Ep. 84 – A Chat with Andy Tian, CEO of Uplive and GIFTO (GTO)

As the volatility continues for cryptocurrency market capitalization in 2018, the stakes for blockchain-based tokens and the visionary teams behind them continue to surge in only one direction – higher. After only two months, the number of Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) has reached 30% of last year’s record breaking benchmark of 885. And while total funding is even higher at 36% year-over-year, there are signs of easing as the figures are finalized for the month of February.

ICO Funding 2018
2018 ICO funding (https://www.icodata.io/stats/2018)

So what’s going on? Our latest guest provides some amazing insight into why it might have very little to do with the crypto investors behind almost half a trillion dollars in current capitalization and everything to do with average digital consumers around the globe. This guy knows a thing or two about commercial viability and consumer product life-cycles. Meet Andy Tian, CEO of Asia Innovations Group (AIG).

Andy Tian


Andy graduated from MIT with a degree in Computer Science and began his career as a programmer in South Korea. He then commenced his mastering of Chinese market dynamics by co-launching two digital platforms, including one of the country’s earliest music-based community websites and an e-commerce services provider. Following a stop as a consultant for one of the world’s top management consulting firms, Andy joined the Google team in 2005. Capitalizing on his prior experience, he led the company’s mobile business and orchestrated Android technology’s introduction in China.

Never straying too far from his interest in the social and entertainment space, Andy co-founded a gaming company before selling it to Zynga where he stayed on to fine-tune his Chinese market acumen even further. Four years ago, he co-founded Asia Innovations and quickly built a live streaming app called Uplive that accounted for nearly 80% of AIG’s revenue in 2017. With the blockchain revolution upon us, Andy and his team are now beta-testing an exciting enhancement for their Uplive users, a platform-agnostic, decentralized, universal virtual gifting protocol called GIFTO.

Got all that? Let’s start with Uplive and the curious phenomena of live streaming in Asia.

 The “One to Many” Scenario

Most of us are already quite familiar with the concept of live streaming. It’s become commonplace on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram and most users would consider it akin to another media channel vying for our attention. But Asian culture’s take on the practice is slightly different because the interaction has been monetized. Uplive members who live stream their daily activities are called broadcasters and these broadcasters compete for the attention (and lucrative affection) of other members.

It truly is a spectacle to behold, as the application’s user interface is just as glamorous as the extravagant virtual gifts that users can purchase for real money and then trade to others or bestow upon their favorite broadcasters. Imagine emoji’s on a cocktail of steroids and peyote, leaving jet streams of star dust as they zoom across a video-chat-gaming backdrop that would make any Vegas slot machine blush. It’s a sensory explosion and Uplive members can’t get enough of each other or the social interface platform that AIG facilitates.

UP Live screen cap
A Magic Unicorn. (http://up.live/#/home)

After 13 years in Asia, Andy realized and seized on the market’s desire for real-time, 24/7 business opportunities to build personal brands. Despite a similar willingness to share their lives with others, Western culture consumers prefer a more passive feedback loop when it comes to interactions with those on the other end of the live stream connection. They post their content, let others consume or react, and then weigh their options for further exchange. Not so for the legions of Uplive broadcasters. “All of their fans can respond and interact to their stream in real time, during the content sharing,” Andy explains excitedly. “It becomes a ‘one to many’ scenario and our broadcasters can then see real time comments and questions from everybody around the world.”

The Blockchain Connection

As indicated above, Uplive is doing quite well for itself and continues to expand into new countries and markets. But Andy and his team quickly realized they had magic in a bottle with their library of intricate, unique, and customizable virtual gifts. What if their catalog of animated goodies (ranging in value from ten cents to eight thousand dollars) could spread digital joy and appreciation beyond the borders of the Uplive ecosystem? And what if these transactions could maintain both integrity and value for both parties? AIG realized their solution resided within a blockchain.

GIFTO is the world’s first virtual gifting protocol. The immutable features of a distributed ledger can preserve the value (based on rarity and uniqueness) of a purchased gift as it is transferred securely between parties, regardless of platform – YouTube, Facebook, and the other usual suspects. That’s right, Andy figured out how to use simple web links as digital launch pads into the world’s most popular social networks and their limitless potential for a virtual gift bonanza.

GIFTO Unveiling
Andy Tian unveiling the GIFTO protocol with some Uplive broadcasters. (YouTube)

The true genius behind GIFTO is that AIG has accomplished what so many of us are coming to view as a mandate for blockchain-based crypto projects in 2018: use the technology in a real world application while simultaneously generating value (functionality) for customers and revenue for your company. Tian and company have not only figured out a way to accomplish this, but they have done so in a way that requires their customers to have no knowledge of the technology they’re embracing.

If you have concern that all of this relies upon a rampant surge in human vanity, I would understand your sentiment. But there is a strong altruistic side to all of this, as evidenced by the recent sale of the most expensive virtual gift in history – the Forever Rose. Artist Kevin Abosch (of “Potato #345” fame) created the piece of digital art, which ended up selling for $1,000,000 worth of cryptocurrency on, appropriately, Valentines Day. The team of winning bidders consisted of ten crypto market leaders and all proceeds will go to the CoderDojo Foundation, a non-profit global network of free computer programming clubs for young people. Crazy? Perhaps. But what if this is just the beginning of a new mechanism by which mankind can take care of its most under-served?

The Forever Rose
The Forever Rose (Kevin Abosch)

The Future

Andy is hoping to take the first iteration of the GIFTO protocol live in this first quarter of 2018, but he is thoughtful, reflective, and cautious when discussing his potential game-changing expansion:

“Commercial products take a lot of iterations to be correct. We must focus on the end-user, our customer…who we must assume has no experience with crypto and blockchain, and ensure that they can still use and enjoy the product right away. [Android] was a wonderful technology but it was a long process of refinement to get it to a point where it was usable by the average consumer.  It’s the same with blockchain. The technology can be great but if the UI, the work flow, the product flow doesn’t work right, no one will pick it up and use it. I view that as being much more important than technology.”

Well said, Andy.


For the latest information on Uplive, check out their presence on Facebook

For the latest information on GIFTO, check out their presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium



About the author: Ryan LaMonica is a management consultant and blockchain enthusiast with a background in engineering, energy, marketing and risk management. The views reflected in this article are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. He currently resides outside of Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife manage the energy and risk of their four amazing children.