The coolest start-up on the block

Aug 12, 2020

Author: Joe Pocock, Techfellow's Head of Communications

Fintech has exploded.

We’re experiencing a truly exciting time for money management. Innovations challenging many financial giants are coming thick and fast, and are a welcome change from archaic legacy systems and outdated processes – let’s not even get started on some mobile UIs.

Only a handful of start-ups are ever truly successful – for modern banking we’ve seen Starling Bank and Monzo take strong footholds in recent years.

As technology develops, however, as does our understanding and desires as a customer. One of those increasing in popularity is to invest in cryptocurrency, but that’s not always as easy as you think, swapping your fiat currency for a digital, unregulated, decentralised currency. What’s a crypto wallet? A private key? How do you ‘mine’ something which isn’t physical?

All good questions – with answers that could confuse and deter many, but that doesn’t change the fact that people are listening to the noise; they want to join this huge global community that believes crypto is the next big thing.

To adopt crypto to the masses something needs to change.

This is one of the challenges Ziglu are aiming to solve. Their platform allows you to trade Bitcoin (and its fork Bitcoin Cash), Ethereum, and Litecoin within minutes of downloading the app. Having adopted similar sign-up processes to the leading challenger banks, they’ve made dipping your toe into crypto more accessible than ever before.

I sat down (virtually from our respective offices) with Hoos Badakhchani, Ziglu’s CTO, to discuss their platform and what makes it a ‘cool place to keep your money’.

Joe: How did Ziglu come to be?

Hoos: A lot of it’s down to Mark Hipperson, our CEO, who was co-founder of Starling Bank. He’s passionate about financial inclusion and social mobility improving people’s lives. Traditional banks are serving people very poorly. The challengers are improving things, but coming from this background himself he thought there was still more to be done. If you look at the FX and crypto space the vision is to bring all these components together into a single application, so it becomes seamless to transact in any currency, anywhere in the world; for the best price we can possibly find. We chose to start with crypto because it was fairly obvious that it’s incredibly difficult for people to onboard onto any crypto trading platform – you don’t know what you’re doing; there’s no customer service; the fees are often opaque and expensive. It’s complicated.

We thought this was the place to start, let’s solve this problem first, but it doesn’t define Ziglu as an organisation, it’s one of several big problems that we see in financial services which we want to solve.
J: What are the main challenges you’re facing?

H: Recruitment has been a challenge, due to a combination of the constraints we’ve imposed upon ourselves: our tech stack, we’re entirely cloud native on GCP and GKE (Google Kubernetes Engine), that reduces the talent pool considerably in terms of the use of Kubernetes as we’re competing with organisations that already use this but in slightly different ways. Adding Istio’s service mesh reduces it even further – and that was a bit of a gamble to us! When looking at the technologies available for a service mesh, I took the long view. When planning for hyperscale and all the features we’re going to need, Istio’s was the best bet, even though it was a bit cutting edge at the time. Our backend services are Go, and there’s huge competition for Go developers, unsurprisingly. Also, having people in the office 9-5 appeared to be a problem. We tried working from home initially but it didn’t work as expected. A start-up needs everyone in one place because there’s so much to discover; doing that remotely is tough. Thankfully now, and much due to Covid, we’ve become perfectly comfortable. We are a digital first organisation, and during lockdown it’s incredible how our productivity has shot through the roof!
J: At time of us talking, Bitcoin is being its typically volatile self, but ETH is up 50% since July 7th. Does this mean we’re in a little crypto bubble?

H: I think we’ve crossed the rubicon with coins, we’re not going to be arguing if they’ll be here tomorrow. Blockchain was best described as a service distributor for payments infrastructure, but there are other ways of looking at that asset and the value it provides. Yes, it’s volatile, but if we look at Bitcoin over a period of time it's volatility is reducing. Mass adoption with ordinary consumers and retailers using crypto for ordinary transactions is what actually brings stability, it’s the same for any currency. By getting more people to use crypto in their day- to-day transactions you bring more people into the pool, which has a stabilising effect on the price – that’s what we want to solve.
J: Ziglu aren’t alone in the goal for mass adoption of crypto – is this a further challenge, or is the one ultimate goal an exciting prospect?

H: The latter – there are different strategies being experimented with and the prize is huge. There’s a very vocal minority who focus on custody of the cryptoassets; that poses a huge challenge from a regulatory framework. It’s difficult in most jurisdictions to have a regulated entity with custodianship that makes it easy for customers to actually buy and sell crypto. We’ve done something different, focusing on convenience and simplicity for our customers. By making it simple to use, that’s what brings people in and exposes them to cryptocurrency and cryptoassets. Other segments of the community are worried about getting institutions involved, we focus on the ordinary person who doesn’t necessarily know a huge amount about crypto but has heard about it, is aware, but simply can’t onboard and start using it.
J: Is there anyone else doing exactly what you are?

H: Not exactly, everyone is taking a different approach and honesty, I’m surprised. I thought the obvious thing to do was to encourage people onto crypto. The team at Ziglu share that view – it’s difficult to get into crypto so let’s make it simpler. The larger players are coming in, they want to see mass adoption but are building infrastructure to allow that rather than making it easy for customers to onboard.

We use the same technologies the challenger banks use for KYC and AML, and by virtue of being born in the cloud we can leverage a huge amount of security from Google, and a lot of the tools that allow our platform to be kept up to date and secure. We can keep that complexity internal to us, and present a very simple way of onboarding to our customers. That’s a big difference, it’s what sets us apart.
J: Is there anything you can share that Ziglu are working on which you’re excited about?

H: We’re in the payments space, so we’re going to make that a lot easier. Peer-to-peer payments, a debit card, etc., things you would expect from an ordinary bank, we’re going to bring those features to Ziglu – and perhaps contactless payments too.

When speaking with Hoos you can sense the enthusiasm he and the team have for their product, but also, and perhaps somewhat more importantly, transforming digital and personal banking for good.

At Techfellow, this is what we love about technology - companies who continue to innovate and push this industry forward. Ziglu are laying out their building blocks for a very real and enticing future - a platform which enables the true potential of crypto, maximising on ease for the user.

In a future post we'll explore Ziglu's tech stack further and learn what drives their platform with their Head of Platforms, Matt Turner.