30 May 2018

How Trustabit is building a blockchain toddler

Trustabit CEO Saritta Hines is something of a pioneer. An African-American with more than 13 years experience in data analytics, she is leading a team that is 50% represented by women to build a private blockchain with smart contracts that will address airline delays and cancellations.

The problem that Hines is trying to solve is one that airlines face when issuing vouchers when a flight is grounded. Today, this is handled by intermediaries like Airhelp or Claim Compass, which can charge commissions of up to 25% to fight with the airlines on behalf of disgruntled travellers.

Airline customers often spend hours on the phone fighting for their rights, which is hardly a way to drive loyalty.

Trustabit, a California-based start-up, wants to change this and by using blockchain technology argues it can automatically issue customers with vouchers when their flights are delayed, which will be usable with different vendors including hotels, rideshare companies and other vendors too.

While blockchain is still a nascent technology, Trustabit seems to have found a simple use case for the technology, which could provide immediate value for airlines and fliers.

According to Krish Jagirdar, vice president of strategic advisory firm Brand New Matter (BNM), this could be described as a Day 1 Dapp – a decentralised application that can deliver immediate value.

This value has been recognised by IATA, which recently signed a partnership agreement with Trustabit, which will sit within the association’s passenger experience arm.  Since IATA represents more than 280 airlines, this gives Hines confidence that “the product is a good market fit”.

Once the agreement, which is still in the paperwork phase, is finalised, the next steps will be for Trustabit to work with airlines to get further feedback about how to integrate the platform into airline systems and to come up with the proof of concept. What the organisation is aiming for is direct partnerships with airlines that will allow Trustabit to have access to have cancellation data that is specific for each flight.

Identify focus

Hines believes that blockchain is going to change the way we travel. And the biggest area where blockchain could impact travel is in the area of identity. She foresees a paperless world where people have their history time-stamped on a blockchain, and where the user has private keys to pull that up and prove who they actually are.

“That helps a lot, especially with travelling because it means you can get through those check points much more quickly than you do now.”

Explaining further:

“If you look at the blockchain, it is a decentralised, immutable database. Once a traveller has his/her information written on the blockchain, and has a unique ID, then it’s there and it is easily transferable between organisations.”

Importantly though, says Hines, the user won’t even know they are using Trustabit and they won’t know they are using blockchain. It will just be a seamless experience that happens within the carrier, embedded with the airline’s technology stack. That’s good news for Jagirdar who believes that early blockchain success is likely to come from platforms that don’t require extreme behavioural change from the complex and fragmented travel industry.

Another plus, is that blockchain could help to reduce the huge cost of bank fees. According to Hines,

“IATA pays $7bn in banking fees, but if they move to process those on a platform like Ripple, whose transaction fees are less than a penny to send hundreds of thousands of dollars of cross-border payments, that is going to save them a lot of money every year.”

Enterprise implementation

Trustabit’s goal is to deliver enterprise solutions like Hyperledger Fabric, a blockchain framework implementation hosted by the Linux Foundation. So, airlines will process their transactions within a private blockchain; there will be no assets like bitcoin or ethereum. This, says Hines, will help to minimise the risk of network slowdown as happened with Cryptokitties, an online game which allows players to buy and breed crypto pets!  In December last year, the craze for virtual kittens slowed trade in ethereum, raising questions about its scalability.

It is still early days for blockchain but, argues Hines, in the early days of the Internet:

“nobody knew what it was, what WWW or http.1.5.2 actually meant. Nobody really cared; they just cared about that watching that cat video. But as time went on, then people started to get a better understanding. The same is true for blockchain, which is still a toddler. It is going to take people to come along and build applications on top of it, and then we will get a better understanding of what it is.”

Trustabit, a finalist in Travel Tech Con and Launch Gust, however, still a blockchain toddler. On Friday last week it launched an initial coin offering on crowdfunding platform Start Engine with the objective of raising between $10-$107k over a period of +-90 days. Trustabit is also talking to seed investors for $2m to get the company off the ground. So, it’s early days but with IATA’s backing, could this be a blockchain that addresses a real market need to serve the airline customer better?

Related reading:

Sabre explains blockchain – somebody has to

Why Marriott and Accenture collaborated on Known Traveler Digital Identity – but can it become reality?