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'Don't follow venture capital money,' says former SCMP CEO and entrepreneur Gary Liu

'Don't follow venture capital money,' says former SCMP CEO and entrepreneur Gary Liu

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The venture capital (VC) world is incentivised by very short returns, the here and now. Not by real, long term and sustainable tech, said Gary Liu, co-founder and CEO of Hong Kong -based technology company Terminal 3. Liu, a tech entrepreneur, was speaking at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's opening fireside chat at the Digital Marketing Asia (DMA) conference in Singapore.

With a background in blockchain, NFTs and data, Liu established Artifact Labs, creating historical NFTs to ‘preserve and connect history’, and is the founding chair of Web3 Harbour, fostering Web3 development in Asia.

Formerly the CEO of the South China Morning Post, Liu led a significant overhaul, boosting global reach and revenue, securing its position as Asia’s premier news outlet. At Digg, he drove the transformation into a data-centric news platform, and at Spotify, he progressed from global director of ad product strategy to head of labs. His career also spans roles at AOL and Google.

He added that while it is true that new trends are always emerging, particularly in the space of digital marketing, it is important to note that they are not actually that new but rather are going through cycles of their own. "It's just different cycles of excitement around changes made to AI because most already know that AI is revolutionising the world. This is why chasing trends is also not a viable idea," Liu explained. 

While many marketers might be inclined to see AI as a new shiny toy, Liu argues otherwise saying that areas such as blockchain, web3 is new, zero knowledge proofs are the real 'new avenues' in the world of tech.

"If you want to think about the future, pay attention to what is being spent on. Because that could matter in many years," he explained.

Liu's current firm, Terminal 3, aims to maximise the value of a decentralised internet by empowering users with ownership of their digital identities and data, and by enabling companies to engage authentically with their customers and communities. With the new generation being more online than ever and also becoming more aware about privacy and the ethics surrounding it, Liu explained that Terminal 3's goal was to give power back to users and to reduce cost and compliance issues that could arise with improper data collection.

"I myself spent my entire career primarily around user data. I've been in the consumer tech world for a very long time. But one day, I realised that so much of what I was doing was just pure exploitation of unsecured user data," he said. He added that this was an incredibly inconvenient truth about the industry, which is what led him to start Terminal 3, a company that is building a decentralised user data infrastructure to replace these existing platforms that strip users of privacy and that create compliance issues.

Liu explained that at the end of the day, he is a massive advocate for zero-knowledge proofs, which allow for firms to collect data that they can prove to be accurate without the consumer revealing specific private information. This is largely because it is more ethical.

"With zero-knowledge proofs, assets are primarily built off binary information. We need to know if someone is male, if they live in Singapore, what money they have. So, we get these answers with binary answers. We download this information, look at it on an encrypted form and then get our answers," Liu said. "If we can do that without ever looking at the underlying data to get verifiable answers, its fairer for everyone."

Below, Liu shares more about his idea of a future with safer and more ethical data collection.

As marketers, we’re bounded to metrics that we have to deliver to show value - how do you expect this new technology to help deliver this if everything is decentralised? 

There is a concept of decentralisation that marketers don't understand. With data being decentralised, your customers become your stakeholders because they own a piece of what you are about. While managing stakeholders are never easy, when you get it right, they add incredible value to a company, 

This is one of the reasons why NFT communities will spend extra money to fly around the world and meet one another to elevate the value of assets that they own - because they are stakeholders and not just customers. 

The next generation is going to demand this kind of ownership over everything they care about. As marketers, we need to understand the value of what it is to turn a customer into a stake holder. 

In an uncertain economy, do you think that marketing ethics tend to take a back seat? 

Yes of course. It's very convenient in fact because we are at an inflection point when it comes to digital ethics. We believe that we are still in the early days of the technology and so we think that these ethical issues are nascent and that they will be worked out by people smarter than us. But at the end of the day, money talks.

In the ad industry, if we do not talk about ethics now and the hardcore issues that AI brings into our world such as biases and misinformation, we are going to be driving and creating future solutions that the next generation will have to solve. 

How will the next generation impact how we view the collection of data?

Gen Z is going to be the number one consumption generation in the next half a decade. So, there is an urgency for new tech. The power of their wallets are coming. 

If you look at the expectations of Gen Z and how large the generational gap is jumping into the next generation of consumers, you see that ethics is a core issue that while you can ignore now, will eventually be something you need to face in time. 

At the end of the day, you have to care about it and think about the next generation. The new generation can be far more themselves in the digital world and they spend most of their time there. So, they certainly care. 

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