Unblocking the blockchain

Inc. Southeast Asia | The Rising Stars of Fintech

Singapore-based Bluzelle is demystifying blockchain by letting businesses do their own thing

To the uninitiated, a conversation about bitcoin—the cryptocurrency created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009 that’s causing waves of disruption everywhere—can be a mind trip. Delve deeper into the blockchain algorithm and there’s a good chance you’ll come out of the chat mystified.

A May 2016 Deloitte report entitled “Out of the Blocks” reveals 43% of respondents are still at the learning stages of their blockchain journey, with 60% still looking at old fashioned uses like international money transfers. Enter Singapore-based fintech start-up Bluzelle.

“When we first started in Canada in 2014, we were practically focused on payment systems using the blockchain, but as we immersed ourselves more in the technology and the market, we realized that where it’s really needed is in the enterprise space of business. You see these big businesses want to start leveraging the blockchain, but nobody was really able to provide the software to help them bring that down,” says 39-year-old Bluzelle co-founder and CEO Pavel Bains.

Like what Oracle has done with applications and middleware for database management, Bains wants Bluzelle to do the same for blockchain technology. “The value-add we give is to make blockchain easy for our customers to use. We take all the backend plumbing, the hardware used to build the blockchain product, we run and maintain it, and build the technology platform that does everything for them. All our customers need to focus on, whether they’re an insurer, a bank, or any enterprise, is the application they need for their customers,” says Bains.

Bains’ eureka moment for blockchain was set off by the universal dilemma every husband inevitably faces: his wife’s shopping. “We were based in Vancouver then, and my wife had bought a sari for a thousand dollars,” he relates, surmising it probably cost the woman living in India around $10 to make the sari and sold it to an intermediary for a fraction of the price his wife had paid for the product.

“There’s a serious gap there,” states Bains. “I thought about how much more money that woman in India would make if she were to directly transact with my wife, who just wanted a good product. I believe blockchain technology can make that happen,” he says.

Bluzelle was thus born in Canada in July 2014.

A year and a half later in February 2016, Bains and co-founder and CTO Neeraj Murarka—a software engineer and computer systems architect who, like Bains, had worked in Silicon Valley—moved Bluzelle’s main headquarters to Singapore. “We saw that Asia is one of the best growth areas, and we felt it was the right time to go,” he says.

Towards the end of 2016, Bluzelle saw its first enterprise customers and is now going into its Series A round, though industry players caution against valuations for such a nascent technology. Chinese entrepreneur and investor Yin Cao, the founding partner and chief strategy officer of China-based VC Energy Blockchain Labs, says, “It’s very difficult to do valuations of blockchain companies at this point,” says Cao. For his part, he looks first at the team behind the start-up. “First, they should be reliable. Second, there’s genius behind it. And third, and this is a unique attribute I personally look for in entrepreneurs, is there should be purpose beyond money. Whether it’s for a better society or better climates, I find purpose essential because it’s what will drive entrepreneurs to be strong in the face of challenges,” he says.

Bains and his team appear to check all the boxes. A track-and-field athlete, he says running a start-up is quite like running an 800-850 meter track event. “A lot of pain,” he says. “There is no roadmap, there are no rules, so right now we have this culture where we’re trying on things and we’re not afraid to make mistakes. Nobody gets reprimanded for trying. If something breaks, it’s not the end of the world. We just learn from that, and see how we can move forward.”