A conversation between Navin Gupta, Ripple’s MD, South Asia & MENA, and Finweg’s CTO, Wladimiro Navarro. Finweg went through NYU Abu Dhabi’s startAD FinTech accelerator program and came out a winner. Audience will learn about blockchain through this emerging start-up in Spain and Latin America and dive deeper into tokenizing assets.
Lauren Weymouth (00:00):
Hi, I'm Lauren Weymouth, leading the University Blockchain Research Initiative for Ripple and your host of All About Blockchain. This season we've discussed the rise of Blockchain accelerator programs on university campuses worldwide. These programs are driving entrepreneurship on campus and are a new educational model for entrepreneurship and innovation. They connect startup companies to top educators and industry leaders in the field to fine tune their businesses and VCs to raising financing. NYU Abu Dhabi's startAD program is a Corporate Sprint Accelerator for seed stage FinTechs looking to enter the UAE market. They've graduated 124 startups to date that have raised 74 million.
Today we're excited to bring you recent alum and program winner Finweg. I've asked my colleague, Navin Gupta in Dubai to lead this discussion. Navin's been with Ripple for over five years, spearheading Ripple's Middle East and South Asian business, opening offices in Bombay and Dubai and is very close to the international banking community, very tuned into the topic at hand. I think you're really gonna enjoy this conversation as we continue to bring you Blockchain use cases that solve problems to make a difference in our lives across various sectors.
Navin will be interviewing our guest, Wladimiro Navarro, co-founder and chief technology officer of Finweg, joining us from Spain. Navine, take it away.
Navin Gupta (01:21):
Hi, everyone. First of all, it's an absolute pleasure for me to today welcome Wladimiro Navarro, who's a co-founder of Finweg, to our show. My name is Navin Gupta, I'm managing director for MENA in South Asia for Ripple, an enterprise blockchain company. And this is our podcast, All About Blockchain. So let's dive in Wladimiro, first of all, welcome to the show, it's great to have you and a privilege for us.
Wladimiro Navarro (01:46):
Hi, Navin, thank you very much for this opportunity.
Navin Gupta (01:49):
So Wladimiro, I wanted to ask about your own background and what made you get involved in blockchain in the first place?
Wladimiro Navarro (31:57):
So what I'm engineer as from education. I have been always working in business development and innovation in different companies. And in the last company before, we founded, Finweg, we were working on developing software based on technology for it to improve processes. And that was five years ago, I was invited by BDVA, one of our customers, a bank in Spain, to a workshop on that was on blockchain as a technology and how it could help, to improve, financial services. So I went to that workshop without any idea about blockchain and what it is.
I really understood, let's say, almost nothing about proof of work, wallets and all that stuff. But I realized that the background of the technology was really impressive in terms of what you can do in to transform, the processes. all the concept of decentralizing things instead of having a central point and that stuff. I thought we have to be there, this is something that is going to change a lot, uh, the way we do the things.
So we started to study the technology, but also to start making trials and speak with our customers and how they see it if we apply it to the processes we are doing. I joined the Blockchain consortium, which was right founded in those days as well which was also a great experience because, in other technologies, it is more, let's say enterprise centric. So one enterprise is providing a new technology, it's developing the technology, in blockchain it's a community that develops, the technology and the models and the concepts.
you cannot say, "I have my blockchain and my network," because it makes no sense. So it is decentralized, you have to create a community, or the consortium if you are a modern enterprise. yeah, the last five years I've been working in blockchain technology in the consortiums and of course in Spain where I am based and, we founded, Finweg.
Navin Gupta (03:44):
What made you start Finweg, why bother?
Wladimiro Navarro (03:46):
We are, really a spinoff of Adalia which is a company that, provides technology and services to improve, business processes, mainly in the financing services, providing digitization of processes that were, many times based on paper documents. we were always thinking on how we can make the next, improvement in our solutions and using the next technology to improve it.
We saw blockchain as a very interesting, and potential technology to make improvements in, in processes that were based on paper documents, but we realized that blockchain is more than a technology. it's a kind of philosophy of doing things different. it's a decentralized model of ruling the processes. so you cannot have the same approach as a client provider. So you're not going to sell a technology of blockchain, you are going to build a new model of relationships between the companies. So we needed a different approach, we thought we had to build a new company, which rules a different business model
Navin Gupta (04:40):
Yeah. Fantastic, Wladimiro. For our listeners, actually, Finweg won the startup Abu Dhabi, CSA prize, so a big congratulations, it's amazing, young companies like yourself to be able to prove yourself, within a blockchain, startup competition. So congratulations on that, Wladimiro.
Wladimiro Navarro (03:15):
thank you very much. participating in, in the start of the program has been, very challenging and very, very, uh, useful for us as Finweg as a startup, we are very used to, to participate in accelerator programs., it has been from the very beginning something that has been very important for us, because this is the you can address companies that probably you will never be able to, to work with, especially if you are working with banks and big institutions. And accelerator problems help you to be able to work with, such companies, or in the case of StartAD, to enter in a new region, like the UAE region where you have to know how to, to address a, a new market, and that's always a challenge. And in the case of Start AD they have a great approach of the mentorship, they are not providing you, standard contents that you can get somewhere else. So they have a team of mentors that help you really to improve your value proposition, for the market and address it for the specific needs of, of the region, so it, it has been a great experience for us.
Navin Gupta (05:53):
Amazing, so Wladimiro, Could you help, our listeners visualize what is the value proposition behind your solution?
Wladimiro Navarro (05:59):
Yeah, so let's do it with,with an example. we provide solutions in the digitalization of the process using blockchain as a technology and tokenizing, the agreements and the assets that you are using in those processes. But to make it simple with an example, when you have to sign an agreement because you are, a provider that are selling services or goods to a company, and you sign an agreement,you are going to get paid when you launch a service, or when you give the goods and you get, it can be an invoice, or you can have in a promissory note or whatever it is.
if you need financing, you can use that agreement in order to get financed. All that process means always using paper documents or contracts, and you have intermediaries that have to validate information, and so on. What we provide is a digital solution based on blockchain transactions, where , all the participants in the agreement can see in real-time, the status of the process. So if you need financing of that agreement the financial institution can provide it almost immediately.
when you go and buy with a credit card and you get a message that if you want to finance that what you have bought, you can do it easily in three months, we can do the same, but in the enterprise, sector. So for the bank, what we provide is a tool to improve their possibility to provide financing services to their customers at a lower risk and for the customers of the bank, so the end customers, you have the opportunity to improve your working capital, just with agreements of your contracts and your agreements, in a digital way.
Navin Gupta (07:25):
Yeah. So just to also paraphrase, let's assume I am a customer of one of Finweg's customer, my life, at least in terms of paperwork should be super easy, right?
Wladimiro Navarro (07:34):
Navin Gupta (07:25):
So will be able to-
Wladimiro Navarro (07:25):
Navin Gupta (07:26):
... very quickly get onboarded and very smoothly be able to, uh, meet my financial goal, whatever I'm looking for in terms of, for the bank's, bank to be able to provide it to me.
Wladimiro Navarro (07:44):
Yeah, especially for your payment agreement. if you have an invoice or if you've got a promissory note or, or you have a contract, you can finance it quite easily and without the nightmare of providing the documents and waiting for the check-ins from your bank and the approval, or not approval of, that financing. So you can do it with just a click.
Navin Gupta (08:03):
Truly, that'll make my life a lot simpler if you need all the institutions were to adopt your platform or a platform like yours, absolutely. Because today, I think customer experiences where banks sa- struggle to essentially make the life of its customers easy, it could be corporate customers, or it could be individual customers. So I can see a clear value proposition there.
Wladimiro Navarro (08:22):
Yeah, in fact, banks have focused a lot on individual customers or let's say, private banking for retail. So we all work for the bank, with our mobile and the web, page, we do almost everything by ourselves. almost everything is digital, but when you come to enterprises, there's still a lot of processes that where banks have, let's say a potential of improvement, a great potential of improvement, because they are still based on, legacy models.
Navin Gupta (08:46):
That is correct, indeed. New York, Abu Dhabi has the startup AD program, which also focuses on future entrepreneurs. people like yourself who are part of the entrepreneurial community, what would you be, advise for our listeners who are looking to start companies, or already are entrepreneurs who are in this journey? What are some of the key learnings from your successes and failures that they should be aware of? And the reason I say that is, we have to learn from other people's successes and mistakes, because we can't live long enough to come at all of them ourselves, so what can our listeners learn from yours?
Wladimiro Navarro (09:20):
I have learned from the startAD accelerator program, we just always used to think about from our side, what is our technology or the platform, or, or the service we are providing? because this is what we really know and where we feel confidence,which is really important because you have to show that you have your competence and your expertise, and what is your, your proposal of what you do.
But what is more important is to visualize your value proposition in terms of what you are solving for, for your customers. at the beginning, because you are building something, you are always thinking on what I need to add to my platform, the features of the, platform and so on. But what is really, really important to, to see t- is put you, on the place of your customers or your potential customers and show what you are going to provide them and why they are going to have an easier life with you.
Navin Gupta (10:04):
Sure. Absolutely. I think putting ourselves in the customer's shoes and then make sure that indeed we are solving the problem that the customer values, right, and I think you have just hit it spot on, because I have been an ex entrepreneur myself, and this is a great advice for a number of people who are looking to be entrepreneurs or are already on that journey. Right. if you think about Finweg, say three years out, right, what does success look like for you? Or what are you building towards? Can you give our listeners an indication or a sneak peek into your ambition and where are you headed?
Wladimiro Navarro (10:36):
In blockchain technology in three years is-
Navin Gupta (10:40):
We can take a one year timeframe, you decide, right-
Wladimiro Navarro (10:42):
Navin Gupta (10:43):
Wladimiro Navarro (10:44):
I think it's really difficult to see where we are going to be in three years. If we think about blockchain technology four or five years ago, and what it is happening now. it's really speeding the transformation. We are now working on, tokenizing, And in these last years all the tokenization has, evolved a lot. There's a lot of standards in that area.
There are a lot of, new potential models. We are transforming our platform in order to be able to tokenize almost any kind of asset or, or agreement, not only where we started with payment and agreements. And so we can provide the service to, the range of processes and also lo- to standardize most of them. So we can move from a platform, for projects to a platform as a service, model where, through the API and the interface almost everybody can just, contact the service as, as a service and not as a project.
Navin Gupta (10:32):
Yeah. this makes a lot of sense. I wanna dig a little bit deeper into the comment that you just made about tokenization, right, because it's a very powerful concept. And I think lots of people don't understand what it means. Would it be possible for you to simplify in your mind one, what is tokenization? And just give one example in terms of how do you see it morphing, how do you see, this being used, by an enterprise customers or by individuals so that people are able to visualize how it'll impact their lives?
Wladimiro Navarro (12:04):
Yeah. But tokenization is, or token is a digital, representation of something. It can be also digital by itself, but it can represent almost any kind of asset in the real life. So a token can be a representation of a real estate, it can be house, but in a digital format, or it can be a power plant but it can also be, for example, uh, a film, so something intangible. And when you tokenize something and you have it in a digital format, you can, improve all the processes around it.
Wladimiro Navarro (15:12):
So for example, if you want to make a new model of investment, if you tokenize the, house, you can, sell that house or, or piece or rights on that house to a lot of investors, even small investors, without all the processes that you used to have to run. And even you can create new models. For example, in the entertainment area, there are experiences like tokenizing, the investment in a film.
So the typical way to is you get investors, I'm going to make a film, you get investors, they invest in the film. And if the film is success, well, they get paid. According to, to the income of that film. I- if you tokenize that investment, the possibility, the holders of that token, of course they are the investors. They have put money on that film, the film success they get paid, but the token is at the same time,the right to see the film. So only those that have a token can see the film.
if the film is successful, you as an investor, you receive your revenues for that, but you also have a token, which is the right to see the film that can monetize it and, and sell it depending on, on the success of the film. So you, you create a secondary market for the same investment. and you can apply that kind of concept of tokens to a lot of new business models.
If you see NFTs, now everybody's crazy about NFTs, but everybody's looking at, and they think on the next DA as a picture, that as you are selling a picture or a drawing or whatever, which is, let's say the simplest way to see it, NFTs allows you to create completely new models,, of business and investments. So NFTs are also ju- the right to belong to a community, which is something that has, value by itself. So you can create new models and new economic, relationships that are not able without, that.
Navin Gupta (14:12):
makes a lot of sense. so in your startup, Wladimiro, you engage with a lot of enterprise customers and mostly financial institutions. These could be banks or non-banks because those are your first port of call in terms of how Finweg is situated today, right. And what are these customers telling you? Like, what is the problem that they solve for most urgently?
And the reason I say that is sometimes blockchain is, portrayed as everything to everyone, but it isn't right, there will be certain use cases that'll take off a lot more quickly, and certain use cases that'll can, come in much later. And it's important for our listeners with your knowledge and with your interaction with the financial institution, just get a little bit of a sense to say, what are some of the top use cases that'll take off much, much earlier in, in your engagement with them? What are some of the problems that your customers are looking to solve for?
Wladimiro Navarro: (15:02)
Four years ago, the trending topic was, international payments, international transfers, money transfers. So, you know it very well, it was very costly and, and time consuming, and it was a nightmare for their customers. In that use case blockchain, demonstrated that this is the technology that can help to, to make a transformation of the process and provide benefits for both banks and the customers. there were all other use cases that they were thinking about, "Oh, then we can use blockchain for almost everything." and they started to make a lot of proof of concepts. I think most of them didn't have a real need behind it. but now all the DeFi, phenomenon in the last year have shown that you can use blockchain in a different way to make business different in investments, or you can break the rules again, like with international payments, and make it easier for investors on what to invest in, in different opportunities, without the need of having all those complex processes in the middle.
So banks can again join the need from your customer with a potential from an investor and make it easier for them to join. And this is tokenization, if you tokenize what you can invest and you provide an easy digital way to invest in those assets, you as a bank can provide better services for both ends.
Navin Gupta (16:15):
I also want to pick up on an area of conflict, right, for a bank or a financial institution in some way, what you are saying is absolutely correct. Looking at new technology, blockchain DeFi, and underlying use cases can create tremendous opportunity, both for its customers and also for the institution itself.
But also there is a fear of cannibalization of existing revenue, right? Because there is a process that's set up in which the institution is in the middle and collecting the tool tax on both the sides. And when you interact with your customers, how do they balance that, maybe cannibalizing their, I mean, in some way existing revenue, which efficiency does, and at the same time innovating and being ready for the future, what are you hearing and how are they resolving this conflict in their mind?
Wladimiro Navarro (17:01):
I think banks, know that the problem is that if they don't do it, somebody else is going to do it. most of the banks, for example, BBDA in Spain, they have said we are going to be a digital bank. We are going to be more a software company, than let's say, a, a bank and they have done it. So they have almost, everything is digital, they have almost everything with APIs, and, so you can, integrate with them. So it is not a matter of cannibalization my services, but, not having other companies providing those services in a different way, and having me out of the market.
Navin Gupta (17:35):
Makes sense. I think it's a difficult one to solve, but like you rightly said, probably the institution is realizing, "Hey, if I don't do it, the competition would,or a fintech would, then what am I going to do?" So as well, probably increase the market share or increase my volumes even at the margins go down or something to that effect, right?
Wladimiro Navarro (17:51):
Yep. So banks, of course they have, let's say their business, but, they are realizing that fintech's started providing niche services just to focus on something that the banks were not solving, in the best way, or they were providing a different way mainly for individuals at the beginning for really specific, services. Uh, but the people that are using the fintech services, which is an app, which are typically the young people, they're the people that are going to lead the businesses in the future. So they're going to use those models in the corporate, financing as well. So, you have to provide that kind of services as well, because if not a fintech is going to provide it.
Navin Gupta (18:27):
It makes sense. So also I want to touch on this, right. So lot of time, I mean, we see big announcements, for a fintech or a agile company like yourself, which is very entrepreneurial and a bank working together. Right. And the way the visual I have in mind is you're trying to make an elephant dance. Right. So you-
Wladimiro Navarro (18:44):
(laughs) A elephant dance.
Navin Gupta (18:45):
Yeah. (laughs) Right. So what is your advice to others who are working with a large institution, but they are very entrepreneurial, absolutely brilliant teams who can make things very, very quickly. And they have to partner with, large institutions. And I'm using again of just for a visual, trying to make a elephant dance, what can they learn from your experience? Because yes, on the headline side, it's, it's super exciting. But when we speak to a lot of fintech's, they essentially say it takes a year to contract, it takes two years to get something on the ground. what will be your advice? I mean, you have been successful at it. what can other fintech's learn from you to manage such partnerships effectively?
Wladimiro Navarro (19:23):
So the figure of making elephant dance is, (laughs) quite, it's very, very good. (laughs) I, I have never heard it before, but I agree completely with it. So of course, working with a big institution is nothing easy. (laughs) So it takes time. And because the decision process is they cannot change the old organization. But again, our experience has been very good with accelerator programs.
So for example we were able to work with Bankia, which is one of the main banks in Spain through an accelerator, like a strategy that it was in some in Spain. And also because the bank itself has an innovation department which was really, supported by the CEOs of the company. So they really had the innovation as part of their strategy.
So it's important that you find that kind of enterprises that really have innovation in their core,and not as a department more for marketing than anything else. but working with an accelerator, always help you to, speed up that process, because the alternative is, if you do not want to work with enterprises because you want to be more agile, then you have to think about launching the market or being able to launch a market by yourself, which is also something not easy to do.
And you need to have the right investments for that because you have to be able to support the operations during the first phase, when you are not going to have enough incomes to support your operations. So you have to, to be able to to have the money, to survive in that tough, time as well.
Navin Gupta (20:48):
I mean, you have to have a runway before the plane takes off and if you die before it takes off, then anyway, there's- [crosstalk 00:26:41].
Wladimiro Navarro (20:54):
There's no easy way-
Navin Gupta (20:55):
Wladimiro Navarro (20:56):
If you want to work, if you work with enterprises, it is going to take time to start operations with them. But if you want to do it by yourself, then you have to be able to support the, (laughs) your operations until you are able to make revenues.
Navin Gupta (21:08):
Yeah. That's true. I agree with you, right, and that positive side on the B2B side is that generally these are paying customers, right, so the good thing is, of course you lose money till the time the revenue kicks in, but once the revenue kicks in, it's a sustained revenue. So-
Wladimiro Navarro (21:20):
Navin Gupta (21:21):
I mean, it's helpful in terms of the numbers within the, startup.
Wladimiro Navarro (21:23):
Yeah, of course. it's another way of investment. So you need to spend time in order to build up the process with your customer, but then you have, let's say stable, growth.
Navin Gupta (21:33):
Wladimiro, I also wanted to ask something on the behalf of our listeners, how people can get involved with Finweg, right, they would be enterprises or people working in enterprises among our listeners. They would also be individuals, how can they learn more, how they can follow the growth of Finweg as you work through institutions and essentially deliver these solutions through your customers to the world.
Wladimiro Navarro (21:55):
Of course they can contact me on, on way of LinkedIn, because you can find me and the company and send a message. we are open, and not only if you're interested in our services but also to share with us,, ideas. we are members for example, in, in Spain of Alastria, which is a blockchain consortium where all companies that are interested in technology, in blockchain technology and applications of it, not only companies, but also universities and institutions, we are all members of that consortium and we share, experiences and ideas. So it's always very good to share, uh, ideas and so on. they can, follow us in our website where we try to put the news, but of course they can contact us whenever they want.
Navin Gupta (22:34):
Wladimiro, a big thank you to you. I learned a lot today and I believe our listeners did as well. And thank you very much for giving them an opportunity to get in touch with you, if they have an interesting idea that they want to engage with you on. it was superb, Wladimiro, a big thank you and have a great day and best of luck with Finweg.
Wladimiro Navarro (22:53):'Thank you very much
Navin Gupta (22:54):
Wladimiro Navarro (22:54):
... it was a pleasure.
Navin Gupta (22:55):
Lauren Weymouth (23:00):
Listeners, Thanks for giving us your time today and continuous feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org email. This is the conclusion of Season Three and we'll roll right into Season Four, so stay tuned for the next episode. If you have any questions about this episode, please reach out and until next time...