Kåre Kjelstrøm: Concordium’s continued evolution in blockchain

Kåre Kjelstrøm, Chief Technology Officer at layer-1 blockchain company Concordium in conversation with Payment Expert, outlined how his experience at Uber and in Silicon Valley left him well-positioned for a career in blockchain. 

The company’s tech lead also provided a deeper insight into the market position of Concordium as it continues to evolve within the digital currency space. 

Payment Expert: Hey Kåre, thanks for speaking to us – firstly are you able to tell us a little about yourself and what led to you taking your current role?

Kåre Kjelstrøm: Working with computers and software has been a life-long passion of mine. As a boy, I toyed with C64s, Amigas, PCs, then went on to take a master’s degree in Computer Science. A few years into my career, I moved to Silicon Valley for work, then built my own consulting company, took on ride sharing, and eventually leapt into blockchain. I’ve always been driven by curiosity and a desire to make a real difference with technology.

Since the early days of my career, I’ve held engineering, software architect, and management positions. As a consultant I learned the value of customer obsession, coaching, direct and indirect leadership; my years at Uber taught me how to develop and expand high-performance teams in a hyper-growth environment; and I got to hone my leadership skills in a larger setting on infrastructure teams at a Los Angeles based pre-IPO stealth-mode startup before joining Concordium.

The role as CTO at Concordium is the perfect match for so many reasons. It is the logical next step in my leadership journey; blockchains are next level infrastructure products which also need all of the non-functional aspects I’ve come to expect in scalable software over the years so I am confident I can make a real difference here; and the space is extremely exciting. I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s to come and I am thrilled to be part of that journey.

PE: Uber is synonymous with its smooth payment journey, could the firm be a perfect fit for blockchain integration in the future?

KK: I believe Uber’s payment services would be a great match for blockchain technology. There’s already a concept of Uber Credits that you can use to pay for your rides; by moving credits to a blockchain, other services could use the currency as well and it would take on a life of its own. 

An alternative angle could be to onboard existing blockchain currencies, CCD, ETH, BTC, and allow these to be used to pay for rides, order food, etc. An integration between Uber and Concordium would additionally allow the ride-hailing giant to leverage our innovative ID-layer to combat identity fraud. As with any business, fake profiles for both riders and drivers are an issue in ride sharing and this is an area where a trusted, verified credential, tied into blockchain technology, can make a real difference.

PE: What role does Concordium play within the digital currency space?

KK: Concordium has identity built in at the protocol level.In order to open an account, you’ll need to go through a one-time identity verification check with an external identity verifier. You’ll then be issued a digital legal identifier which will be stored decentralized in your Concordium crypto wallet. 

All subsequent transactions you perform on the chain will be linked to this identifier in a privacy-preserving manner, but in such a way that your identity can be revealed if legally required. This trait provides the peace of mind that’s required for big corporations to really adopt blockchain and crypto currencies. It helps combat money-laundering and other illegal activities.

What really excites me though is that the Concordium wallet will host not only legal identifiers, but really all aspects of an identity. It can hold employment relations, rewards cards, coupons, tickets, boarding passes, student identity cards, and much more. 

The really cool thing is that attributes of these credentials – name, age, nationality, job function, etc – can be queried by dApps, but in such a way that the holder can decide whether or not to give information away. This is true self-sovereignty and it heralds a new age of privacy-preserving applications that use crypto currencies and blockchain technology with accountability.

PE: How has your history in Silicon Valley and at Uber helped you at Concordium?

KK: Silicon Valley is an amazing place to learn the ropes of engineering and entrepreneurship. It’s literally the proverbial field where a thousand flowers bloom and some make it big. 

My years in The Valley made me appreciate fast-moving environments with technically strong colleagues, and they taught me to dream big. They also taught me solid lessons in how not to build a company and the uncertainty of startups. I lived in Santa Clara for almost three years and worked for as many tech startups that all failed in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble’s burst, but for different reasons: lack of a solid business plan, overspending and not being able to raise more funding, and the woes of giving away control of your startup to financially challenged investors.

At Uber, I found a company with a solid mission, a strong engineering team, and a sense of urgency to execute. I joined in 2014 when there were just around 100 engineers at a time when the future of the company was still uncertain and the tech was constantly challenged by Uber’s ever- growing success. 

We watched the systems 24/7/365 and constantly innovate to stay ahead of a business unit that moved at lightning speed while never taking the systems down for maintenance. The early years were extremely intense and taught me that you can work miracles with the right team, that you need to build for the next 10x-100x of scalability, and it taught me how to manage growth.

When I first learned about Concordium, I was sold on the vision laid out by Lars Seier Christensen to provide a blockchain that provides a safe foundation for the future economy; and I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of the product and the people who built it. 

Since joining, I’ve been working with the team to strengthen the way we build and deliver our software; on the detailed vision for Concordium; on preparing for the next level of scalability; and on ensuring we build the right business features to fuel adoption as swiftly as possible.

PE: Are you able to tell us in more detail the difference between layer-1 and layer 2 companies within the blockchain infrastructure?

KK: Layer-1 companies provide an actual blockchain ie. software that runs across multiple nodes, which provides a cryptographically secured append-only database typically with tokenomics in place to incentivise others to operate the physical hardware. You can read and write data on a Layer-1 blockchain and rest assured that once written, it never changes.

In an ideal world, layer-1 blockchains would be resilient to high load scenarios, have ultra-fast finalization and would handle billions of transactions per second (TPS) without breaking a sweat. In the real world, this is not the case so the concept of Layer-2 blockchains arose as a means to address these shortcomings. 

Often, scalability and TPS are core challenges Layer-2 seeks to tackle e.g by taking some of the computation off-chain. In other words, a Layer-2 solution could provide the ability to execute smart contract state on super-fast computers outside of a blockchain, then once a bunch of transactions have been created, post the result back to the actual chain. There’s a huge upside in TPS to that method, but there are challenges with decentralization and security which need to be addressed.

PE: Can you explain the importance of Layer 1 firms when it comes to the blockchain infrastructure?

KK: This is where the actual data resides. Layer-1 blockchains support a set of core properties, non-repudiation of data, historical transaction logs, transaction transparency, and more, upon which real-world applications can build. Without Layer-1 there would be no blockchain infrastructure.