- How annoying chat interruptions inspired a new era of financial transactions;
- CEO & Founder Denis Kiselev on innovative payment services, life as an entrepreneur & SnapSwap’s journey
A little over a year ago Denis Kiselev was living in San Francisco and his son was studying on the other side of the world in London. They used messaging applications like WhatsApp to stay in touch. During their chats his son would sometimes ask for small sums of money to buy a pizza or make other minor purchases.
Kiselev would then have to log out of their communication application, log in to his banking account and make the transfer. This got him thinking: What if that pizza could be paid for within the application itself without disrupting the conversation? What if money could be sent and received within social communication frameworks?
That’s when the seed for SnapSwap was planted.
Nobody was offering a suitable solution, so Kiselev merged his background in computer science and 20 years’ experience in financial services to tackle the issue.
“We consider financial transactions as a kind of exchange of information between people. When you are sending money to somebody, in fact, you are saying, ‘happy birthday’ or ‘can I help you’…so why shouldn’t it be included in the communication environment,” said Kiselev, CEO and Founder of SnapSwap.
The proposition is simple: real-time, cross-border transactions at a very low cost.
He and his two partners began working with this concept, expanding it to include merchants. They believed that a client should be able to instant message a company’s automated customer service and make a purchase in that same chat window with one click.
If SnapSwap has anything to say about it, this will be the future of customer interaction.
After receiving the green light from the CSSF, Luxembourg’s financial supervisory body, they began developing their product, Gloneta, which uses blockchain technology to conduct a transaction within a social messenger window. It can be thought of as two layers of communication: financial transaction and message. While every financial transaction is a message, not every message is a financial transaction.
It has been a big year and a half for the startup — application development began in December 2014, SnapSwap was incorporated in September 2015 and it was granted Europe’s first bitLicense in October of that same year — and it hasn’t always been easy.
“It’s a process. It’s daily ups and downs. Sometimes everything comes together…and other days it feels like everything is coming apart, so it’s a constant roller coaster,” Kiselev said. “Each day we learn something new. When it comes together, it’s very gratifying.”
On the road from idea to reality the team has had to develop the necessary onboarding and risk management solutions.
With processing happening within a single ledger, thanks to blockchain, customers can open and verify accounts on their mobile phones in under 10 minutes. To prevent suspicious transactions SnapSwap can draw on the personal, geographic, financial and behavioral information obtained through personal devices.
There is no single defining moment that brought SnapSwap to where it is today. “It’s a constant decision-making process. You wake up in the morning and you have a to-do list with an infinite scroll down,” Kiselev said.
Although he had a natural interest early on for coding and technology, the SnapSwap CEO did not envision himself having his own startup. “When I was in high school I wanted to be an archeologist, but at that time I didn’t know how much fun it is to be an entrepreneur,” he said.
The company currently consists of 12 members, with three based in Luxembourg, although that number will soon increase.
Accustomed to San Francisco’s startup environment, the decision to relocate was motivated by a combination of the Grand Duchy’s strong financial tradition and openness to innovation. SnapSwap found that its regulators and banks were particularly receptive to new ideas and technologies, making it the perfect backdrop for Gloneta’s introduction.
Brand new to the region, the team members have looked to lux future lab to provide them with a community, help them integrate and save them time by directing them towards the right partners and business services.
They also noted that the credibility that comes with being screened and selected by the Lab has proven valuable, as has the link to BNP Paribas. By meeting relevant people in the bank, the startup has been able to collaborate and further hone its technology.
SnapSwap is in the pre-product stage, which means that testing is nearly finished and invitations will soon be distributed. Preregistration is possible at SnapSwap.eu for anyone interested in receiving the product.
Kiselev is convinced that a key to their success thus far is constant learning: “We are definitely far from our initial idea and our initial vision, and I think that it’s important to listen to the world, to listen to the customers, to listen to the partners and to adapt to changing circumstances. So it’s all about learning and experimenting.”
His advice to entrepreneurs? “Just go for it. Try and fail and don’t be sorry for trying. What we’ve learned is that even the worst possible decision is better than no decision at all.”
He’s taking his own advice and already looking ahead to what the next chapter will bring for SnapSwap. Their sights are currently set on integrating payment as a function within existing applications, much like voice calling on WhatsApp and Facebook.
Later, they’ll explore a potentially new category of financial services that allows third parties to access bank accounts and make transactions on the owner’s behalf. Then of course there’s the more futuristic internet of things, which could see cars handling their own payments and interactions happening between smart devices…but one step at a time.
For now, the startup is looking forward to its approaching product launch in Luxembourg, with plans to extend it to the rest of Europe and then potentially expand worldwide.
When contemplating his lifestyle as an entrepreneur, Kiselev said, “It’s a lot of a fun…there’s a lot of creativity involved. It makes you happy at the end of the day. It’s the dream, but sometimes a very demanding dream.”
His last words of advice: “If you find people who can tell you the recipe for how to build a successful startup, don’t trust them. There is no recipe. It’s not a science. It’s an art.”