To Blockchain or not to Blockchain?

Making of a Blockchain Rewards and eCommerce Platform: Journey of a Start Up — Part 2

Continuing from Part 1 , and for those who are considering starting their own business, I’m going to start by heavily understating the obvious. When you start-up a business, unless you have a team invested in the project with you, you’re going to be doing everything yourself. Everything. This has its benefits: you make your own decisions and have ultimate control on the path you take. This can be enlightening and invigorating. You (have to) develop skills you didn’t think you had, like muscles that you never thought you had aching after an exhausting work out in the gym.

On the flip side, YOU have to do everything. Like that work out in the gym, this will be exhausting, physically and mentally. Days of tremendous euphoria will inevitably be followed by pessimism and darkness. But like the anthem of the team I’ve supported all my life, “at the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky…”

All risk is with you financially and otherwise. If you accept any significant funding from outside sources, they’re going to look for a return on their investment at some point, sooner rather than later. And in order to receive this sooner, they’ll naturally look to influence strategic decisions and how the company should be, and is run. (For a blockchain rewards and loyalty eCommerce platform, this would have been risky).

While I was under the impression, maybe a bit naively, that I’d have full autonomy in running the loyalty business unit start up, it was becoming more and more evident that this wasn’t (going to be) the case. A week after starting the role, I’d found out that the name of the program had already been selected, as well as the logo. Having interviewed three local candidates in Nigeria for the role of HR Director, it had become evident that the name, “Naija Moni”, chosen by the project sponsors, was being perceived as a gambling / casino project. I would speak with Rob, and if need be the project sponsors, and tell them that we had to change the name, or change the person they’d appointed to run this.

During the preparation of the POC, I’d already decided that we were going to search for a vendor that could provide a custom solution, built from scratch and not a solution that was already in use. I wanted something unique. The decision to build the solution on blockchain was still playing on my mind. Around about this time, bitcoin started to hit the headlines with its price surges and I’d started researching blockchain, smart contracts and blockchain feasibility in a lot more (technical) detail along with the pros and cons of being on a blockchain. There was a new development with a different type of blockchain platform called Iota which seemed interesting, but it was still in the early stages of development.

UKasii -Blockchain rewards and loyalty eCommerce platform.

The biggest concern I had with the blockchain platforms I looked at and what I wanted for the program was transaction fees and speed. It was at this point that I came across the Stellar platform, and it seemed to tick all the boxes. I asked one of our then ex-pat candidates who was pencilled in to be Head of Operations to also look into it. He came back a day later with his very enthusiastic report on Stellar.

Looking at the timeline for the project, which, if all went to plan, was scheduled to launch in Mid 2018, it became obvious that if we wanted to utilise blockchain and cryptocurrency, we’d have to do it from day one. Starting with anything else and then migrating to blockchain three to five years down the line, when we’d hopefully have millions of members and transactions would be a needless risk. As importantly, we’d be many years late into the game, as I believe(d) blockchain and cryptocurrency is definitely here to stay for the very long term.

I’d also started providing consultancy work during this period, three days a week, and had built a very good relationship with one of the executives at the company I was working for. I’d mentioned the start-up project I was collaborating on and as someone who had experience in building his own start-up, he was always very supportive and would provide valuable advice. I’d mentioned to him the issue with the name and the ultimatum I was intending on making. The following day he walked into the office I was using and put a piece of paper in front of me. On it was the word “Ukheshi”.

“What’s this?” I asked.

Without saying anything and just smiling, he leant over to my laptop, pulled it in front of himself and proceeded to Google Translate and typed in Ukheshi. The page automatically detected Zulu as the language and translated it into English: Cash.

I looked at him. He was grinning from ear to ear, looking more excited than I was. That’s your program name right there, “You kashee”.

It was perfect. Nigeria and Africa were our target market. A play on an ethnic African word. It was more than perfect. If you’ve seen the Movie, “The Founder”, the story of McDonald’s, – and I actually watched it after this incident – Michael Keaton explains why other restaurants who tried to replicate the McDonalds’s system were not as successful:

It was “the name…”

I only had one doubt. Would having a name based on a word from a particular language from a particular ethnic group in South Africa, receive any negative reaction from other markets in Africa. I called Rob, who is from South Africa to ask his advice. He didn’t see any issues with it.

I arranged a call with the executive team and heads of the larger project Group. We had the call on a Saturday. Surprisingly, as soon as I calmly mentioned the feedback I’d received from the local HR Director candidates I’d interviewed regarding the name “Naija Moni”, everyone agreed that we had to find a new name. The call lasted about an hour, with names being offered back and forth. In between the number of names being thrown around, and the thinking behind how and what the name should signify I put forward “You Kashee”, but it didn’t seem to register with anyone.

The Group CMO then came up with “RiSe”. Everyone on the call immediately agreed it was perfect. I liked it from the point of view that it had some connotations with being for the people, if maybe slightly anarchic. It also signified “increase”. My biggest issue was, I wanted a name that would also explain, moreover spell out exactly, the elements of the program — that would ultimately be incorporating a new technology and providing an e-commerce platform with cash-back rewards — so that the average person on the street would immediately understand it. While we were creating a “loyalty program”, this was in fact a cash-back program first and foremost. “RiSe” was not a terrible name, but it didn’t tick that most important box as far as I was concerned. We’d have to work on the eventual marketing and messaging to try and make it work. A decision was made to immediately incorporate the company with the name “RiSe” the following week, and to start registering it as a trademark, which would be the task of the team leading the funding discussions with potential investors.

I relayed the new name to the core team of ex-pats and local staff pencilled in for the now to be called RiSE project.

The very next day I received a screen-grab picture, via WhatsApp, from the gentleman who was going to be Head of Operations. It was from CoinMarketCap. It was of a logo for a cryptocurrency that had already been issued. Called Rise…

(To be continued 6 November 2018…)

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