Founders on Fire: Brad Yasar, CEO and Co-Founder, EQIFi Founders on Fire Podcasts Posted by Jon Howell | 05/08/2022 Today we’re catching up with EQIFi, our winner of the 2021 Blockchain Trailblazers Award. We have the pleasure of chatting with Brad Yasar, CEO and Co-Founder of the firm. Chief Trailblazer Rose Ross quizzes him to find out what inspired the creation of EQIFi and the exciting journey of creating new financial products in the world of decentralised finance. Brad shares his goal of simplifying the world of digital currencies and multiple metaverses, whilst creating peace of mind for customers who might understandably be nervous about banking based on crypto-currencies. He also shares his positive views of how crypto will fare over the coming few years. He also shares his tips for choosing the right partner when looking to scale up and how you sometimes need to resist your entrepreneurial ideas. Listen to the full podcast here: YouTube: Also available on: SpotifyAnchor Interview transcript Rose Ross: Hello, everyone. I’m delighted to re-ignite the Founders on Fire interviews. My name is Rose Ross, I’m the Chief Trailblazer and Founder of the Awards, and I’m delighted to kick the series off with Brad Yasar from EQIFi. How are you, Brad? Brad Yasar: I’m well Rose, thank you for having me on the show. Rose Ross: Well, I’m delighted. EQIFi were winners of our Blockchain Trailblazers last year, and a very exciting time for you, because I know we weren’t the only accolade that you acquired. But I’m very much looking forward to finding out a little bit more about the revolution you’ve been helping to create in decentralised finance, and a little more maybe about what your plans are, and what you’ve been up to recently. So, perhaps you could start Brad by giving you a little bit of a snapshot of you, and how you’ve got to where you are with the organisation on a personal level. Brad Yasar: That’s a long story. I’ll try to give you a compact version of it and compress it as much as I can. I started my love affair with technology and entrepreneurship at a very early age. I learned programming, started writing software, sold the software and realised that I can create something valuable that other people want. That was my eureka moment, and it’s like when you bake for someone and your friends say, ‘Hey, can I get more of this, I’ll pay you if you could create a tray of these pastries, or another loaf of this bread for me,’ and I felt the same way. I felt like my peers actually care about what I created, and are using it daily for their businesses. So, that was really exciting, that started my journey, and since then I’ve been building technology. I got involved with pretty much every big technological innovation and era during my lifetime, from personal computers, to internet, to big data, to now blockchain, cryptography, and decentralised finance as a result, and EQIFi is my 15th company that I started with my co-founder, Jason Blick, and it came to be because we saw a huge gap between traditional finance and banking, that is still to this day a little resistant to accept and embrace these innovative products and services that are being launched in the space, and a need for regular folk to access those products and services, because there’s some ground-breaking things happening in DeFi, decentralised finance, and with cryptocurrencies and alternative assets. But if you don’t have the technical know-how it’s like a foreign language, people look at it and they say, ‘Well I do want 8% returns, I do want 10% returns, I have no clue what a digital wallet is, I have no clue what a blockchain is, and I don’t know where to start.’ So, when we saw that divide, that gap between the two, the opportunity, the traditional systems and what we can do, we decided let’s bring the two together and create a platform that’s going to be easy to use, encompass pretty much every banking and financial need someone would have, and give it a try. The award we received from you and your show was one of the ones that means the most to me, just because we see ourselves as trailblazers. There’s no other bank, fully-licenced bank that’s doing DeFi, and there is no other DeFi platform that has a banking licence. And so we feel like we are blazing a path for others, hopefully for others to follow, and to make these products and services a part of everyone’s everyday life. Rose Ross: Well it sounds like you’re legitimising something that has been a little bit of a dark art, or a bit of a magic trick. For some people that’s where it’s been perceived, and there’s a lot of, I guess, resistance isn’t there, and scepticism. So, yeah, it’s great to see that. You’re based in L.A., a lot of the work that you’re doing is based out of the Caribbean, I’m getting very jealous because you’ve got an awful lot of lovely locations where you’re based. And you mentioned Jason, so my accent won’t be too much of a surprise, you will understand what I’m saying because Jason is British from what I’ve seen and heard of what he does. Brad Yasar: And I lived in London for several years, so I’m very familiar with the accent and the culture, yes. Rose Ross: Well we’re feeling like we’re very global at the moment, because obviously you’ve travelled to the States and built an amazing career, and many amazing businesses over there. So, I heard one thing saying that decentralised finance is worth about 100 billion at the moment, but that sounds like a lot of money, and I wouldn’t say no to that, clearly. But globally the banking industry itself is 130 trillion, which sounds even more attractive as a little win. So, obviously DeFi is growing, and we’re seeing lots of really innovative stuff that you guys are doing at the moment, and I’ve got to put this down as a first – the first financial hub of the metaverse, so the 3D Internet. That sounds like quite an interesting development of late. Brad Yasar: Yeah, it was actually an organic and natural evolution of our original Genesis idea. Initially we sat down, and we said we need to bridge the divide between traditional banking and DeFi, we have to do it because there are incredible projects in DeFi which don’t have access to banking and bank rails, which is affecting their growth and their ability to reach their potential userbase. And there are a lot of bank products that would benefit from having a DeFi component, an element of decentralised returns attached to it, and things like that. So that’s where we started, then as we started building we looked at it and we realised even within the DeFi space there are so many different blockchains, there are so many different assets that one has to at least be aware of, to make the most of it. So, we decided, okay we’re going to be the hub for DeFi too, across all different blockchains. We’re going to connect them together and we’re going to make those transitions seamless. So you don’t have to know where your yield is coming from. You don’t need to say, ‘Oh, my yield is coming from a liquidity pool on Ethereum, or Solana, or Binance Smart Chain, you just earn an interest and hopefully one that makes your life easier and happier. And that’s the extent, you don’t need to know which wallet we create and what pool we go to, to generate that. As long as we’re transparent and of course accountable with our actions, the end user shouldn’t have to worry about it. And then the metaverse explosion happened, and we started seeing a new metaverse idea pop up almost every week, and people creating incredible things in this virtual realm. So we thought, well eventually people are going to need financial services in the virtual environment. There is going to come a time where the things they want to buy, even though they’re virtual, are going to be too expensive for them to buy. And then what do they do? They’re going to look for mortgages, they’re going to look for loans, they’re going to look for opportunities to finance those. And the same thing as when you go out these days, you don’t carry a lot of cash with you, you’re not walking around with a big wallet, you just have one plastic card that you know is going to cover your daily expenses, and you use that. So, that gives you the peace of mind that you’re not going to be cut out from the value you created in your life, and you don’t have to create physically risky situations. It’s similar in the metaverse, you want to have access to the value you create either in the metaverse or in real life, when you need it. So we thought, how cool it would be to have a hybrid debit card, where the same card that you have in the physical space in your real life actually exists in the metaverse too, and you can use it the same way that you’re used to using it. So, we dug really deep into that space, and started connecting the financial rails of different metaverses. Just for your listeners, not all metaverses accept the same currencies, most metaverses have their own currency. So, if you were to work in one metaverse and earn their local currency and create some value, it’s not immediately available to you in another metaverse. And even worse, it’s not immediately available to you in the real life. Let’s say you did a virtual job, and these are coming fast and quick, and you got paid; now you have this virtual currency of the metaverse you worked in, and you want to pay your rent, how do you do it? Now, the way you do it is you have to go to an exchange that hopefully accepts that currency for another cryptocurrency that you can trade for fiat. You need to do that trade, and then you need to take that currency and find an exchange that allows you to offboard that value onto your bank account, and now convert it to fiat. So that’s two conversion points. Then you need to pray to God that your bank is not going to reverse that wire and say, ‘Oh, this is crypto gains, and we don’t accept it,’ and allows you to use it to pay your rent or buy food. We wanted to short circuit all that, simplify it, and now if you work in an metaverse that we support, that we bank, you can immediately go to the café next door and buy some coffee, or write a cheque to your landlord with an EQIFi bank account, and they get paid. You don’t have to worry about how many exchanges happened, and how complicated it was, and someone denied your wire, or SWIFT, or IBAN transfer to happen. And these things happen to people who invested and use cryptocurrencies all the time. It’s not like an outlier, every day, we hear from people who support what we’re doing and are excited because they tried to do it with their existing bank, they tried to do it with the existing systems in place, and it failed. Rose Ross: I’m having Ready Player One moments here, but reality is not very far behind a lot of the stuff we’ve seen in movies over the years, and I can totally get that. It reminds me of the way that banks weren’t trusted and people still stuffed money in their mattress, so now the banks are the mattresses in some ways. So, things are moving forward quickly. You’ve talked a lot about what you’re doing, which as you say, sounds incredible. I can’t cope with one life, I don’t think I can quite step into the metaverse just yet, I’m pretty busy doing the job I’m doing at the moment. But it does sound a very-very exciting time, you guys must be pretty keen on sharing all these amazing things. And this isn’t the first time you’ve done something great like this, Brad, so I’d really like to get a sense from you, in the 15 companies that you’ve set up what have you learned along the way that you’d like to share with other people, who maybe are just on their first time around as a startup founder. Maybe they’re founding a business in the metaverse. Clearly they need to bank with you, of course. Brad Yasar: There is so much that I would like to share, but the main take aways are finding the right partner, no one person can build a really global business, a large business; you can have a lifestyle business by yourself and take care of your life and your family and your needs, and that’s great if that’s what you want to do, that’s perfectly fine. But if you want to do something impactful, you need to have an incredible support mechanism, and that’s your team, that’s your founding partner. So every time I faced challenges, we either were able to overcome them because I had the right partners, or we couldn’t and those challenges actually marked the end of that business venture, because of not having the right partner. So it’s very important to have complementary skillsets in the founders. If you’re a technical founder, don’t go and find another technical founder because you get along well, and you speak each other’s language. No, go out of your comfort zone and find a business person, find an operations person, because these are key elements that eventually come back and either make you succeed or create insurmountable challenges for you. The second is, the way I started my first business is, I saw a need, I went to a retail shop, I saw a computer next to a cash register. These were old school, green screen, just digits, cash registers. And I looked at it and I said, ‘That computer can do what the cash register does, minus the cash drawer, perfectly fine. Why is there two machines?’ So even without knowing that you should pre-sell your product, because this was my first business and I was a little kid, I went to a bunch of stores and when I saw the same setup, I asked them, I said, ‘Hey, if I could create something that allows you to get rid of the register, would that be interesting? Would you even care about something like that, the computer doing the cash register, accounting, and invoicing functions?’ And 100% of the time people said, ‘Yes, that would be phenomenal, we will gain so much more counter space, that it’s valuable to us.’ So I would say always try to assess product market fit before you get too excited about something. Anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset, we get excited about our ideas all the time, we think of something, we’re like, ‘oh, this can change the world’. But in practice, will it really appeal to people whom you think are going to use your product or service? And if you don’t have that visibility, we see a lot of startups fail, not because they don’t build what they say they’re gonna build, not because what they build doesn’t work, but because there’s no business need for it. They build something, there’s such a niche market for it, or really no demand that they can’t sell it. So good partners, product market fit. And finally, I believe in doing a lot of homework, you know the saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once’. In my case, let’s measure 10 times, and then not even cut, but maybe do a 3D modelling, and we still preserve our materials. I think that has helped me probably avoid a lot of pitfalls, just because the initial idea, the initial expectations you set forward, or the parameters for your business, may not be the ones that are going have longevity and survive. So, it’s very important to get data, I’m a big data person, get feedback, and A/B test what you’re building, what you’re trying to sell and create as a business. Because without that approach, again it goes directly back to the product market fit, it goes directly back to not having the right partners. If you go in and do not assess every step of the way, is this the right path, or am I veering off? Should I pivot or is this something that I should really stick to? I think that helps a lot, and it comes from experience, your first business you’re either successful or not. If you’re successful, you enjoy that success, but you learn very little. If you’re not successful, you learn a lot, but of course you’ve had a failure now, so you have to overcome that personally. And I think I’ve learned much more from ventures that didn’t go as planned and “failed”, so to speak. I don’t look at any of those as a failure or waste of time, but they did not yield the expected financial results, so we had to stop spending time on them. As you get those experiences under your belt, hopefully you build those processes for yourself, where you have a process, and you find the right partners as a result of it. You have a process to A/B test, and then you find the MVP, right product, as a result of it. And you have a process where you get some market validation, either pre-launch, at the idea stage, or the MVP stage, and you take that to the heart, and based on that make sound business decisions. I think those are the most important three things starting a business. On the investment side I’d say, I invest in things I understand. I tried investing in industries that I don’t have a lot of experience or insight into, and every time I failed miserably because if you can tell how the investment is going to go, and how this opportunity is going to play out in 5-10 years, there are a lot of people who will happily take your money and run with it. Rose Ross: Well, we don’t want that. Brad Yasar: No, no! Rose Ross: That’s been really, really valuable I think there’s some great hints and tips in there. What can you say about your future plans? What trailblazing are you doing in 2022, that you can talk about? Brad Yasar: We have a lot of exciting things coming up, and if I announced them now probably my marketing and PR teams would… Rose Ross: Hop up and down on your head! Brad Yasar: They’d be like, ‘Okay, you don’t need us? You’re making random announcements out of calendar, so we’re going to go work somewhere else.’ But all joking aside, we still haven’t connected the different platforms that create our tech stack, our overarching idea, together in the way I want it. So right now we have full digital banking services, that’s one login. We have at EQIFi’s DeFi products and services, that’s one login. And we have a separate login for people who have our cards. I want to combine those three under one roof. So, when we started this and I was talking to people, they were saying this is a great idea what’s the vision? My vision was one login for all your financial needs. You log in, you have your bank accounts, you have your cards, you have your wallet, so you can go between the two. If one day you feel you should buy a Bitcoin or an Ethereum, you just click on one button, you say “one”, and it’s done. You don’t have to worry about what exchange am I going to go? Can I do this? How do I do this? Because we do all of the KYC/AML international global compliance and everything. We want to give our customers the peace of mind that if there is any kind of legal uncertainty around either crypto assets, or any banking and financial products we have, we protect them. It’s our job to protect our users, it’s not their job to figure out, can I buy bitcoin, is it allowed in my country? Or can I open a bank account, and will that bank account work with why my needs? And things like that. So, we have a very extensive questionnaire and onboarding process that allows us to really get to understand our users’ needs, and we want to be the good custodians, the good guardians of their wealth and financial wellbeing. So, that’s going to take until the end of the year because it’s a complicated process, no one has married core banking software with decentralised finance before. There are technical challenges, there are accounting challenges. Every day we’re creating something new that, to my knowledge, no one else has created before. So, we have to bring all the accounting standards, because we’re licenced regulated, we get audited yearly, and we need to be able to prepare those audits, submit them, and get them reviewed and authenticated. All these things in the past have been done in some capacity, but not to the extent we need it. So, we’re building a lot of backend software that ties the pieces together, which is super exciting for me. It’s very unsexy for the end-user because they don’t see anything. they’re like, ‘Hey, the platform hasn’t changed in two months. What are you guys doing, did you abandon the project?’ And it’s hard for me to explain to them that we created a brand new CRM, we created a brand new accounting software, and it’s been very hard to show the backend work to the people who are just looking at the products and services. But we do a lot of work on the backend. We want to build a bank grade DeFi platform, that actually is able to scale, and have the same protections that you would expect from your local bank branch. Because just like you said, there’s a lot of scepticism, there’s a lot of issues with hackings, and exploits, and people losing money. And now to compound that, and unfortunately reflect poorly on crypto as a whole, we have the bankruptcies that are happening, which are normal. I mean we had bankruptcies in the banking world a couple of decades ago. There were 100+ banks in the United States, and now we have less than a dozen, because a lot of them went bankrupt and got consolidated and acquired. This happens in any industry, but because it’s happening in crypto right now with some of the very well-known brands, we have to fight through that and educate people. So, for the rest of the year we have a couple of very exciting partnerships that are coming up in the eSports arena that we’re going announce very shortly, and of course we will keep in the loop. Rose Ross: You’re now getting the marketing team very nervous! Brad Yasar: I was gonna say, and we have outside of the platform uses that we are excited to announce for our token, because a lot of the times the token is our main activation tool on our platform. If you’re going to use the platform, and you have tokens, and you deploy them a certain way, it makes all the products and services better, cheaper, higher rates, higher limits, and it plays a very important role on our platform. But we don’t want to stop there, we want to make sure our token has continued value and use cases beyond the platform. So we’re working on those, we’re working on the technology side, and just the growth. I think bear markets are incredible times to grow if you can, if you have prepared yourself. And I want to believe we’re in a very strong position to do that. Rose Ross: Fantastic. Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about, anything maybe that we haven’t covered, either from your founder experience or from what you guys are doing? You’ve given us some little morsels of some of the stuff to expect. Or is there anything that you’re really pleased about having achieved over the last 12 months? Obviously, we announced you as winners back in November, it sounds like things are moving a cracking pace, I’m sure there have been things that weren’t included in your original application. Brad Yasar: I’m very proud of the team we have, it is a gruelling life to be a part of a startup. We are a more mature startup, we have a lot of experienced people but we’re still a startup, and there are times where I have to ask my development team to work on the weekends. There are times where I need to ask my marketing team to be on market watch on the weekends, and everyone does it, and that type of cohesion is incredible. As far as the accolades, we really appreciate it, I mean we don’t do it for the accolades, we’re trying to change banking and finance forever and make it much more beneficial to the end-user; higher rates, more access globally, better experience, and it’s a really difficult task. I’d say hopefully we’ll continue these conversations every year, every six months, and we can give you updates on how much was accomplished. But as far as I’m concerned we’ve hit all our milestones, some maybe a week or two later, because there were issues that we had to address before deploying that specific sprint. But we we’re working hard and it’s an exciting time, because what I would like to share with your listeners is, markets are cyclical, everyone is doom and gloom right now because the stock markets have collapsed, crypto markets have collapsed, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, this is the end of this, end of that,’ I’ve been hearing it’s the end of Bitcoin for almost 12 years now, since I’ve been in it. Every year Bitcoin dies and then comes back up just like a phoenix. So, I think for those who are maybe a little concerned and stressed, which is normal, always think about the long-term, the cycles in every industry, stock market industries, bond markets, crypto, there are always cycles, and a successful entrepreneur, a successful investor is successful because they have the longevity to endure those cycles. If you can stay in crypto, if you are already, and not panic sell right now, in two years you’re going to be rewarded because that’s going to be one cycle. If you can stay in the stocks you have right now, probably in four or five years you’re going to look back at your portfolio and say, ‘Wow, I got really good returns.’ And that’s the overarching message that I would want to say, stay positive and do some homework, because if you look at the markets, if you study them you’ll see that they’re cyclical, these crashes always happen and then people get excited about different things, and then the markets pick back up. The people who lose the most are those who are trying to time the market and have knee-jerk reactions, both as an entrepreneur and as an investor. That’s not the winning strategy. So, that comes up all the time, and obviously, it’s not directly tied to EQIFi or anything like that. But I always want to share that because people say, ‘What are you guys going to do now? DeFi is dead, Crypto is dead, the stock markets are dead,’ and I’m like, ‘They’re not, we’re just going through a bear cycle, and it’s going to play out the way it will, and then we’re going to be in a really good positive cycle.’ And if you’re building something now is the time to build it, so you’re ready for the next run. If you have some money and you’re trying to decide, what to do with it, putting it in a mattress is probably the worst idea because it’s being devalued. But you can go to a platform like EQIFi and maybe use one of our conservative products, and still earn a yield on the money you have, on the value you created, without worrying about the market conditions. And that’s the end goal, be the financial portal for all your needs. Rose Ross: I did have one other question actually, I was curious because obviously it’s online, where are you seeing the growth? Were you seeing a truly global embracing of this approach, or are you seeing some countries where the people are much more receptive to it? Brad Yasar: For us, we started as a global platform and company, so growth has come from a couple of places that adopted DeFi much quicker and extensively than others. For us we’ve seen incredible interest from Middle East, from Europe, North America, and a little bit in Asia. Now, I think the growth can come from anywhere, it’s just where you decide to focus your educational efforts. Again, whether you’re in crypto or not, when you have something innovative there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty, people don’t always understand it. What I’ve seen work the best is educating people, because if I can get you to a point where you feel you have enough understanding of what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it, and why it’s beneficial to you, the chance is that you will give us a chance and give yourself a chance to have a better banking opportunity, a better return on your savings. And once that happens then it’s the results, once you keep seeing the results the confidence grows, and the relationship grows. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to do that on a global scale because of the language barriers, cultural barriers, so you need to pick and choose – what market, what population are we going to educate next, and then see the results. And for us it has been, let’s start with where we see traffic come from, our initial interested parties, and then expand from there. So, right now we have six or seven really strong supportive markets, and another dozen that we are going to expand into for the rest of the year. Now, I can’t tell you if the other dozen is going to surpass the existing ones, or fall behind, because our approach of educating takes time. And we’re comfortable with that, we never want to onboard a million people overnight, and then they’re confused, and they don’t really understand, and they’re stressed. And then they off-board because there’s this panic movement, they jump in because they have fear of missing out, and then they jump out, which happens to a lot of DeFi projects, not so much banks. We wanted to have a more steady and long term growth. So, we’re doing a lot of education and seeing a lot of little sparks here and there, we’re going to expand on those. I think it this year, we may see an additional front in Northern Africa open up because there’s a lot of FinTech innovation in Africa, right now. A lot of the people are saying, ‘I don’t want to carry cash anymore. I don’t want to have to have cash on me to access the wealth I created. It’s not safe, I don’t want to do it. The technology is here, I have a phone, why can’t I use my phone to do it?’ So we want to be a part of that evolution there. There’s a lot of concerns in different parts of the world about government restrictions on money flow, obviously with the unfortunate events of this year some markets are cut off and things like that, and that’s affecting everyone. Obviously, I’m not talking about sanctioned countries here, but even the countries around that we’re doing business with them, now they’re saying, oh, this is this is not an ideal situation, because what’s happening across the borders are affecting us and our economies’. We just want to explore opportunities everywhere, we’re a global business. We have employees, I think, in eight countries now, and we’re spread out globally, and that vision carries to our customers. We want to have customers from everywhere in the world, where we can service their markets and help them have a better financial life. Rose Ross: Fantastic. It’s been an absolute pleasure, I’m absolutely blown away by all the stuff that you guys are doing, it sounds like it’s quite an adventure. We very much hope we’ll see you in the awards again this year, and hopefully we’ll be able to announce on the 15th of November, which is our Awards night, perhaps some further success. So, thank you very much Brad Yasar, who is co-founder and CEO of EQIFi. It’s been brilliant, I’ve very much enjoyed re-igniting, as I said before, the Founders on Fire podcast to speak with you guys, and wish you much continued success as blockchain and further areas trailblazers. My name is Rose Ross, I’m the Chief Trailblazer and Founder of the Tech Trailblazers Awards. You can find us at www.techtrailblazers.com, follow us on Twitter @Techtrailblaze and also find us on LinkedIn. Thanks again Brad, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Brad Yasar: Thank you, Rose. Thank you for having us. Rose Ross: No problem.