As a serial entrepreneur, Erik has started a number of companies as the main inventor and technologist. Being a veteran of the tech industry, his passion for innovation and belief in the power of creativity has led to the success of several leading startups and high-growth technology companies. As Founder and CEO of ImagineBC, his current mission is to unlock data for more equitable outcomes for users of data. He has kickstarted a new data economy and, in doing so, worked to align data practices with growing consumer expectations.
Prior to launching his latest venture, Erik was at the forefront of the human capital management and technology intersection with his company Benepay Technology. Benepay Technology, the parent company of ImagineBC, remains operational and well-positioned. Coupled with the successful activation of Benepay Technology, Erik also founded and, later, sold PowerPay software for $22 million. Erik is also the president of the Data Union, a global movement aimed at creating a more equitable and ethical data economy.
Erik’s industry accolades include his appointment to the Forbes Tech Council, Rolling Stone Culture Council and the Radical Exchange. In this exclusive interview, he will give us an update on ImagineBC.
Hi Erik, since our chat in April 2019, could you share with us some of the memorable moments that have transpired with ImagineBC over the last couple of years?
A few important things have occurred since we last spoke. We just recently almost doubled the size of our membership through the promotion of a single event. This is extremely encouraging as we are preparing almost 5 dozen more content channels starting in early April. We have also been able to open up our platform to membership outside the United Status. Specifically, we can currently allow folks from Canada to join our community and start putting their personal data to work for them. In addition to opening up Canada, we are working on a few (two in Africa and 1 in Eastern Europe) other large international initiatives. And finally, we have entered into a close working relationship with a non-profit organization called The Data Union. The Data Union is focused on educating individuals and organizations on the importance of data privacy and personal data monetization. We hope The Data Union will eventually provide services to its members similar to those provided by existing labour unions. Think about the ability to collectively bargain with big tech for fair compensation from the use of an individual’s personal data. And also, the ability to effectively lobby Congress to protect the data rights of individuals.
Do you have any new developments or services you would like to share with us today from ImagineBC?
Absolutely and this question comes at the perfect time. The first is that over the course of the last year and a half, we have been able to significantly build out our content delivery platform including the ability to allow our content partners to monetize live-streamed events. Just this past weekend we were able to run our very first live-streamed event. We are also on the cusp of releasing a brand new user experience. In addition to just looking much better, the new UX also significantly enhances the ability of our content partners to communicate securely with their followers. Think Twitter type capability but without the risk of being hacked by social engineering. And finally, but perhaps I was burying the lead, along with the release of the new UX, we will have a number of advertisements, surveys, and giveaway opportunities available for all our members to start putting their personal data to work. There won’t be a ton of money to be made at first but if all our members take advantage of some of the auto-donation capabilities we have built into the platform, our national partners such as Toys For Tots and NNEDV will definitely appreciate the inflow of revenue.
What specific challenge is the media industry facing, what unique solutions are you providing and who are these services for?
I think one of the media industries biggest challenges is that the tech giants like Google and Facebook act like media companies but because of effective lobbying they don’t have to play by the same rules traditional media companies have to, concerning the regulations governing responsible reporting and behaviour. ImagineBC makes it clear from the beginning and within our term and conditions that we are a media company and that we take our position as a media company very seriously and fully understand that we have an obligation to conform to existing standards of responsible behaviour concerning reporting of news and the delivery of content. ImagineBC also looks to promote a free exchange of ideas. Since ImagineBC’s advertising revenue model is very different from platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter, we are not focused on having to use AI/ML-driven data analytics to feed our members a steady stream of content they like and are familiar with in order to increase impressions and revenue. Instead, on the content side, we are focused on challenging our members to broaden their perspective and in doing so hopefully grow as individuals.
The value of personal data to media companies cannot be overemphasized, how is ImagineBC helping users protect their data?
ImagineBC believes that every individual should decide how much data they wish to share with 3rd parties and more importantly be fairly compensated for any use of that data by 3rd parties. Regarding data protection, ImagineBC utilizes an Ethereum blockchain to protect individual data. Therefore, members of our community remain anonymous both to us and to other members within the community. This is good for the individual’s privacy, but as we are learning a real pain in the neck for us. I say this good-naturedly because we knew from the beginning that we would have to go the extra mile in order to protect our user’s information but still make the user experience easy and enjoyable.
With ImagineBC, users can earn equity with the option to give back to social causes, what are the success stories so far?
Nothing major to report on this front yet but as stated earlier with the release of our new UX and the availability of immediate earnings opportunities for all members, we are hoping that contributions to our social cause partners will start to ramp up considerably. We just need folks to understand that earning $2-4$ a month may not be earth-shattering to them individually, but if everyone were to use our platform’s donation capabilities to send some of all of these earnings to one of our partners, the money will begin to add up and quickly become significant to the social cause partner.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted growth in any measurable way?
COVID-19 has been a mixed bag for us. One positive is that the pandemic created a need for content providers to examine alternative methods of earning an income. Since ImagineBC offers a decidedly different approach than traditional players like Patreon and Cameo to monetizing content, it helped shape and streamline our discussions with potential partners. On the negative side, we have a number of significant international and domestic community growth strategies that require physical human connectivity, so obviously, these have been put on hold for a year.
Increasingly, tech giants are wrestling with the pressure of new privacy laws such as those recently passed in places such as California and Virginia. What do you believe the future holds for federal legislation on issues such as data privacy in 2021?
I am hopeful that we will see some federal legislation in this area from the current Congress. I applaud the efforts of states like California and Virginia to take the lead in this area, but ultimately this must be a Federally regulated issue. It’s difficult and costly for small companies like ImagineBC to try and keep up with 50 different regulations on data privacy and ultimately helps the tech giants who can afford to take advantage. One single regulatory guideline is that all companies must follow is a much more sensible approach. It would be nice to think that the US would learn from GDPR and pass a more comprehensive set of protections but given the power of big tech’s lobbying efforts, it’s probably more likely that we will see something equal to or perhaps even a bit weaker than what is defined with GDPR. Keep in mind, that any legislation passed that does not give the individual the right to take action on behalf of their own data just won’t pack the necessary punch to stop big tech. We can’t rely on State or even Federal attorney generals to fight this battle for us. The government simply needs to give us the right to fight for ourselves and a level playing field.
Any current opportunities for investors, partners, advertisers, brands or creators at ImagineBC you would like to share with us?
All of the above but especially advertisers. We currently have a budget to subsidize advertising campaigns for companies. So, any company out there reading this article who is intrigued by our idea, we encourage you to get in contact with us. Initially, we can run some free advertising for the company and longer-term we think every company will learn to appreciate the unique advantages of our advertising model.
Do you have more information for our readers today?
Only this. I believe that the 2 issues of data privacy and personal data monetization are far more important than arguing about “wokeness” and climate change. History has proven that the most dangerous threat to democracies is the size of the gap between the rich and the poor. That gap continues to widen at an alarming pace here in the United States and with the increasing adoption of AI/ML-driven robotics will only continue to accelerate in the near future. We can’t rely on the government to continue to send out stimulus checks. That is just not a solution that can be sustained over the long haul. Instead, we need to focus on creating new income streams for people and letting individuals share in the equity produced through the use of their personal information is a no-brainer. So, if you agree with me here, don’t just nod your head. Instead, click on The Data Union or ImagineBC’s website and become a member.
For more information, visit the ImagineBC website: https://imaginebc.net/