Published on Arabian Blue Ocean, September 29, 2017
Digital documents is like moving from writing letter to email, says AVIRA THARAKAN, founder of DocsWallet, a blockchain application that works as a bank of official documents that will ease the application for university entrance and job permits for customers living anywhere in the world. As we are approaching to year 2021 and the
number of transactions will grow exponentially, DocsWallet proposes solutions for institutions lacking their own infrastructure to be able to catch up the digital tide.
More than 500 institutions already use DocsWallet to issue electronic documents which are recognized by the University College London, the University of California, the University of Michigan, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, the South African Qualification Authority, and the Ministry of Manpower Singapore.
AVIRA THARAKAN explains how he came up with this disruptive idea that will accelerate document processing and save time for government official, academic institution and customers.
— What does Docswallet propose to customers?
— So just like how you have banks that stores people’s money in order to be able to transact money electronically, we are offering the same service to customers: to do your electronic transactions on documents officially. If you want to send a document from a university to the Labor Office or Immigration office, this system allows you to do that. It’s an official bank for your documents.
— Where are these heavy users living?
— Most of our heavy users are in India, some of our customers are also there the US, so they use our platform when they apply for higher studies. Traditionally, you would use a courier for your application. Now just with the click of a button, just like you send money, you can send transcripts online. This is probably the first time that official documents are being exchanged online for official purposes.
— Apart of India, in which other countries do your users live in?
— Most of our users are in the U.S. mostly. There are people who use our system, a lot of Indians go abroad, so the people settle there, and if they want a document from the university where they studied, they get it up by using our service.
— Which countries would be DocsWallet´s targets in the near future?
— The next footprint is definitely the UAE, because the digital movement is so amazing here.
— There is deadline on year 2020.
— This is very exciting time for us because the government already announced that the documents all are going to be unboxing by 2020, a lot of private sectors are also going to participate. [The year] 2020 is going to be really exciting because the amount of business transactions is going to be really high, and we hope to move that trade and documentation -arrival visas issuance,… – (…) to the electronic board, and the efficiency could be unbelievable. It is just like moving from letter writing to the email.
— You mentioned before that UAE and India transactions are going paperless very soon.
— We made a couple of trade bodies electronic in India and they start issuing electronically so we’re not talking to a few departments here and how this can be made electronic here. So if you issue it electronically, you can get it electronically, so it is the same like banking: if one bank in one country starts as an electronic money program unless you have the same program here you’re not able to send it to that country, so we’re not proposing to partner a few government entities to say yes, this is something that can work, and like I said, digital and paperless has already been announced.
— How many people work in DocsWallet project?
— We have 48 people.
— When does DocsWallet journey start?
— I was working with Citibank and a lot of these documents used to be paper-based processing, there was no really way of connecting documents between customers and banks. I proposed a small program with which people could create documents or send documents officially and online, but that time was too early. That’s why I decided to quit and start up. There is a huge opportunity here just like you have PayPal for money, we could create something like PayPal for documents so that’s how the idea came about and I quit the company.
— Who took the brave decision to create the startup?
— It was my own decision, so we decided it was quite high time to start something new. The opportunity was good, startups were really a good thing at that time, a lot of support in terms of new ideas was there, so we felt it was right time and I started in ten days.
— Docswallet is based on blockchain technology.
— We were on the cloud, so we’re just moving on the blockchain process just now because it’s a relatively new technology that’s been used in many other areas, but our business is mostly based on trust: how do you trust that document is coming out of our system is actually just working? Maybe it is a license, a birth certificate, a doctor’s degree,… so the cloud offer a reasonable amount of trust, but the blockchain now gives a whole amount of trust and the governments are embracing blockchain a lot more than ever before.
— You work with DirectVerify, is it a technology you developed?
— Direct-Verify is a sub-program that we give to our customers. We set up the entire service offering to customers who do not have their own infrastructure. It verifies a subprocess of Docswallet that enables issuing authorities like governments or universities to create their own instructional infrastructure if they don’t have any.
— When you take the decision to create a startup, what was your biggest fear?
— I think the road ahead was not very visible (…). I think you just need a car and a light, and as long as you see a few meters you can still complete the whole journey, but the darkness was there. We had light enough to sort of navigate with, that probably was enough for us.
— And the biggest challenge?
— Funding is definitely a challenge when you don’t have existing models of the business (…). You don’t have a previous record of what you do so far, and most of the policies require your growth (…). Traditional funding was sort of a problem, but I think now that’s sort of eased out, we are getting a lot of interests to fund the project.
— And your biggest mistake, if any?
— We sort of made a lot of assumptions that this would be sold very easily, and if we proposed something that was good for a particular entity they would adopt it, but that’s not the case. There’s a lot of process, changes, that everyone needs to go through before they actually have their product absorbed, so what we thought would take two or three months, ultimately took about twelve to thirteen months, but that’s the way it is. (…)
— How important is StartAD to give DocsWallet a kick off?
— It’s very important because this region definitely is going to go on a digital mode and the UAE is one of the highest ranked indexes for change for digital change, and now a lot of customers are looking at us. [StartAD] gave us a great platform to present to a lot of people and the Facebook video went to 40,000 people and a recorded version was actually viewed by 2.6 million people on Facebook, so it help us to reach out to a lot of people, a lot of customers now, a lot of people are calling us back for meetings, clients… So probably saved eight to nine months of our time in chasing large clients (…).
— You won other prizes.
— We won an IBM cloud credit of $120,000 so we would be using that to test our blockchain services within IBM, and since IBM has also got a lot of clients within the government, we like to work with them in the blockchain up the ladder for documents.
— How much money did you need at the beginning to launch DocsWallet project?
— We reached a total of $1.6 million as it today, but it a sort of series raise, not in one shot. The initial raise was just $100,000 dollars with which we built the product, and we were able to show to customers willing to buy, and then we moved on raising as we moved more clients, growth sales, and more sales.
— Which barriers do you see to contact investors at this step you are now?
— I think the majority our projections are coming from government, and not many investors are keen to invest in companies that has to sell to governments because the cycles are long, the decision makings are sort of long again, but that’s why exactly we’re in the UAE, because this is one of the places where the government moves faster than the private sector.
— Do you see DocsWallet getting listed in the stock market in the future?
— Well, of course, we have a line of doing about five million transactions by 2021, and our average transaction cost is about 30 $, so we will reach $150m to $200 m in stock this is what we are looking at, and once that happens, definitely yes, it would definitely be up for listing.