Jörg von Minckwitz didn’t have to travel far to pick up the latest of several accolades for Bitwala. In fact, the pitching stage at the recent Fintech.Pioneers was just a few minutes’ walk from his home in Kreuzberg.
But home ground advantage had little to do with his company’s recognition as the best startup at the new-for-2017 financial technology event in Berlin. No, that was all down to Bitwala’s simple, accessible vision for the future of money transfers.
And what better city than Berlin to talk about finally simplifying cross-border payments? After all, this is a place where, back in the days of the wall, sending funds to somebody a ten-minute walk away could have required all kinds of skulduggery. And probably a coat with a hidden pocket or four.
But in the same way that Berlin has transformed itself into a Fintech innovation hub, things have come a long way for fund movement too — at least within the united Germany. Internationally, though, many of us are still in the ludicrous situation where you can fly from London to Sydney in less time than it takes your money to make the journey.
Few in the room at Forum Treptow would argue that the days of large fees and slow transfers could — and should — be numbered. And this is being tackled at pace by Blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
But to put it bluntly, Blockchain is complicated and hard to grasp. So it’s down to startups like Bitwala — and the large corporations they might work with in time — to package it up into useful, understandable products.
“Marketing these concepts is our major challenge but also our ultimate goal,” says von Minckwitz. “We want to make the use of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology as easy as sending an email.”
Aha, now that’s the kind of claim we want to hear! And clearly the judges in Berlin agreed. But what will we get out of starting to work with these scary non-things called Bitcoins?
“As a decentralized ledger accessible from all over the world, Bitcoin is way faster and cheaper than traditional online banking,” explains von Minckwitz. “At Bitwala we’re here to transfer your money faster than anyone else can do.”
It’s a straightforward, real-world use case that’s easy enough to understand. After all, we may not have a choice but to get to grips with Bitcoin (or another cryptocurrency) sooner or later. Von Minckwitz certainly belongs to the school of thought that everyday usage isn’t far away.
“I think there’s no question of whether there will be a certain cryptocurrency that is widely used. The question is more which currency it is going to be. Bitcoin is the most promising one at the moment, but we will see more competitors challenging Bitcoin and therefore improving it.
“If you ask me now, though, I would still put all my money on Bitcoin.”
Speaking of which, Bitcoin expert and shrewd crypto investor Adam Stradling was among the speakers on stage in Berlin. He echoed von Minckwitz’s belief that there’s still frightening growth potential for the original (and still biggest) of the cryptocurrencies.
Stradling was also highly impressed with Bitbond, one of the other two finalists Bitwala saw off to claim the free pass to this year’s Pioneers Festival in Vienna. Like Bitwala, Bitbond inhabits the murky world of Blockchain and cryptocurrencies. But, like Bitwala, it offers a simple, clear and highly presentable product: cross-border loans.
“I really like what they’re doing, and the practical simplicity of how they’re building their business,” Stradling told us. “I think some people have a talent for deducing what a simple product is, and they’ve done that well. It’s working too: they’re getting transactions and they’re building it up.”
The third finalist startup at Fintech.Pioneers was Telleroo, a payments API that takes the hassles out of paying suppliers and freelancers. Another jargon-free product with a simple message. Coincidence? Probably not. Judges know that the end customer — even if it’s a business — doesn’t need to understand what the duck’s legs are doing beneath the water.
Fintech.Pioneers was the second of Pioneers’ new portfolio of industry-specific chapter events, which have been set up to complement the established Pioneers Festival showpiece. With Mobility.Pioneers and Fintech.Pioneers now completed, chapter events for Health, Retail and Industry will follow later in the year.