ICO Spotlight: Interview with Logan Schinbeckler from Branche
This post is part of the ICO Spotlight, a series of posts with the teams behind the different projects covered by Coinschedule.
Hello Logan, nice to chat about Branche today. Can you tell us a bit about it – the background and how it started?
Absolutely. At the most basic level, Branche is new super convenient and affordable way to get micro-credit loans and cheque cashing services. In a more general and slightly more technical sense, it’s a decentralized financial services platform.
What that all sort of means is that we’re taking financial services out of brick and mortar buildings like banks or payday loan stores and letting anyone anywhere do it. Like uber did for driving, we’re going to create a platform that will let any individual or even small business or community organization become a micro-credit loan or cheque cashing provider.
The great thing about taking these services out of the storefront, is that it brings the costs way down and the flexibility way up, and presents whole new business options for all kinds of people.
As to how this started, it was actually about 2 or 3 years ago. My two co-founders, John and Simeon were friends of mine. They were both way into bitcoin and crypto tech generally and while I’m definitely my own kind of nerd, I really love the usability side of things. So John, who was sort of the hub of all this, would go to Simeon and talk about all the technical parts and the fancy math things I don’t understand, and then he’d come hang out with me and we’d toss ideas around to see what sort practical products or services we could come up with.
It was a story of John’s from years before that inspired it all. John’s son is autistic and the timing of this discovery was fairly unfortunate. He had just started a new career path and was suddenly confronted with a whole new set of childcare and medically related expenses. At one point things got rough enough that John was faced with a choice that a surprising number of people are faced with: do I get a payday loan to feed my child, or do I commit a crime. As most people would, John chose the payday loan. After some further conversation, it came out that both Simeon and I had accessed the Secondary Financial Industry (SFI) in our pasts as well for cheque cashing and prepaid visa cards, and we all had a general sense of how they operated.
Given the amazing revolutions in crypto tech and the ubiquity of mobile devices, the whole payday loan industry seemed perfectly ripe for change … once John presented the basic idea that has become Branche, it really seemed like a no-brainer.
We planned and talked and researched a LOT, and decided we could make it work. Almost a year ago we were incorporated, and a few weeks later Simeon quit his job to start full time development of our prototype. John and I both kept our day jobs and spent evenings and weekends building the company. Then a couple of months ago, we quit our day jobs and started working on Branche full time.
By the way, where did the name Branche come from? Does it have any special meanings?
I can proudly say that the name is my doing. I believe it’s time for crypto to “come out of the shadows”. Now while I realize that does sound a little bit like a backhanded dark-web reference, what I mean is that, despite the potential and the power of the tech, blockchain, bitcoin and crypto has for the most part remained a very niche, and somewhat insular family of technologies. This certainly has it’s upsides, and has led to the amazing evolutions and development we’ve seen in the past couple years, however there is a distinctive “BUT” here, and that is that the technology has remained a complex set of tools build by and for deeply knowledgeable technicians.
I’ve said several times in the past few weeks that part of the role of our company, and certainly my role within the company, is to make blockchain and crypto tech accessible to the general public. A very simple, yet evocative example of this, was the process we went through to get our name.
As I said previously, John and Simeon are crypto nerds (that is a compliment in our circles!). They are the deeply knowledgeable technicians. They are used to thinking a certain way and approaching things from a certain direction and take certain knowledge for granted.
The first round of name Ideas were things like “cryptoLoan” or “block-cash”. For a while, John’s working name was “BitMart”. Now, while these are very “in theme” and even evoke the spirit of the functionality, they are no good for the general public. The average person would see these very specific “crypto” style names and either be confused, put off, or bored.
They just FEEL too niche.
I knew the name needed to be simple and evocative: something memorable and straightforward that catches the attention and causes a sense of intrigue and curiosity instead of confusion or dubiousness.
Thankfully I’ve spent many long years naming all kinds of entities, products and services, and I’ve developed a system for it. After digging through what John calls “the astral plane” of the creative process, I came up with “Branche”.
The basic run down is that Branche with the e on the end is German for “business”, and in French means “bough” … in either case it evokes “branch” like a “bank branch”, and secondly the branch of a tree … hopefully one that money will grow on for our customers!
It hit all the right notes, but still looked interesting and stood out. We shopped it around to random friends, business associates and some potential clients and everyone thought it was fantastic. So here we are! .
How much potential do you think there is in this market?
That is a great question! To put it simply: massive! In Canada and the US alone, payday loans are worth 10s of billions. I think most people think of this as some sort of fringe industry, but the truth is it’s been around for 20 years, and 28% of the population uses these sorts of services! That’s almost 100 million of our fellow Americans and Canadians.
Some people have heard of the “underbanked” problem in third world and developing nations, but most don’t understand how huge it is here as well. For those who have lived their entire lives with a bank account and easy access to credit and financial services, it can be really hard to understand just how in demand services like this really are.
Considering that this is a huge and well established industry and how drastically we are disrupting everything about it, and considering that we’ve already built a working prototype and have interested community partners, even if we got 5% of the market (and everyone seems to think that’s exceptionally conservative), the potential is as I said: MASSIVE!
That’s nice. Tell us about your team!
Sure! Right now we have our 3 core founders and a fantastic group of supporters helping us out.
As I mentioned before, our CEO John From is the sort of central hub of all this. In addition to his experience as a sys-admin and disaster recovery specialist, he spent the last 7 years as CTO of a great local software company. He’s also our crytpo guru. He’s been a part of the crypto community for years and is the first person I know who was actually using and dabbling with bitcoin before anyone else had even heard of it.
I fill in the role of COO. I have had an odd career path that has turned out to be quite useful. I have been an animator, an effects compositor, graphic designer, art director, and video game character designer. About 10 years ago I got into UX design, mobile app development, did some marketing strategy, and I even have a failed app company under my belt from a few years back. Add to that my incredibly nerdy hobbies which include anthropology, evolutionary psychology and cognitive science, and it turns out I am ideally suited to building all the outward facing aspects of a crytpo-tech startup company.
Our youngest founder, Simeon, has just turned 25 but is already building a bit of a reputation for himself. He has an honors BSc in Computer Science and IBM Cognos award under his belt, not to mention amazing computer security and cryptography skills and an ever growing breadth of blockchain development knowledge. He was already a team lead when he left his big data and analytics job and dedicated himself to Branche.
At the top of our non-founder support team, we have David Ewart our CFO, who was referred to us by Welch Group. He has decades of experience working with traditional banking and has been a tremendous asset, especially with refining the business model..
In addition we have people Jason Daily, a start-up and business expert with Axia Strategists helping us out. We have our amazing team at Momentum Legal, headed up by Megan Cornell. There’s professor Carlisle Adams PhD, a cryptographer and co-creator of the CAST256 algorithm, who jumps in to support and advise occasionally.
And of course there’s Shakepay, a fantastic startup out of Montreal, Quebec who have been building a virtual visa and tap-and-pay application. We have been working with them since their pre-alpha stage and they will be our primary payout option when we launch.
How are the ICO preparations going? I know you recently delayed the ICO start by a couple of weeks, are there any particular areas that are requiring additional attention?
This primarily has to do with the fact that we want to conduct a “fair ICO” which makes the smart contract a bit more complicated. We take a very agile approach to things and we decided that pushing it back a couple of weeks, but making sure we have it just right, would let us double check all the details and have a trusted 3rd party vet our work. We’ve heard a lot of concern from the community about the way many previous ICO contracts were structured, so we were really happy to find the fantastic work of a member of the Ethereum subreddit, Dennis Peterson. He had already started working on a fair ICO smart contract, one that would allow the sale to stay open the entire time and proportionally refund any excess money taken in. This allows everyone a chance to buy into the ICO at the same price any time during the sale. Simeon picked up and continued the development and we all agreed that this was an excellent way to give back to the community. Dennis has joined in and is working on the development of the contract with Simeon. He is another example of the fantastic people within the crypto-communities and we’re really glad to have his assistance.
Can you share your roadmap with us?
I’d be happy to give an overview.
Generally speaking, we have our prototype done and our general marketing strategy worked out. The next steps are to ramp up the dev team so we can get the app itself finished, get a specific marketing campaign started and launch our first “beta” campaign here in Ottawa.
We’ve also connected with a few local not-for-profit organizations for alpha testing in the meantime, and will continue ramping up local university and community engagement in preparation for launch. We should be ready for that local beta launch by the end of 2017 and from there we spread out to the rest of Ontario, Canada and the US in that order. The speed at which we do that will be determined by our funding levels primarily. We are hoping that at a certain point we will have built enough public awareness and traction that we will be “pulled” to new jurisdictions and locations by individuals or groups already established in a given area who understand the community and local regulatory systems. If that doesn’t happen then we’ll take a very straight forward market demand approach.
We’re working to change an industry that, despite its incredibly size, remains completely unknown to a lot of people, and very misunderstood to everyone else, so a lot of our job is about educating and informing the public.
Once people understand the industry we’re trying to disrupt, understanding what we’re doing and why becomes a no-brainer.
Logan, thank you for your time and best of luck! For everyone reading this interview, what’s the best way to learn more about Branche and the ICO?
Thank you for the chance to talk about what we’re doing, it’s been a pleasure.
The best way for people to check us out and learn more is just to head to our website at www.branche.io.
We also have a blog up on Medium.com (https://medium.com/@branche) and a youtube channel with a couple of videos introducing our team (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3NqsTnyxTNSaO5hGmoACag), but ultimately the website is the best central point to find all those things, and if you sign up for our newsletter you’ll get regular updates and new info delivered right to you (http://www.digitalescrowservices.com/branche/signup).