Frank Schuil using a white board

Gamechangers: Safello

24 January 2017

How would you describe your business? Safello enables the public to buy and sell bitcoins through an online marketplace, powered by blockchain technology. Users sign onto our platform once and from there they are able to access all the related Bitcoin services they need.

Where did the business idea come from? We started as a simple bitcoin brokerage in 2013 with the ambition to become a new type of bank. It took us some time to finesse our approach and it continues to evolve into what we hope will provide a real value-add service to our customers.

Who were the key people who have been involved/remain involved today? Our core team exists of cryptocurrency (digital currency) and blockchain experts, whether they sit in the development team or as part of our operational staff. We’re supported by a great group of investors from around the world, ranging from the largest blockchain fund, the Digital Currency Group, the former Head of Equity Research at a top four Nordic bank, to the individual investors who have supported our two consecutive crowdfunding rounds.

What do you think is the power and potential of bitcoin? Financial freedom. In 2015 I did a TEDx talk in Stockholm where I explored the possibility of refugees storing and retrieving money, specifically Bitcoins, once they’ve safely crossed a border by remembering a set of keywords. To my amazement, someone responded saying that this is exactly what they did when they had to cross a Donetsk People’s Republic checkpoint during the war in Donbass in the Ukraine. These kinds of stories bolster my confidence and allow me to compare Bitcoin/blockchain to the early days of the internet; the technology that enabled freedom of information.

What are people’s levels of understanding of bitcoin? The majority of people who have access to financial services today are not yet interested in bitcoin or the wider implications that cryptocurrency can have on global finance and beyond.

Where bitcoin and blockchain technology are making a difference today is to the un- and underbanked as well as to people who live in countries where the inflation rate of their state currency makes Bitcoin an attractive means of retaining purchasing power. In the meantime, Safello keeps educating wider audiences about bitcoin to raise its profile and fill any knowledge gaps.

How did you hear about the Accelerator and what made you apply? We were introduced to the Managing Director of the Accelerator programme, who encouraged us to apply. We saw it as a perfect opportunity to kick start our relationship with a bank, and at the same time access the mentoring and guidance the programme offered. Unsurprisingly, we were easily swayed to join the programme once we made the first cut.

What support/outcomes did you take from the programme? The Accelerator gave us unprecedented access to key people within Barclays. This helped us discover how best we could work with a financial services institution, both during the programme itself and into the future.

One of the first projects we worked on explored how bitcoin could be used to raise charitable donations. The outcome saw us team up with Venture for America to raise bitcoins and implement a backend financial reconciliation system. Subsequently we wrote a white paper on the project as a base for further exploration. Most importantly it marked the first time Barclays has worked with a company in the cryptocurrency market, which was an exciting achievement for both of us.

What are the next steps for the business? We have just released the beta, test version, of our next generation product with some unique features. Now you can send bitcoins to a QR code which will automatically send regular currency to your bank account. This new platform serves as the foundation to kick start our AppStore model for Financial Services, which we'll start to roll out over the coming year.