The co-founders of Vottun saw blockchain as a potential disruptor in many business sectors before creating their B2B agnostic platform for building blockchain-based applications. Unlike most of their peers, however, the Vottun co-founders also foresaw potential errors in blockchain rollouts, and so decided to be pioneers in facilitating the technology's implementation across multiple sectors.
"Prior to even developing our technology, we had been researching how blockchain could be applied in companies not in three year's time but right now," said Vottun's Head of Business Development and co-founder Marta Vallès at Barcelona's IoT Solutions World Congress late last year. “So we were born with a very specific vision about developing processes for accreditation and traceability in blockchain.”
The other co-founders, CEO Luis Carbajo and CTO Rohan Hall, are, according to Vallès, “what you might politely call ‘Internet dinosaurs’ who were there right at the start." In fact, Carbajo started working for Amazon in Seattle in Jeff Bezos' team when the then startup first started selling books online. She says that Carbajo's and Hall's long experience in the Internet helped prepare the decks for the advent of blockchain.
“No one imagined what the Internet could become,” said Carbajo, who also joined the interview. “When it started, people thought it would mainly replace the fax. Blockchain is in a similar situation. Accreditation [in blockchain] is now where the fax was then – it is the simplest area for companies to see the value in.
“People are starting to consider other uses for blockchain once their data is secured. There will be so many applications based on blockchain. People won't fully understand the technology but will just use it.”
Blockchain's gold rush period
Vottun has achieved a first in the pioneering ecosystem surrounding blockchain. Not only is it the first DIY blockchain application kit, but it is applicable across sectors, agnostic and good for both private and public networks. If that were not enough, it is designed for those with no knowledge of blockchain, though with knowledge of programming, making it about as scalable as a blockchain platform could hope to be right now.
Currently, it counts Spanish utilities company Naturgy and banks Sabadell and Santander among its clients. The startup concluded its first seed funding round in June 2019, when it raised €500,000 led by Spanish investor Bbooster Ventures, part of the Draper Venture Network and one of Silicon Valley's most famous VCs supporting blockchain. The other participating entities were a mix of US and Spanish investors: Lanzame Capital, Proteum Capital, RocaSalvatella, Basetis, WA4Steam and angel investors from ESADE Business School.
“When we presented our technology to our investors, they said that we were a WordPress for blockchain," said Vallès. “We hadn't previously thought of it like that, but that sums it up perfectly. WordPress can create a webpage for you even if you have no programming knowledge. With our platform, as a programmer, you can create use cases and projects without having any idea of blockchain, but with knowledge of Python, the most common programming language."
Just two years have passed since the company's founding. The platform was developed in just nine months in 2018, when a small team of developers took the technology from design architecture to proof of concept and the first customer trial in just five months.
Both Hall and Carbajo are tech entrepreneurs with differing yet complementary skills. LA-based Hall worked for major US investor Capital Group, where he was in charge of emerging technologies and blockchain. He has published a book on tech and globalization and was previously founder of a digital consulting firm.
Former management consultant Carbajo was CEO of Spanish B2B e-commerce startup SoloStocks for seven years and also an angel investor. He brought international business lawyer Vallès onboard in late 2018 and tasked her with the “offline roles” of consulting and business development.
Just as in the early days of the Internet, things are moving quickly. Since Vottun was founded, awareness of blockchain and its possible uses have evolved to make now the right time for their product. “When we first started, we went to the most innovative company we knew to sell our platform and we were asked to explain what blockchain was," recalled Vallès.
“We realized that it was trickier than we thought and that potential customers obviously have to understand the technology, so we have spent a lot of time evangelizing about it. In the last year and a half, this has changed and now we don't need to explain what blockchain is but how to apply it."
Lightening programmers' load
In such a nascent ecosystem, it was Hall's primary intention to build a blockchain-agnostic platform. “Rohan insisted from the start that our platform should be interoperable and able to use both public and private blockchains. because there are so many blockchains in existence and who knows what will become the standard that industry will eventually need?" said Vallès.
“It takes a long time for a programmer to learn a new programming language, and even if they learn ethereum, they probably don't know hyperledger, and vice versa," said Carbajo, “We do all this heavy lifting for them. Via our APIs, a programmer with no blockchain knowledge can connect their application with the blockchain of their choice then use it via the decentralized structure."
The founding team found that even now, when they ask companies which blockchain they intend to use to develop their solution, the companies usually don't know the answer. When they use Vottun, this is not an issue. For example, if a company sets up a platform using one blockchain technology, they can later switch to another if it doesn't have the expected level of performance. People prefer to develop a blockchain that adapts to each use scenario.
Though it is blockchains' essence not to be able to communicate with each other, Vottun's protocol allows data to be uploaded from one blockchain and then downloaded in the next at a supra level. “It is more or less instant communication though not in real-time, so secure payments (one of blockchain's key functions) can be made but not instantly," said Carbajo.
At present, clients input the data manually or via an ERP, though important data will be inputted via certified sensors in the very near future according to Carbajo. This functionality will prove to be invaluable in supply chain logistics, for example, allowing product quality readings to be taken en route. Vottun charges for its SaaS license, plus a set-up fee for private blockchains. Public blockchains are charged on a pay-per-use basis.
Saving on compliance
A major advantage of Vottun's technology across all use cases is saving money, especially on data compliance.
“Besides getting rid of intermediaries, for example, in a multinational with many departments in different countries, their data is currently copied in thousands of databases at a national level or between different departments," said Carbajo. “With a blockchain solution, you can have a distributed ledger for all of this and eliminate 80% of the data stored in the company."
Vottun is currently engaged in a major project with Madrid's public transport company EMT. After an initial pilot in which Vottun was selected as one of six companies from more than 300 international entrants to propose sustainable transport solutions for the Spanish capital, the company is poised to roll out its sole on-boarding solution for multiple modes of transport.
“Until now, for each of Madrid's transportation methods – from electric scooter to metro – you needed to download an app for every one,” said Vallès. “Now we have introduced a sole on-boarding process for all modes of public transport.”
The company is also working with a provider of Spain's top-class Iberian ham on certification for Mercadona, Spains's largest supermarket operator, as well as for certification of degrees with the University of California and for certifying training courses of the Barcelona Activa municipal initiative.
US market-ready, seeks investors
Vottun's main clients are small digital consultancies who already have a blockchain plan and also large concerns such as PwC or Reuters, who are now looking for product solutions.
“IBM has done lots of initiatives in food trust stability so that the premium agro market is aware of the importance of blockchain,” said Carbajo. “So that is a focus for our marketing right now.”
The company now has a technical development team of 12. They plan to conduct a Series A round in the US in 2020, where Hall has many contacts. At the end of 2019, the company was promoting its product in California and announced a partnership with CISCO.
“Business will be slow there as this sector is not mature and you need face-to-face- meetings to explain the technology,” said Carbajo. “However, Americans are more open when it comes to trying new innovations and requesting trials, which we of course will offer them.”