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Block Kong Breakfast: Julian Gordon, Hyperledger

“Blockchain is a coordination technology. You can’t be the only one writing it.”



Julian Gordon

Block Kong is a series of interviews with blockchain-related entrepreneurs and financiers in Hong Kong, brought to you by Charles D’Haussy.

Talk about blockchain deployments! CITIC and Bank of China have now processed more than Rmb20 billion ($2.8 billion) on their forfeiting domestic letters-of-credit platform, based on Hyperledger.

To learn more about this impressive achievement, this morning I am taking the ferry from Central to Discovery Bay. (To sound local you’d better refer to the place as DB.) It’s on Lantau, the largest of Hong Kong’s many outer islands (indeed, Lantau is bigger than Hong Kong Island itself), situated in the crook of green mountains against a beautiful beach. At nighttime, DB residents can see the fireworks shooting up from Disneyland, located in the next bay over.

This idyllic setting is only 20 minutes away from Central and the glass towers of global finance. It is an incredible setting for breakfast, and I envy my guest for his ability to begin his day here.

I see him now: a trim Briton taking a shortcut via the beach, literally. More envy. At least I will be able to share in this morning’s chat: we are going to talk about Hyperledger, which Julian Gordon oversees for Asia Pacific.

Discovery Bay

Hyper Quoi? Hyperledger is not a company, not a cryptocurrency, not a blockchain, not an ICO coin. Hyperledger is an open-source global collaborative effort, hosted by The Linux Foundation, focused on cross-industry blockchain technologies. Working groups produce open-source code modules, ready for production and free to use by enterprises.

Linux is probably the world’s most famous open-source governance body, so it is no wonder that its blockchain-focused arm has attracted over 260 members with names like Alibaba, Baidu, Bank of England, IBM, ConsenSys, J.P. Morgan, and Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Julian Gordon was born in Hong Kong. At the time, his father was building the Plover Cove Dam in Tai Mei Tuk, a corner of the New Territories known for its outdoor barbecues and triathlon competitions.

Julian Gordon

This morning we are not in such a rural environment. I am meeting Gordon at a place called Zack’s. It is the sort of restaurant name that unnerves my inner Frenchman. To quell my unease, I ask him about his career.

“I’ve worked in fintech all my life,” he says.

He has a track record of Asia regional management roles at big tech names like HP and Cisco. These are established vendors that sell their own products, so the emergence of not-for-profit, open source development required a change of thinking, but Gordon was happy to try something new. He was appointed Hyperledger’s Asia lead in 2016 and has overseen a rapid expansion of its local membership.

It is not yet time to dive into the China blockchain scene, because Gordon is hungry and I need a coffee. 

DB has a reputation for being artificial, and I can see why. A menu here is as contrived as the Disneyland park nearby. My guest orders a “Doorstopper Toast” with mint tea. I opt for “Discovery Bay’s B.E.S.T. Breakfast”.

Gordon spends a lot of time in China. “It is the most difficult market to penetrate as well as the most rewarding,” he says. Hyperledger is de facto a standard for permissioned blockchains in the Middle Kingdom.

So why is Hyperledger so important and successful?

“Blockchain is a coordination technology,” he explains. “You can’t be the only one writing it.”

I love that. It deserves another coffee.

Gordon goes on to explain that Hyperledger is in fact an umbrella name for a dozen projects focused on supply chain, sovereign identity, distributed computing, consensus algorithms, BaaS…

BaaS? Is that for music on the blockchain project?

No, it is not a soundtrack. It is “blockchain as a service”. Project Cello manages blockchain efficiently while running on top of various cloud infrastructures.

The DB ferry heads into Central

As we discuss various projects, I decide I have a new favorite within the Hyperledger family: Besu. The word means “foundation” in Japanese, and it’s a protocol for smart contracts and decentralized applications to run on Ethereum.

Historically, members have mostly used Hyperledger Fabric to build intranet-type applications, drawing on the expertise of developers everywhere to create internal, private tools. Lately the technology and market demand for blockchain has evolved in the same way the internet did. Besu marks a transition to a new phase of integrating public blockchains with private ones, helping internet-based apps to transition to globally connected blockchains.

Julian is very enthusiastic – hyper-enthusiastic I should say – about integrating Ethereum in the Hyperledger roadmaps. I am invited to join the choir. “You should join our South East Asia chapter,” Gordon urges me. “It’s growing fast.”

As this is my first breakfast in DB, I cannot say whether my order was indeed the B.E.S.T., but I have my doubts. The food fades into the background as we discuss blockchain business networks the same way other people debate the latest features between the iPhone and a Huawei or Samsung mobile. Only Julian Gordon argues for open source and Hyperledger whereas my day job is to represent ConsenSys, which is all about Ethereum.

But to get a sense of what we are discussing, imagine an iPhone that could run on Android. It sounds like the best of both worlds.

Not all connections are about digital tech, however: I am at risk of missing my ride back to Central. Gordon bids me adieu with a high-five. He heads back along the beach, to a conference call with a team in India. I pay the bill and hurry to the ferry terminal.

Twenty minutes later I am stepping off in a forest of skyscrapers, the tropical-island vibe of DB now just a memory. A helicopter is landing a few meters away, while in the other direction double-decker buses roar past.

Today I will walk to the office.

Zack’s, Discovery Bay Plaza,

  • Lantau Island, Hong Kong
  • 1x B.E.S.T. Breakfast, HK$135
  • 1x Doorstopper, HK$35
  • 1x mint tea, HK$45
  • 2x coffee, HK$90
  • Total : HK$305

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Block Kong Breakfast: Julian Gordon, Hyperledger