By Dominik Rutkowski, Head of Product Excellence and Delivery
Billon’s joy at being a proud participant in Raiffeisen Bank’s Elevator Lab program turned into a moment of panic in late February as Europe started shuttering inside in response to Covid-19’s spread. Clients began deferring projects, and we needed to act fast as our Demo Day was approaching and the 1st live tokenization of euro was to be the showcase of the program. What did we do and how did we do it? We share our story and some tips here.
Billon’s cooperation with Raiffeisen Bank International started in late summer 2019. The Elevator Lab Partnership, RBIs program for fintech to test solutions, chose Billon and 5 others from a list of hundreds of applicants.
The program itself was managed exceptionally well. We attended weekly status meetings, we participated in monthly “on-site days” in Vienna, and we met RBI project sponsors for mentoring. And we exchanged information and experience with other Elevator Lab participants from the Balkans, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Israel.
Our goal was a live working proof of concept of digital cash issued directly by the bank. This was a bold departure from stablecoin architectures where a 3rd party issues coins and the bank purchases those coins for use. We had done this before, in Poland, but never in Austria and with this level of visibility. So we created a set of blockchain nodes with web management so pilot participants could issue and transfer -- for the first time ever -- digital tokens representing the euro.
The run up to the March Demo Day was going great. During January and February 2020, we met more often in Vienna, meeting various RBI departments, Raiffeisen Landesbanks (community banks from Austria) and network banks within the Raiffeisen group. We brainstormed a bright future of possibilities and use cases.
In the background, the virus spread. The virus presence had not been officially confirmed in Warsaw or Vienna, but there were few cases spotted in Northern Italy and Tirol. Then, a few days before the planned event, the decision about the lockdown in Austria had been taken and Demo Day was canceled. We were gutted. There would be no presentation to potential clients, investors, or the media. Our big launch was in question.
To the credit of Elevator Labs and Raiffeisen, they saved Demo Day. It became a presentation to the Innovation Board via Microsoft Teams, and while it was not a big splashy event, we had a new goal to remotely win over the decision makers on future work.
We went fully remote on both sides with the new goal to impress the Innovation Board in the new remote version of Demo Day. Every remote working tool was used, from Google Docs to Microsoft Teams, to WhatsApp and Slack. And we worked to create a live remote demo, to compensate for the inability to be face-to-face.
The new remote version of a small Demo Day exceeded our expectations. While the attendance was limited, without any splashy press release, we point to that moment as a solidification of a fantastic collaboration and chemistry between Billon and RBI. And we thank Stefan Andjelic, Blockchain Hub Lead at RBI, as two months later he presented the use case at the May 19 ANON Summit for blockchain, allowing others to see the possibility to tokenize EUR directly.
From a project insider perspective, I think the most important element of success was culture, and luckily both Billon Group and Raiffeisen Bank International have remote-friendly cultures. As such, switching to fully online work was not a huge challenge in hindsight. We were already using most available remote working tools in some form, so we only had to shift our mindset in how we used them -we shifted from treating these tools as a supplement to face-to-face, to being a necessity to remote productivity. That led to new practices such as more frequent and informal communication to replace face-to-face chemistry (somewhat), and to adopt a new discipline of respectful and collaborative behaviors for formal on-line meetings. RBI, with its network of banks stretching across Europe from Russia to Croatia, was used to formal remote cooperation, and so they helped to lead the way for formal behaviors and we helped on informal, start-up behaviors. A great success story and we thank everyone involved in all organisations. Well done!
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