Member Profile: Josh McIver
November 21, 2016
In today’s working world, we live on our email. We constantly leave an email tab open, our phones never stop beeping, and unread messages never cease to pile up in our inbox. As more and more business continues to be conducted over digital communication mediums, businesses and consumers need to protect themselves from litigation risk, fraud, and infringement on privacy,
In the current digital communication realm, immutable audit trails do not exist, and sometimes we aren’t 100% sure exactly who we are talking with online. Co-founded by a distinguished class of entrepreneurs, Josh McIver, Mark Coffman, and Taulant Ramabaja, ULedger is working to solve this issue, acting as a digital witness for your online communications. Implementing blockchain technology, ULedger acknowledges, tracks, and verifies a client’s digital footprint.
The company specifically targets customers who deal with sensitive information, or customers occupying regulated markets who deal with compliance, such as fiduciaries, accountants, lawyers, and real estate agents. These clients hold a fair amount of risk and liability in the nature of their work, and ULedger seeks to protect them.
After running operations at Trailhead for about a year, ULedger grew to the point where it needed some office space of its own. At ULedger’s new office on Main St. in downtown Boise, co-founders Josh McIver and Mark Coffman took the time to sit down and speak to the company’s development over the past year.
What journey brought you gentlemen to Boise, Idaho?
Josh: “I grew up in Denver, Colorado and completed my undergrad at the University of Utah, majoring in accounting. I went on to work in Deloitte’s audit services for three years before studying for my MBA at the University of Denver. After getting an MBA, I was recruited to Boise by a private equity company, and have been in Boise six years now.”
Mark: “I grew up in Maryland, and attended Cornell University as an undergrad in upstate New York. After graduation, I went on to work in Silicon Valley for thirteen years. The Bay Area was a great place to live, but I had always heard Boise was a great place to raise a family, and made the move nine years ago.”
What inspired the beginnings of ULedger?
Josh: “Throughout my experience working at Deloitte, I became familiar with the regulatory environment and the burden it can create for companies, both public and private. After my time at Deloitte, I was working at World Table. While I was there, the company was taking a look at blockchain technology.
The blockchain platform has taken off for various use cases since, especially due to its ability to act as a real time tracker of transactions. As I became more familiar with blockchain, I realized it had a good fit in the compliance and regulatory world, specifically in regard to tracking communications. For instance, in compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley, companies must store emails for a certain period of time. ULedger’s blockchain technology does this for clients.”
How would you describe your business to a stranger on the street?
Mark: “ULedger is a digital witness for your online communications. The world of contracts is chaotic. ULedger provides customers with the blockchain to keep track of them, keeping tabs on all digital communication platforms a business uses on a daily basis. If something can be interpreted as a contract, ULedger authenticates each user involved, tying them to their piece of the document. In doing so, parties are entered into a legally binding contract. We then create an audit trail for clients, simplifying compliance processes for customers operating in a regulatory framework. ULedger really establishes transparency and trust between fiduciaries and customers.”
Is ULedger looking to expand into other markets?
Josh: “There are a ton of use cases. One goal is to eventually disrupt the execution of trades. If you want to buy a hundred shares of Google, you cannot simply email a trader asking for the trade to be executed. The trader must call you on the phone, and make sure they have the right face behind the trade order. Since ULedger creates an audit trail and provides identity authentication, the company has potential to completely change the industry.”
What interests you both about entrepreneurship?
Josh: “In my mind, it would have been hard for me to come out of college and simply become an entrepreneur. Beginning my career at Deloitte helped me learn and get into a specialized field. Deloitte has one of the best training programs in the world. But ultimately at a company like this, you aren’t going to be your own boss, and aren’t able to create something of your own. When you work for a Deloitte, or a private equity firm, you are working in a very structured role. As an entrepreneur, I can be more creative, choose what I want to work on, and choose who I want to work with.”
Mark: “The entrepreneurial environment is what I come from. I really enjoy the process of building, the wins, and in some odd way, even the losses. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a space where you really get to test your mettle.”
How did you hear about Trailhead and what made you decide to become a member?
Josh: “ I heard about Trailhead through word of mouth. A buddy of mine told me I could go to Trailhead for some cheap workspace. I was working from home at the time, which is something I hate doing. For $35 a month, I was able to socialize and meet people in the community who could add insight to what I was doing. It’s the only place in town that does this.”
Mark: “I’ve been in conversation with Raino Zoller (Trailhead’s Executive Director) and that gang for years, so naturally that was how I heard about Trailhead. The Boise startup scene has changed a lot in the past 9 years, and I think a lot of this has to do with what organizations like Trailhead are doing in the community.”
What stage is the company currently at?
Josh: “We are working on the early MVP. As of June 10, we now have something we can start selling to clients. We are excited to get ULedger out on the market!”
While conducting market research, has anything ever surprised you or has ULedger undergone any strategic pivots?
Josh: “ULedger was initially going to act as a digital ledger for communication on a consumer’s fitbit or health apps. In the grand scheme of things, we wanted to interact with digital consumer apps. Though, one day I was reading about the burden of digital communications in compliance, and realized this could be a good fit for ULedger. Moving to this market was a big pivot for us.
After we made this move, we were looking to go after some big companies like Deloitte for our services, but after some research we realized this process could take years to complete. As a result, we decided to make another pivot and started catering to small and medium sized enterprises.”
What are some of the company’s short term goals?
Josh: “Funding. Building and selling is important, but at some point you need to drive some capital to expedite the process. ULedger is just starting to dip its feet into the funding water.”
Mark: “Get the product out the door and drive revenue. We have an idea of the target market, and the product’s use cases, but we want to go out and get some real validation. It’s that process in our early days of going to market that will move us towards some slight pivots, put legs under the company, and help us expand it.”
What is your long term vision for ULedger?
Josh: “Inject trust into all digital communication and become a logo of trust.”
Mark: “If blockchain is the next phase of technology, and some people say it is, we want to be involved in this next phase of computing. The trust logo is the output, but the nuts and bolts of ULedger is that it is an identity service. In the end we want to influence the way things talk to each other. Communication is built on a solid understanding of identity.”
Josh: “The communication could even be your fridge talking to your grocery store. Being able to authenticate in this process and establish obligations is important.”
What has been the company’s greatest success thus far?
Josh: “The team has been the greatest success so far. We win together, we lose together, and we have a lot of fun.”
Mark: “The technology is interesting, the opportunity is interesting, but the team is what is really great.”
What are some of the greatest challenges ULedger has faced?
Josh: “It’s a very fine balancing act between developing a minimum viable product, and taking it to market to sell. Figuring out this balance can be a struggle.”
Mark: “For me, it is perseverance. We have the team, the idea, and the technology. Though, when you go to market you have to know you are going to hear ‘No’ a lot more than you are going to hear ‘Yes,’ for a long time. This is when you get your mettle tested, even if you have the right team, investors, product, technology, etc. Everything is questioned. You have to have the perseverance to bust through the ‘No’s.’”
What has been your favorite Trailhead program so far?
Josh: “Taulant and I participated in Challenge Cup at Trailhead. The two minute presentation was a challenge, but it was cool to be able to participate in that. The social events at Trailhead are also interesting. It’s always cool to see what’s going on in the Boise community.”
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs starting a company in Boise?
Josh: “This is something I learned the hard way. In some places you can go raise money on an idea. In Boise, it is important to focus less on raising money, and focus on building your team and product. You have to create some form of value before going out and raising capital.”
“Also, if you have something you’re interested in, don’t let other people persuade you away from it. Filter through what makes sense for you and your company, and don’t put all your eggs in the basket of taking advice from people. It is a balancing act of sifting through feedback that applies to you.”
Mark: “Leverage the resources Boise has to offer, but don’t be afraid to get out of Boise and see what other cities are doing for entrepreneurs. For Boise to build a strong entrepreneurial community, it needs to leverage all its surrounding intermountain resources. As an entrepreneur, you need to take advantage of all the contacts and resources you possibly can.”
Do you have any additional comments?
Josh: “I think Trailhead has been a great addition to the startup scene here in Boise. I think the Trailhead system will continue to add value as it works to offer more lessons and trainings. I have seen this type of thing being done in Utah and Colorado. Utah probably has ten Trailhead like locations, so this is a great start for Boise.”
Mark: “We have seen the Boise startup ecosystem developing in Boise: Gordon Jones at Boise State, Boise State’s computer science department moving into downtown, Trailhead, etc. The state should be supportive of this tech community as it continues to develop. Trailhead has played a part in that.
For Boise to start getting more investment in the future, we need more computer science graduates in the community and more success stories. There is a crop of companies coming out right now in Boise, and if we get a few wins out of that crop, it will be great for the Boise community.”