Invest in Blockchain has previously covered AirFox, a company bringing blockchain technology to mobile data users in emerging markets. We speak to Christine To, VP of Business Operations at AirFox, about the blockchain-powered mobile data provider that’s set to disrupt the industry and provide scores of unbanked and underserved individuals in emerging markets with access to mobile connectivity.
Much like the rest of the AirFox team who sport impressive pedigrees, To brings a wealth of experience to the company. She has over 14 total years of professional experience in sales, finance, and telecom.
Three years prior to joining AirFox, she was at Ericsson working with Tier 1 and 2 telco operators in the US, Middle East, South East Asia, and Africa. She spent 1.5 years living and working in the Middle East expanding the strategy consulting and operations business for Ericsson in the Middle East, Africa, and South East Asia.
Why the unbanked and underbanked? Why is access to capital so important for these target markets?
We took the time to understand the unbanked and underbanked population’s needs and the meniscal resources they expressed were required to change their lives. Examples of changing their lives meant starting their own business or sending a family member to school – many of the same goals people everywhere have.
However, the unbanked and underbanked populations in emerging markets are barred from accessing capital because traditional banks in their respective countries have discriminated against them with astronomical fees, are too far away, or operate in politically corrupt environments.
Unlocking access to capital for the unbanked and underbanked will enable the mass population to access the resources they need to fuel entrepreneurship and economic growth. If one person benefits, the odds are high that an entire community or family will also benefit. This then becomes a chain effect for positive socioeconomic impact to break the vicious cycle of poverty.
Why are you passionate about data in emerging markets?
The co-founders of AirFox emigrated to the United States from developing countries and understand the importance of financial inclusion and mobile accessibility. As immigrants themselves, AirFox’s co-founders understand how difficult it can be for people in emerging markets to access simple and basic services.
If we help remove these challenges, people can focus on achieving their goals and dreams. We expect socioeconomic conditions will improve, increasing the quality of life for millions if not billions of people across the world.
Victor Santos, the company’s CEO and co-founder, grew up poor in Brazil, a nation with the highest telecommunications rates in the world and where over 40% of the population is unbanked. Victor’s socioeconomic upbringing is the catalyst that drove him to start companies that create social impact and double bottom-lines instead of just pure profits.
Feeling a profound, innate responsibility and intrinsic passion to pioneer solutions for the broader “99%” of the population, Victor created a company with a mission of making a positive impact on those who struggle in the same way his family did financially.
AirFox operates in a tough space; powerful telecommunication companies and a lack of understanding about emerging markets make it difficult for VCs to see the value of a company that serves the 99%. This only makes it more important to the AirFox team to achieve the company’s mission and bring much-needed financial services to underserved markets.
How is AirToken different to other products working to serve these target groups?
AirToken is different from other products in the market today for three main reasons:
- We are innovating a new business model using a borrower’s data to establish their ability to repay micro-loans.
- We are testing and creating non-traditional metrics to identify risk factors of borrowers.
- Our reach into the emerging market’s population only requires an android smartphone. This removes the time and hassle required in traditional models to apply for loans.
Why is decentralization important to credit and lending?
Decentralization allows a global pool of lenders to provide capital to unbanked users efficiently, without the costs associated with traditional banking, therefore providing lower interest rates to users.
How will you work around bad credit scores?
We’re not relying on traditional credit scores to make loans. In emerging markets, many people are paid in cash and majority of their transactions are in cash. Since they are operating outside of ledgered economics, traditional financial institutions are not tracking them and have no idea about their ability to pay back a loan.
However, their smartphone device usage can be used to determine their owner’s ability to repay a loan. In addition, we will be implementing a modified Grameen Group Lending Model to individuals who apply for loans and we need additional security to provide loans.
How do you plan to utilize mirror assets?
Our plan with mirror assets is to invest it back into the business and expand into neighboring countries of Brazil, and target Southeast Asia once we’ve penetrated Latin America.
In which markets will you pilot the AirToken platform? Where are you looking to expand to in future?
Brazil is the first target market where we will launch and test the platform, but anyone with an Android smartphone from anywhere in the world can use and test our products.
After Brazil, we will expand into neighboring Latin American countries. Once we create our blueprint in Latin America, we aim to enter Southeast Asia.
How do you plan to increase adoption rates?
Every country is different in terms of what motivates subscribers to adopt new technology and/or services. We are integrating marketing campaigns and interactive promotions to engage eligible subscribers. We also have a specific partnership strategy that will increase adoption rates and expose AirToken to the target audience
You delayed your ICO thrice. Why?
Our ICO was delayed thrice because we had to be cognizant of the potential risks in the rapidly changing regulatory landscape. We made sure to be compliant in order to protect the longevity of the business in the long term.
In the midst of a volatile ICO market often plagued by scams and illegitimacy, AirFox took an entirely new approach, stitching together a framework of regulations and processes to create its own self-regulated initial coin offering. More importantly, we needed additional time to draft the KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) policy to protect everyone using our platform.
You have received VC funding in the past. How did your ICO experience compare? What did you learn from the experience?
The ICO experience was fun and unique in that everything was public and transparent. The process of pitching traditional VCs and obtaining funding is much more private. Another great part about holding an ICO is you will meet a lot people that support your project and believe in you. It is truly an honor and humbling experience.
The biggest key takeaway from our experience was how the internet has transformed the way we do business in amazing ways. Without the internet, people would not be able to access the contacts or information they want and need to make informed decisions.
What is your big audacious goal for the company?
Our dream is to be the financial institution for the underserved and unbanked in emerging markets, providing all the financial services people need including savings, credit/debit cards, and financial planning.