Phil Blows is the CEO and co-founder of AQRU, a DeFi business that specializes in helping institutional and retail customers earn high-interest rates on their cryptocurrency.
Phil has more than 15 years of leadership experience in the Fintech and asset management sectors having spearheaded the scaling-up of online trading platforms at several leading companies.
Phil is passionate about improving the ﬁnancial health of all those he meets and is the author of a personal ﬁnance book, The Money Triangle, proceeds of which support various ﬁnancial education charities.
His achievements with AQRU with the help of his two co-founders are stunning. AQRU went from PowerPoint to a £30m public company, £16.5m under management, and 10,000 customer accounts in 10 months.
Listen to Phil Blow’s success recipe in today’s Startup Stories episode, and let yourself be inspired.
You can listen to the full podcast or watch the video version below:
NOTE! The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form. The followings are snippets from the interview podcast that were edited for clarity and brevity.
How did you manage to reach such heights in such a short time with AQRU as a first-time founder?
Phil Blows: I’ve got a lot of respect for founders who do things in their twenties, but for me, I needed kind of sixteen-seventeen years career in startups to really gain the skills needed to build a company.
Although it’s my first startup, I worked in several previously and had entrepreneurial roles in other businesses like creating a new product or creating a new company within a company. Kind of like an intrapreneur. I’ve done that several times which obviously helped with a cross-functional skillset.
When I was looking to set up the business with my co-founder, there was a consistent theme in everything that I’ve done, which is that everyone wants simplicity; especially in finance, where most people perceive things as being complicated and often boring. And so, while looking at all those startups we’ve done, we took the complex financial concepts and simplified them into really easy-to-use apps that got distributed.
The problems I was solving in previous startups in personal finance were not big enough to explode. Having done that for those years, together with my involvement in crypto, I could see that this area of decentralized finance I was skeptical of before, expanding from crypto 1.0 to crypto 2.0. That means owning decent crypto assets like Bitcoin, and Ethereum, these sorts of big assets, and using them to generate income.
These are productive assets that you can lend, borrow and generate high yields on.
It’s also this concept of cryptocurrency, called the stable coin, which is a crypto coin with its value pegged to the US dollar.
As this new market emerged in the world of crypto where I started managing my own money, then my friends and family’s money, just to have some very basic lending models that can generate very high yields for customers.
That was the MVP. I was a big believer in lean startups. I just needed a model and then show my results to friends and family every week. That was it.
When did you start doing this?
Phil Blows: That was in 2020. We didn’t actually found the company till early 2021. We got to the point where new customers were asking if we can do that for them.
So we thought that we should probably need to build a platform to make this simple. That was when we started raising our seed round.
We could say, “This is the idea, and this is the traction we currently got.”
People gave us a couple of hundreds of dollars to test and build the product. That just made the early conversations so much easier. We had the traction.
Zooming out again, if you going to start a company, you can make your life a lot easier by doing it in a sector that’s exploding. In early 2021, there was no hotter sector than crypto. We sort of rode that wave of it while investors were looking for good crypto projects to invest in, and we were one of them.
Tell us about the early steps
Phil: In early 2021 I went to my network, and we raised just under $1M in those first few months. That allowed us to hire the early team.
I was very keen to own the tech from day one. I’ve seen a lot of companies that outsourced tech development and spent two years and millions of dollars without getting anywhere.
I was fortunate to know a very good developer who joined us as the CTO. The team he built it’s phenomenal.
I would say fire me before our dev team because they were the real value drivers of our business. They’ve built a product that would take other people years, and we did it in six months.
What was your main strategy?
Phil: Very early product development, build a really nice scalable solution and get it in the hands of customers really early to receive lots of feedback about how you can improve that product.
We were in a spinning mood, like getting feedback from a customer in the morning and releasing the product in the afternoon. That means product improvement at a very high velocity.
What’s your biggest differentiator compared to your competitors?
Phil Blows: I think we are very lucky to have my co-founder, Digby. His background is in payments, and part of where our competitors struggle is to make it easy to earn money out of the platforms. With his expertise and network, we were able to launch with a full swing where people were giving us crypto but also the normal currency as well. That was a big part of our early access.
Going back to how we are different is the simplicity angle. If you go on most cryptocurrency platforms, you see these charts, flashing lights encouraging you to buy and sell because they make their money every time you buy and sell.
The problem with that is that if you keep buying and selling frequently, you invariably lose money. Given my background where I was always trying to improve people’s finances, I’m very keen that every product I launch improves people’s overall wealth. AQRU it’s not designed to just make us money which is what a lot of these companies seem to do.
The product is very simple and designed to make people buy and hold really quality crypto coins. We are not putting the latest fad coin to it. It’s only four elements on the platform.
We have a long-term mindset where we pay market-leading interest on those to try to encourage people to stay put without encouraging the high turnover speculation where investors tend to lose money. Its simplicity on all accounts with a focus on yield, not exchange.
At last, we don’t charge any fee but make our money by sharing some of the yields with the customers. This aligns our interests with those of the customer.
The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form.
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