Adult pigs covered in mud walk around a pen in China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Ex-Googler Wants to Upend Pigs and Hotels With the Blockchain

(Bloomberg) -- A Taiwanese startup led by a former Google employee intends to employ the same technology that underpins Bitcoin and Ethereum to shake up animal husbandry and travel.

Darren Wang’s OwlTing has rolled out a system to establish the provenance of stuff: hotel bookings, or pigs from birth to market. The seven-year-old startup says it’s amassed hundreds of clients across Taiwan and its model enhances not just food safety but also verifies commercial transactions.

One of a growing number of fledgling players seeking to bring crypto-chains to the real world, OwlTing’s ambitions gel with Taiwan’s -- an electronics powerhouse that missed out on the internet boom. The island wants to ensure it isn’t left behind as companies from the U.S. to China race to unlock the potential of the blockchain: an open ledger verified by multiple parties that (in theory) safeguards the integrity of all sorts of dealings.

“Getting a new innovative business off the ground in Taiwan is actually really tough. The venture capital scene isn’t that vibrant,” said Wang, 39, who’s helmed two other startups since leaving Google in Mountain View, California, where he helped maintain databases for Greater China. “I want to prove Taiwan can do it too.”

Twinning sensors and a blockchain tracking system can prove where an agricultural product hails from: for instance, if you wanted to guarantee the grapes in your champagne truly originated in the Champagne region of France. One of the biggest players is International Business Machines Corp., which partnered with food titans including Dole Food Co., Nestle SA, Unilever NV and Walmart Inc. last summer on a pilot to add blockchain to their businesses.

OwlTing, which has raised $6 million from Kyber Capital and Midana Capital among others, has built a blockchain-based system for 400 clients that eliminates double-booking of hotel rooms, by recording real-time inventory as customers book through online services such as Expedia. And its OwlChain tracks animal births, vaccinations, feeding routines: employees at fisheries or pig farms input that data into an app, which the company then converts into QR codes and adds to the blockchain once verified, for all to see.

Given it’s on track to turn profitable this year on a mere $15 million in annual revenue, Wang says he’s aiming to raise as much as $500 million via a Nasdaq listing by the second quarter of next year. OwlTing has also invested in fellow Taiwanese startup CoolBitX, which is setting up a digital wallet for virtual currencies and has attracted capital from SBI Holdings Inc.

“Taiwan is well positioned to seize this unique window of opportunity to become a global leader in crypto technology,” said Thomas Hu, CEO of Hong Kong-based Kyber.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.