In the last year, fintech has moved from an obscure ‘startup’ word to mainstream finance industry jargon; appearing in government policy, public relations campaigns and nearly every tech event in the region.
The mainstream’s acceptance of fintech has pulled blockchain technology out of obscurity, and allowed regular folk to understand the difference between blockchain and bitcoin.
If a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square, so is blockchain’s relationship with bitcoin. Blockchain is the building blocks to bitcoin, but its applications stretch far beyond the currency market.
Now, practically every fintech accelerator includes multiple blockchain companies, resulting in the appearance of startups that use the technology, but stay away from the digital currency vertical.
One such company using blockchain to provide a unique service is Singapore’s Attores.
Co-founded by digital currency veteran and CEO David Moskowitz and CTO Gaurang Torvekar, the company is building smart e-contracts on the blockchain network.
“What we are doing is we have contract templates, like tenancy contracts, rental agreements [and] we can also convert employment contracts into smart contracts,” says Torvekar.
Attores is built on the Ethereum computing platform and written in the language called Solidity.
“So what I do is take the data from a contract to an agreement, and put in a smart contract,” says Torvekar.
It leverages a tool that can be compared to a de-centralised Dropbox (called IPFS), so clients can both look at the blockchain version of the smart contract or download its contents to their computer.
This means Attores uses the security of the blockchain to enable digital signing while creating a hyper-specific transaction history and database.
Its applications range from the finance and logistics industry (which could seriously speed up the contract process) to proof-of-completion certificates and asset tracking.
Torvekar brought up the example of a property listings website. They could use Attores for the tenancy agreements and the smart contract would be decentralised on the blockchain.
It is enforceable like any digital signing, but because each contract will have a unique identification code, it makes it nearly impossible to fabricate and strengthens the proof that the contract was issued by the organisation.
“The main difference between us and companies like DocuSign is you can put a signature on any different contracts,” he said.
“On Attores, you can rest assured there is only one document for this particular ID, which allows for the contract to be registered permanently and provide a trail of the transactions on the immutable ledger”.
The immutable ledger is a permanent, unalterable record of transactions.
While the pair could not get into specifics, Attores did say they are working with the UOB global market team on a proof-of-concept and they have a few SME sign-ups.
For SMEs, the revenue model is based on a SaaS system and clients will pay a certain fee depending on the amount of contracts being signed via Attores.
Moskowitz admits his company might be early in terms of getting major corporations on board, which explains the logic of targetting SME clients.
“I think it’s still quite early in the phase in the technology for a lot of industries to jump on it right away. Banks are leading the way at the moment, but insurance is not far behind and logistics is exploring it right now,” he says.
The team is currently in the process of raising a seed round of funding which they hope will help them continue to focus on developing the product.
Torvekar explains, “For me at least, I have been juggling between product development and talking to potential customers. So we are hoping to hire more people so I can concentrate [on product].”
There are certain factors to success that a startup can control — the quality of the team, the attractiveness of the product and the hustle.
One roadblock is building a product for problems or companies that do not exist, something Moskowitz says Attores was doing before it joined The FinLab accelerator programme.
The team had been focussing on the cryptocurrency market and was building an interface in that vertical to make it easier for people to build and swap smart contracts.
But after talking to banking executives, investors and companies they met during the accelerator, the team discovered they were building a product for companies or problems that did not yet exist yet.
“We realised there was a much bigger market for document and data security and proving the issuant side,” says Moskowitz.
Hence, the pivot to smart contracts for the general economy.
Also Read: Future of gold: asset stored on blockchains
Additionally, one factor that has helped Attores is the fact that Moskowitz is a well-known person within the blockchain community.
He is the Founder of Coin Republic, a Singaporean digital currency exchange acquired by a Mexican exchange named meXBT in August 2015, and is a go-to expert when people want to talk bitcoin and blockchain.
“It opens up a lot of doors … so yeah, it is definitely helpful,” says Moskowitz.
The blockchain ethos
In its most idealistic of beginnings, blockchain technology — and the growth of bitcoin — was largely predicated on an ideal of shaking-up the financial industry by decentralising money.
One result is an expectation that blockchain companies will operate by using an open-source codebase.
e27 asked Torkevar to explain how that impacts him as a CTO, and the process of juggling a startup in an open source environment.
“I have a provisional patent on the back-end technology, but obviously the smart contract code itself is open source and anybody can look at it,” he says.
But he explains his primary focus is building the business logic of smart contract technology and focussing on making it easier for the average person to use.
“For banks we are going vertical and for SMEs I would say we are going horizontally,” he says.
Attores is in the very early stages of their startup — the part in which two people take care of everything. After our meetings, it was time to put the discussion in a neat little box, push it to the side of the desk, and move onto the next problem in need of solving.
Which means, looking ahead, if Attores has a good year, the duo said they want to achieve commercialisation, which means clearing the hurdle of integration.
The hope is to grow and scale with the SME sector whilst trying to lock down the larger industry players.