Founder & CTO
The technology trends in the business realm are so dynamic that organizations often find themselves lost in the middle of it, failing to cope up with the pace. This often leads to switching panic mode on and they eventually end up bringing home the buzzwords in B-town like AI, blockchain, RPA and what not without much foresight. But every technology deployment eventually boils down to one question – whether they engender a real impact and transform the experience for stakeholders? Let’s take the case of blockchain. The blockchain technology is still making inroads with new use-cases and it takes a finesse approach to fill a gap – a current business challenge – with the technology. This is exactly why organizations are in dire need of specialized technology partners, who unlike the just-vendors, on-board a consultative approach and care to find out whether an organization can genuinely make a difference with a deployment before pumping the money in.
Starting its operations right from the discovery phase, Gurugram and London-based i8Labs helps its clients bring more clarity into the process of technology deployment, especially blockchain, and makes sure that it is the best alternative for them. Having had a humble beginning a couple of years back under the aegis of Anuj Agarwal (Founder & CTO), i8Labs is swiftly carving its niche in the blockchain realm, owing thanks to a unique approach and the experience it brings to the table. I recently got to talking with Anuj, a visionary technology leader who left his comfortable role of VP (Product Development at Royal Bank of Scotland (NatWest) to fully commit himself to Digital Technologies. He walked me through the endeavours of the company. Let’s hear it from him.
In conversation with Anuj Agarwal, Founder & CTO, i8Labs
What inspired the founders to venture into the financial domain? Could you tell us the inception story of i8Labs?
Hailing from the financial domain, we as a team were always familiar with the key pain areas that the organizations in the sector were up against. Over time, clutching our experience, we built a business model projected towards healing those pain areas.
It’s not surprising that one of the key contentions in the area is reconciliation, as almost 50-60 percent of the work across finance revolves around reconciliation. This means reduction in reconciliation cost, which can be as high as 50-80 percent per transaction, can significantly trim the operational cost of financial organizations. This motivated us to create a business model wherein we work with banks, financial institutions, supply chain leaders and other intermediaries to reduce their operational cost and improve their profit margins.
As a product studio, what makes your approach unique?
We specialize in tailor-made blockchain solutions for start-ups and corporate businesses, and our portfolio of solutions includes blockchain development, smart contracts, ICO and crowd sale. Delving deeper, based on customer needs, there are three pillars to our services. We call them CBC services.
The first C stands for ‘Challenger’ where we work with the CEO's, founders and product owners to ideate. We help them shape ideas into business features and subsequently technical features. We call
it challenger as we challenge the ideas to chip them properly in the form of a blue-print that can be used for execution and delivery.
The B implicates Builder. In this phase, we use agility of a small company to drive down the cost of experimentation to build MVP products. This is one of the key areas that we focus on, wherein with limited investment, any company can get their ideas tested within 30-90 days. This relieves customers from going through the bureaucratic change process within their organisations with almost zero upfront investment. The company is entitled to complete flexibility to stop the project, take it with-in their organisation or continue with us with a 30 days rolling contract.
The second and final C stands for Consulting and designing, wherein we work with companies to identify business use-cases and user journies, and also the value they will derive by implementing block-chain. Our inhouse and globally recognized Business to blockchain mapping helps organizations understand the benefits of blockchain across their unique business operations. We believe every company is unique.
We specialize in tailor-made blockchain solutions for start-ups and corporate businesses, and our portfolio of solutions includes blockchain development, smart contracts, ICO and crowd sale
How does i8Labs help organizations with the strategic implementation of blockchain technology based on a precise analysis as a part of blockchain consulting?
Our consulting starts with the most relevant question: why do you need blockchain? Before everything else, we focus on understanding how a blockchain based solution will help a particular organization (client) in revenue generation, reduce risk, and optimize cost; because the outcomes of the same product change with different companies and their unique business models.
This is where our experience comes handy. Our deep understanding of the financial industry and blockchain as a technology helps us work with our clients to perform blockchain mapping. We generally start from the discovery phase, wherein we work with CXOs to understand the need for a blockchain based product in the organization. It’s no secret that statistically, 90 percent of blockchain based products built in-house fail to fetch the desired results, which becomes a sheer waste of time and money. Our POD model, wherein we provide core functions like KYC, Asset Trade, Asset Tracking, and Provence on ready to be integrated blockchain solutions, reduces their cost and increases time for experimentation.
Despite the promising future ahead, blockchain is a fairly new technology and a lot of experiments are going on as technology companies continue to explore new avenues and use cases. How do you recognize the risk factor of an organization wanting to shift to reverse gear in the future and abandon blockchain?
Entering a blockchain is often easy, but coming out of it is a complex process. Imagine a scenario where a company realizes that the operational cost of their blockchain is too high or it’s not fetching them the results they were looking for. Hence, it’s of paramount importance for organizations to have a strategy in place to get the data back. Because the survival of a business must be beyond technology. We always recognize the risk factor and a fall back strategy is always a part of our plan. That’s exactly why we begin by performing a complete audit of their
current systems followed by a meticulous risk analysis. In 50 percent of the cases we come across, they don’t usually need a blockchain, and we make them understand why they don’t need it. We do it happily because customers get more value from other systems than implementing a blockchain. We work as a partner to our clients.
Did you recently come across any such occasion wherein you had to convince the customers about why they don’t need a blockchain?
Yes. One of our clients, a major Trading company, was looking forward to implementing this new tech in town. They even had received the funds to implement blockchain across all their four major business processes, before we became a part of this huge project as a consulting partner. Naturally, we started with the discovery phase. After a few discussions and meticulous research about their business process, we were quite convinced that despite the operational cost increasing by a whopping 700 percent, deploying blockchain across their complete processes wouldn't fetch them the value they were looking for, thanks to our robust experience in the financial domain as well. As a result of our intricate study, we were able to make our client understand why they don’t need blockchain. Although, we identified an area where blockchain would make sense for them – Document Verification – rather than implementing a full-fledged blockchain product combining their all four business processes. It eventually helped them reduce the cycle time by almost 90 percent. I take pride in saying that they saved more than 80 percent of the costs just by consulting with us.
“Before everything else, we focus on understanding how a blockchain based solution will help a particular organization in revenue generation, reduce risk, and optimize cost”
With the women-centric Artham initiative, i8Labs has established its non-commercial dimension as well. What can you tell us about Artham?
Although there are more than 100 million working women in India, the traditional investment models are largely men-focused. We believe that investment skills are actually more important for women than men. For instance, it’s not only that women make less money over their lifetimes compared to men, they are also more likely to drop out of the workforce to care for their children or elderly parents – every-thing despite the fact that women typically live longer than men. This is exactly where Artham pitches in. Artham is a gender-smart investing algorithm opposed to the supposedly ‘gender-neutral’ investment industry that actually defaults to men’s preferences, salaries, career paths, and lifespans. When I say a women-focused product, it doesn't imply a feminized look, but features designed specifically for women. It aims at a women financial well-being community based on a zero commission model.
What is the road map that lies ahead for i8Labs? What's the future roadmap that you have sketched for the company?
I believe that blockchain is a revolution in the making and it helps create transparency and trust across the world. It's waiting for the tipping point and net-work effect to kick in. We started our journey after a few initial successes from India in terms of building products like bonds trading, blockchain based KYC platform and platform for Charity donation. 2020 was a good year for our company, as it helped us to build our development centre and we were able to tap into a great talent pool that became available during the COVID-19 pandemic – a blessing in dis-guise. This success provided us with the confidence to enter the London market, which is the Mecca for financial services. In London, we are building a trade finance solution for a large supply chain company over the blockchain. By the end of 2021, we are looking forward to entering Nordics' financial sector and building wallet-based products. Being a growth-oriented company, we would like to expand our services across other regions as well.