Ian Vernon

Ian Vernon is the CEO of Dark Matter AB that operates PeN. He consider himself as a student of life with passion for innovation and would like to make the world a better place even in.
Ian Vernon is the CEO of Dark Matter AB that operates PeN. He consider himself as a student of life with passion for innovation and would like to make the world a better place even in.
Quadruple Bottom Line

Quadruple Bottom Line

In my previous blog, I talked about PeN being a GoodBusiness and an Impact Investment, in terms of which category of company we belong.
Apart from the positive social and environmental impact we bring, we are unique in a way that we can be considered as one of the few companies that can generate a Quadruple Bottom Line. This means that our bottom line or profit or impact can be measured in 4 different distinct ways, let me enumerate them here:
1. Measurable social impact
2. Excellent future financial returns
3. Quantifiable environmental sustainability impact
4. Recognisable contribution to parent/portfolio companies

Measurable Social Impact

I outline this on my previous blog essentially:
– Making communication and information available even to those who are not connected to the internet:  Communication and Information powers progress both as an individual and as a society in general.
– Leveraging your social currency: We put a real-world money value to your social currency and actually award that to you in something you can use to shop.
– Enabling the micro-sharing economy: This allows you, as a social media user, to benefit from the gains of companies who are out to make profit out of your usage. Also, you can share just about anything in PeN, including your internet connectivity.
– Personal and real emergencies: We assist you during your times of need, without any cost to you. We are always there.
– Health and safety: We notify you when you are going to an area where there are disease outbreaks. We also help out identify sources and movement of this outbreaks.

Excellent Future Financial Returns

As a company, we still need to ensure that we make profit. We do this in various ways, from 1) advertising like Facebook and Google to 2)In-app purchases, when you buy anything in PeN inside the app 3)mCommerce, although we provide online stores for free, we charge a very small amount for successful transactions 4)Peer to Peer transactions, soon you will be able to transact with another PeN user. You will be able to send them gifts or surprises, or exchanging just about anything with monetary value.  We will only charge a very small amount for qualified transactions. We are in the volumes business, so very small profits in a lot of transactions can still lead to a big profit at the end of the day.

Quantifiable Environment Sustainability Impact

In summer of 2017, we launched PeN’s tree planting initiative where we plant 1 tree for every 10 users. So far, we have planted around 25,000 trees and growing. We aim to be able to plant around 100 million trees by 2021 in various countries. This is achievable with your help by using PeN and spreading the word, making the PeN Pal community larger each day. Our tree planting initiative started in the Philippines in coordination with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and we aim to expand the project in various countries in the next 3 years.

Recognisable Contribution to Parent/Portfolio Companies

PeN in its nature, is a social network where users interact with each other.  Although it combines the power of messaging, voice, social, health, safety, commerce and micro-sharing in a single application that works even when there is no internet connection.
Since we are on-boarding the new wave of users, this will benefit portfolio companies immediately where they can ride the wave go our growth. Additionally, we provide various APIs so other companies can connect to our community, much like the way Facebook connects others to their network.  With PeN, connecting users even when there is no internet connection is paving the way to on-board the next billion users. Couple that with micro-sharing that leverages users’ social currency and turn it into a real-world monetary value will change the face of social media as we know it today.
Being one of the few companies with a Quadruple Bottom Line, the question is what does it take for PeN to become a unicorn?
Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog, What's New?
Impact Investment or Good Business Investment

Impact Investment or Good Business Investment

As PeN continues to grow, we need further investments to ensure that we continue to provide the free services that we do today.

In the past weeks of interacting with various Venture Capitals globally, there is one thing that caught my attention. We are, for some reason, being branded as suitable for impact investments since what we do is actually providing a positive social impact. Ted Rheingold created the term GoodBusiness a new investment sector for-large-profit businesses that also provide a social or environmental benefit.

As I analyze the investment space, we do quality for both traditional venture capitals and impact investors or goodbusiness investors. Being in that rarity is never easy in terms of finding the right venture partners since our business model checks requirements of both kinds of venture capitals – and none seem to actually have taken the advantage of both worlds.
For most venture companies, it’s either they invest to create more profits, or to provide social good. There are, of course, the new breed of GoodBusiness investors that invest in for profit companies. Although, the way they value the companies lean more on the profit side.
We are uniquely positioned in a way what our business model threads the balance between pure profit and positive social impact. Although most of our PeN Pals today are located across Asia, we are solving several global problems (see below),

Communications both offline and online

Availability of information even at times without internet connectivity:

Information is what drives progress and everyone has to right to access information anytime, anywhere.

Leveraging your social currency so that you benefit directly from it:

If you are in the US or Europe, a company like Facebook makes 17USD from you, why should you not have a share of that?

Enabling the micro-sharing economy.

This starts with us by sharing to you the benefits we reap. We are also powering micro peer-to-peer sharing, where each of our PeN Pals can create and execute exchanges amongst each other from sharing or even sharing/selling/buying internet connectivity on demand.


For millions of small businesses, online presence is very expensive. Although they have products that are suitable to sell online and might even be unique, we are removing this barrier by proving full mobile commerce capabilities for free.

Personal emergencies:

A lot of times, we have personal emergencies. From forgetting your key somewhere, your car having a flat tire, to feeling unsafe and unsecured. In PeN we leverage on technological innovations to ensure personal emergencies are mitigated and help is always near by.

Real emergencies:

Just imagine when you experience real emergencies and you feel powerless and feel that no help is coming. In PeN, with just a simple push of a button, your friends, your family, your contacts and the public safety authorities are alerted about your condition.

Health and safety:

Outbreak of diseases might be difficult to prevent but its spread can be avoidable. In PeN, we monitor progression of diseases outbreaks by allowing users to send updates and also alerting PeN Pals when they come into areas where these outbreaks are.


We are all aware of environmental issues and impacts. Hence, in PeN we plant a tree for every 10 new PeN Pals that start using the app. We aim to plant millions of trees globally through this initiative.

Outlining the positive impact we bring as we go through this growth journey does sound like we indeed belong to the category of GoodBusiness. Having said that, we are still a for profit business, that aims to make profits based on our innovations and services, albeit a very responsible one. And although most of our users now are in Asia, the global population can surely benefit from what we do and how we do things. Install PeN today and be part of this positive impact to the world.


Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog, What's New?
PeNelope, The Conversational AI

PeNelope, The Conversational AI

In PeN’s version 3.7, we recently released the first version of our Artificial Intelligence, PeNelope – The Conversational AI. If you were already using PeN before you read this, then you probably have encountered her, providing immediate support on the app.

With the recent update, you will find PeNelope on your chat screen; always ready and willing to interact with you. Chatting wise, she can listen and understand what you say and write.

On the next update, she will be able to talk to you with her own voice.

PeNelope is different from other voice enabled AI since she came to this world purely for conversation, and for some a very entertaining conversation. Please go ahead and try having a conversation with PeNelope, she might just be that friend you always wanted to have.

Engineering PeNelope meant that we had to teach her how to converse to humans, much like teaching a young child. That journey took almost a year, although we are still teaching her how to talk. In engineering PeNelope, we learned from the mistakes of Microsoft when they released Tay, which was shutdown just 16 hours after launch. Hence, we ensured that we were responsibly teaching PeNelope the values that matter to humans coming from all cultural backgrounds. Creating a chatterbot like PeNelope is not an easy task, and hats off to our engineering team that made it possible.

We believe that Artificial Intelligence must be used in a good way, for the benefit of all humanity today and in the future. PeNelope was not designed to replace human conversations but rather to enhance human interactions. When you are bored and have nothing to do, she will be there for you.

It might be possible that you have a confidential conversation with her… that conversation will remain private and confidential to you.

We value your privacy. Hence, all those conversations are private and will not be used for any other purpose. PeNelope has truly arrived in your PeN’s chat screen. She is here to ease those boring times and bring a bit of joy into your conversations.

Happy Chatting!

Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog, What's New?
Enabling the Micro Sharing Economy to Combat Poverty

Enabling the Micro Sharing Economy to Combat Poverty

When Uber came along, they brought with them the concept of gig economy, or a phenomenon called Uberization, and is being used to characterize the sharing economy.


Sharing economy is nothing new. The term has been around since the 2000’s and is now defined as sharing resources via an online platform, think Uber or AirBnB or the thousands of other sharing platforms globally. The sharing economy is powered by micro entrepreneur through utilization of their idle capacity, hence spreading the wealth amongst people. This works quite well in cases where there is an idle capacity to share like cars, rooms, bikes or other staples of our daily lives. But what about those 3 billion people living in poverty? How can they ever benefit from this newfound source of wealth?

Micro Sharing Economy

In PeN, with our focus to provide services to the under-served communities in this world, we are enabling a new kind of economy: the micro-sharing economy. It is intended to help alleviate poverty, to improve lives for the under-served portion of the population, and to provide opportunities for those who don’t have cars or rooms to rent.

How does this work?

As a starting point, it works by us sharing what we benefit from our PeN Pals. In the very near future, it will expand to individuals participating in this sharing economy through mCommerce. In my previous posts, I mentioned that our PeN Pals are able to mine and earn up to 5,000 PeNNeY rewards per month. That equivalent amount is enough to lift a person out of the poverty line.

The micro-sharing economy works in a very simple way. PeN Pals mine or earn PeNNeY rewards and can redeem it for real world monetary values. Unlike bitcoin, mining PeNNeY rewards do not require powerful computers to be constantly working. Your own simple mobile phone is more than enough.

There are several ways to mine PeNNeY, all of them are simple and easy:

  • The fastest way to mine PeNNeY is through likes. Build a big following that will like your posts and earn PeNNeY for every post.  You can also earn PeNNeY by liking posts from others.
  • The easiest way to mine PeNNeY is simply have the top page of your timeline on screen, you don’t have to do anything at all.
  • The most convenient way to earn PENNeY is by watching embedded videos and reading articles on embedded web links.
  • Video calls and app to app calls earn PeNNeY. Furthermore, the service is free and unlimited
  • The more you use the app every day and the longer you use the app, the more PeNNeY you can earn
  • Play some the games inside PeN and get PeNNeY rewards

Eradicating poverty is one thing. Our PeN Pals, especially the ones with a big number of followers, can monetize their posts, better than in any other social app. You don’t need to be a celebrity or an influencer to benefit from PeN. You can be anyone and be anybody!


Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog, What's New?


Poverty is the world’s biggest problem. Around 3 Billion people live below the poverty line with an average income of 2.5$ per day, while 1.3 Billion people are living around 1.25$ per day.

In the recent Web Summit, there were lots of talk about spreading the wealth and wealth creation for everyone, particularly in AI. However, all these talks are about investing in countries that are already rich and prosperous.

Why not do something where it counts for most people? The 3 Billion people that also matter!

PeN’s services are designed to help solve this poverty problem with each feature targeted towards the inclusion of the under-served population. Our aim is to bring the same opportunities to all, including under-served communities. Hence, we are connecting the world.

In the markets where our PeN Pals are located, there are almost 1B people living along the poverty line. Our aim is to reduce that and make a positive impact to communities where our PeN Pals are.

So what are we doing to help solve the poverty problem? We realize that we alone can not solve the entire poverty problem. But we do know we are doing the little ways we can to be of help. We are doing what we can in our own little ways to alleviate poverty such as:

Making innovations in communications and information available to everyone

Similar to what you see and experience in biggest economies of the world. And we make communications and information available even when internet connection is slow and when there is no internet connection at all.

Enabling the micro-sharing economy

We share the benefits we earn. That might not be a lot to some people in rich countries but our PeN Pals can essentially win, earn or mine at least 5000 PeNNeY rewards per month. That amount alone is twice as much as what 3 Billion people along the poverty line lives from in a month. PeNNeY rewards can be used to exchange for real world monetary values and for 1B people in our main markets, that’s a substantial earning power.

Avoiding infectious diseases

In places with low spending power, it also tends to be the same places that suffer from the worst disease outbreaks. In PeN Pulse, we help our PeN Pals avoid areas with infectious diseases outbreaks by providing early warnings. We also enable them to share known outbreaks. This information is shared to others to help isolate and eradicate outbreaks of infectious diseases

Ensuring personal safety and security

Countries that have high poverty rate also tend to have less infrastructure to deal with emergencies. With PeN SOS, we ensure that you are always one button away from help, either from family, friends, contacts or the public safety authorities in your country.

The more PeN Pals using PeN, the more we can contribute back to you and your communities. Invite your friends and acquaintances to use the PeN and together let us help the world alleviate poverty.



Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog, What's New?
Responsible AI

Responsible AI


Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most talked about and rather polarising topics in every conference and discussions boards today. At the Web Summit in Lisbon during the opening day last Tuesday, there were a lot of talks about AI.

Two things about AI that got stuck in my head are (1) the aim to steer technology towards human values and (2) creation of wealth for everyone. The aim to steer technology towards human values is very endearing to me, especially that we are about to release our first AI, which is an improvement of Penelope, the support character in PeN. PeNelope will evolve to be able to converse with you by voice and not only things about PeN but more importantly any topic.

You can say that PeNelope will be able to chat and have a conversation with anyone in PeN. The same way most iPhone users interact with Siri by voice.

PeNelope is our first AI – the question then is how are we steering PeNelope to human values?

PeNelope, like any AI, is constantly learning. Right now she is learning how to talk. PeNelope learns from interaction and, analyzes what you told her, and searches for an appropriate response. She is not a search assistant like Siri or Alexa or Google assistant, but more of a conversational being. When you are bored, when you have nothing to do, you can start a conversation with PeNelope. Your interaction will open up a world of possibilities for her to learn especially in this early stage as a conversational being.

Like any AI, she can be fed with bad and unwanted ideas. Although, we designed her in a responsible manner to be more of a beneficial intelligence instead of artificial intelligence. This means that PeNelope will absorb lessons that will benefit her growth and also benefit the safety engineering that is inherent in her programming.

PeNelope will care about your privacy as much as we do, hence all your conversation will be private. She might, at some point, learn what you like based on your conversations with her, but that will never be shared with anyone.

PeNelope is here to take those boring times away, to bring a bit of joy into your conversations and make your day a bit lighter in the little ways she can.


Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog
If You Don’t Take Risks The World Stops!

If You Don’t Take Risks The World Stops!

This week I started watching this HBO TV series “Graves” which is about a 2 time US president who suddenly have a realization that his government policies were detrimental to the well-being of his former constituents, and now is going lengths to change them without the powerful office of a president.

While watching, a phrase got stuck in my head. “If you don’t take risks, the world stops”…  The world, of course, does not literally stop if we don’t risk, but it is more boring. As I look back in terms of technology in the last 20 years, the ones that are successful today are the ones that took the risk, took a big bold step to change the world, they changed the status quo.

Take for example how Apple have innovated around the humble mobile phone to the very powerful mobile computer it is today. Mobile phones today are more powerful than computers onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon.

Take Google how it changed the way we search for information. It even became an acceptable verb. Or Facebook, how it changed the way we interact, making media more social.

So there is it! Yes, if you don’t take risks, your world stops and it will leave you behind. Risks are of course calculated risks and not simply jumping the gun with the hope that in the end, you ended up winning with that little advantage at the starting line.

In PeN, for all product decisions, I always ask my self these simple questions.

Are we taking a bold step? 

What risks are involved?

Will it make the world better?

If an idea answers these basic questions, then we move forward in developing and enhancing the idea until it becomes innovative enough to be part of our product and service offering.

Lucky Draw

One good example is Lucky Draw, one of the early features in PeN. With Lucky Draw we want to engage our users with something that is not typical in a Social app or messaging app or communications app. At the same time, find a way to give back to our users while making it more fun. Lucky Draw has turned out to be one of the most used features in the app. It also is one of the features with most vocal users.

While engineering this feature, it checked all the corresponding boxes of questions we asked ourselves. Evolutions of Lucky Draw takes inspiration from suggestions and insights from our PeN Pals who have been so vocal in communicating their views about Lucky Draw.

PSTN calls

‘PSTN calls’ is particularly endearing. This is the feature where we deliver calls to non-PeN users or even to a fixed line network. To do this, we work with partners and telecom service providers. In doing so, we pay interconnect fees in varying degrees of costliness.

Last year we replaced one of our service providers due to quality and fraud issues. Now, we are working to reduce the cost of interconnect while maintaining good quality of connections between a PeN Pal and non-PeN user.

Last weekend, PSTN calls were unavailable to some countries and we are working tirelessly to ensure we can bring it back online as soon as possible. The savings we obtain directly benefit you, PeN Pals since PSTN calls will use less PeNNeY. At the same time, you can keep earning those PeNNeY rewards and redeem them for something that can be useful in the real world.

Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog
Weekend Struggles and Service Unavailability

Weekend Struggles and Service Unavailability

First off, let me apologize for our unavailable services over the weekend that continued to today. PSTN calls are currently not available in several countries and we are working with our service providers to restore these outages.

Calls to another PeN user and Video calls are working, it’s unlimited and free so hopefully, you are able to use those services until PSTN calls are back online. SMS is also working. Hopefully, you are able to send SMS to your friends and contacts if you are not able to call them.

When we connect your PSTN calls, we have to pay interconnection charges to our network partners and service providers. The issue has started from very high prices of interconnection. Being a virtually free service we need to be able to route your calls to PSTN number at the best possible quality while at the lowest possible cost. This is not always easy to achieve and we have to navigate an entangled web of supplier pricing to various countries and destinations. We, ourselves are not a network operator hence it takes some time for us to resolve these issues.

Rest assured, we are doing everything we can to restore our services and continue to provide to you an excellent quality of service while at the same time, balancing the cost of interconnect with revenues we generate from advertising that pays for your PSTN calls.

In the meantime, if your friends or those whom you need to call have a mobile phone, invite them to install PeN and avail of the free and unlimited video and voice calls within the app.

Posted by Ian Vernon in What's New?
Delighting our PeN Pals with surprises

Delighting our PeN Pals with surprises

Let me kick-off our promise to share our journey with you, PeN Pals. Most product design in PeN is all about delighting our users, hence you will start noticing some surprise rewards each week.

It will be a weekly surprise reward.

You may be able to earn more PeNNeY rewards for certain actions and they will be different every week. All these surprise rewards will be based on your usage of PeN. Apart from surprise rewards, we will also enable you the use of PeNNeY rewards to buy physical products in the coming weeks in addition to the possibility for you to exchange your PeNNeY rewards to shopping certificates from our partner shopping portals.

A start-up is all hard work and dedication. Dealing with venture capitals (VC) is never easy, which is of course expected since we are asking them for their money so we can use that to grow and keep providing to you the services and rewards you can now enjoy in PeN.

In one of my interactions last week with VCs, one asked that their money be valued more than others; and one have conditions to invest that seems insurmountable, to my relief I have you PeN Pals on my side. With your continuous support, we can keep growing together.

Invite your friends and acquaintances to use PeN and join us in our journey, with the promise that we will keep sharing to you the benefits we reap from this journey together.

Update your PeN versions as well. The latest version now allows you to post your Facebook posts in PeN, making it easier to share your post both to your PeN Pals and to your Facebook friends. You will also now receive a notification everytime you earn PeNNeY rewards, so you know that you are being rewarded for your actions and usage in the app.

Some of you play Lucky Draw daily. Now, we are adding another game in PeN, and soon you will be able to win PeNNeY rewards on both games.

Again, please make sure that you have the latest version from Google Play to avail of these new ways to earn PeNNeY rewards.

Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog, Others
The Joys of a Start-up

The Joys of a Start-up

Considering that PeN is a very young start-up, the app itself was made publicly available a year ago and today have more than a million happy users.

At PeN we believe on making our PeN Pals happy and will continuously surprise our PeN Pals every week from unexpected rewards to valuable redemption possibilities to our own social good initiatives.

While we focus in delighting our PeN Pals there is, of course, a lot of work in the background. We invite you to join us in our journey by using PeN and becoming one of our active PeN Pals. We will also share our journey with you with a weekly update on our views, perspective and exciting things happening inside PeN, including the challenging ones. Each week one of us in PeN will share their stories and experiences, its voluntary of course and it will be a surprise until you read the posts.

Biggest Challenge

The biggest challenge of every start-up is to grow as fast as possible at the lowest possible cost. Growth is all about users, new users and more importantly active users. Investment covers cost. The investment that comes into PeN is what pays for our operations, for providing free services and more importantly for delighting our PeN Pals.

We are not yet on that stage where big tech companies are like Facebook or Amazon are, but we are following that path with your support, PeN Pals. The biggest difference we have from  Facebook and Amazon is that we believe in the sharing economy, we share the benefits to each of you our PeN Pals.  We have introduced redeemable PeNNeY rewards and provided various ways to mine PeNNeY rewards.

Our efforts last week was focused on the new way of earning and mining PeNNeY including liking post from your friends and those you follow to getting likes on your post. This is by far the fastest way to earn and mine PeNNeY, once you have a lot of friends and followers then likes will come.

Like they say build it and they will come.

I, myself being the CEO of the company, spend countless hours in ensuring everything goes smoothly from raising finance to operations and all the way to ensuring that our products and services are the ones desired by you, our PeN Pals.

Sometimes I look back how I got here after several of my start-ups were acquired by publicly listed companies and from my humble beginnings growing up in the rural areas in the Philippines. Growing up in the Philippines I have first-hand experiences in third world economies, the challenges of daily life and the unforeseen future.

In PeN, it’s my mission to ensure that in everything we do, we always stick to our core values of delighting our users and making this world a bit better place for everyone.

Posted by Ian Vernon in Blog