Fintech Horizons was founded by veteran journalists. We cover fintech startups, with a focus on insurtech, payments and blockchain/distributed ledger. Our articles highlight company technology, people, competition, and fund-raising, while also looking at how a company was founded.
Benites is CEO of BitInka, one of the leading digital currency exchanges in Latin America. The company is headquartered in Peru but operates in more than 40 countries. BitInka also provides users with a secure digital wallet and is the creator of InkaPay, a Bitcoin-based payment app. Questions and answers have been edited to fit an article format.
When was BitInka started and what was the motivation for doing so?
BitInka started operations in 2014. The project, technology and ideas behind it captivated me from the start. I wanted to be involved with innovative technology, such as blockchain, and to be part of the future, by enabling the growth of Bitcoin and digital currencies.
What advantages does BitInka offer to its Latin American customers over other exchanges?
In Latin America, crypto-trading has not always been as developed as in Europe or Asia. We believe we serve as a bridge between local traders and the industry as a whole. We operate in 40 plus countries and work with 25 plus cryptocurrencies and nine FIAT currencies. This is a plus, especially in a market where the industry is still growing.
You also offer traders a set of APIs that they can integrate with their own applications. Is this a growth area for BitInka?
Our APIs facilitate more complex transactions. They were developed for passionate traders who want to develop their own programs. We want to offer our users the widest array of tools, and our API offering is part of this effort to give more choice to our customers.
What does BitInka do to protect the security of customer accounts?
We take compliance and user safety very seriously. We have a strict onboarding process, that requires that users submit a number of documents. We also have strict password requirements, use Google authenticator for confirmation, and require visible proof for any withdrawals and deposits.
What are your top goals for 2019?
One of our top goals for this year is to establish a larger presence in Europe and Asia. We plan to do this by listing new projects/coins, by accepting more FIAT currencies, establishing local partnerships, and by using our experience to position ourselves as a more global brand.
What has been the most surprising part of creating a technology company in the crypto space?
The world of cryptocurrency is complex, volatile and fascinating, which makes every day unique. We are constantly adapting so we can better serve our customers and compete with larger players.
What do you like to do in your free time?
It’s been a long time since I have had “free time.” When I am not in the office, I read about industry trends, go to events and meet with key stakeholders. I am always looking for ways to make our offerings more innovate and to create new projects that can provide more choice to our customers.
What activities does the company do as a team?
Employees are at the core of the business. At our headquarters, we have a special area where employees can relax. The area has a pool table, a mini-soccer game table, and an arcade machine. Our HR specialists dedicate a couple of hours a week to incentivize the team dynamics (we call it Dynamic Wednesdays).
There is a lot of talk about how digital currencies are gaining traction in South America. Has that been your experience? Do you see adoption in the region accelerating?
Yes, but the industry here is still growing and it is probably not as developed as in other markets. Locally, there still exits a lot of misunderstanding (and misinformation) about cryptocurrencies and blockchain, but we feel that as leaders in the region, it is part of our job to help support the industry’s development.
Have you taken outside capital and do you plan to raise additional funds this year?
We did raise an important investment in December 2016. Due to our goals for this year, we plan to raise another round. We don’t have specifics preferences yet, but for sure we will have separate investments rounds for BitInka and for our new project.
Does part of you already feel fulfilled having started BitInka?
Even though I am aware of what we have created, I am constantly looking for new challenges and new business ideas that can create greater value for our users and shareholders.
Flywire was spun out from MIT in 2009. The Boston-based company, which was known as peerTransfer until 2015, was founded by Iker Marcaide, a Spanish entrepreneur, who served as CEO during its first four years.
Unlike most international payment transfer companies which primarily help people send money, Flywire specializes in making it easy for educational institutions, hospitals, and businesses to receive cross-border payments.
In December 2013, Massaro was hired as CEO. During Massaro’s tenure, the company expanded beyond its initial focus on education, into health care and B2B transfers. The company also grew revenues from a few million dollars a year to a projected $100m for 2018. For its July 2018 series D, in which it raised $100m, the company was valued at close to $1bn, according to press reports.
In January, Flywire acquired OnPlan Holdings, the parent company of OnPlanU and OnPlan Health. The acquisition of OnPlan is one of several Flywire has made as it has expanded internationally.
In the Q&A, Massaro discusses the difficult choices the company faced in his first few years as CEO, the keys to Flywire’s growth, and the company’s plans for international expansion, partnerships, and new acquisitions. The Q&A has been edited and condensed to fit an article format.
You almost sold Flywire six or seven years ago. I imagine you are glad you didn’t but it is easier to say that in retrospect. Why did you decide not to sell, and was that a hard decision?
It was a difficult decision. At the time, we weren’t sure what options we had as we were a venture-backed company that still needed investment to operate. This time was a turning point for the company and a difficult time in our journey. The main driver behind us deciding not to sell was the belief that our Board of Directors had in Flywire. This started a series of changes in the company that allowed us to focus and deliver more value to clients.
When you came to Flywire it was a startup with just a few million in revenue. How did the company make the leap from a small startup to a successful larger enterprise?
Focus and execution were key. It was really important to concentrate efforts on where we offered the most value to customers.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs in handling growth in a way that enhances your brand?
As Flywire has grown, it is our people, our culture and our values that keep us on the right track. When our clients, prospects or partners meet FlyMates they walk away getting a feeling of what our culture is and how special our people are. Growth is exciting, and it isn’t easy, but having a team of people you can rely on to do their best and believe in what we are building is key to making it happen.
What do you like to do when you have free time?
I have four boys and an amazing wife. Whenever I have free time I spend it with them. I am on the road a lot, so I really appreciate the time I get to have with family.
How important have partnerships and M&A been to your growth?
In the Fintech world, things move fast. To keep up, you need to proactively look for new partners or new acquisitions. We have been lucky to have the funding available when good acquisition opportunities have been available. Through acquisitions, we have expanded into new markets as well as added new technology and capabilities.
The same is true for our partnerships. We have built partnerships in all of our verticals ‒ education, health care, and business, as well as with our Global Payments team. These partnerships have helped us build our global payments network and added value and knowledge in local markets.
What does the future hold for Flywire with the recent funding? Are their key initiatives that the funding makes possible?
Some of the key initiatives include market expansion in APAC, expansion in Latin America, and further investment in our technology platform. These were plans we already had in place and the funding allows us to achieve these plans faster.
0xcert, a company offering an open-source framework for creating, managing and swapping digital assets, is interested in discussing financing options to fund product spin-offs, Chief Strategy Officer Urban Osvald said.
The company has developed a framework but is now advancing proprietary products. 0xcert's plan includes spinning out each product into separate companies, which is likely to require external capital, Osvald said.
0xcert is currently holding conversations with some global incubators about funding its first product, which could be ready to launch by the end of Q1, the exec said.
There are also other products in the pipeline that could be spun-out, and 0xcert is interested is discussing related financing options, including equity, with potential investors or partners, Osvald said.
0xcert was founded in early 2018 and is headquartered in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The company completed its ICO on July 4th, 2018. It raised 20,000 ETH, which was equivalent to about $9,000,000, Osvald said.
The company’s presale sold out in 6 minutes and the subsequent crowd sale sold out in 90 minutes, he added.
0xcert’s ZXC tokens are listed on exchanges including BILAXY, BKEX, and IDEX.
The company's toolset allows users to build decentralized applications (DApps) on top of distributed and decentralized systems. Its framework reduces development time, risks and costs associated with developing DApps, according to the company.
Its open-source protocol translates one-of-a-kind digital or real-world assets into non-fungible tokens (NFTs), providing a “unique” proof of ownership on the blockchain, according to the company’s whitepaper.
Uses cases for NFTs could include assets such as cars, artwork, tickets, and certifications, or even in-game collectible items, Osvald said.
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