Welcome to Fint3ch Frontrunners, a series of interviews with the leading lights in the future of finance. Learn how they got started and where they see the world of Web3, finance, and crypto going next.
Up this week is Justin Ahn, Founder of Quidli, a digital community-building app that enables web3 assets to be shared as rewards natively in Web 2.0 apps.
Quidli recently added Rootstock’s rBTC to their platform allowing businesses and organizations worldwide to incentivize and reward teams with tokens sent through online tools like Slack and Discord.
Hey Justin! How did you get started on your journey as an entrepreneur?
I started my career in TradFi (traditional finance) like a lot of people. Not quite as sexy as trading or banking though, it was on the accounting side for one of the big four firms.
I did that for a few years in Japan and Korea before getting my first taste of startup life when I moved to building e-commerce ventures in Southeast Asia. It was in areas where there wasn’t much infrastructure but really high mobile penetration. This is where I got my first taste of entrepreneurship, not as a founder but as an early employee.
The startup spark came when one of those ventures was exited to a private equity firm. It makes it difficult to go back to corporate life when you taste a bit of success. But I also started to see a bigger future in software beyond e-commerce which is why I left that space.
When did you really start to understand the value of decentalisation?
Around that time I bought my first Bitcoin and came to Europe to do my MBA. I never really thought about working in crypto. I thought more about working in Software as a Service (SaaS) but definitely still had thoughts about doing my own venture.
That was around the time of the first big crypto rally when Bitcoin hit 20k and multiple blockchains started to emerge. It was the first time people tried to build consumer business software using smart contracts. This is the first time I realized “Wow, crypto has uses far beyond trading.”
Long story short, that’s how I started going down the crypto rabbit hole.
What can you tell us about Quidli?
Quidli has always been centered around compensation and incentivization. Initially, we were trying to replicate employee equity but built on tokens. It was always about how to share value with the people building towards a shared vision or mission.
Once we started to explore the space we realized there was a lot of legal friction around our idea to tokenize equity. So having spun our tires trying to get that to work, we realized this could move faster if we instead looked at how tokens themselves could be used to incentivize individual contributors. And that’s how Quidli became what it is today
How did you get funding and what was your pitch?
We’re venture-backed and when we talk to investors, we talk about building micro on-ramps into crypto. We want to inject crypto token rails into Web 2 applications that people are already using for example Slack, Discord, Telegram, and Twitter.
One thing I hear all the time is “Why don’t you just make a Web3 Discord” because Discord is centralized and that doesn’t quite align with the values that are popular within certain crypto communities and crypto investors. But my response is that if you’re able to create a new decentralized Discord that’s widely used, that’s not just a crypto victory. That’s a huge software company business victory. It requires a ton of effort and resources.
That’s why Quidli decided to focus on bringing crypto to existing social platforms and communities rather than building our own. We go to our users rather than asking them to come to us.
How do you position yourself to people interested in using Quidli?
Quidli allows you to share value with those who contribute to your project. We started with remote teams, online communities and any kind of digital collaboration cooperation effort.
Our conviction is that as the world of work itself becomes more fractal and in some cases decentralized, incentivization will become a bigger element in the way we are compensated for our work.
Who are your customers? Is it typically companies working in the world of Web3 or are you seeing more traditional companies looking at bringing crypto into their businesses?
We initially started with crypto companies as the thesis and we immediately largely got turned away from many of these companies because the majority of our solution is not on chain and that doesn’t align with our like, kind of decentralized basis.
But interestingly enough, during these initial experimental efforts, we were able to convert a lot of remote teams and distributed teams into customers, especially during COVID when we were forced to work from home.
Over the course of a year, we built up traction with more remote, non-crypto companies that wanted to provide more appreciation to their colleagues in the form of something that was valuable rather than just a thumbs-up emoji.
An example would be a developer saying “I work in Poland, but you work in Mexico. We just finished this crazy sprint. You helped me a lot. I’d love to get you a beer, but we’re not in the same physical place so here’s 10 bucks in Bitcoin. We found that that value prop resonated very well with remote teams.”
What’s the goal for Quidli over the coming year?
While we had started quite broadly in terms of targeting audiences interested in P2P tipping, we are noticing the user persona we’re going after is becoming narrower and narrower. The biggest target for us today it’s community ambassadors.
So that’s kind of become our obsession with how to make this experience better for community ambassadors and even though it’s narrowed it’s still quite broad, you know, because of their social media community activities. Another thing we’re seeing more traction in is developer relations. We’re seeing more and more kinds of ambassador programs oriented towards getting more contributors to code and building within their ecosystems so this will guide the next 18 months.
Where did the name Quidli come from?
When we started working on tokenized stocks, one of the significant challenges we were addressing for startup employees was “How can I get more liquidity faster?”
Employee stock options are some of the notoriously most illiquid assets while at the same time being potentially highly valuable. So we thought with tokens at some point you’ll be able to swap them. Like swapping Twitter tokens for Uber tokens for example.
So Quidli is just an inversion of liquid! But even after we pivoted to our current business model, the name resonated a lot with people in terms of just the concept and the whole ethos. At that stage, we had also built some degree of brand equity so the name just stuck!
What’s next for Quidli’s product development?
We’re looking into more integrations with platforms like Twitter, Trello, and Telegram. Even before Elon took over Twitter, they had been talking about crypto tipping.
At the same time, we want to increase the usability of Quidli as a developer tool and try to move more on-chain as a set of open contracts that you can use to stitch together as a compensation workflow.
What are you seeing out in the wider world of web3 and DeFi that is exciting you?
There are so many great ideas in this space but how they get implemented and adopted is a different story.
One of the more recent things that’s exciting is account abstraction and wallet abstraction I think is extremely interesting particularly because for us, it’s always been about user usability and user friendliness and making sure the user experience is seamless, which is very difficult when you’re talking about non-custodial on chain environments.
Being able to build certain things into your smart contracts, like specific actions that the user consents to could be a real game changer for blockchain applications. So that’s something we’re following very closely today.
Coinbase announced their Wallet-as-a-Service proposition which I understand is similar to what you’re trying to do with RIF Wallet. It’s something developers can integrate directly without worrying about building all the elements of a wallet stack. I love that.
What are you excited about seeing coming down the pipes in the next 12 months from the wider crypto ecosystem?
Web3 tools for digital collaboration. Online collaboration is only going to grow and ways to make that smoother ways to make that more effective and smoother to manage will, I think, be valuable in shaping how the future of work is online today.
Recently you added support for Rootstock and RBTC on Quidli; tell us a bit about this.
So we recently integrated Rootstock, and it was a great moment. Myself and my co-founder Jim. We’ve been in the space for over five years, and we remember Rootstock trying to build Bitcoin smart contracts way back in 2017. So it was amazing to reconnect and see that Rootstock is now a fully-fledged EVM-compatible sidechain secured by Bitcoin with a whole community of different DeFi protocols built on top of it.
We love learning about the different ecosystems. And ultimately, we see an interoperable future where different chains have different roles to play.
What’s the last thing you’d like to say to our readers?
We genuinely love working with new tokens and supporting people in creating these new micro on-ramps into crypto from everyday apps.
If you’re interested in motivating, rewarding, and growing your communities through microtransactions in the apps they use every day, get in touch at https://quid.li/ or find me on Twitter @ahn_going.