You probably have friends or colleagues that ask you how they can invest into cryptocurrencies, but acquiring digital assets isn’t a straightforward process for people with less technical knowledge. That’s why we’ve asked Jani Valjavec, ICONOMI co-founder and Chairman of Columbus Capital, how he managed to narrow down the process to just a few clicks. Here’s an interview for you to discover Jani’s entrepreneurial path, what’s involved with the ICONOMI platform, and how he sees the future for crypto and blockchain development!
Your Path in Blockchain
Hi Jani, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the blockchain ecosystem? What has your career path been like?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had access to growing technology since childhood, but on the other hand, I’m from Slovenia; a small country with a population of about two million that is quickly becoming one of the leaders in the blockchain and ICO spaces. Slovenia has always been an early adopter in terms of new technology and it has developed quite the startup scene. I have been involved in start-ups for years, and Cashila was one of the most successful ones. I have been working with the blockchain since 2013.
How did you get involved into the fintech world? How did you know that the financial part of technology was something that interested you the most?
From the beginning I was interested in Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology. I first co-founded Cashila, which was the first Bitcoin company with EU regulator approval to be registered as a financial institution. But soon, friends and family were asking us how to invest in digital assets. We realized that there were many people who wanted to invest in digital assets but didn’t know how, and this was why we founded ICONOMI.
Can you tell us a bit more about your previous project, Cashila?
Cashila was the first licensed Bitcoin company in Europe. Founded in July 2014, Cashila processed over 15 million EUR over the course of three years. Cashila allowed users to send money (pay bills, cash out bitcoin), receive money (third-party deposits), store funds, and convert funds to Bitcoin.
Through operating Cashila, we learned about what users really wanted and what kind of services make onboarding easier in the crypto economy; this is when we decided to establish a digital asset management platform using all the knowledge and experience we have gained from Cashila.
Can you tell us a little about ICONOMI? How did you came up with an idea for such a project?
ICONOMI is a platform for managing digital assets. We started ICONOMI because as more and more coins were created, it became more and more difficult for the average user to manage their digital asset portfolio. We wanted to provide a way to streamline and simplify the process.
For managers, we enable the creation and management of diversified baskets of different digital assets, called digital asset arrays (DAAs). For users, we provide a platform for buying into these baskets with just a few clicks. Currently, there are 26 DAAs on the platform, with a total under management (AUM) of nearly $170M USD.
How can you compare the process of acquiring different assets on a crypto exchange and using ICONOMI to invest in different arrays of digital assets?
Instead of buying and selling individual assets separately by using complicated order books, you can buy a digital asset array with just one click, giving you instant exposure to a wide variety of digital assets. This saves you the work and inconvenience involved in buying each asset separately (multiple exchange accounts, secure storage, etc.).
How easy is it to become a DAA manager at ICONOMI? What are the barriers? How do you protect investor funds?
Currently, the process of adding new DAA managers is manual, but the goal is that anyone will be able to create their own custom DAA structure in a matter of seconds. A minimum of a $100K seed amount is required for the establishment of a DAA at this stage, but this amount will decrease in the future. Anyone interested in becoming a DAA manager and being among the first managers of this new asset class is welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For our platform we developed a proprietary multi-level cold and hot wallet system that ensures the complete safety of client assets. This system will be evaluated by a Big Four firm in Q2 2018.
Do you personally hold some of your funds at ICONOMI?
Yes! The ICONOMI platform is secure and easy to use, so of course I use it myself.
For anyone considering using ICONOMI, can you briefly explain how using a multi-sig protected cold wallet is the safest choice for them?
The short way to describe this is that if you want to move assets, you need signatures from multiple people/organisations. When you add time and location complexity, you’re talking about a very safe way to protect assets.
How are you maintaining the correct level of transparency and communication to your investors in order to inspire security and calmness in the current environment?
ICONOMI will be one of the first blockchain companies to undergo a professional audit. Our communication is transparent: we have regular reports ranging from a weekly to a quarterly basis, and we are active on different social media channels (Reddit, Rocket.Chat, Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium).
What are the sources of income at ICONOMI?
ICONOMI’s business model is based on fees. The management fee is an annual fee that is charged in small proportions daily to users who hold baskets of digital assets called Digital Asset Arrays (DAAs). DAA managers profit from the management fee for their services in managing the DAAs. There is also a performance fee, which at the moment applies only to the first, closed-end DAA Pinta (managed by Columbus Capital). Fees are split between the DAA manager and ICONOMI; the more a DAA manager makes, the more ICONOMI makes. Profits are distributed indirectly to ICONOMI users and ICN token holders through buybacks.
Current Blockchain Ecosystem
With the exception of Ethereum, what are the most promising platforms right now?
There are many promising platforms and new projects being announced and developed on a daily basis—the industry is thriving. There are, however, not many projects that have delivered a fully functional product since their initial inception, and this is what makes the difference. Starting with an idea and seeing it reach its full potential is very exciting, but demanding at the same time. We are constantly observing all existing and new projects, and are eager to see even more great ideas reach their full potential.
One project that is delivering on its promises is Aragon, which enables the creation and management of decentralized organizations using a governance system based on the blockchain.
What platform should beginning developers start with?
For developing decentralized applications, Ethereum has the largest community of developers and resources and it is the easiest platform to get started with. Communities such as /r/ethdev on Reddit and the Ethereum Stack Exchange have a large number of users willing to help new developers with questions and guidance.
In your opinion, should the space of cryptocurrencies be regulated by the government?
We welcome sound regulatory endeavors and are monitoring and proactively involved with creating an appropriate and reasonable regulatory framework for this new asset class. This kind of regulation is necessary for the blockchain space to mature. Investors need to be protected, and blockchain companies should be following the best practices regarding transparency and accountability.
Right now, ICONOMI is self-regulating; we release transparent quarterly reports and will undergo an audit by a Big Four firm within the next two to three months. We are also working closely with the government on the national and EU levels to help develop a good framework for legislation.
Do you agree that we should pursue decentralization in every area possible, or in some cases does decentralization cause more harm than good?
There are two words that are often used when describing the crypto economy: decentralized and distributed. We need to distinguish between the two first. Decentralized means that no single entity is “in charge” of the system, whereas distributed means that not everything is processed through the same channel: procession is “spread out.” Decentralization has many benefits, such as transparency and higher participation. It is also typically connected to innovation. There are extremes in both centralized and decentralized systems, so it’s a matter of degree. In situations that need quick and effective decision-making, decentralization can be an impediment.
In general, do you think that there are some issues (in blockchain development) that people don’t care enough about?
Information awareness and safety. It’s hard to keep up with all the development and progress being made in this growing industry. Safety is an ongoing theme when it comes to your digital and financial life. Being informed about and understanding the financial basics that are a part of digital asset investing is rare. This is one of the reasons we are building a platform for managing digital assets: to create a single entry point where we take care of every aspect of digital asset management for our users.
You are now part of the distributed economy. What is an achievable milestone for you (in 5-10-20 years!) to change the world of digital assets and make the new economy more open and connected?
A major milestone is the mass adoption of the blockchain. We believe that in 5 to 10 years there will more than 50% of people using some kind of blockchain technology. As the ubiquity of the blockchain grows, ICONOMI will grow along with it.
Skills Needed and Hot Tasks
What are some skills you search for in your potential employees? In your opinion, what should a complete beginner in blockchain and cryptocurrency technology focus on?
We look for focused, quick learners who can adapt and react quickly. This is truly necessary given the rapidly changing world of the blockchain. We also look for positive people with passion and a willingness to learn who are open and eager to work at a company with the goal of becoming one of the most important fintech companies and a global leader in the industry.
How can you compare your view on digital tokens from 2013 when you just found about about this space to now after you’ve possibly reviewed hundreds of tokens?
Fast, dynamic, and evolving. Maybe the best way to describe this is a fun story that captures how the blockchain story has unfolded so far:
2014: “Ethereum will never work.”
2015: “Okay, maybe it will work. But no one will use it.”
2016: “Okay, it works. But no one is using it.”
2017: “It’s only being used for tokens, nothing else.”
2018: “It’s only being used for tokens and games, nothing else.”