By Erica Yee
Before Steve Flanagan was interested in coding, he was into codes. His early interest in cryptography and hashing stemmed from reading Simon Singh’s “The Code Book,” a history of encryption, when he was around 12 years old.
“I’ve definitely always had the motivation to build things. I liked Legos and Bionicles. I realized with computer science, I could build things with no need for materials,” says Flanagan (BS, Computer Science ‘20), who was recently featured in BostInno’s 25 Under 25.
Almost a decade later, Flanagan built his own company that uses blockchain — a technology based on cryptography — to produce smart contract supply orders. His inspiration came when he was doing freelance software development and had trouble working with clients who would ask for more features without paying him for the extra work. Flanagan realized this problem could be fixed using smart contracts, in which both parties knew exactly what was expected of each. He then understood that this idea could be applied to other business relationships, such as supply orders.
When a business orders supplies, either parts or entire goods in the case of resellers, the purchaser typically uses their network to source a supplier and then manually places an order. Smart contracts, which self-verify and self-execute transactions stored on the blockchain, enable a purchaser to objectively set expectations for orders and hold the supplying party accountable.
Flanagan spent his fall 2018 co-op on product development for what became Bountium. “This tool allows a purchasing business to work with any supplier, as well as automate placement of recurring supply orders, saving risk on each order, time spent placing orders, and time spent sourcing suppliers,” he explains. “We’re hoping to create more transparent ways for businesses to work together.”
Many of his customers are unfamiliar with blockchain, so Flanagan is excited about creating enough value for clients to be willing to learn about the technology. He currently runs the business by himself, though he is eager to collaborate with others. Filling every role in Bountium has been rewarding for him. “I genuinely believe that every part of a business should inform every other part of the business. My experience talking to customers and understanding what they get excited about makes me build a better product,” he says.
In his computer science curriculum, he found his algorithms class especially useful. Professor Jonathan Ullman was eager to take time and help students understand theory that can be hard to grasp initially, says Flanagan.
Building a business means cranking out a lot of writing, to everyone from developers to customers. Flanagan says his “Advanced Writing in the Technical Professions” course was very effective in helping him learn how to convey technical ideas in an understandable way.
He is also on the school track and field team, which has shaped his growth immensely. “Being part of the program, you have to be very driven. It’s definitely a big time commitment, and the coaches work us real hard because they know we can achieve a lot,” says Flanagan. “I definitely think that’s helped my work ethic, as well as bolster my goal-setting and planning abilities.”
He plans to use his next co-op in the spring to finalize Bountium’s feature set and distribute it at scale. As he juggles duties for Bountium along with school, he says that “good planning and good coffee” are key to keeping up.