven in 2007, a full two years before Bitcoin was released to the public. By 2011, they had made Ven more stable by pricing it from a basket of currencies, meaning the price moved less than a single national fiat currency, and added commodities linking it to hard assets. Finally, by 2011 ten percent of Ven’s value came from the price of carbon futures trading in Europe, meaning that the more Ven that are in circulation, the more carbon credits Hub Culture needs to keep on deposit. All this meant that when Nike chose Hub Culture as the place to sell its carbon credits, it was also boosting the upward pressure Ven puts on the price of carbon.
When Rai learned of Nike’s listing of their carbon credits, he was head of marketing for London Carbon Market, a leader within the carbon market at the time. Working with Hub Culture Knowledge Brokerage Services, he and his team negotiated a contract to spend 500,000 Ven – the equivalent of $50,000 at the time – to purchase some of Nike’s sulfur hexafluoride offsets. Rai and the company then “retired” the credits – taking them off the market and preventing them from being traded again – effectively making it a donation to provide seed funding for Nike’s projects in Brazil. Although this was the first carbon trade to be priced with virtual currency, Rai’s confidence in the cryptocurrency sphere proved to be prophetic. In 2014, Ven became the first digital currency to begin trading in regulated Forex markets on the LMAX Exchange, and interest in cryptocurrency has exploded within the past decade.
Today, Gurps Rai has embarked on another innovative project: droppTV, the world’s first shoppable streaming platform. Using artificial intelligence and smart video technology, the company partners with artists looking to move merchandise and gets their videos on the platform. Artists wear whatever merchandise they want to sell in the video, and viewers are able to purchase it with a single click, without ever leaving the page or pausing. The idea of a shoppable video has been a growing trend among advertising and marketing, as the streaming age has given rise to an ever-increasing amount of video content. However, it is Rai’s emphasis on experiential shopping that separates his company from the pack. Rather than simply loading the page with ads along the sidebar – or even worse, popping up and interrupting the video in the process – droppTV’s platform integration is seamless, and is poised to be a valuable resource not only for known artists, but up-and-coming ones who can generate a steady income through monetization of their music videos.
Although droppTV is less than a year old, they became post-revenue from day one of their soft launch, generating over $40,000 within the first 24 hours. Collaborating with big names such as Ashanti as well as newcomers such as Chow Lee, Rai has once again entered a space that exists in water still murky. However, as with his work in cryptocurrency, it has promising trends that show his knack for anticipating the direction his head must turn in order to see the future. In a recent interview, Rai said that he believes augmented reality will become bigger than the internet, and while one can only guess what other innovative ideas he will come up with in his many years still ahead, it can be assumed that they will be trailblazing to say the least.