This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Emma Poposka, co-founder and CEO of Brontech. Brontech specialises in the issuance, verification and usage of sovereign digital identity. It is creating a decentralised platform which allows users to control their data and which promises to be the fabric of web 3.0. This platform is being developed on top of the blockchain with utilization of state-of-the crypto 2.0. technologies such as IPFS, Zero Knowledge Proofs, Distributed Hash tables.
How did you develop the idea for Brontech and what drew you to this problem?
We got interested in Bitcoin around 2012/13, however as tech people this was still just money for us (cooler money, but still money) and we didn’t realise the underlying potential until 2014/15 when the idea about Ethereum started. It was not just about money anymore, the idea that you can deploy code on the blockchain fascinated us. For us, this marks the beginning of web 3.0., a entirely new way of user interaction that enabled new business models radically different of that what we’ve seen so far.
We started with a simple idea of issuing digitally verified credentials (uni diplomas, course certificates etc.), however we particularly struggled incorporating and verifying identities i.e. how do you verify who someone is in the digital world for applications where accurate authentication is crucial. When we started talking to other companies, they liked our product but almost all of them were more interested in how we solved the identity issue. It became obvious that there was an emerging need for tamper proof, privacy preserving, accurate and secure identity system where custodians control the ID attributes and the personal data. However, there are several barriers to create such service and one of which is that the users currently do not control most of the digital data about themselves. So, we ended up developing an incetivized marketplace — My Bron, where users can monetise their value of their data which we’ll use as a first service to test our identity and data management system.
How did you find your co-founder, Voidan Kardalev?
I met Voidan around 15 years ago in high school and later we also went to the same university to study computer science. Back then we had this weird type of friendship that was consisted of hackatons, coding competitions and philosophical talks about the world we live in. Separately we had companies in Macedonia. I had a huge network and a very good relationship with a small base of loyal clients and needed some help to execute the projects I was getting and on the other hand Voidan was leading a tech company, had a proven record of execution and was eager to explore new opportunities. We have complementary skills and preferences what we want to do in a company, so we clicked immediately as business partners. I enjoy pitching, talking and negotiating with clients, something that he really doesn’t like doing. On the other hand he really knows his tech, he spends hours obsessing over the code and just loves to work with developers. We started really small, I think we charged for our first joint project around $1000 but then we were just getting more and more business so it all worked out well. Working together was such a blast, so when we moved to Australia decided to continue with that, but this time as co-founders.
What are some of your strengths that really helped you so far in building the company?
I am a runner, so I know the value of endurance as well as how difficult is to train to achieve it. In business is the same, my biggest strength is that I have the stamina to overcome the physical an emotional challenges of running the company. In an industry that’s filled with the smartest, brightest and most innovative people, I want to be the one that’s most resilient and in a leadership position that makes a huge difference when riding the emotional roller coaster.
What was the catalyst that made you take the plunge and start Brontech? What would you be doing if you hadn’t started it?
Moving to Australia was definitely the catalyst to start Brontech sooner rather than later (or never). We were doing well in Europe and didn’t really have the pressure to innovate, make a new product or change a business model. But, at end of 2016 I literally pack my life in a 20kg suitcase and started almost from scratch. It was not just a new company for us, also a new continent, culture, friends, basically new everything. We thought that this was a terrific time to start implementing some of the ideas that we’ve been always discussing, but never had the time to act on them because we were already doing something else.
I cannot imagine a scenario where I wouldn’t have founded Brontech, because that was my plan A and the only one I have. But, maybe we wouldn’t have started with our product from day one and take a safer route just providing a software development services and consultancy for other companies.
How did you get your very initial funding to get Brontech off the ground?
We had profitable businesses before Brontech and had a small exit. I am very conservative with my finances and saved enough to get Brontech off the ground. This frugality also helped us to focus on the business without the need to have a side job or freelance for extra cash. Recently, we got pre-seed investments from two Australian acceleration programs and this will definitely helped us to speed up the growth of the company.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
When we came to Sydney, we didn’t know anyone and we needed a fast way to integrate in the community and build a network. We started going to meetups and met some amazing people that shared our passion about technology, blockchains, decentralisation and similar topics. We learned a lot there, met with potential clients and investors and even did the early product validation on these gatherings. So, definitely the meetups in Sydney were a resource that we used the most in the early days.
What has been the most surprising part of running your own company? What were you not expecting?
I thought that I would spend more time working on the product. In the beginning that was true, 95% of the time I was either doing the architecture or was coding, but as soon as we announced the launch and started fundraising that percentage drastically decreased. Lately, I feel like a glorified salesman having meetings all day long, promoting what we do on conferences and meetups and dealing with ridiculous amount of “red tape”. In particular, in the last three months, I’ve been working 14 hours a day every day and feel like I have nothing to show for, in comparison to the early days when at least I could say “look I built this great new feature this week”.
Who have been your greatest mentors in this journey and what are the key things you’ve learnt from them?
I am learning a lot from the peer network and the startup community in Australia.
I always want to talk to business owners that are one or two steps ahead of us in the business development process. The information that we want to extract is so “fresh ” to these people and I get more than just a rational guidance and advice of what comes next, I can also see the personal and emotional consequences that they’ve incurred during that particular phase and be better prepared of what to expect. The information are also more relevant due to the similarities in the market circumstances and investment opportunities, and that is an imperative for an industry as volatile and fast-paced as the one we work in.