UTRUST — Product Update (April 19, 2018)
UTRUST is building the cryptocurrency payment platform of the future. With today’s presentation at the Zero-In Conference in Amsterdam, we have demonstrated our vision of the future. This article stands as a complimentary update, going into more detail on where we are now, what we have learned in the process, and, most importantly, when will it be ready for merchant adoption.
If you have missed the worldwide presentation from earlier, here you have a link to see the complete UTRUST presentation.
What Happened So Far?
When we concluded our ICO in November 2017, raising $21M in the process, we only had a strong value proposition, a whitepaper, and some concept code proving that what we wanted to do could work. We also had a team that was beyond excited to go on this journey into an industry that was still in a very exploratory state. Even though only a few months have passed, a lot has happened.
The German Federal Ministry of Finance accepting cryptocurrencies as a payment method, set a precedent in the European Union. Japan made Bitcoin a legal currency and Yahoo bought a large stake in a cryptocurrency exchange. There are so many recent, important, indicators proving that this industry is here to stay.
Internally, we have conducted hundreds of interviews with buyers and merchants, during which we have picked up on many things that were very helpful. Taking everything we learned into consideration and merging it into a global platform that does what people really need, rather than our internal assumptions, is a vital part of our process.
After interviewing buyers, we began to understand what drives their purchasing decisions. The majority of users are now aware of the blockchain space, but do not know much about it. While Buyer Protection is an essential link of the online purchasing chain, they also noted that they were hoping for UTRUST to prevent these cases in the first place. We then built dedicated tools for merchants to make it easier to get right. Moreover, we learned that a quick speed of resolution is a prerequisite for Customer Satisfaction, so we built API support to enable merchants to automate it in applications that they will build on top of UTRUST.
The main take-away from talking to real merchants, from one person operations to large corporations, is that they want to control the flow of user-interactions. Larger merchants in particular look for integrations instead of hands-on dashboards to automate processes such as refunds. Furthermore, most merchants prefer to approve refunds over escalating disputes.
Reasons for this are primarily the costs involved with dealing with disputes. Staff salaries, impact on customer satisfaction, negative social reviews are just some of the considerations.
All of this led us to build APIs much earlier than we anticipated, to provide merchants with something they would consider truly useful. In effect, it stimulates merchant adoption and incentivizes them to start accepting cryptocurrency today, driving mainstream adoption.
We want to start by saying that our vision to build the largest cryptocurrency payment platform in the world is what drove us to make UTRUST a reality. With all the insights we have gathered over the past month, we have updated our roadmap to reflect the changes necessary to deliver this vision.
Our designers have created a seamless, modern and easy to use interface that eases users into UTRUST. Lead by João Ferreira (Lead Designer at UTRUST), the mobile apps, merchant dashboard and checkout process were built from scratch, taking all of the user feedback into consideration.
The platform is carefully crafted to create an intuitive and rewarding experience for both, buyers and merchants. They also benefited from user tests with hundreds of individuals, providing valuable feedback in the process.
Providing a polished experience of the most requested features, with a beautiful and logical color rational, matters deeply to us and we hope to receive more feedback from our users in the future.
The technical side is lead by Artur Goulão (CTO at UTRUST) & Roberto Machado (CPO at UTRUST) who have been overseeing the progress of the platform development. At the time of publishing this article, the platform is closer to completion than we planned.
The core functionality to accept Ether is implemented, tested and complete. The team has moved on to the core functionality for Bitcoin payments, which are scheduled to be complete by the end of April 2018. Also, the merchant Dashboard and API are completed and ready for production.
Mobile apps are being developed and prototypes are tested right now. Also, the APIs required to run those mobile apps are well underway. Scheduled to launch in Q3 this year on Android and iOS, they will allow the receiving and sending of Bitcoin, Ether and our native UTRUST token, initially.
More cryptocurrencies and tokens will be added throughout iterations of the platform, as soon as they appear viable for implementation, with the goal to offer around 10 different cryptocurrencies by the end of this year.
In very recent news, we have announced a powerful partnership with UMT AG. A mobile payment technology provider that reaches over 14.5 million users in Germany. More than 13,650 merchants are currently using the technology provided by UMT AG on a daily basis — and with UTRUST, their offering will soon be expanded to cryptocurrency payments. As we bring our vision to the mainstream, we will continue to find suitable partners to accomplish our goal of large-scale adoption of cryptocurrency payments.
Now, let us dive deeper into the individual parts of our platform, talking more in-depth about our platform functionality, design choices, technical implementation and what is next for UTRUST.
In recent months, we have made tremendous progress through iteration. The valuable feedback provided by the buyers and merchants we interviewed, as well as the user research we conducted helped us shape what we built so far.
An important milestone in our roadmap will be the 10th May 2018.
We will be launching an MVP store, utilizing the UTRUST platform. The shop will sell and ship real products (UTRUST Merchandise), and all proceeds will be donated to the Make A Wish Foundation.
Today, we would like to give you an idea of what the key features of the UTRUST platform will look like. While we are proud of what we created so far, please feel free to leave your feedback and comments below.
We have designed our payment button! Whenever you see this during a checkout progress, you can use your UTRUST account to pay with your wallets. Confirmations are instant (even with Bitcoin!) and safe for both, the buyer and the merchant.
To enable instant payments, UTRUST will provide users with a unique Mobile Wallet. It allows users to deposit their cryptocurrencies and tokens into a highly secure wallet. This not only gives them access to all their assets in one mobile app, but also empowers easier spending (e.g. to an email address) to people that may not have a wallet themselves.
Transactions between UTRUST users (e.g. between friends) and to merchants are settled instantly, unlike Bitcoin transactions that may take minutes or even hours. The vast majority of assets will be stored in cold storage, making the wallet not only easier to use, but also safer for many users that currently rely on storing their private keys on their computer.
A fundamental feature of our platform is the Buyer Protection for users. Many consumers that have actually used e.g. Bitcoin for real world payments today have noticed that it comes with high risks. There are no chargebacks and nobody controls blockchain networks, giving potentially fraudulent merchants a way to scam users.
This problem remains unsolved today and to the best of our knowledge, UTRUST is the only platform that offers a solution to a problem that consistently prevents mainstream adoption. Retail consumers are used to being protected, and with our platform they will be.
We are proud to have conducted a large amount of interviews with merchants. We have learned that larger sellers prefer deep integration into their existing payment system, primarily to control user flows and to automate processes. Smaller merchants prefer a dedicated dashboard that offers all the same functionality, but can be used with additional development.
Another highly anticipated feature are automatic settlements. Merchants can decide how frequently they would like to receive funds into their bank accounts. All transactions are automatically converted to fiat and ready to be withdrawn to company accounts.
UTRUST aims to be the de-facto way to pay with cryptocurrencies, so we wanted it to feel exciting but also natural and intuitive for first-time users. We went with a clean, almost minimalistic approach to the design, creating great contrast between interactive elements and static content.
Using white cards, with subtle purple-ish shadows against a very soft purple background, we were able to create a clear visual hierarchy for the content without it feeling too crowded or confusing. With that clean and subtle color environment, we used our brand colors on the interactive elements, which makes them stand out immediately, providing a very clear path of action on every step of the user’s flow.
We believe no great product is actually finished, and that there is always space to improve and adapt to our user’s requirements. Needless to say, our first wireframes have very little resemblances with the current version, and we are still working closely with our test users to find where we can simplify and improve the product even further.
Looking back on our findings, we find it safe to say we had more surprise findings with the merchants we interviewed than with the buyers/crypto holders, probably because we felt more familiar with their needs and pains.
At first we were not aware of the struggles for merchants who do most of their business online, but we rapidly understood that we needed to get as much face time with them as possible and watch them deal with the usual daily tasks of running their shop. Our merchants dashboard reflects our findings about the problems they have with their current solutions, as well as the fears they had on how hard it would be for them to settle payments and get paid with cryptocurrencies.
We have designed the dashboard taking the most common flows into account, focusing on ease of use and flexibility, particularly when dealing with disputes. Merchants want to be fast dealing with unhappy customers, so we designed the dispute flow to provide them with an “Expected Resolution”, meaning they already have a clear sense of what the customer expects to happen as soon as the dispute is opened. This saves time and avoids unwanted back and forth between buyer and merchant to solve the issue.
Buyers wanted a wallet that is easy to top-up, works with their favorite cryptocurrencies and feels natural and safe to use when you make a payment. One of the biggest concerns that emerged from our interviews was the KYC (Know Your Customer) process. We have done our research and due diligence to understand how we could make it simple and easy enough for anyone to do it without leaving the app (or losing their patience) and we are confident that users will find it to be a seamless, stress-free experience.
Initially, the mobile apps will not solve all pain-points we have identified. But it was very important to validate our rationale and our assumptions. It is more than likely that there will be a fair amount of iterations to be made before the UTRUST wallet is ready to be on mobile phones worldwide. But rest assured, we are taking no shortcuts to ensure it will work flawlessly when first used.
The blockchain integration topic is not new to us, we got most of our knowledge and pains through the ICO platform development. One of our main challenges was to decide which blockchains we should integrate directly, interfacing with our own full node, or use a third party provider for this first cycle of the product.
When researching, we did integrations directly to the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains. However, on the latter we felt that we should go through a more mature and tested implementation and, side by side, start implementing our own with what we learn through the development cycle.
At this stage, we are using Infura for integration with Ethereum. This gives us insurance that all needed functionality is implemented and tested, so we can consume from their APIs and deploy the product. On a separate stage we will start doing tests with our own Blockchain API integration for Ethereum, so we can get a more direct control over the communication with the network. When choosing a partner we look for fast integration and maturity, this allow us to move quicker and increase the throughput of our development roadmap.
We chose to build infrastructure primarily with Elixir, a functional language with a Virtual Machine (BEAM) that uses the Actor Model. Even though Elixir is a pretty recent addition to the space, it is fundamentally the same and even shares the same Virtual Machine as Erlang, which has been around for a long time and still powers most of the world’s telecommunications.
Therefore, we are confident that we will be able to scale the way we intend and go where we want to go on top of this environment. As a bonus, it is a very interesting and enjoyable language to work with, which is also an important criteria for us, since we care deeply about developer happiness as a performance metric.
As far as architecture goes, we were heavily influenced by Command Query Responsibility Segregation (CQRS) and Event Sourcing (ES), which are being used in some form by most of the major technology corporations in the world (regardless of them calling it that or not). We are also using Elixir Umbrella Applications, which allow us to have a microservices architecture, without ever leaving the comfort of the BEAM.
In our web and API layers we are using the Phoenix framework, the main web framework for Elixir. Note that since most of our business logic lies within our core application, this web layer ends up not being very complex, allowing us to focus more on the quality of each piece.
As far as our front-end clients go, we are using React with Redux, which communicate with the web layer via AJAX and Websockets. We are opinionated in regards to the way we organize the front-end, and specifically for CSS, we use CSS modules with CSSnext for component-based UI development.
Our mobile apps (still in testing) are built using React Native, which allows us to more quickly develop applications for different platforms. Ethereum and Bitcoin integration are already in place and we are now looking to integrate other blockchains and ERC20 tokens.
As challenges occurred throughout the development cycle, we started to incorporate some integration tools into our stack to improve team communication, code reviews and the overall development heartbeat.
Semaphore is one of those tools. With the introduction of Continuous Integration, we now use it to offload most of the work when running tests, especially when we have multiple feature branches and each developer needs to run tests before merging the code. The frustration of managing logs for readability and logging lead us to Timber, that although is a relatively new SaaS, has been a big help.
As we aim to be a remote team in the future, most of our communication needs to be static rather than dynamic. We used Slack in the past, but most of the knowledge and discussions were lost in the pit, when the first development cycle began we started using Twist from ToDoist. It is particularly strong when it comes to retaining knowledge.
To give a first impression of what the Merchant API looks like, we are showcasing two examples here. This primarily serves developers show what they can expect. All API methods are built RESTfully.
Store Order creation
Store Order Payment Listing
Know Your Customer (KYC)
A hot-button topic within most blockchain projects right now is making the KYC process as seamless as possible, avoiding an awful experience and headaches. We have learned a lot about this during our ICO last year, in which we gained experience in what are the pain-points, and how to solve them.
First and foremost, we see UTRUST a financial product. We deal with cryptocurrencies as well as fiat currencies, and therefore comply with all necessary regulation. In the financial world, KYC is a requirement, so we needed to fully understand the flows and how users experience it. One of the first information sources we learned from, was the on-boarding process on several mobile-first banking apps.
Next, we we studied the legal implications and documents requirements within Switzerland and SEPA regions (Europe & et al). This is crucial, as we are on track to get our own license. Our flow needs to be well understood by all members, from development to marketing.
What we understood was that a good user experience (UX) and great use of the available technologies (e.g. camera, webcam or GPS) could help us in many of the steps of information requirements. Most users already have a smartphone with a camera, and are used to taking pictures and turning on location services. So we just had to come up with a great flow when on-boarding a new user. And that is exactly what we did!
As this is a hot topic, more and more changes will be implemented in order to achieve a good user experience within the product, be it a mobile app or a web signup.
A vital part of our platform development is security. Naturally, we are extremely cautious with what we give away and what we keep internal, to maximize the protective effect. However, we have a few things to share today.
Firstly, we have three specialized experts on the team. All of them with comprehensive experience in securing Distributed Systems, Architecture and Cloud Computing. We have also performed a third-party security audit, which included an external system penetration test.
Moreover, we are researching and adopting best practices in the blockchain technology spaces, such as the reusing of addresses as well as Multi-Account Hierarchy for Deterministic Wallets (BIP 44) . Plus, even though we are dealing with cryptocurrencies, we have decided to go one step further and comply with PCI DSS, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard.
During our ICO we also made clear that we are complying to GDPR. Following this, we have consulted with external privacy and data compliance firms to make sure we are doing everything necessary to protect not only our platform, but also our users.
Needless to say, platform security and privacy are very important to us.
UTRUST is in the process of licensing itself an electronic money institution. The team chose Luxembourg as the place to apply for this license, as the country’s approach to cryptocurrencies and its ties to the more traditional finance world seem favorable. In a jurisdiction that is often seen as a stronghold for finance, the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF) is open to new ideas and projects.
We therefore believe that Luxembourg will provide an ideal regulatory framework for Blockchain other DLT related projects. In the past, the CSSF stated that cryptocurrencies are money for the purpose of licensing, which in turn will allow for a passport-able license in the European Union, UTRUST’s first market.
We genuinely hope that all of the information shared in this platform update gives everybody a good insight into where we are right now, and where we are going to be by the end of the year. With our first MVP store launching on 10th May 2018 and more merchants to be on-boarded in 2018, we are excited to bring the future of online payments to the masses.
Today also marks the first UTRUST payment transaction, that was conducted in front of a live audience at the Zero-In Conference. You can verify the transaction on the Ropsten Ethereum Testnet here:
Ropsten (ETH) detailed transaction info for 0x114bb1847f5108f62ba3e988ed8214e4697f2303b8ed47a4eb5fba6442575a84ropsten.etherscan.io
As the year progresses, we will continue to search for and announce new partnerships, significant platform progression and additional cryptocurrencies and tokens our users may use to purchase real life products.