Co-founders Avira Tharakan, Thomas Tharakan and Shameem Jaleel have created a platform that makes documentation storage and authentication easier (and more secure!) than ever before. The challenge is to get users on board. We catch-up with them to see how their platform is faring…
There were two things in common between Avira Tharakan, Thomas Tharakan and Shameem Jaleel. First, they were all well-established professionals in their 9-5 corporate jobs. And second, they were inundated with incessant paperwork. In a technology-driven world, the high level of dependence on paper was quite perturbing to them. So, the three set out to find a digital solution. Surely, there had to be a way to reduce fraudulent practices caused by paperwork and create a more trustworthy platform for information exchange.
Rather than blindly following their hunch, they wanted to find data to support their concept and assess its viability. They undertook extensive market research in collaboration with KPMG and IIT Madras. The findings indicated that the best way to verify a document was always from its source and the cheapest way to transmit verified or authenticated documents was through the internet. These outcomes were compelling enough for the trio to go ahead with their business concept. Docswallet was born.
How does it work?
Think of Docswallet as a digital locker for all your documentation such as transcripts, certificates, degrees and so on. Users need to log into the platform, select the institution that they would like to receive the document from and fill out an order request. They then receive the official document in their digital locker directly from the issuing authority, which they can further share online without any hassle of printing, etc.
Talking about how his platform is solving a specific market challenge, Tharakan explains: “Citizens lose a lot of time and effort in getting their documents and having them authenticated or verified by third parties. Issuing authorities have to manage huge repositories of papers and are quite slow when it comes to authenticating or verifying documents submitted to them officially. To solve this problem, we developed a web application called Docswallet that acts as a platform for e-submitting and e-sharing authenticated documents using blockchain technology. The application creates a network of document issuing organisations such as universities, banks or corporates to share digital documents with relying parties (i.e. visa offices or corporates) after receiving the consent of the document owner (i.e. student or employee). The application also helps prevention of fake documents.”
Showing signs of growth
Docswallet has a clear proposition and a user-friendly application. It’s no wonder then that it has a rapidly growing user base. It currently processes 60,000 documents per annum. On the finance front, the company has raised US$ 500,000 from friends and family and the latest investment of US$ 1.1 million came from a private investor based out of Abu Dhabi.
“We have already broken even in May 2014. For each digital certification request, Docswallet charges the user. In certain cases, Docswallet charges each time an authenticated document is shared. We get verifiers and document-issuing bodies such as universities, banks, chambers of commerce onto the Docswallet platform and charge our candidates for the service,” remarks Avira speaking of the business model behind the growth of his company.
Interestingly, he also points out that the highest revenue vertical for Docswallet is the education market as it earned US$ 110,000 for the month of Oct 2017. The revenues were predominantly education checks for employment and academic transcripts.
Avira believes a major turning point in his business was when they decided to pivot to the blockchain. They started using hyperledger within their platform. This has helped them improve the security and sanctity of the documents being authenticated. He also credits the country’s vision towards digitalisation as a major factor driving the growth of his company. “The leadership has announced that all documents should be in blockchain by 2020 and this has helped build our sales momentum to enable organisations in UAE to be paperless,” he shares.
Jumping minor hurdles along the way
At the time of inception, Avira struggled with gaining client trust. “The first client is always difficult to get, as they do not have the confidence to be the first. Clients always want to see a well-known brand in the system before they join,” he admits.
Avira’s model is not only dependant on its clients, but also on its service providers that need to be available to authenticate documents. “The challenge is to connect organisations that were not connected before. We have to create a network of document issuing organisations and receiving organisations for citizens to apply for a job, visa and higher studies without using paper. The larger the organisation, the efforts to convert them into the Docswallet network will be higher due to the number of stakeholders involved.”
Partner to prosper
The challenge of building a network can only be combatted by creating long-term partnerships. Avira knows that all too well as he cleverly adds: “The key for any start-up is to collaborate. No start-up journey can be completed alone and you need partners, vendors, customers etc. We are partnering with universities in India. We are also in the process of signing on financial institutions to make their branches paperless. We are currently at the Startupbootcamp at Dubai Silicon Oasis and through their partners, we are reaching out to offices about the benefits of being paperless and to be on the blockchain.”
Docswallet is currently processing 60,000 documents per annum and would like this to be about five million. For this to happen, it will need to sign-on government organisations that issue mass paper-based documents. It also needs to ensure that citizens using those documents use Docswallet as a platform of exchange for authenticated documents.
Sharing a few pearls of wisdom from years of strengthening ties within his industry, Avira advises fellow business owners to collaborate and continually reach out to new members of the community to discover mutually beneficial ways of working. He believes that “the traditional silos that have divided governments, philanthropies and private enterprises for decades need to be replaced with networks of partnerships working together to create a globally prosperous society”.
Keeping up pace with industry trends
Docswallet is currently strengthening its proposition and market position in UAE and India, but it’s already receiving interest from companies in markets such as the US. Avira is eying expansion and hopes to enter these markets in the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, his energies are focused on bucking industry trends and ensuring his strategy is aligned to market needs. “All our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be moulded by a set of core values that are shared by each institute, organisation or associate we bring to the global online document verification network. Digitisation and automation will be the key areas to focus on within the industry. Most of the mass technologies adopted are for people to travel faster, communicate easier and be more productive. The middlemen in any business will be removed from the ecosystem through digitisation and manufacturing will go into automation. Blockchain and AI are two things to watch out for,” he concludes.