Startup Stories: Alpha Centauri
Centaurus Marketplace is a global food trading platform powered by GYO (Grow Your Own) cryptocurrency. I spoke with Gabriel Thelen, co-founder and CEO of Alpha Centauri, parent company of Centaurus Marketplace, about how their platform works and about how cryptocurrency needs to provide real economic value.
How does the Centaurus Marketplace work?
It creates a level democratic global playing field for the urban agricultural market. We cut through the artificial advantages of infrastructure and scale that currently allow large retailers to dominate the market.
Many areas have small farm shops that sell directly to customers. I live in the Mornington Peninsula in Australia and I buy half my produce at a local farm shop. It’s all organic and is 20% cheaper than similar organic produce at a large supermarket. However, local producers have limited reach and so they can’t erode the market share of the big retailers. Many local producers would love to expand but they can’t increase their market reach.
It’s a structural problem. The system is broken. We live in an era of extreme centralization of our food supply. It’s not only fresh food, it’s also honey, jams and many other sorts of food. The Centaurus marketplace allows producers to reach a global market and to compete only in terms of price and merit of the product.
Why did you create your own cryptocurrency, the GYO token?
The GYO cryptocurrency is the other half of our platform. Crypto is great for a global meritocratic marketplace. It’s a truly global currency. It will allow people from all over the world to transact without foreign exchange fees or delayed settlement, creating frictionless value exchange.
We have married our GYO tokens with gold to avoid the deflation problems seen with other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. A cryptocurrency that is valued far above national currencies like US dollars and not linked to any real world economic value is not a practical currency to use for everyday transactions.
Our solution is to develop a gold standard cryptocurrency. Gold has been money for 5000 years. It’s the ultimate standard in money. Each of our GYO tokens are 100% redeemable in gold. That allows us to create a stable cryptocurrency with an uncapped money supply that has an anchor in the free market and cannot be abused.
How do people buy GYO?
We will offer a pre-sale for early adopters in Q2 2019.
How do your AdaptiGrow smart planters work?
AdaptiGrow is a fully functioning compact hydroponic system with sensors to monitor temperature, moisture content and nutrient levels. It’s the first smart planter on the market that is practical and has the aesthetic shape of a normal pot. People can order either a round or square version. Each pot comes with a bag of substrate and concentrated nutrients which is all you need to get started. The system optimizes temperature and liquid throughput. For example, if the plant isn’t pulling out nutrients because it’s cold or not getting enough light, nutrients can build up in the medium and become toxic. Our system has a regulatory mechanism that will slow down liquid input if there is an excess of nutrients.
We also have a downloadable app to support AdaptiGrow planters. You select the plant you want to grow and the product will monitor the plant’s environmental data and provide you with feedback.
How do the AdaptiGrow planters fit into the Centaurus Marketplace?
People could grow food with AdaptiGrow planters and sell it on the Centaurus Marketplace, but that is only one food source. Our marketplace brings together all food assets wherever they are. It is a global farmers market. If you have produced food and you want to sell it, you can do so using our marketplace.
We have integrated IoT and provenance architecture within our platform to provide information on how the plant was grown and infer the quality of the food. That data is automatically integrated into the marketplace as an additional differentiating factor. Right now food consumers buy everything on trust. We have no idea of the quality or the growth history. We want to change that.
How did you turn your idea for Centaurus Market and AdaptiGrow into reality?
It takes hard work and a real desire to make a difference. You need to start by identifying specific concrete problems in the world and crafting solutions to these problems. Then you need to work very hard to make it happen.
Finding the right people is also key. We have two fantastic coders on our team who are both cryptocurrency experts. We also have someone skilled in electronics. For the AdaptiGrow planter, I designed the architecture, wrote the patent application and created an initial demonstration but I lack some skills in electronics so I found someone who could do that part.
The main thing in building a great team is persistence and patience. It may take a while but it’s worth waiting to get the right people. Be clear about who you want and don’t settle for someone who isn’t right.
You went through the muru-D accelerator. How does their program work and how did they help you?
Muru-D is Telstra’s startup accelerator. We applied and went through an extensive process to get in. It’s very competitive and it’s a fantastic program. They also gave us AUD75,000, as well as provided a range of services. That’s what enabled us to be born as a company. They have programs all over Australia.
Getting into an accelerator program is very competitive. You need to have a great idea, a great team and show specifically what differentiates you from others. You need to explain what problems you are solving, why these problems need to be solved, how you are solving them, and what you’ve done so far. Your team is also crucially important when applying to accelerators. You need to all get along well and present yourself as a professional team.
Have you raised any funding? If so, how did you do it?
We received funding as part of the muru-D program and also have an R&D grant. I really recommend taking advantage of grants. Now the aim is to make sales and get revenue in through the door. Once we have recurring revenue and revenue growth, we’ll be in a good position to raise more money.
You are planning on raising US$10 million through a pre-sale of GYO tokens. Why raise money by releasing cryptocurrency?
It’s non-dilutive and it’s really the best way of raising money. For companies that want to raise money through crypto, it’s important to ask: What’s the point of your crypto? Why are you selling it? Will it be around in 10 or 20 years?
What we are doing with GYO is trying to solve a global monetary problem on a macro level. It’s not only a means to raise money but also a means to solve the broken system of moving value around the world.
GYO is linked to gold. This means that unlike other cryptocurrencies which are capped, we can have an uncapped money supply. We can have an ongoing sale of GYO after the initial sale which no one else has had. As the marketplace expands, the money supply must also expand. GYO is crypto with a specific purpose. A lot of the activity in the crypto space has been pure speculation, there has been no economic value created, there is nothing behind these currencies. GYO is backed with gold and used to trade food on a global marketplace.
What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge has been how hard you have to work. You need complete focus and dedication and that can be difficult. You have to be willing to sacrifice if you want to build a successful company.
Do you have any other tips for new entrepreneurs?
Be bold and be confident. It sounds like a cliché but if you are convinced that you have a solution to a big problem and you 100% believe in yourself, then other people will believe in you too. Self-belief makes all the difference. Either do it or don’t do it. There’s no middle ground. If you are willing to put in the work, other people will back you.