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Leanne Kemp : A conversation with the CEO and Founder of Everledger and Queensland Chief Entrepreneur


WATCH : In conversation with Leanne Kemp


Advance.org CEO Maria MacNamara sits down for a conversation with entrepreneur Leanne Kemp.

Leanne Kemp made diamonds the focus of her blockchain business because, by their very nature, they are unique. Kemp says “it’s a path for physical and cloneable features that they hold and we were able to crack the Da Vinci Code when it comes to recording that digital fingerprint.

But beyond the scientific meaning of how we capture that physical to digital transformation, we also knew and understood that the industry was undergoing a significant amount of change and challenges at this very same time.”

The challenge was compelling enough for Kemp and her team to create a platform of provenance to track diamonds from the source of the mine to the retail network and answer the question “where does it come from”.

When was Everledger launched?

Everledger is now five years old. Kemp says “We turned five right in the middle of COVID-19 in April 15, blew out five candles on the cake and celebrated with 100 Everlegends that are across the world.” The company was bootstrapped. This was followed by a seed investment round two years after launch and then it completed a Series A round in 2019 with some investors including Rakuten, Bloomberg, Fidelity and Tencent which of course made WeChat.

When Kemp began, the talk was all about use cases for blockchain. Kemp says “Everledger was one of the very first in the world to be able to decouple the cryptocurrency from the ledger. Now they talk about Everledger as the proof case for blockchain because we are one of the handful of companies in the world that have real software solving for very real challenges at an enterprise level that connects whole of industry.”

Do you have a board?

Kemp says she has no advisory board and has only two other people on her company board because “I’m busy putting all my energies into my customers, Everlegends, our staff, and then also the product. So for me, it’s great to have a guiding light set of principles. The board really sits as a governance overlay…that will change over time, but certainly that board only really came into effect …in August last year. So until then, it’s all been about our team and our leadership team coming together and running hard so I don’t engage with external advisors, it’s not really a part of the culture of the organisation.” 

How did you build your team?

A team can make or break an organisation and talent attraction is one of the most important jobs a Founder has in the early stages of a company. “Look everyone that comes to Everledger walks their own pathways and for different reasons. We often think about the team as a collective mind that has the same mindset but very different skillsets. The leadership team I formed today has five direct C-level executives and I have a chief of staff. So I bought the chief of staff on board about 12 to 18 months ago. Just on the backdrop of the decision about being Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur and her role sits deliberately by my side to help lift the leadership team to help be there to make those internal decisions when I am external and or on a plane at 30,000 feet. We’re a values driven organisation, we understand the passion and the purpose for the company. But we also link that in in a very upfront way with the types of people that would join the organisation. About 44% of the company leadership is female with a technical background so they’re involved in the technical and design team” says Kemp.

Everledger operates in six locations around the world; Australia, India, Israel, China, the US and the UK. Kemp says “I think I’m probably the only one in the entire company that only speaks one language, most of bilingual multilateral they’re doing all sorts of contortionary moves of mind gymnastics.”

What type of organsiations are customers?

The customer base is diverse. It’s also impacted by the fact that this is a “platform of provenance” which Kemp recognises is something very new in the world. While there are many platforms that act as a two sided marketplace bringing together suppliers, buyers and sellers these are different in purpose to provenance platform where Kemp says “you have to start at its origin.”

She describes her customers as “everyone that touches the supply chain. So we engage with mining companies, which of course are our customers as much are the manufacturers, the cotton polish the diamonds right the way out to the retailers and then consumers. So our customers are everyone that has to touch contribute to the story of provenance or extract the truth around the story of provenance. But we started as a project. So we were thinking about how do we actually bring the project around diamonds together.”

How are you managing growth?

Kemp says the company goes from project to product to platform to ecosystem and is very deliberate about how it manages growth. She says that it feels like “precision driving at speed, it’s two hands on the steering wheel, no airbag”. The rate of 10% growth has them getting out of bed and often ‘sprinting marathons’, because “at the same time that we’re starting to unravel the true potential of these technologies that are mostly hidden in white papers, we’re also out there educating the market.”

Kemp wants us to know that it’s the power of the team that underpins Everledger’s success “we’re market makers at the same time as we’re looking at inventing on top of, you know, the blockchain protocol… we don’t subscribe to this hierarchical order and the traditional org chart, we spin up into team…and each of those teams run at different velocity paces, just like a big cog would with a small cog next to it.”

Kemp also talks about the importance of remaining close to customers “I would spend a different week in every country operationally so it took a lot on the physical and mental toll but if you’re growing a business. it’s a global business, you can’t really do it sitting behind a Zoom lens without being out meeting customers and meeting staff .” She has used the time during Covid-19 to focus on building back better and stronger, “I’m glad that I’ve invested because we have a very strong root system within the organisation.”

The relationship with her customers is different to those in many traditional markets. She says “We don’t see them as our customers, we’d see them as our thought partners, our innovation  providers because they’re seeding us with these ideas. It’s up to us to be the mechanics to make it a reality.”

Kemp doesn’t subscribe to the idea of Unicorns. For her, it’s Zebras, the “rare but real exotic creatures, rather than those fictitious ones!” She is focused on unravelling the ‘opaque’ sectors with conflicted supply chains. When you ask her where the growth will come from, she says “the future blood diamond equivalent in the world”. Kemp is looking at batteries, with a focus on the stored energy sector “cobalt lithium in the Congo. We’re also embedded in the reality of the moment around climate, environment and sustainability.”

She’s not only interested in where things come from, but also where they go once they leave her, and observes “we’ve been doing a lot of work quietly behind the scenes for nearly three years now on how we think about the traceability of repurchasing recycling. How do we design for disassembly with manufacturers?”

“So there’s natural mining where the money companies dig holes, push away the dirt and get the commodities out the door, but there’s as much usable material because we’re consuming … that we have to start tapping into new value streams.”

Kemp also has mining in space firmly on her radar: “we have an incredible amount of resources that are in space that is actually being considered by some of the largest mining companies in the world, and even the Russian government so, yes, space is not just the new frontier, it’s the frontier of today and companies like Gilmour Space give us the ability to use it as a communications overlay.”

What attracted you to the role of Chief Entrepreneur?

On this question, Kemp says it’s because she recognised that we need innovation now. “Well, it’s just so important. The timing. The timing of having incredible thought leadership that really understands that the hierarchy of the order of decision making is no longer fit for purpose, the way upon which we think about just shareholder value has surpassed Mother Earth’s patience.” Kemp says “innovation needs to be embedded horizontally to think about how we bring innovation logic which is the way we entrepreneurs think on just a normality of the moment, and how we build teams”. She says that “we don’t just necessarily look back to the Yellow Pages to find the right number to call you know there are incredible technology leaps that have been made and I think that whilst we look at singular disciplines of those technologies.”

She has a passion for her work in Australia and sees the opportunity for her home state: “Queensland can be the flag bearer for innovation, because we have the strength already in those pathways to 14 countries around the world with Trade investment Queensland, we know and understand what it means to innovate under challenging times and challenging environments because we get hit with so many different natural disasters and have done on a year upon year basis”. For her, it was important to have the Chief Entrepreneur actually actively working as an entrepreneur, building and scaling a global business.

There’s an authenticity to the message that resonates with the community, particularly in regional Queensland. Kemp observes that innovation is happening across the state, “on the farming land with dirt in the boots. It’s happening in you know men sheds that are tinkering now with intergenerational weaving and coming up with solutions to very real problems in agriculture or in farming.” She sees her job as uncovering, broadcasting and celebrating news of the innovation that’s taking place across Queensland, and she’s adamant “just because you’re a farmer doesn’t mean that you’re not an innovator, or an entrepreneur, you’re a farmpreneur!” She goes on to describe the importance of the entrepreneurs within organisations, the intrapreneurs. Kemp also observes that Queensland has an Innovation Army that comes with life experience and empathy which she sees as critical to their success.

What impact has Covid-19 had?

Kemp runs a distributed technology business in a digital world so the impact was minimal, because she was already working in a digital world. Kemp is pleased to see a change in the pace of decision making more broadly and sees the pandemic driving faster decision making in weeks or months where it once would have taken years. She says “the economic sustainability of what we’re doing as a state and as a country is now being thought out in a much more deliberate sense and that can only give a strength to the innovation segment rather than just having a well funded set of programs that are like the best version of The Castle and they all end up in, you know, they all end up in the pool room.”

What role do you see for superannuation funds?

Kemp sees a shift in the types of investments made around the world particularly in green bonds and future sustainability efforts. She sees the likely “crumbling and absolute honeycomb moment” being reflected in the valuation of these assets. She is also keen to see how we begin to re-think manufacturing in Australia and wants us to begin to “think about durability of products” and how we reuse them. A point she wants to end on is the need for a domestic technology sector. Kemp asks “why wouldn’t we, why couldn’t we, why haven’t we, why aren’t we, building more platforms like Zoom?”

Good question!

FURTHER INFORMATION

About Everledger

About the work of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur

Leanne Kemp is the Advance Technology Award Winner in 2018.

Leanne introduces Everledger at the Advance Awards 2018