Are you captivated by the endless possibilities of how we can interact with money?
Students are creating real world solutions using fintech tools to provide additional capacity in under-resourced communities. There are industry programs that help turn their visions into reality by providing resources that advance their prototypes, apps and ideas.
Ishaan Hiranandani is a rising Junior at University of Michigan, leader in the Blockchain@Michigan (BAM) student club, entrepreneur and DeFi addict. He and his teammates dream of saving small businesses and won awards and support for their particular product MeldX which creates founder friendly method of raising capital.
Listen to hear the roadblocks they encountered along the way and what the future holds.
Lauren Weymouth (00:00):
Hi, I'm Lauren Weymouth, Director of the University Blockchain Research Initiative at Ripple. Recording from San Francisco. I love talking to innovators, figuring out how they use this technology to better our lives. And today, we're introducing a big fan of decentralized finance, Ishaan Hiranandani. I get to do a lot of collaborating with University of Michigan, where Ishaan is just completing his sophomore year, studying business, and computer science. He's a leader in the blockchain at Michigan called BAM. And with a team of fellow students, worked on a service to bridge untrusting parties. Like connecting small businesses together with retail investors to create a new future of finance. Welcome Ishaan.
Ishaan Hiranandani (00:44):
thank you, thank you. It's so great for you to have me Lauren.
Lauren Weymouth (03:47):
So your University bio page says that outside of blockchain, you run a cooking Instagram blog. at Ishaanh, what are your best dishes?
Ishaan Hiranandani (00:57):
I love to cook all sorts of chicken, and really combine my heritage I make Indian fusion cuisines, like pastel chicken, except the base is made out of Indian spices, and then I add Italian on top of that.
Lauren Weymouth (01:10):
I'm part Italian, so I appreciate that, (laughs), Ishaan, how did you get into blockchain?
Ishaan Hiranandani (01:16):
One thing I really love about blockchain is how welcoming the community is of new people. And I hadn't ever heard of blockchain when I stepped into University of Michigan, but one of my mentors, the guy I really admire, he said I'm part of this club, you should really join, it's called Blockchain at Michigan." And, granted, I have 500 people telling me, "Join my club, it's amazing." but I respect the guy, so I come, and, attend the mass meeting. And what I really notice is that The people are first off, really, really nice. they want to talk to me about blockchain, the potential it has in whether voting, or supply chain, or decentralized finance. But also the technology itself, it reimagines how we look at the world.
And one thing I really appreciate about anything is just having the ability to step back, and say, "Okay, this is how we've been doing things,maybe in a traditional, connecting with each other manner. But what if we reimagine money instead of being physical objects, as just transactions on a ledger?" And that kind of creative thinking is exactly what I wanted.
Lauren Weymouth (02:36):
Yeah, that's great, and that's actually why we launched all about blockchain. It's this, this kind of reimagining across all different sectors, and to try to highlight for people just how different Our lives are gonna look in the next five to ten years because of this tech. You actually worked on a project called MeldX, tell us all about MeldX, what it looks like, what it does, give us the whole story.
Ishaan Hiranandani (02:55):
let me set the scene for you first. It was the pandemic, April. I was tired because I wasn't about to get out of bed after coming from University, and we were kicked off campus. But what I noticed, who had it even worse than me were the small businesses around us, because all these small businesses, all their customers, their college students had left town. No one was even brave enough to step outside for good reason because we didn't know much about the pandemic at the time. They were just losing customers, and many of them were shutting down, including one of my favorite restaurants, Piada.
We wanted to see how can we best serve these small businesses. And we realized that a major gap was in the funding of these small businesses, that they were unable to get funding, especially in these tumultuous times. Because currently, small businesses can get funding from either banks, which are pretty dangerous, since they're debt backed loans, or angel investors, which are fairly difficult to attract, especially if you're a low-skilled business, like a restaurant, or a laundromat.
Lauren Weymouth (04:05):
Okay, so this is towards the end of your freshman year, with the country goes into the pandemic, and you've joined the Blockchain at Michigan. And you realize that you can actually use this new tech that you've been talking to your friends about for, an actual project. You can actually build something that's going to make it better for small businesses that are suffering around you.
Ishaan Hiranandani (04:22):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And so we are like, "Wow this sounds like a great idea, let's just get straight to research, and then building it." So we found, external competitions to motivate ourselves. joined a few, like the International Blockchain Olympiad, and the AvaLaunch hackathon. we just competed, found communities of people who are willing to help us learn more about, how does blockchain work in a practical setting? How can we actually work with these new businesses? So we went on a bunch of customer discovery calls with, small businesses in Ann Arbor, as well as people who might be wanting to invest within these small businesses.
Lauren Weymouth (05:04):
So which came first? The AvaLaunch hackathon, or the, Blockchain Olympiad?
Ishaan Hiranandani (05:08):
we started with the Blockchain Olympiad.
Lauren Weymouth (05:10):
Wow. So you took your new idea, and went straight to the US Blockchain Olympiad.
Ishaan Hiranandani (05:15):
Lauren Weymouth (05:16):
Okay, so what was it like?
Ishaan Hiranandani (05:17):
We had no idea what to expect. the truth was, we just didn't know what is this going to look like. So we decided to just research as much as we could, and present, and really have a good time while learning a lot, because the end goal was a startup, not just winning some hackathon. We ended up doing really well at the US Blockchain Olympiad, got second place, and were, advanced to the international Olympiad in Hong Kong. So that was exciting. in between then, we decided that we wanted to focus on development, and that was where AvaLaunch came in.
Lauren Weymouth (05:52):
I hear from a lot of students that they do these hackathons more for, for fun, and to build stuff in a short amount of time with their friends, but not necessarily to commercialize. But you set but with MeldX with your friends to actually make it into a startup. You wanted to commercialize this.
Ishaan Hiranandani (06:07):
That was the initial plan, yes.
Lauren Weymouth (06:09):
Okay. What's your elevator pitch? What is MeldX?
Ishaan Hiranandani (06:12):
MeldX is a way to connect small businesses, think mom-and-pop stores in your local area that need funding with retail investors who want to contribute to their local community, but also want to gain some value out of that.
Lauren Weymouth (06:27):
And what does that look like? is it an app? Is it a website? how do those two parties come together and talk?
Ishaan Hiranandani (06:34):
It's a website, think Robin Hood, or any exchange, like Republic, where you're able to look at businesses in your local area, conduct some due diligence on those businesses based off of information that they provide, and then afterwards, If you choose to invest, you can, invest at their chosen valuation or not. There's not as much of a price discovery process, simply because this is such a new market. So we were trying to create an asset class here
Lauren Weymouth (07:07):
It's built on blockchain right?
Ishaan Hiranandani (07:08):
Lauren Weymouth (07:09):
So how is it different built on blockchain than it would be on the internet?
Ishaan Hiranandani (07:12):
You've probably heard of, a lot of other platforms that aren't built on blockchain, like, Wefunder that do a very similar process. They connect people who want to invest, investors with uh, smaller businesses. But the difference between their target market, these small businesses Is that they're usually small tech startups. And what this means is that Wefunder can afford to take a much larger cut. And the fees were around 12 to 15% based off of the research that we did. Now if you're a small local business, then this isn't viable to take a 12-15% cut from your investment, because you need every last penny that you can get.
So, blockchain allowed us to have atomic swaps that were much more efficient. And by that, we mean, we were never planning on using the Ethereum block changes, because fees were so high. We wanted fees that were sub one dollar ideally. Essentially blockchain made it significantly more efficient, and the increased efficiencies opened up a whole new market that was not available previously by companies like Wefunder.
Lauren Weymouth (08:28):
Which blockchain did you choose to build this, MeldX on?
Ishaan Hiranandani (08:31):
to be honest, we're just looking at whatever platform Whatever, competition we were looking at, at the time. So when we were working on AvaLaunch, which is sponsored by Ava Labs, we're on the Avalanche platform. And later on, when we were applying to Celo camp, we decided we would work on the Celo blockchain. The main goal was to have an Ethereum virtual machine compatible blockchain, which means it's just Very easily compatible from a development standpoint with Ethereum that has low fees.
Lauren Weymouth (08:04):
And would they eventually be interoperable if you've got it built on, Celo built on Avalanche. Does it matter?
Ishaan Hiranandani (09:11):
for the short term, yes, but for the long term, I don't believe it will. In my head, the future of blockchain is very interoperable. It's polychain,in the sense that the back end is not going to matter, especially to users.
Lauren Weymouth (09:26):
You clearly, like working with Avalanche, and Ava Labs, because that's where you're interning this summer. Can you tell us a little bit about what you'll be doing for them?
Ishaan Hiranandani (09:33):
I absolutely love the Ava Labs team. Their incredible work ... Really hard, but more importantly, really fast, and they ship a lot. I'm working as a business development intern currently, which means a lot of diving deep into different protocols, whether it's Avalanche itself, or some of our competitors, as well as what do our users really need? I've been noticing is that the average Avalanche user is really technical. that's a good thing in some ways, but also, it's partly because the Avalanche blockchain isn't the most user friendly yet, and so what do users really need? And then, finally just working with existing, DeFi products on the Avalanche ecosystem, and then hoping to collect new ones.
Lauren Weymouth (10:21):
so back to helping small businesses grow. You've now got a way to do that with MeldX. You've done some hackathons, you've competed at The US Blockchain Olympiad. You're doing well. What's your next step?
Ishaan Hiranandani (10:33):
this is the part where we take all the research, and building that we've done, and really start working with users to make something happen. beforehand, we had kind of sort of talked with, restaurants, and, uh, laundromats, but now we really wanted to dive deeper, and see what were their main problems, and how can we fix those? And here's where we ran into some roadblocks. First off, how are you going to create this new asset class? You're going to have to turn create a new security essentially. And in order to do that, you're going to have to deal with the SEC. That means registering to become a broker dealer and a few many other things that would take a lot of time, and we didn't have the time, money, or patience for that.
The second thing was talking with these small businesses, and realizing what would it take for them to trust this new platform? MeldX, and really start their fundraising. And we saw that the small businesses were very focused on day-to-day survival, and they didn't really have much time or energy to focus on marketing themselves to gain new funds. And then finally, we were talking with users, and we began realizing that a lot of users, they were interested in investing in asset classes that were risky, only if there was a huge upside possibility kind of that asymmetric upside that we talked about. But with small businesses in your local community, It's very hard to get that asymmetric upside, just because a restaurant can only grow so much
Lauren Weymouth (12:17):
So you ran into some hiccups right?
Ishaan Hiranandani (12:19):
Lauren Weymouth (12:20):
you're a college student, and you don't want to spend the next five or 10 years of your life working on SEC challenges, with the law team. Also the industry is kind of nascent, so there's a lot of missing pieces to the puzzle. so legal becomes a big issue. were all these things that you discovered during the Celo camp?
Ishaan Hiranandani (12:37):
Yes. After the international Blockchain Olympiad, we applied to another accelerator called Celo camp, which is hosted by cLabs, also great people. And they really talked to us about legal challenges, as well as, diving deeper with user interviews. And they opened our eyes to these problems that we honestly didn't see before, or were just too, excited to notice them.
Lauren Weymouth (13:07):
Well I, I think it's important for our audience to hear things that there could be a great product market fit. Timing might just be a little bit off when you come into framing and legal challenges, and sometimes you have to take these projects that make a lot of sense, and can make a really big difference, and the technology is there, but we're almost waiting for other sectors to catch up, right? so in the meantime Have you put MeldX on hold?
Ishaan Hiranandani (13:28):
Yeah. So we put MeldX on hold for now, and then hopefully,just exploring with new projects in the space, and then if the time is right, we might start it back up again.
Lauren Weymouth (13:40):
While Meldx is on hold, tell us about the hacker house that you're about to move into, while you're working at one of the blockchain in New York this summer.
Ishaan Hiranandani (13:49):
I'm living with a few friends, and a few people I don't know, who are some of the smartest builders I've ever met. and really, our, main goal for this summer is to become competent at building, from zero to one. And what that means is ideating, talking with users, designing something really quick in Figma, and then building, either using no code, or actual code, and then launching within a one to two week interval. So that kind of build fast, ship fast mentality is what I'm trying to develop in New York City.
Lauren Weymouth (14:28):
Cause this is new for me when we first discussed it, that you're living in a hacker house. Is this common amongst your friends in the blockchain club?
Ishaan Hiranandani (14:35):
It's become significantly more common ever since the pandemic has started, everything is remote, so we realize that we can work from anywhere, meet some of the coolest people in the world, not just be limited to our university, and build fast.The question becomes "Why restrict yourself to a particular location?"
Lauren Weymouth (14:58):
And fast forward, What's your dream come true for the end of the summer on the outlook after living in this hacker house, and working at a blockchain company?
Ishaan Hiranandani (15:04):
At least three products shipped. And I'm not sure what those products are going to be yet. Probably software products because that's more of my specialty. But three products shipped, Marketed on twitter, or various channels, and gaining some users, and ideally one of those being something that I believe I can take to scale. Something that I think has a mission. So, a few ideas that I've been bouncing around, but we'll see.
Lauren Weymouth (15:33):
That sounds very ambitious, a few projects shipED. That would mean that you'd ideate, you'd prototype, you'd launch, you'd market, and then you'd move on to another one in order to get several of them. When you say shipped, is that like, in the can? Like ready to sell?
Ishaan Hiranandani (15:48):
yeah. Ready to have, have users let's say. It might be a free product, but something that people can actually use. And even if it's not the best quality, I want to be able to go from zero to one very quickly, as kind of a practice run.
Lauren Weymouth (16:04):
Aside from your connections At your own University blockchain club, have you been connected with other blockchain clubs at other universities? Is there online clubs that you engage with in this, or are you going to be participating in other hackathons this summer?
Ishaan Hiranandani (16:16):
I met with a ton of amazing people online from Blockchain Acceleration Foundation, which is a blockchain non-profit focused on universities. And I met people from Stanford, blockchain at Berkeley, Rutgers, and so on, and they've become some of my closest friends. We're actually meeting up in Miami very soon.
Lauren Weymouth (16:40):
So you're taking it on the road.
Ishaan Hiranandani (16:42):
Yes, yes. We're meeting up in the bitcoin Miami conference, so I couldn't be more excited for that.
because you're going to learn the most by doing.
Lauren Weymouth (16:51):
Amen. Any other real world experience with blockchain at companies?"
Ishaan Hiranandani (16:55):
ne thing I love about BAM is that we pair members up with real companies through our blockchain consulting program. I got the wonderful opportunity to work with PayPal. I actually messaged their head of blockchain strategy, and, got on a call, 30 minutes turned into 45, into another call, We decided we have to work together. And so I got to work on a digital identity prototype, using Hyperledger Aries, which was one of the coolest things I've ever done.
Lauren Weymouth (17:27):
Good connection. Awesome. Ripple is launching an XRPL grant developer program. The whole purpose of the grant program is to engage and support software developers.
And to strengthen the XRPL developer community, and I think starting out, they're going to target small teams who are building apps and tooling that integrates with the XRP Ledger. Are you or your team interested in NFT related projects?
Ishaan Hiranandani (17:51):
I think that NFTs have a lot of potential. Aside from digital art, and I think that the really useful NFT applications, whether it's within digital identity, or, gaming related activities. Those stand to have a lot of value, and I'm very interested in the digital identity space myself.
Lauren Weymouth (18:13):
you're intrinsically motivated by the problem set, by solving a challenge especially one that's probably going to that's gonna make an impact for people. I mean I could hear that in your voice, talking about helping small businesses. So how do you go out looking for those challenges? you could scan google for all of the different, blockchain grants out there, and different factions that are trying to reach the community developers, but how do you source them? Or do they come to you?
Ishaan Hiranandani (18:38):
(laughs), that's a good question, and I think when you're so integrated in a community, then you start hearing about all of these problems. A good way to go about it would be to think of, "Why are we actually using blockchain?" because technology in my opinion is a means to an end, right? So what is our main goal here? And in my opinion, the main goal is to create a new future finance that supports everyone, regardless of your socioeconomic status, regardless of your race, or sexuality. we want to create a world that no matter where you live, you're able to participate in the future of finance, because that's where opportunity lies. And when you go based off of a vision, and that just happens to be my vision, and I think many other people's vision, then you start to see, what are some problems that need to be solved.
And one thing that I've been noticing a lot recently just as an example, is people who need loans aren't able to access that money, whether it's for education outside of the U.S., or, whether they want to start their own business. But people who already have access to money, or are really well connected get that money very, very easily. So one thing I've been thinking about is, "How do you get undercollateralized loans?" I feel, like your,audience is already familiar with Compound, and Aave, Or should I explain that?
Lauren Weymouth (12:18):
explain away. this is great.
Ishaan Hiranandani (12:20):
So Compound, and Aave,They're trustless platforms, so you have to deposit $150 to be able to borrow $100. And then your $150 can remain as Ethereum or, bitcoin, or whatever. But this, only helps people who already have access to money. So we need to create a system where I can deposit $50 of money, and receive $100 as a loan to invest in myself, my business, however I see fit. And how can we create that system on a trustless platform like blockchain? the way I think about it is you need some sort of reputation system. Because, the way blockchain currently works, if I deposit $50 and I get a hundred dollar loan, And if I run away, and take that hundred dollar loan with me, no one can do anything.
Sure, the reputation of my address might be destroyed, but that's not going to mean anything to me, because I can always create another Ethereum address, or Celo address or Avalanche address. So how do we create this reputation system that carries with you across platforms, and across transactions, regardless of if you create a new address or not? And I think the solution to that is digital identity, which is why I'm so excited about the space.
Lauren Weymouth (21:55):
Yeah, we do a lot of talking about digital identity, and how blockchain is gonna change that .we're seeing changes, coming out of, university recommendations towards, this. thank you for highlighting that. is there anything you want the audience to know about?
Ishaan Hiranandani (35:23):
if you want the space to grow, you have to remember what we're trying to build. that's a future where everyone is equal, and able to participate in this new economic world. If we want to progress the space forward, one way we can do so is by adding diversity, I'm part of another non-profit called she256, which is focused on diversity. they do some incredible work, and I just wanted to highlight that.
Lauren Weymouth (22:36):
Yeah, she256, another undergraduate student group that actually formed a 501c3 off campus over 500 mentee, mentors around the world, helping to lower barriers to women entering the field of blockchain, and in tech. I think what they've done is extraordinary, and it's so glad to see that you support them, and are part of their efforts. And I know they're also combining their work with a lot of industry players right now, and similar to you guys at BAM, consulting projects for companies, and startups, they're doing the same thing.
Ishaan Hiranandani (23:07):
Yeah, yeah. They do incredible work.
Lauren Weymouth (23:10):
this industry's so nascent. My CEO will often say that we're in the first mile of a marathon. So we're just starting to scratch the surface on how this text can be rolled out, what we're gonna use it for. how it's gonna mature, and evolve over the next five to 10 years, and then bitcoin cryptocurrency is one use case.
Ishaan Hiranandani (23:27):
Lauren Weymouth (23:28):
Right? And then beyond bitcoin, there's all these alt coins that are creating all of this enterprise, and other usable features, that are gonna change the way that we do things. I can speak directly for Ripple, because we're creating a world where cross-border payments are faster, cheaper, and more transparent. And that's making a difference for people. there's so many other use cases out there.
How do you see the blockchain industry evolving over the next five years?
Ishaan Hiranandani (23:50):
I see the blockchain space as becoming more interoperable. So you see all these chains with amazing tech. I've already talked about Avalanche, Celo. But also, Solana, and now Ethereum Polygon coming on main net. And the really cool part is that once all of these chains become interoperable, then users are gonna stop caring about what chain that they're actually working on. And the future of dApps is abstracting away the complexities of blockchain in order to promote seamless user experiences, like you see on Web2. And right now, interacting with the blockchain, and paying these weird gas fees, it doesn't provide that same experience.
Lauren Weymouth (24:36):
It's interesting to hear how early adopters are thinking through next steps, and creating the future. I mean, Ishaan is the future of blockchain. Do you plan on working in this industry when you graduate?
Ishaan Hiranandani (24:47):
I really hope so.
Lauren Weymouth (24:48):
Ishaan, we could really hear in your interview how blockchain has been a catalyst to bring you to this new industry, and to have you meet all kinds of new people. I'm super impressed with how you've gone after it from being someone bored during a pandemic, to creating a product to, going through all kinds of competitions, and camps to perfect it, working with other people going after internships, and consulting for companies. Thank you so much for sharing your work with us today.
Ishaan Hiranandani (25:14):
Thank you so much for having me Lauren. It was great to be here and talk with you.
Lauren Weymouth (25:19):
it's such a pleasure hosting you on all about blockchain. And listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you have any questions about this episode, or any feedback for the next episode, please reach out to UBRI, at Ripple.com.