Startup snapshot: Platform for issuing and trading commodities on the blockchain

Binkabi – headquarted in Lagos, London and Hanoi – is a cross-border agricultural trading platform that leverages blockchain technology to tokenise agricultural commodities and cut out the middleman, creating a direct link between emerging market farmers and consumers. Quan Le, co-founder and CEO, answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch in 100 words or less.

Binkabi is a decentralised commodities trading network that will fundamentally change the profit-sharing rule along the agricultural supply chain. Binkabi massively reduces the reliance on dollars for imports and exports and cuts out middlemen in its smart bartering system that automatically matches and nets inbound and outbound trades. Binkabi is also turning agricultural commodities into tradable assets, allowing farmers to directly participate in the global trade network and retain more profits from their harvest, via a protocol for building blockchain-based commodity exchanges.

2. How did you finance your startup?

From founders’ contributions and angel investors. Binkabi is in a funding round right now.

3. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

The company’s smart bartering system is being launched among early adopters in Vietnam and West Africa, our initial trade corridors. The commodity exchange protocol is in pilot phase with our partners in Nigeria. With the investment, we will accelerate adoption whilst further improving our platforms.

4. What risks does your business face?

Binkabi is subject to the same risks that any startup would face, e.g. customer adoption, funding, and immature blockchain technology. However, those risks also contain opportunities and we are proud that we have a great team, which is embedded in our key geographies – Southeast Asia and West Africa  and our reputable partners, who are willing to join us on our journey.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

We found that products and demonstrable traction with real partners are the best form of marketing. As there is often unjustified hype in the blockchain space, we are told that it is refreshing to find a blockchain project that goes beyond the hype to deliver real value with real products and partners. Ultimately, our products serve a real need: improving the incomes of 500 million farmers in developing markets. This is why we were inspired to choose “Blockchain – Time to get REAL” as our slogan.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

I was born in Vietnam on a state tea farm to a meteorologist farther and soil analyst mother, but I chose finance in my 16-year career with PwC. I then opted to grow food in Africa in the last seven years with GrowmoreX, a company I set up upon leaving PwC. I chose to work in agriculture in Africa because of an eureka moment: I realised that while Vietnam and Africa, especially West Africa, share similar natural conditions, Vietnam is a net food exporter whilst West Africa is a net food importer.

Given my family background, I was destined for a career in agriculture commodities. Founding Binkabi, I can combine not only my agriculture background but also my experiences in finance and technology.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what have you’ve learnt from it?

We have focused mainly on building products and developing real partnerships/customers. We attempted to outsource PR, social media marketing and even capital raising without fully vetting the providers. We soon realised that we made the wrong decision and wasted some of our precious startup capital. The lesson is to do your own due diligence even if you have referrals. It is also critical to find niche providers who share your vision and have a good understanding of your business and industry. As it turned out in our case, it is difficult to find a service provider who understands at least two of three things: commodities, blockchain and Africa.

8. In addition to your own industry, name one untapped business opportunity in Africa.

Africa can benefit tremendously from a more integrated commodity supply chain. Post-harvest losses in Africa are perhaps among the largest in the world and not just because Africa lacks processing and storage facilities. There are many idle processing and storage facilities so a better coordinated supply chain can unlock a lot of this ‘dead capital’, benefiting both the economy and entrepreneurs in agriculture.