It was 2016 when Hando, Addi, Teddi and Margus created a joint venture with a software development house and early crypto adopter, Asse Sauga. We started out as very raw, new players interested in developing solutions in the blockchain space.
2016 was a year of massive learnings, it started out as being selected to participate in the first startup accelerator focused on Blockchain projects. Nexuslab was the first accelerator of its kind in the world. We went through six months of intense startup training around 4 European cities and a final month in Zurich to prepare for Demo Day. The Nexuslab experience gave us all exposure needed to understand the challenges of a startup in general and specifically about fundraising and pitching to investors.
It was during the pitch preparations for NexusLab Demo Day, where we found ourselves with our first product dilemma. It was not clear whether to pitch for intelligent contracts or identity based digital signatures. One without the other would not have existed anyway. However, the intelligent contracts idea was Agrello’s final pitch (back then we went by the name ProofofYou) and with that, we were awarded Third Place in the competition.
After NexusLab acceleration ended, we were energized to go and build our product; but funds were scarce and therefore fundraising became our top priority.
Back then the idea of crowdfunding by pre-selling tokens was still unknown. We focused on traditional equity fundraising through venture capital. We still remember the Ethereum crowdfunding as an inspiration, but we had no intention of crowdfunding in a similar way. Through the NexusLab network, Hando made contact with a number of Blockchain experts and Investors. They were involved in funding and scaling blockchain projects. After many pitches, one of the experts with a known fintech and marketing background showed the most interest and committed to help us fundraise.
Raising funds for a project that uses a technology that is unfamiliar to most investors is very difficult, if not impossible. We got a lot of blank faces through our pitches, it was clear that only people who were familiar with the Agrello’s underlying blockchain technology would be able to understand our product and support us.
By fall of 2016 we decided we would be part of the first wave of projects launching a Token Sale. We now know that this fundraising approach helped unleashed Blockchain Innovation and made it possible for the ecosystem we have today. The global blockchain market size is currently at USD 3.0 billion and expected to grow to USD 39.7 billion by 2025. Without access to liquidity, most projects would have ended in stealth mode. We were finally able to pitch our idea to a crowd that understood Agrello’s potential, but we didn’t know how a Token Sale would be like.
During challenging times, pressure kicks in and, as in most startups, Founders start to drift to their own ways that end up create misalignments with the vision and team roles. In our case, the difference of opinions lead to friendly separation from Asse and the software house. In 2017 the company was renamed from ProofofYou to Agrello. A new phase had started. The name Agrello was conceived by Hando and it is based on the idea of “living agreements” (“agreements” sounding more awesome than the word “contracts” and the “llo” makes it sound more lively).
The turbulence of that year was not ending, we needed to fill our gaps with software development expertise that our team lacked, we came across the person who would later become our CTO and Co-founder, Anton Vedeshin. It was Teddi who introduced Anton to the team, we owe this one to Teddi!
With a now complete co-founding team, we developed the concept further and designed the token that would power the Agrello application, the DLT.
Hando was tasked to meet with potential investors and validate the Agrello concept outside of Europe. We met the Qtum team who was very supportive from the beginning and other investors in Shanghai. As Agrello became more and more exposed to different networks in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and USA, the interest in participating in our token sale grew exponentially. That was the moment we were waiting for, we felt we had earned the support of a large community and investors that were willing to back our token sale.
In July 2017 Agrello’s DLT Token Sale went live. Going live was one of the most anxious and enerving moments we had ever experienced. The interest in the sale was unexpectedly high. Minutes before going live the servers already did not hold up, so we had to make adjustments to carry the load. As if that wasn’t enough, when the countdown ended there was a bug that did not let anyone participate. It took 10 very, very long minutes to get it fixed but fortunately we got it rolling.
There were constant attempts trying to hack the DDoS of our token sale but thanks to Anton’s priority to secure the system, it all paid off. Our Token Sale platform was considered one of the most successful developments of its kind. Not too long after our token sale, we realized the high risks involved when we learned about other token sales losing millions of dollars to hackers. We felt very fortunate.
Since then, we had to deal with Agrello’s accounts and website impersonation, we learned a lot with these situations, fortunately we had the capabilities to quickly detect illegitimate attempts and take action to minimize damages.
It is important to note that by mid summer 2017, token sales were popping up everywhere, vast amounts of value was being captured without proper due diligence of the projects and their teams. For us, it was important to do things right. Agrello is a long term, legitimate business, we are committed to build trusted relations and comply with the regulations that allow us to manage a legitimate operation. From the beginning we were diligent to ensure we would have access to fiat currencies and operate with banks. For many of token crowdsales, this was impossible to achieve.
We performed the required KYC to identify the origin of funds. Thus, we were the first token sale to set identity verification standards on anyone that was committing 2BTC and up. Although this probably limited the number of token buyers (due to added friction in the buying process); we were able to do things right from the beginning and gain the trust of the relevant authorities for our endeavor.
Overall the fundraising campaign went unexpectedly well. That opened up the next and the most difficult chapter in Agrello - getting the promised product out to the market…