Exclusive: Omise rival Cashaa, one of world’s ‘top 100’ blockchain firms, launching ICO
Cashaa is a peer-to-peer payments and remittances startup headquartered in the Level 39 Accelerator in London, with its tech team in Mumbai. It’s now registered in Estonia for the launch of its ICO on October 31. The dissolving national boundaries in its footprint is typical of the blockchain technology underpinning Cashaa.
CEO and founder Kumar Gaurav, currently based in Palo Alto, USA, tells Tech in Asia that the pre-ICO activity of bringing in influential investors is starting next week, ahead of the public launch. Cashaa will release 510 million CAS tokens for 150,000 ETH (the cryptocurrency ethereum), says Gaurav. At the current price of ethereum, that would amount to US$44 million.
Unlike many ICOs based on whitepapers, points out Gaurav, Cashaa has a proven product for remittances or money transfers between England and India, as well as Nigeria and Indonesia. It also has a digital wallet and acts as an exchange for cryptocurrency.
The legal preparation for the ICO has taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars… That’s worth it to protect our reputation.
The way its remittance works does not require users to know anything about cryptocoins. They can simply use their national currency to transfer money. A trader on the platform sells bitcoin in exchange for the fiat currency in the country where the transfer originates. Another trader in the receiving country buys the bitcoin, paying for it in the local currency there. This goes to the receiver, who need not know that a bitcoin trade powers the money transfer and exchange rate.
This can bring the power of cryptocoins to 99.99 percent of the people in the world who have no clue about them, says Gaurav. It reduces the cost and time taken for remittances by banks. That’s huge for countries like India and Indonesia with a large diaspora across the world sending money home.
Other companies like Ripple, which connects banks with its private blockchain network, are also trying to use cryptocurrency to reduce the cost of money transfer. One difference with Cashaa is that it will be crytocoin agnostic to improve liquidity, explains Gaurav, unlike Ripple which mainly works with its XRP token.
The money it raises from the ICO will help Cashaa get licences in more countries to increase its remittance channels. But remittances is just the first large use case to demonstrate the value and robustness of the underlying blockchain technology, explains Gaurav. Post-ICO, Cashaa will expand its repertoire to become a broader blockchain-based financial services platform, with products for lending, cross-border investments, and more. The CAS token can be used to execute a trade on the Cashaa platform.
A la Omise coin
The closest to this business model is Thai payments startup Omise that launched an ICO in July to build an ethereum-based OmiseGo product for peer-to-peer payments and money transfers. OmiseGo is expected to be launched in the next quarter.
By the end of last month, the value of the US$25 million worth of OMG token had risen forty-fold to cross US$1 billion, making Omise an ICO unicorn.
Cashaa will be hoping that its CAS token sees a meteoric rise like Omise’s, and not the fate that has befallen many ICOs in China where they were banned earlier this month.
Gaurav welcomes the regulatory scrutiny, provided it doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. He reiterates that Cashaa has a working product with over 12,000 users even before the ICO. Some token crowdsales in China have been get-rich-quick schemes based only on dubious whitepapers, or rushed attempts to hop on the ICO bandwagon that has raised nearly US$2 billion in the past six months.
One reason why he shifted to the US was to make the CAS token – which will represent Cashaa products and not its equity – legally airtight. The holding company for the ICO is in Estonia, which is more advanced and open-minded in adopting and regulating blockchain and cryptocoins than most other countries. “The preparation for the ICO has taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Gaurav. “But that’s worth it because we have a reputation to protect as an early adopter and evangelist of blockchain technology.”
Cashaa is currently ranked 60th in a leaderboard maintained by UK-based Rise on the top 100 most influential blockchain companies in the world. Gaurav also figures in an algorithmically generated Richtopia list of the top 100 most influential people in the cryptosphere.
The ICO autobahn
A number of startups in India are weighing the pros and cons of taking the ICO route to raise funds. For Gaurav, the choice was both philosophical and practical. Cashaa was seed-funded and founded in 2016 to demonstrate the power of blockchain technology in real-world use cases, so it’s a natural extension to now raise money with digital coins. The practical side of it is that Gaurav and his co-founders can continue to build the company without diluting their equity or having VCs calling the shots.
Gaurav had earlier founded Darwinsurance, a peer-to-peer insurance platform in Italy after completing his master’s in business management in Milan. This was acquired by Esedra.
His co-founder Celestine Vettical had founded Performix, acquired by Baker Hughes. He had earlier held senior positions at Microsoft, SAP, and Cognizant.
Another co-founder Janina Lowisz is also the co-founder of Bitnation, which characterizes itself as a decentralized nation on the blockchain. The fourth co-founder Felice Covelli is a financial asset manager and a bitcoin pioneer in Europe.
Cashaa lists MIT research scientist John Henry Clippinger among its advisors. He was also the advisor for Bancor, which raised US$153 million in an ICO in June – the largest ever token sale until then. It was overtaken the next month by a US$185-million token sale by Chinese company Block.one.
Other advisors include Bernard Lietaer, creator of the Euro and author of The Future of Money, as well as Kumar Gaurav’s younger brother Akash Gaurav, who founded blockchain company Auxesis in 2015 during his undergrad studies at premier engineering college IIT Bombay.
Auxesis is building the blockchain infrastructure for a variety of clients, including state governments in India looking to use distributed ledgers for things like land records. For Cashaa, it has built the core private blockchain network, taking care of performance, scalability, and security.