Douglas Bakkum, co-founder of the F10 Startup Shift Cryptosecurity [formerly Shift Devices] talks about the latest milestone, reflects on the changes the Startup he had cofounded with Jonas Schnelli underwent and provides advice for young entrepreneurs.
Douglas, your flagship product BitBox is used in more than 90 countries and has recently been listed on the well-known Swiss online shop Digitec. Congratulations! Can you tell us how it all started and how you came up with the idea?
Douglas Bakkum: I started working on the BitBox around the time that Edward Snowden was in people’s minds. People were becoming aware of what security and privacy – or the lack of it- means in the digital world. Although this started a shift in people’s perspectives, the tools didn’t really exist to help us do something about it. I wanted to change that. Our first product – the BitBox – focuses on the cryptocurrency market. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies were not on many people’s minds then, but I could see how important and transformative the technology will become, and keeping cryptocurrencies safe is an obvious need. As more and more digital assets get put online, whether it be money or your identity or something else, hackers are finding more and more creative ways to steal it. The BitBox stops the thieves and the malware hiding in computers and mobile phones. We achieve this by keeping secrets physically isolated inside a plug-n-play device. It is a digital key for the physical world, and can be used as simply as turning a key to open your front door.
What do you consider the most important milestones in the history of your company?
When Shift entered the F10 program a year ago, we were only two technical founders, Jonas and myself. The non-technical tasks required to grow a start-up were tricky. It soon became clear that we needed the right talent for business matters, and F10 turned out to be a great mentor. A good team with complementary skills is very important! Our team now consists of 15 members. We are humbled to have attracted a number of passionate people who share our philosophy and mindset.We are proud to have sold the BitBox in over 90 countries so far. Another milestone was our recent listing on Switzerland’s largest online retailer Digitec.ch.
What are you currently looking forward to?
We are developing a second version of the BitBox that will be released in a few months. We are excited about that while already thinking about the third generation version. At the same time, we are developing an enterprise solution with a big corporate client. We see a future where individuals and enterprises will be free to enjoy complete independence in the digital world, a world where we will not have to trust authorities to protect us from cyber theft or control our digital endeavors. Shift will soon receive a major round of investment. In fundraising, being a Swiss company seems to be a big advantage even for attracting international investors. Funding will allow us to hire more talent for marketing and product development. It is rewarding to see the team grow and then see our new team members eager to help drive the company further.
Shift Cryptosecurity which back then was named Shift Devices was one of 15 Startups to participate in the F10 Incubation Program. Why had you decided to apply?
At first, I had actually not wanted to participate in the program! I thought our time would be better spent developing our product. Dario, who is now our COO, had started collaborating with us and was very persistent in convincing us to participate. Before applying, we met start-up coaches James and Thomas who made a very good impression. The more we listened, the more we wanted to be part of the F10 Incubation Program. We finally applied – one day before the application deadline closed.
What do you consider the most important take-aways from the F10 Startup Program?
F10 helped us to learn how to run a company. Before joining the program, our weakness had been the business side as we were only technical guys without a strong knowledge of business development or marketing. There were 2.5 people working for Shift Devices when we started, and eight when we finished the F10 program. At F10, we learned what skills are needed in a business and the true value of a team that brings complimentary abilities.
How else has the program influenced your Startup?
F10 taught us what it really means to run a business and I’m sure we wouldn’t have grown as fast without the F10 Incubation Program. We also got in touch with partners of F10 during talks and pitches. This lead to various companies using our BitBox branded with their logo as giveaways. There was quite a high demand for that! F10’s name, brand and network helped us to connect with partners and big corporations which enabled us to learn how to talk to big companies. In my opinion, this was the most relevant learning. After our stay at F10, Generali [F10 Corporate Member] wanted their employees to get exposed to the start-up mindset. This led to us being offered a free co-working space in their office in Adliswil where we are today.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced after finishing the F10 Incubation Program?
My personal challenge is that there is never enough time to do everything that one would like to or need to do. There is probably not a way to solve that issue completely, but it forces you to focus and prioritize. We try to find a solution that works good enough, test it out, and adapt or fix it as needed. We are still figuring out how to make efficient communication and decisions in a growing team.
What advice can you give to young entrepreneurs in the FinTech industry?
Be persistent. In the beginning, everyone around you often focuses on the flaws or negative aspects of your idea or business. We have been told countless times that we were wasting our time and there was no market for our product. It is easy to get discouraged. If you truly believe in your product and that it will solve a market need, it is probably a worthwhile idea. Trust your gut. Despite the negative comments, we started to develop the product and people all over the world have bought it. However, be careful to not get stuck within your own bubble - be sure to get regular feedback from the market and your customers.