Buried Treasures

One startup’s story of tolkens, sunken ships, robots, and intrigue

April 15, 2019
Amy Cosper

It’s a wild story and a wild startup. Part preservation, part social, part pirate (y’argh, maties), but largely hitched to blockchain technology. Meet PO8. PO8 is an acronym for “Pieces of Eight.” Yes, those pieces of eight – the pirate stuff (again, y’argh, maties). The company’s strategy offers gold and doubloons aplenty, but with a modern twist that includes conservation and cryptocurrency.

Founded in 2018 in The Bahamas, the company’s mission sounds simple. Sort of: “Leveraging blockchain technology to recover and reshape ownership of sunken artifact from our ocean floors.”

PO8 aims to tolkenize artifacts in order to preserve them, create jobs, and create a sustainable business model that sits at the intersection of culture, economics, and blockchain.

“We appeal to people with an appreciation for investing in artifacts and impact projects.  Our non-fungible token (NFT) end user will be someone that believes investing in a recently discovered artifact is not just about future earnings of an appreciated asset, but they also believe their investment is really making it possible to further fund preservation of artifacts leading to exhibitions and to be used for educating our generations to come,” explains Matt Arnett, founder and CEO of PO8.

At the end of the day, according to Arnett, it’s a matter of problem solving.

“Our a-ha moment came when we realized we had a solution to a problem that has been ongoing in The Bahamas for the last 20-plus years.  We’re taking something that is broken and fixing it.  Since the early 90’s, The Bahamas issued a moratorium forbidding anyone from entering our waters for the purpose of excavating artifacts. Over those years, many came and took from our waters.  Call it what it is — mismanagement, corruption or collusion,” Arnett says.

“Fast forward to 2019, blockchain has become the solution to this problem, making it possible to reopen our waters for exploration and excavation. Now, any artifact that we recover will have an established provenance on the blockchain.  A smart contract for every valuable artifact will ensure proper tracking, ownership and valuation among other embedded metadata information we capture.”

Creative Business Network (CBN) had the chance to sit down with PO8 founder Arnett and learn a little bit about integrating blockchain into business while preserving sunken treasures.

CBN: The social part of your strategy is a big part of what you are doing. Why is this important?

Matt Arnett: Early adoption is key.  Education is key.  We spend a great deal of time connecting and engaging with our community because we are creating a product and ecosystem for them to use that requires having a conversation with them.

CBN: PO8 is, by all accounts, an innovative startup – groundbreaking really. It’s equal parts science, technology, robotics, crytpo, art and social. Can you tell me the overarching mission and vision for PO8?

MA: Yes, that’s an easy one.  It’s to create impact.  Whether it is social or economic, PO8 is positioned to leverage blockchain technology as well as underutilized ocean resources to generate sustainable economies.  Why not use sunken artifacts to generate revenues and create new jobs? Why not use non-fungible tokens to tokenize artifacts so they can remain in the possession of a museum, to be exhibited or studied by the archaeology community?  Why not give the opportunity to an investor or collector around the world to own the digital title — or token if you will — for an artifact?  It’s about impact.  It’s about investor supported artifacts and it’s about aligning ourselves with the Blue Economy (sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth) to jumpstart local economies through with self-sustained solutions.

CBN: What are your biggest challenges as a startup? Have you had challenges explaining blockchain to your audience?

MA: I think any entrepreneur will relate with me on this one.  It has to be the non-believers.  Case in point would be the marine salvage community versus the scientific marine archaeology community.  They just don’t get along.  And here I am raising my hand like that child in the front row of the class saying, “Ooohh…oohh…ooohh, I have an idea.”
The pitch to my peers is that tokenizing artifacts can on one hand allow the salvage companies to use their latest vessels and robotics to explore our oceans and on the other hand give our scientific community bound by the UNESCO conventions, gain more access to those artifacts to study, preserve and converse. Sounds good, right?  Well, it isn’t always easy to convince people of our good intentions and some in the scientific community have just dismissed us as just another treasure hunter trying to strike it reach.  It gets to all us in the team, but let us prove them wrong.  It motivates us.  So, off we sail.

CBN: Blockchain is the backbone of the company. Can you explain how it’s integrated?

MA: Yes, you heard me say earlier non-fungible token (or NFT) and I probably lost you.  Let’s back up a bit and let me explain to you why NFTs and the Ethereum blockchain make us stand out from our competitors. For one, NFTs are unique tokens that hold a stored value.  And no NFT is alike, as no artifact is alike in value.  On the other hand, a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, Ethereum or our native utility token PO8 are fungible tokens.  Each unit has the same value.  So, for tokenizing our artifacts, we are utilizing the ERC-1155 standard, which supports both fungible and NFTs. This is critical for fractionalization of assets.  And two, NFTs allows us to create what we call an NFIV or Non-Fungible Investment Vehicle. NFIVs allows us to offer an artifact to an investor at a pre-conservation valuation.  Meaning they invest in the artifact NFT at a lower price and hold until preservation is complete and the artifacts is appraised.  Upon appraisal the NFIV should see an uptick in value, which at the point the investor can sell the NFIV or leverage for other purposes such as securing a loan against the value of the NFIV.

CBN. Did you start with blockchain or did you start with archaeology? How did this come together?

MA: We started with a real-life problem. Saving our waters from being pillaged.  So, yes it was mostly the marine archaeology aspect of it in the very beginning until the a-ha moment came – blockchain!

CBN. The Skully. I want one. How do you explain the skully to a non-blockchain person?

MA: Well, the quickest way to actually get a hold of one would be to attend the Crypto Games Conference in Minsk, Belarus on April 25. We will officially announce the launch of our Skullys reward-based collectibles during conference in front of some of the best minds in the crypto gaming space.  Now, Skullys are not meant to be a game full on, but rather we see it playing a bridge to facilitate those contemplating getting into gaming.  Skullys is more about collecting unique pirate skulls and geo-flagging your Skully around the world to earn free booty paid in our PO8 utility token.  Think of the geo-flagging as being able to check in to a location with an app.  Once you geo-flag a location you receive free PO8 tokens that allow you to PO8 Skully boosters to boost your PO8 earning powers every time you geo-flag a location.  The fun starts to happen when others attempt to take down your flag and take away the booty prize.  If their Skully has more booster powers, they will prevail.  On the flipside, if you have more booster powers you will defend your flag.  Collectors can play as long as they and they will be free to exchange their PO8 tokens for other cryptocurrencies on secondary exchanges, should they want to liquidate their positions on their PO8 balance.

CBN: What is your advice to other startups who might have equally big, impossible ideas?

MA: Press forward.  Surround yourself with positive people. Staff your weaknesses.

PO8 will be representing The Bahamas at Creative Business Cup Global Finals on 1-2 July in Copenhagen and will be one of the speakers at the event.

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