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Partnership Analysis
Summary:
From PWC to the Gui’an Government – dissecting VeChain’s various partnerships and evaluating the true impact they may have on the project’s development.
Table of contents:

VeChain Partnership Analysis

Introduction:

We’ve all heard about VeChain, the rebrand, and their ever-growing amount of partnerships, unfortunately information about some of the partners is a bit scare (especially in English) – this article will serve as an introduction to and compilation of information about of the various VeChain partners followed by my evaluation of them based on available information. Remember that while I have done a good amount of research, I may have missed some things – if any reader has additional information I encourage you to comment with sources, so I can follow up and provide updates if needed.


Partners:

Jim Breyer/Breyer Capital:

Breyer Capital is supporting VeChain through an official advisory role. In Jim Breyer’s statement he said a few things:

  • he agrees with VeChain’s hypothesis that “enterprises will accelerate the adoption and development of blockchain technology”
  • he’s interested in their “top-percentile crypto team”
  • relationships to PwC and DNV GL are compelling

He closed out saying he is there to learn with/support VeChain as they work towards main net release and develop their partnerships.


PwC:

VeChain became a part of PwC’s incubation programme in May of 2017 [16], with the signing ceremony with Raymund Chao (PwC Greater China Chairman) and DJ Qian (CEO at the time, also CEO of BitSE) taking place May 17th.

Raymund Chao said he was excited to embrace advanced technology in an attempt to stimulate growth and he was excited about the joint initiative between the two companies. Yeoh Oon Jin said it was an exciting milestone and “we are confident that together with VeChain we will bring more value to the marketplace through collaborative innovation”. DJ Qian said he believed the in-depth cooperation would definitely accelerate the transformation of supply chain management.


Fanghuwang (房互网):

Fanghuwang focuses on property mortgage loans and collateral backed lending to small and medium enterprises (across China). They utilize cloud computing and big data analysis to provide high quality and risk controls [18].

Established in late 2015, they have so far gained 20 billion RMB loans for close to 10k small/medium enterprises – through them it takes less than 7 days (avg) to receive a loan with some cases being approved within 48 hours, they say this reduces financing costs by 70% vs getting a loan directly through a bank, which may take a month or longer.

They use a digital credit collection system to “identify risks from multiple decisions, working together with the superior fund backed guarantee systems, to provide comprehensive and trustworthy digital credit data to financial institutions.” As of today, they have provided risk assessment for 40k small/medium enterprises and have approved over 12k small/medium enterprises “in obtaining financial liquidity acquiring over 22bn RMB/$3.3bn USD from large Chinese state-owned banks”.

They were awarded the “2017 Business Model Innovation Award” at the “21st Century Annual Finance Summit of Asia”. At the end of October, it was reported that they had interest overdue at .3%, overdue principle at .6% and bad debt over 45 days at 0.


D.I.G.:

VeChain’s partnership with Direct Imported Goods focuses primarily on wine imports, many sources mistakenly report that D.I.G. is responsible for 30% of the wine imports into China, in reality, that figure refers to all wine imported through Shanghai.

The partnerships aim is to secure wine bottles with VeChain’s blockchain powered tags in an effort to combat wine counterfeiting. The goal last year was to tag about .01% of Chinese wine imports (about 1million bottles in a year) – it is unknown if that goal was met.


DNV GL:

The purpose of this partnership is to improve transparency of product/supplier information and increase the efficiency of supply chains using blockchain technology. Under the guidance of DNV GL, VeChain has signed an “exclusive strategic partnership agreement” with NRCC to develop/implement “blockchain related solutions” across their network. One of the main focuses of this partnership is developing solutions for the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and China National Tobacco Corporation (a govt. agency and state-owned company respectively) to develop blockchain/IoT solutions to collect end user data so that “manufacturers can utilize the data collected to management internal supply chain more effectively” and to “develop products which are more fitting to end users’ likings”.


iTaotaoke:

The plan here is to use VeChain Thor to “digitally identify every piece of content or media created as released by content providers, safeguarding and securing intellectual property rights of the entire user base”. iTaotaoke’s goal is to help traditional media, publishers/ self-publishers, edu. Institutions and individuals “easily establish their content marketing structure, protect their rights, and support profiting from their content.”


Gui’an Government:

The Chinese Central Govt. has laid out a plan to bring technological improvements across China with the city of Gui’an acting as a rapid development center for emerging technologies. [21] China will be driving a significant amount of resources towards this development plan, with major Chinese state-owned companies investing and building here (along with investments from Apple and Microsoft with IBM and more planning projects in the area).

“VeChain is mandated to be the blockchain technology partner of the government of Gui’an to plan, design, and implement such processes.”

“VeChain will work closely with Administrative Examination and Approval Bureau of Gui’an New Area to provide a blockchain based information system to collect and analyze administrative data, offer privacy protection of data and apply blockchain technology to reform business registration and cut red tape.”


Validity Check and Further Research:


Fanghuwang (房互网) 

The first thing I tried to validate was that they’ve gained 20 billion RMB loans so far, most of the sources related to this have been using a 14bn number, with a pair posted in December 2017 and January 2018 quoting that figure as well. That figure comes from around May 2017, so a 20bn figure in October makes sense – though the same articles also mention their goal is 30bn for the year, which doesn’t look like it was met (the goal for 2018 is 100bn). For some reason [5] quotes a 140bn figure in May 2017 but I believe that is a typo.

Subsequently looking into the 7 days/48 hours/70% cost reduction/.3% ov. Int./.6% ov. Prnpl/45days numbers I found that every single article quoted the same numbers, but don’t offer any additional information. Say that they’re approving loans within 2-7 days, even if they could achieve a 70% cost reduction the fact that they ALWAYS say bad debt over 45 days is 0 regardless of when the article is published seems suspicious.

The award they mention – “2017 Business Model Innovation Award” – was won on December 6th, 2017 [1]. They also won a few other awards just before that one: On November 2nd 2017, they won “WCEC 2017 Most Influential Real Estate Industry Award” (hosted by China Mobile Communications Association) [3], another on November 3rd 2017 “Outstanding Internet Finance Technology Enterprise” [5] (organized by Daily Economic News), and another on November 29th 2017 “Best Technology Finance Start-Up Company” (hosted by Hunting Cloud) [4].

I find it interesting that the only award mentioned is the first one when they won 3 awards in short succession right before receiving that one. I’m not sure how much weight to give any of these awards due to the lack of information I’ve found.

They have also had an app on the Appstore [6] (confirmed via the link to www.fanghuwang.com, Fanghuwangs website) though it hasn’t been updated in some time. The takeaways here are that the app hasn’t been updated since around May 2017 and the two reviews the app does have are from 2016 and don’t say much (the reviews won’t show up on mobile Appstore, need to go to Apple’s website – side note my favorite of the two is “leader is very beautiful – Leadership is very beautiful”). There is another app from the same developer [7], this one has similarly not been updated in some time (over 1 year since last update), but someone did leave a comparably lengthy review with the subject (translated), “Two words to describe, rubbish.”

[App]

https://i.imgur.com/KrCJ13p.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/MIwLYCb.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/j0wx4vf.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/90Ghm7j.png

[Other App, same publisher]

https://i.imgur.com/jEIiDbf.png

https://i.imgur.com/ts7iofV.png


PwC:

The problem here isn’t with PwC/VeChain’s relationship, but that Sunny Lu claims all credit for bringing on PwC and DNV GL [17] – but the photo evidence shows DJ Qian and Raymund Chao signing with PwC. This poses the question, who is responsible for the PwC partnership? If you go based off VeChain’s official statement regarding FUSION/DJ Qian, the credit goes to Sunny – but in that same statement, it emphasizes there is no connection between VeChain and DJ Qian – which seems to be contradicting because how can there be no connection to the former CEO [26 - DJ Qian also introduced VeChain at their official launch]. Research shows at some point DJ Qian and Sunny Lu went their separate ways, but I fail to see how Sunny Lu is solely responsible for all of the development work, especially when articles on the now “retired” VeChain medium [18] say things like

• “Now a subsidiary of China’s biggest blockchain technology company, BitSE, VeChain became part of PwC’s incubation programme in May 2017, when BitSE and VeChain CEO, DJ Qian, went to Hong Kong to sign an agreement to boost VeChain’s deployment across South East Asia. With PwC’s resources and blockchain research at their disposal, this is a big opportunity for VeChain to realize their vision and accelerate the growth of a company with a promising future.”

• “In just two years, VeChain have already worked with a number of clients across various consumer product industries, including wine importing where Direct Imported Goods (DIG), China’s largest importer of fine wines, have placed one million bottles of wine on VeChain’s platform to counteract the huge issue of fake wine in the country, through to fashion and luxury accessories, food production and automotive supply chain management with Renault. The company has a number of partnership announcements in the pipeline.”

This shows that DIG, another of VeChain’s partnerships was formed while DJ Qian was still CEO – their national partnership was formed while he was CEO as well, especially noteworthy is that in the national partnership statement it says “the management committee of Gui’an free trade zone officially partnered with BitSE or VeChain to build the world’s first blockchain smart town. I am reaching out to VeChain for clarification about this whole matter, as the information I’ve found has been contradictory.


D.I.G.:

I found three standout pieces of information while researching D.I.G.,

  • They are not a big player in Shanghai [14]
  • Sponsored by the local govt. [16]
  • D.I.G. stores recently have been downsizing/closing [15]

While state sponsorship of these partners is coming up more and more, what’s more important is the fact that stores have been downsizing and closing in recent months and that they aren’t very big players in Shanghai. A wine distributor commented on [14] explaining that they distribute to private parties or second/third tier cities but don’t have much presence in Shanghai itself, adding “in the on-trade industry we never heard such company”.

The demise of D.I.G. stores is blamed on tax reform [15], which resulted in a significant increase to the cheap prices which helped the stores experience such phenomenal growth earlier. The article paints a dismal picture of shops that remain open, “Today, however, the same DIG shop on Gutang Road is utterly devoid of customers. Dust covers the shelves and its products. The current owner of the shop told media that much of its merchandise has become too expensive for the average Shanghai consumer.”

This poses the question, are these VeChain tagged bottles actually being bought? If a toothbrush costs the equivalent of $7.50 and most Shanghai consumers can’t afford to shop there, how many customers are opting to pay the price premium of VeChain tagging when the goods themselves are already too expensive in the first place.


DNV GL:

The medium article announcing the partnership between NRCC/VeChain near the end also says “VeChain working directly with NRCC to develop a solution for State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and the China National Tobacco Corporation adds to the strength of VeChain as a government blockchain technology alongside its work in Gui’an and Shanghai.”

This to me is a cause for concern – the idea behind CryptoCurrency is to promote decentralization, a crypto controlled largely in part by any entity, in this case, the Chinese government, seems counter-intuitive.

Regardless, the partnership with NRCC is recent so it will be interesting to see how it develops.


iTaotaoke:

The platform itself is quite new, releasing in January 2018 to a few thousand users, it doesn’t make sense to currently look at growth statistics (a few months – a year down the line would be a good time to revisit). One thing from the statement does seem glaring, if iTaotaoke is trying to digitally identify every piece of content/track content creators there is always the possibility that this platform could be used to censor content the Chinese government doesn’t approve of – VeChain and its partners are closely connected to the Chinese government and due to their history with censorship it isn’t a stretch to ask “would they?”


Gui’an Government:

The partnership with the Gui’an government once again brings up the DJ Qian problem, from the official statement it even says the Mgmt. Committee of Gui’an FTZ officially partnered with BitSE or VeChain. While that in an of itself is confusing (VeChain, when the agreement was signed, was a subsidiary of BitSE, with DJ Qian as CEO of both) what makes it even more confusing is Sunny Lu’s insistence that DJ Qian and BitSE have nothing to do with VeChain. If Sunny Lu is responsible for the development of VeChain in its current form in its entirety, then what does that mean for the partnership between the Gui’an govt. and VeChain? Where does that leave BitSE, seeing as VeChain was a subsidiary of BitSE at the time? Due to the lack of information and contradictory statements surrounding this whole situation, it’s hard to be anything but confused.

“The 2017 China International Big Data Expo, endorsed by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council of China, it was hosted by the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Industry and Information, the National Internet Information Office and the People’s Government of Guizhou, and kicked off on 24th May. Under the witness and endorsement of all the above government bodies, the Management Committee of Gui’an Free Trade Zone officially partnered with BitSE or VeChain to build the world’s first Blockchain Smart-Town.”


Evaluation:


PwC:

The whole DJ Qian situation is very confusing, essentially devolving into a "he said", "she said" argument – while the partnership and partner are not in question, the relationship or lack of a relationship between DJ Qian, PwC, Sunny Lu, and VeChain needs to be clarified.


Fanghuwang (房互网)

After reviewing the sources found so far, I have not been able to confirm the statistics provided – though they are routinely mentioned, the data corroborating those statistics is missing. It’s important to remember that this does not mean those statistics are not accurate, just that they aren’t verified. I will continue to look for evidence supporting them and update this section if I am able to.

As previously mentioned, I’m not sure how much weight to give any of these awards, and the fact that only 1 of the 4 was mentioned in the VeChain statement is something that doesn’t quite make sense – any company that wins 4 awards in short succession (a little over a month) would generally bring attention to those awards for business development/marketing purposes (such as partnerships/ partnership statements), in this case for some reason they opted not to.

Lastly, the app having no real reviews and no updates in over 8 months is a red flag – the developers' other app doesn’t help any either.


D.I.G:

With D.I.G. stores on the decline due to the sharp rise in prices (toothbrush @ $7.50?!) and D.I.G. themselves not being a large player in the Shanghai area while there isn’t much worry they’ll disappear due to local govt. having a stake in it, I don’t see how D.I.G. can get customers to pay more for things that are already too expensive for them (this isn’t like baby formula/WaBi’s approach because baby formula is a necessity and parents are willing to pay a 20% premium to ensure product safety).


DNV GL:

The partnership is solid from a business standpoint – from a crypto stand point it goes against the fundamentals of crypto. DNV GL has also recently started a data marketplace, where they may plan to sell data collected through the VeChain partnership.


iTaotaoke: 

Relatively new partnership, not much weight in any direction at the moment – though the platform could possibly be used as a tool for censorship, which is a cause for concern.

Gui’an Government:

This could end up being massive, but so far it looks like VeChain has only been tasked with building the “first-ever blockchain powered fine wine/liquor exchange in the world” – what matters going forward is what else develops out of this partnership.

Also keep in mind that any concerns about the Chinese Central Govt. likely carry over to the Gui’an Govt. (example: censorship).


Closing Statement:

When researching VeChain, at first it seems like all of their partnerships are with solid companies – but when digging beneath the surface some of those companies don’t seem to quite match up to their descriptions. Case in point would be Fanghuwang: there isn’t much evidence corroborating their claims (aside from articles based on promotional material given to authors by Fenghuwang themselves), their app hasn’t been updated in nearly a year and they missed their business goal for last year by quite a lot. Based solely on the official partnership statement, you wouldn’t really be clued into the validity of their claims or any problems the company may be facing.

After evaluating the available information (or lack thereof), I’ve re-evaluated my VeChain investment – there are simply too many unanswered questions at the moment. I don’t doubt the validity of these partnerships or what they could produce, but as a research-driven investor, the lack of information amounts to a big red flag. When my concerns are alleviated, I will consider reinvesting in VeChain, but until then it doesn't make sense to.

References:

[1] http://tech.sina.com.cn/i/2018-01-08/doc-ifyqiwuw7837624.shtml

[2] http://www.ceweekly.cn/2017/0807/200910.shtml

[3] http://www.ceweekly.cn/2017/1106/208257.shtml

[4] http://www.ceweekly.cn/2017/1201/211503.shtml

[5] http://industry.caijing.com.cn/20171106/4355356.shtml

[6] http://www.yemacaijing.com/index/view/id/15092.html

[7] https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/%E6%88%BF%E4%BA%92%E7%BD%91/id1067529057?mt=8

[8] https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/%E6%BB%B4%E5%A3%AB%E5%88%86%E6%9C%9F/id1019073285?mt=8

[9] http://www.fanghuwang.com/

[10] http://money.jrj.com.cn/2018/01/11095123929108.shtml

[11] https://www.pwccn.com/en/press-room/press-releases/pr-150517.html

[12] https://medium.com/@jimbreyer/announcing-our-vechain-advisory-role-5e37b7722978

[13] https://www.winealchemy.co.uk/dig-blockchain-wine-distribution-china/

[14] http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1061251.shtml

[15] https://twitter.com/vechainofficial/status/919280475994185728

[16] https://www.pwccn.com/en/press-room/press-releases/pr-150517.html

[17] https://medium.com/@vechainofficial/statement-by-vechain-foundation-regarding-fusion-project-61e1e80b5234

[18] https://medium.com/@pr_11471/vechain-building-the-supply-chain-of-the-future-f91df2bdcaf7

[19] https://medium.com/@vechainofficial/vechain-blockchain-solutions-to-enter-chinas-tobacco-industry-in-force-c92b3729878f

[20] https://medium.com/@vechainofficial/https-medium-com-vechainofficial-itaotaoke-8844d73a7699

[21] https://medium.com/@vechainofficial/vechains-national-level-partnership-b3bc792cb1f1

[22] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180119005614/en/Dejun-Qian-Founder-BitSE-Creates-Promising-Blockchain

[23] https://www.dnvgl.com/news/dnv-gl-partners-with-blockchain-expert-vechain-to-increase-transparency-from-the-factory-to-the-consumer-110284

[24] http://www.8btc.com/vechain-leifengwang

[25] http://www.8btc.com/bitse-ama

[26] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38Mid9B6D0o&feature=youtu.be

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