Startups

Startup Mantra: Building asset infra for digital success – Hindustan Times


Would you like to own a concept car in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) issued by a global luxury car brand, advertise your product or do identity-verification of your ‘Avatar’ in multiple Metaverse? A Pune-based blockchain and digital assets infrastructure service company ‘Seracle’ will help you in bringing this virtual possibility into reality.

Founded by Shrikant Bhalerao and Akshay Soam in 2018, Seracle helps businesses foray into the emergent Web 3.0 space with Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS). This Web 3.0 infrastructure company helps you connect your project to the multiple Metaverse and enable you to access the Metaverse applications for renting, advertisements and NFT compatibility.

In the beginning…

Bhalerao and Soam both come from a defence-family background and they are also from the Army Institute of Technology (AIT), Pune. They both were working in the fintech space, for different companies, but met each other on a professional network on the internet.

Bhalerao says, “Before starting Seracle, I was working with clients from the BFSI domain in Europe and came to Singapore in 2017. I was working as a consultant and have been in the blockchain space, with a special focus on supply chain management, healthcare, and retail domains. While setting up the company, I was looking for a person on the technology side and met Soam on a professional networking platform.

“We were not specifically looking at crypto at such, but we got 70 per cent of our revenue from clients which are in crypto space. We ourselves don’t deal in buying or selling cryptocurrencies. We only provide the technology and call ourselves ‘tech-enablers’. Our clients have been mostly from around North America, Europe and Singapore. In India we are just starting up,” added Bhalerao.

Pivot

Says Bhalerao, “To be honest, fintech is a very crowded space. In our initial days, we realised that blockchain is an upcoming domain. So, we pivoted from being a consulting firm in 2019 itself to being a product company. First, we were just building a white-labelled product, but then we saw that product maintenance is a huge task. We decided to convert it into a cloud or SaaS-based product where don’t have to worry about product maintenance for each client. It reduced the cost for customers and the efforts for us.”

“People confuse blockchain with crypto which is just one of its applications. We are now starting to see a broader vision of blockchain. The Telangana state government is issuing their land deed agreements on blockchain verification, Startup India is issuing their validation of startup certificates on Blockchain. Blockchain creates data sovereignty. For example, if you are submitting KYC information to a bank, that data will only be with that bank. When it comes to Blockchain and let’s say a bank has validated and verified it, the public information is available on the blockchain and other banks can trust the verifier bank. They don’t need to do the whole KYC (Know Your Customer) again. Users also don’t need to undergo the KYC process again. It is about sharing data without having the ownership or without having any reason to share any private information,” Bhalerao said.

Unified platform

Explaining the need for a unified system for blockchains, Bhalerao said, “Blockchain is a very fast-growing industry in India. Since it is fast, it is also not stable. Everybody is coming up with their own blockchain and their own standard. Because it is about sovereignty, there is no governing body or standardisation mechanism or regulatory framework. So, to have this as a unified platform or system, we decided to build it ourselves with our SaaS product. The solution that we have is that anywhere, anything is getting updated or any regulatory changes are happening, we are incorporating it. For example, the Indian government made taxation changes related to crypto. We are catering to Indian crypto exchanges and we already have it included in our trading engine. We have created a mechanism where TDS is deducted and GST is applied on trading fees.”

Crypto exchanges

The duo got their first big customer in 2019 which was a crypto exchange based out of North America. “Crypto exchanges have been one of our major revenue streams. We work with clients who actually have custody of funds and also the ones who don’t have them. Then we also did Decentralised Finance (DeFi) applications like building our own tokens, issuing those tokens to users, creating on-chain exchange mechanisms without having custody, etc and we also worked with wallet-providing companies,” Bhalerao said.

“Any company from or outside India which is interested in starting a crypto exchange using our technology, won’t have to worry about compliance. We also have a licensing and policy engine which ensures KYC. We have the complete data set that we can provide in case of any audit in future. Our system is also able to do transaction monitoring for on-chain data,” he added.

Web 3.0 infrastructure

“In Web 2.0, we have seen how cloud services evolved. In the same way in Web 3.0 space Seracle provides cloud solutions which are hosted in their environment like a SaaS product,” explains Shrikant. Further, he says, “It’s a SaaS product but on a Web 3.0 space. Our clients can launch a decentralised application like a cryptocurrency exchange, decentralised finance or a wallet system and they can use our cloud solution to immediately leverage from the ‘tech-stack’ instead of building it themselves.”

“Clients essentially save a lot on the development cost and time to ‘go-to-market’. To build a decentralised application from scratch, one would have to set up entire servers, and database, connect to various blockchains, etc. With Seracle, you just have to put in the business logic, or we have engines for that too, and you just put your customisation like skin, brand colour and you can go to market immediately,” said Bhalerao.

Team building

Says Soam, “It’s difficult to get talent because the domain itself is new. We hire people from non-blockchain but fintech backgrounds, onboard them, then train them for 3 months. We have a current team strength of 85 employees spread across multiple locations like Bengaluru, Pune, and Toronto.”

Identity validation

Bhalerao believes that ‘identity validation’, like a KYC-based system, will enable identity for Metaverse. “Metaverse is booming. It is also going to lead to crimes in the virtual world. To protect the Metaverse from it, we are building a solution where identity or KYC can be done for a user. When any Avatar gets issued as an NFT to Metaverse then that Avatar will already be KYC-verified through us. It will work similarly to accounts being verified on an existing microblogging platform. The KYC-verified user or entity by our channel will be marked on the Blockchain. Similarly, every wallet on the blockchain can be identified using the KYC solution that we are building. This KYC is for Metaverse, Decentralised Applications and for anything on the blockchain.”

“We have partnered with a London-based company since 2018 for the identity verification solution. For identity verification and validation, you need to check against sanctions and the credibility of users. Our partner company is a world leader in this space and covers 133 countries,” informed Bhalerao.

Metaverse-ready NFTs

Metaverse in India is emerging in two major areas – entertainment (including gaming) and the education industry, says Bhalerao. “The entertainment industry moved to OTT platforms during the Covid-19 outbreak but it is not working out. So, they are now looking beyond OTT and exploring the Metaverse. Top gaming companies are also entering the Metaverse space. We are enabling all of them with blockchain.”

“We do NFTs only for Intellectual Property (IP) which can be translated to on-chain and accessible for use. We make NFTs metaverse ready. For example, when we play online games, we purchase various items within the game. Those items can be in form of the NFT. It can come from a particular brand too. These items can also be sold on the marketplace, thereby creating an economy. That is where the gaming community can benefit from NFTs,” Bhalerao explained.

Future plans

Sharing their future plans, the duo said, “We will soon be offering NFT solutions for startups in India. Since startups have a trademark, we can issue NFT for them at zero cost and only charge a transaction fee. The same NFT will also be accessible in the Metaverse. Besides, we also want to provide the ‘advertising in Metaverse’ and a rental space solution. The Metaverse layer or aggregated layer that we are bringing in can actually act as an advertising engine as well, where NFT companies or the NFTs that we have can be advertised inside the Metaverse. These advertisements will be dynamic and when users click on them, fees will come to us. The identity solution will go live in September 2022 and the Metaverse solution in the first quarter of next year.”



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