Introduction to Unbanx
The journey so far and why we’re here
Hi there, it’s Alan from Unbanx.
2022 has been an eventful year and I certainly have learnt a lot from the last year as I reflected on my personal learnings in this Linkedin post.
In this post, I would like to reflect a bit more on Unbanx as we open the app up later this month and graduate from closed beta.
Ger (my cousin and co-founder) and I spent many years experimenting with passive income streams. This usually took the form investing in ETFs, money saving browser plugins or creating drop shipping brands, such as a Dublin based bedding brand called Dublinen 😂. None were particularly successful but did lay the groundwork for us to learn how to start and operate a business.
Given our interest in tech and finance we always found the crypto world intriguing and had been involved in it since early 2017. The broad idea of digital ownership caught our attention. Companies like Brave and Streamr projected a new future that promised agency over our own attention and data. Publications such as Jaron Lanier & Glen Weyl’s Data Dignity, Glen Weyl and Eric Posner’s Radical Markets, James Felton Keith’s Data is labour and Sam Gilbert’s Good Data talked about how your data is a digital asset and could / should be used to create value for you. We embraced these concepts and could see how this dovetails with our experience and interest in passive income.
My job at the time involved working with and understanding Open Banking APIs. Ger and I would meet for coffee every second week while living in Dublin, generally to discuss technology and potential opportunities. We started to look deeper into Open Banking, figured there was huge potential and wanted to really understand the uses cases and regulations.
Our research lead us to theorise;
“What if we could form a collective where people pool their banking data together and earn passive income from the commercial insights?”
This idea excited us. It combined many of our areas of expertise and interests and seemed to be the culmination of all our work together coupled with the skills we had learnt in our respective careers in tech. We built an MVP to test its desirability and feasibility. The response and the interest was significant, as we collected over 15,000 banking transactions during a short trial. This was the beginning of Unbanx. (Back then it was called Unbanks but we had to change the name as you cannot have the word “bank” in your name unless you are an actual bank 🤷♂️)
We were accepted to the Outlier Ventures Base Camp Filecoin accelerator program in October 2021. The program provided us with a great foundation to build upon. Unbanx graduated completing our pre-seed round in April 2022 joined by prominent investors in Web3, Data and Open Banking.
Building the product
Once we raised our funding round we set about re-building our product (as opposed to iterating on the MVP we had built). We had a clear idea of what we wanted the product to do however we had a big question mark over the form it should take. The question was to app or not to app. The product was initially intended to be a web application, accessible from a browser on a computer or mobile device. However, we knew that for Unbanx to really be successful we would need mass market adoption. To achieve this we believed that referrals would be a significant part of our growth engine. Mobile applications are far more shareable than web applications so our decision was made to build iOS and android mobile apps.
Even though our foundations are built in the world of crypto and Web3 we could not stay within these boundaries if we wanted to reach user levels we aspire to. For our datasets to be desirable we would need to have a good cross section of society contained within them, this means attracting all age groups to use our product. It was decided that for all intents and purposes the product would be a more traditional mobile app to start with (i.e. no integration with web3 wallets, tokens, nft’s etc).
Convenience is king
When designing the platform there was one main rule that we kept the front of my mind - convenience is king. The onboarding, UI and language needs to be familiar. Open Banking is or course an integral part of the product, and to a lot of people this is still a new concept. We figured the worst thing we could do is layer unfamiliar concepts on top of each other, e.g. Open Banking + Web3 + Tokens + Data Unions etc, this would only cause confusion and lead to high drop-offs.
This journey also brought us to the somewhat obvious realisation that education is hard and where possible (in a start up) should be avoided. There is a very strong draw to bring a completely new concept to market, however explaining a new concept, such as Data Unions, in a one liner to capture attention didn’t seem to work. It brought more questions than answers, those questions lead to confusion and ultimately high drop-offs.
So we know that in order to be successful Unbanx will need a very high volume of users contributing their banking data. This meant targeting cohorts across all age groups and having a decent cross-section of society to contribute to our data set. We needed to wrap the overall mission in a familiar and known package.
We eventually landed in the world of reward apps. Earn points, get rewards. Everyone gets it. Reward and loyalty apps are common and understood from Tesco to Starbucks to British Airways. Having a rewards app that is supercharged by your data was a concept that really resonated with people. This was proven by A/B messaging tests, where we gave a panel (who were not familiar with Unbanx) a 5 second scan of our messaging to test their understanding. Our goal was for 70% + people to understand that it’s a rewards app that uses Open Banking. Basically an understanding of rating 1 + 2 + 3 (below) > 70%. Our winning messaging statement came out at 84% so we are using this as our starting point.
The above test was performed with a panel ranging from 20 - 40 years old. To further test this messaging we decided to target the age demographic deemed hard to reach and convert, the over 65’s. We ran a number of tests, with the results of one below.
Knowing that we can clearly communicate our message to age groups from 20 - 65+ gave us great confidence in our go-to-market and messaging strategy.
Getting users to contribute data is just one part of the puzzle, we also need to complete the other side of the marketplace and be able to package and sell this data in the form of a product. Ultimately the product that we are selling is transaction data sets, insights and surveying based on that data. This is our next large task, after a (hopefully) successful direct to consumer go to marketing campaign.
Our beachhead is going to be the UK and Irish markets, as we are launching here for two reasons: it helps to focus on a specific region and we are most familiar with the Open Banking regulation / APIs in the UK and Ireland.
As we approach our launch and are preparing to move from a building mindset to an operation and iteration mindset, a couple of operational lessons we have learnt that we will continue to apply in the coming year are as follows:
Quarterly strategic reviews
Given we are a remote-first team, it is vital that we are able to come together at least once a quarter to build stronger relationships, reflect on the last quarter and align on company goals and expectations.
In an early stage startup, it is difficult enough to plan with certainty what is happening 3 months down the line, let alone 6 months or a year. So, quarterly planning sessions with the rhythm of focusing on each month at a time that is in front of us seems to be working well. Given the general evolution of roles and responsibilities with each quarter, we also align on the ownership of key activities and do our best to hold each other accountable.
Keeping the main thing the main thing
I’d like to think a key strength of our company is that we are mission-led. We need to make sure we preserve this, and that all major future decisions will continue to guided by why Unbanx exists - “A person should be able to benefit from the value of the data created by or about them.”
What we have now is the beginnings of this movement. The overall plan will be detailed in a separate article. This will include how we structure the company, the entity that holds the data, governance (ultimately the entity that controls the data will need to be incorruptible) and income streams.
But first things first, we need to prove the value proposition can achieve mass adoption. That is why we have been focusing the last few months on building our product with our close group of beta members and re-positioning it as a rewards app.
And after all the hard work, I am very excited to share that we will finally launch and open the product to the public at the end of the month (in UK & Ireland), and start dialling our efforts on acquiring users and prove that Unbanx can certainly achieve mass adoption.
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