Blockchain technology is such a buzzword that it’s hard to know what to pay attention to these days. A big bank is just as likely to be working with the tech as a small startup – but what that means in each case is sometimes open to interpretation.
Part of the problem is that the technology has so many potential applications. “The blockchain is a protocol, just like the internet is a communication protocol,” says Pavel Bains, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based startup Bluzelle.
Bluzelle builds middleware for the blockchain – applications and tools for enterprises. Its reasoning is, current legacy systems used by companies like financial institutions and insurance providers are inefficient and costly to maintain. Examples of what it could provide include real-time payment systems, identity management, and so on.
“All you care about as our customer is simply the web application – you don’t have to think about all the plumbing underneath it,” Bains tells Tech in Asia.
More recently, Bluzelle started work on a decentralized database network. The concept involves producers (like people who mine for Bitcoin by making their computers part of the transaction validation process) renting out their hardware resources to the network. Then, consumers (like software developers) can use the network for their applications.
For this to work, Bluzelle wants to use its own cryptocurrency. Consumers will pay with tokens to access the database services and producers will earn those tokens for lending their resources to it. In October, it’s planning a token sale of its Bluzelle tokens.
The startup hopes this network will enable applications and systems for developing countries. “Data needs to be managed in a secure, efficient, and low-cost way,” Bains says. “Bluzelle provides a key part of the infrastructure needed to power those applications.”
The startup just raised its series A worth US$1.5 million from venture capital firms Global Brain, LUN Partners Capital, and existing investor True Global Ventures. The funding will be used to develop the decentralized database infrastructure, cultivate a community around it, and boost its enterprise offerings.
The investors can help Bluzelle scale to new markets, Bains says. Global Brain’s expertise in fintech and gaming, and its Japan connections are a big asset for the startup, while LUN can help it market and sell to Chinese customers. True Global, meanwhile, has a network of financial companies in several cities worldwide.
The startup hopes to tackle Southeast Asia and Japan this year with its enterprise offering. For the database service, it will focus on Southeast Asia and the west coast of the US and Canada – Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.
The funding gives Bluzelle breathing room for 18 to 24 months, Bains says. He declines to share details on the startup’s revenue and customers.
From Canada to Singapore
Bluzelle started out in Vancouver in 2014, founded by Bains and CTO Neeraj Murarka. The duo decided to move the company to Singapore in January 2016, after determining there would be more demand for its blockchain offering.
“We’re building blockchain applications for financial services, banks, and so on. And you have a higher concentration of those in one regional area,” says Bains, adding that it’s easier to reach potential clients. Plus, target markets like Indonesia and India are a stone’s throw away.
“We’re painting lines on the road and putting traffic lights up. But the world is expecting full-on self-driving cars on it.”
Bains, a finance and digital media professional with experience at Disney Interactive and a number of independent video game studios, met Murarka in Vancouver while trying to kickstart his fintech idea. Murarka had previously worked for companies like HP and Google.
“I had a passion around finance and technology, especially around developing countries,” Bains says. “It all came together as blockchain technology caught up, with applications like bitcoin, leading me to think about what we could do with financial inclusion.”
In Singapore, Bluzelle struck a partnership with KPMG, which helped open a line of communication with large corporates. “Us being a startup, we don’t know what it’s like working directly with these banks and financial institutions. And a lot of them don’t know how to manage us,” he explains. KPMG helped facilitate those interactions for the startup.
In June, Bluzelle was included in the World Economic Forum’s 30 Technology Pioneers for 2017, which awarded companies for their potential to “significantly impact business and society through new technologies.” The Forum has previously awarded companies like Airbnb, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Spotify, and Twitter. Bluzelle shared the 2017 honors with companies like Singaporean-Japanese satellite startup Astroscale and self-driving car company Nutonomy.
Bains is excited for Bluzelle’s future but is conscious of the hype around blockchain tech at the moment. “There’s just so much unknown about it,” he says. “But it ended up moving too fast. Guys like us came from this world – we know the roads are built, and we’re painting lines and putting traffic lights up. But the world is expecting full-on self-driving cars on it,” he adds.