First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Ilya Volkov: Luckily everything is good. I prefer to think positively and focus on all the good outcomes from these times. For example, new industries have seemingly come out of thin air and improved greatly due to the pandemic. Digital technology got a large push from companies and education systems forced to work and learn from home.
It’s quite funny and cute actually, my daughter is taking event dancing lessons using digital technology (just imagine 15 kids each dancing in front of his/her TV screen connected to Zoom – LOL) and while it’s not as good as the real thing, it’s refreshing and inspiring to see this sort of innovation come out of dark times.
Yes, the pandemic is not good but we must focus on the positive. There is now new demand for services that did not exist before and all this time at home has helped some of us clear our heads and be more present on a day to day basis.
In many countries, lockdown is almost finished but still some borders are closed. There are still questions about mask effectiveness, I personally do it because masks are cheap and lockdowns expensive. In my opinion, it’s better to wear a mask to prevent spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined YouHodler
Ilya Volkov: I started in the FinTech industry nearly 20 years ago, with 10 years focusing on Commercial Finance and another 10 years in online trading with different financial assets.
I believe both of these realms taught me valuable experience in currency exchange risks, international payments, and overall global finance. In fact, I would say the crypto industry, in general, has a similar risk management model to that of traditional finance. From there, it was a natural transition into the crypto industry as I saw a lot of potential in blockchain technology as a tool to help improve the current financial system (not replace it).
If you’d like to hear an interesting story, I’ve got something for you. During all my career I was always involved in launching startups (Barbell strategy in action https://youtu.be/K8ZOnXtsJa0). Back in 2008, during another global crisis, we started a barter platform (we called it “open barter system”) where we tried to use internal digital currency to manage settlements between the System’s members. It was pretty much similar to cryptocurrency. The platform was alive for almost one year and failed right before the first Bitcoin transactions happened.
It seems like we were ahead of our time with the model of digital currency, but we failed because we were focused on internal processes and didn’t recognize the opportunity of global public cryptocurrencies at that time. It was a great experience and I’m very happy now finally we can use all the benefits of crypto.
As for YouHodler, we started in 2017 and after a year of development, the YouHodler platform launched with the first onboarded customer in November of 2018. During a couple of years, YouHodler has made significant progress moving from a small FinTech start-up to a sustainable business.
How does YouHodler innovate?
Ilya Volkov: During our brief time in Silicon Valley, we were introduced to the great Bill O’Connor. Bill is the Innovation Strategist at the Autodesk organization in addition, an innovation consultant for a variety of companies and conventions. Bill was the one who taught us the LUMIAMI principle for successful innovation. This is not just a weird word but it’s actually an acronym as follows:
Look – what can we look at in a new way for a fresh perspective?
Use- what can we use in a new way or for the first time?
Move – What can we move? Changing its position in time and space
Interconnect – what can we interconnect in a new way for the first time.
Alter – What could we alter or change in terms of design or performance?
Make – What could we make, creating something that is truly new?
Imagine – What could we imagine to create a great experience for someone?
So using the LUMIAMI principal was sort of a foundation for our brainstorm sessions, we then launch weekly and biweekly developer sprints to create, test, and implement innovative new features to the platform. In my opinion, it is our engineers that really set us apart from our competitors as they truly lead the whole team in innovation and creativity, thanks in part to LUMIAMI but also largely due to their own natural talent and intellect.
In addition to LUMIAMI, we are also heavily inspired by the Design Thinking approach, introduced to me by a colleague in Silicon Valley, Suzanne Alexandra. Design Thinking is a process that helps us understand our users and redefine problems that help us create alternative strategies and solutions. It’s a solution-based approach to our platform that starts with a deep interest in knowing our user base and designing products and services tailored to their specific needs. It has really helped us develop empathy with our community and see them more as an integral part of our platform instead of just people using the platform.
We are trying to make YouHodler a result of interconnections between banking, trading and cryptocurrency. This interconnection principle was established with the help of LUMIAMI and Design Thinking and I think it gives us a very unique competitive edge in our niche.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Ilya Volkov: On one hand, not much has changed for YouHodler. We are very fortunate to have avoided any major loss from the coronavirus pandemic. Before this event occurred, our team was already accustomed to working globally and working remotely. Hence, nothing really changed in terms of company operations at YouHodler. If anything, it’s made us more productive and united as a team.
In addition, we are far busier than before and the work is 24/7 now. With more people at home, they have more time to research new financial instruments in an economic crisis and that’s brought us more demand from “newbies” as we call them. We welcome these people to the platform of course but it’s definitely added to the workload for us all.
Of course, it’s always a challenge to keep team morale high in a normal situation. Then, add a pandemic and economic catastrophe to the mix and we are met with one of our biggest tests yet. However, we’ve remained strong and supportive of each other during this crisis and if anyone needs to take time off for a recharge, of course, we allow it.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Ilya Volkov: We had to cancel a few in-person conferences and our annual team meetup but it was not really a difficult choice since we put the health of our team before all else. As for lessons learned, we have become very good at hosting and planning online summits, webinars, and events through video-hosting services such as Zoom.
At first, we thought these events would be incredibly boring but we’ve had great success presenting with this style and it turns out networking can be done in the online format. It was a great discovery for us. So far, we’ve planned several events for the Crypto Valley Association and our own YouHodler webinars and both have been very productive.
In terms of other sacrifices, we have had to find a way to deal with team functionality in a new way. As for the “difficult choice”, for example, we have had some team members move to different time zones during the lockdown for their personal comfort. It’s less convenient for communication and business efficiency but it’s the lesser of two evils because it means their mental health is much better off in a comfortable environment for their business productivity and in these times, that is most important for our team.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and YouHodler in the future?
Ilya Volkov: Sailing has always been a passion of mine and it’s a great way to reboot my mind and relax out at sea. However, with the current situation we’re in, I cannot sail so I am looking for new ways to keep myself in physical and mental shape. I’ve recently bought some workout equipment and a ping pong table to keep my positivity and spirits up.
I am also an avid reader so I enjoy reading books and keeping my mind sharp with conversations with some of my intelligent friends. We have plenty of smart and diverse people within the ranks of YouHodler so every day I learn something new from them and we have fun exchanging different thoughts with each other. Another positive benefit of this pandemic has been the simplification of reaching out to some experts via online tools.
I have joined a few of the webinars and academies, some hosted by very well-known people. It’s a fantastic way to learn new skills from home as well as get a personal contact with a “famous” person you would never have met in a traditional setting. As for where I project myself and YouHodler in the future, our company has very few setbacks. Every month we are seeing consistent and stable growth for YouHodler. This is, of course, related to the general growth of the crypto industry and more people discovering this technology but I also want to give credit to our team.
We’ve worked hard to take this company from a small, simply crypto lending platform to a multi-dimensional FinTech platform that brings a lot of benefits to people in both traditional finance and “crypto finance.” In the future, I see us continuing this trend, forming new partnerships, and becoming a strong and trustworthy FinTech solution in Europe and beyond.
We are growing but we want to grow more. We want to be 10x bigger and I see our community growing in the mid term and short term. As for the company, I think we will eventually create something great using our interconnecting principle discussed earlier. The goal is to become a highly reputable financial institution in this specific niche we’ve discovered through our clientele.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ilya Volkov: Earlier when we spoke about innovation, we talked about interconnecting. We have competitors in the FinTech, crypto lending space for sure but ultimately, we see ourselves at the intersection of many different industries. Hence, we monitor neo-banks like Revolut, trading apps like Robinhood and Binance in addition to a variety of other platforms in interconnecting industries.
We want to create something better not just in terms of pricing, but in terms of overall quality. From day one, YouHodler has always taken a community-first approach. Our clients dictate the direction of our sprints. We respect their great ideas and have been honest with them every step of the way. We don’t believe in “unbanking” our clients and taking them away from traditional finance.
Instead, we look for innovative ways to make traditional finance great again. I think the two worlds can work together in harmony to bring everyone more freedom over their currencies without anarchy or dismantling any systems. We plan to stay in the game by forming strong relationships with companies in both the old and new worlds of finance while simultaneously following regulatory bodies and respecting our clients as we always have.
Any final thoughts?
Ilya Volkov: Yes, I have one. There are times when I speak to some of my friends and colleagues that work outside of the blockchain and crypto industries. They are always shocked when I say YouHodler has amazing clients and we are consistently growing. Many people thought the market was over and the hype destroyed after 2017. That is not the case.
Since 2017, the market has become much more mature and we ‘ve seen many more powerful institutions enter the industry. I see everyone evolving in a positive way. 2017 was too much hype and too much easy money for scammers. Now, the market is stronger, more reliable and finally healthy. I see many more corporate deals on the way and this positive trend continuing well past 2020. It’s an exciting industry to be in and I think the best is yet to come.