Billon — opening the gates for digital payment for the unbanked
Within the rigorous world of fintech, its good to hear that there is a company that puts needs of clients and team members as absolute first priority. And this is the case with Billon from Poland, the first company that managed to transfer real currency via blockchain. The pioneer company aims to revolutionize money transfer per se, as they mix the good “oldschool” currency with hi-tech way of transferring it. This way, clients can benefit from both sides of the coin. Jakub Paczuski, Head of Sales & Customer Relationships at Billon tells us more about their journey.
“Can you tell us in one sentence what you guys do?”
Billon changes the way money moves around the world by encrypting regulated currencies on distributed ledger and enabling instant P2P transfers with no need for a bank account or a card.
“Why did you and your co-founders (if you have any) decide to build something like you do today? What was your initial inspiration or problem you wished to solve?”
We wanted to overcome the limitations of the existing financial infrastructure.
The current server-based architecture is over 50 years old — older than the internet!
It does not longer meet the needs of the current digital economy — it is slow, expensive, and, in spite of high costs, insecure. As a result small payments are not profitable, young entrepreneurs and artists cannot easily profit from their passion and 2,5 billion adults in the world do not have a bank account. Those problems cannot be solved within the existing financial system, as its outdated architecture is a problem itself! What we propose instead is a lightweight, distributed and high-speed architecture enabling P2P instant payments that do not require intermediaries such as a traditional bank account or a debit/credit card. We store money as cryptographically secured data on users’ devices and exchange it instantly online. Our vision is to empower anyone with a smartphone, regardless of their age, wealth or social status, to take part in the global economy of tomorrow.
“What excites you the most about your work, and what is that single moment in your past that you are most proud of?”
I am proud that we have managed to create the technology which not only is the best existing distributed ledger platform, but is also live, with paying customers and real people actually using it. There are many blockchain companies out there with revolutionary claims, but they rarely move beyond demo stage. We stand out as a live and proven implementation. Billon is the first company that has successfully transferred national currencies — British pound and Polish zloty — on blockchain. Our technology has the potential to become the new default mean of payment and the underlying platform for blockchain applications worldwide.
“…and fails? We all have them, but what were your most spectacular ones? Of course only the ones you wish to share”
We were so excited with our potential earlier that we tried to launch the product commercially when technologically it was not yet ready. That taught us a lesson. We spend the last months working on the technology, customer service and UX, so now we are ready to conquer the world with it.
“We all know entrepreneurship is a difficult road to take, especially in the world of startups; are there any mantras, hobbies or routines that you use to keep your mind and body healthy?”
Billon is a human-centric company, meaning we put the needs of people — our clients, but also team members — in the first place. We organize parties, barbecues, sports events — anything it takes to keep the team spirit high. Lots of us enjoy drinking yerba mate, which makes wonders for our minds.
“Is there something in startup-zeitgeist that in an ideal world we would not need to have? Like pitching? :)”
For us, and other fintech startups as well, regulatory issues are a real challenge. It takes lots of time and effort to be licensed as a financial institution. In the UK we took part in the regulatory sandbox programme, where we could test our solution in a live environment under the supervision of the national regulator. In our ideal world such sandboxes would exist in other markets as well.
“What do you value most in people? Especially those in your team?”
I value the mix of experience of people I work with. We have 80+ top specialists on blockchain, UX, mobile apps and design, and a strong and diverse board from both blockchain and banking world. Everyone has some unique capabilities which make them irreplaceable.
“What do you anticipate the most for technology in the forthcoming 5 years? What are the things that knock your socks off?”
I believe blockchain will expand beyond the world of finance and become the main technological platform of the future. It is a double revolution.
In the world of finance, blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are already a new class of assets. As a technology, blockchain will disrupt many services by eliminating intermediaries and Exchanging money and other values as secure and distributed data.
“Who are you most excited about in your local startup ecosystem and why?” — this could be startups, coworking offices, accelerators, mentors…basically anyone who you think highly!
I am excited that financial institutions see the value of innovation and actively help startup scene to grow. Thanks to their commitment there are more and more accelerators, conferences, hackathons and so on. It’s a win-win situation for us and them!
“In your opinion what are the single best and the single worst things running a startup from Central Europe?”
The best thing is the access to a huge pool of talented people with a creative spirit. As part of the Eastern Bloc we had to make up with creativity what we lacked in resources. Now we have the resources — but the creativity remained! The worst thing is that market and investment opportunities are not so high as elsewhere in the world. Many CEE startups would already be a multi-billion companies if they would operate in the US.
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We at CESAwards stand with our hats in our hands each year in front of all the amazing innovation, the incredible stories and brave startupper who strive for more, who are here to build and change the status quo in the CEE region.
In this interview series we introduce our National Winners of 2017.