Donut co-founder and CEO Neel Popat talks about his experience at Factory Berlin and how to bake an impact with FinTech.
Neel Popat was a kid coder during the heyday of zip drives. By 13 he’d built a chat message board and a hot-or-not site, dubbed by London newspapers as an e-learning playground. Having established a career in equity investing and banking, his friends would often come to him for financial advice. Once cryptocurrencies started making headlines in 2017, his friends started asking him for advice on heavy investments in the digital realm. After meeting an entrepreneur who successfully transitioned from running a fried chicken shop to a hugely successful emoji sticker business, Neel felt inspired to start a project of his own that would integrate both his finance experience with the boom of digital assets.
Last year, Neel settled in Berlin as part of the accelerator program Entrepreneur First (EF), with the hopes of starting a revolutionary FinTech company. Once he found his co-founder, former N26 software developer Jordan Abderrachid, things “started to launch pretty quickly.”
Donut introduces the flair and relatability of pop culture to a seemingly boring, traditional investment culture. Their platform is aimed at everyone who wants to better understand the complicated market of digital dough and blockchain technologies. From baking bitcoins to filling cremes de crypto, their fun approach to digital asset portfolios makes investing your hard earned income a lot easier.
I came here as part of the EF program at Factory Berlin Görlitzer Park. There were about 60 of us at the beginning. Although you can find a co-founder anywhere, with EF it was a bit special since they always showcase specialists and experts in their field. They have the best of the best curation, within a diverse community space.
Berlin has a couple of factors that make it a startup mecca. Within its ecosystem attracts an intellectually curious community and is home to some of the best technical universities in Germany, which means access to top engineering talent. Compared to other major cities, there is a low cost of living despite the rise of gentrification.
If you add the extra component of a strong anti-establishment culture, the kind that isn’t afraid to against the grain, there are all the ingredients to disrupt. We want to be different, and you need to have that sort of mentality to force innovation and force a new creation. The fact that there is so much pro-blockchain development happening here makes it great for our business.
How do we position ourselves and stand out? Everything in the fintech or investment world sounds so boring. We like the idea of having a really eccentric theme and more importantly, we wanted to ensure we had an Emoji 🍩 to represent the business.
We explored Asian themes because we like Asian design, but Donut was what we kept coming back to. A donut is circular like a portfolio, we like the pun of crypto-dough – erm, kinda cool – and dough rises, hopefully, like the value of your assets. Plus, the whole concept of blockchain is decentralization and a donut has no center. There’s a lot that went into the naming algorithm.
What makes the Donut company culture so sweet?
We are very lean, agile, and we work fast. A week is a long time in our bakery. You will surprise yourself by how much you can actually do in seven days. In the early days, we really hustled and even shipped our first product launch in 5 days. The key is clearly defined goals and having the correct goals. It also means using the resources that you have available to research, test, and build.
We tried to turn a perceived boring topic into something more appealing and used [the Factory Family] #Slack to see if people were interested. There was definitely a demand. We also did a lot of market testing around the community, and due to the high amount of freelancers, who need to always have savings, it ended up being the perfect target market.
Our team can potentially build in one or two weeks what a corporate might take 6 months to build, simply because we have the capital and ability to go at a more effective and quicker rate.
You just raised some serious dough. What will put the sugar on top in 2019?
We have clear goals, a light product, and are prepared to scale fast, so we also learn fast. Many developments are new technologies and we have partnerships lined up. With our Seed funding, Donut will grow the team to 10-12 people this year. (That means we are hiring.)
But most of all, we’re looking forward to our public launch in the summer.
As millennials take over the majority of the workforce, the product focus has shifted towards a more democratized market, and blockchain technologies are no exception to the rule. Donut has designed a damn delicious product that grabs the attention of GenZ, teaching them about smart investment practices.
Donut is baking sure that Berlin becomes the new blockchain capital of the world. They want to provide access to digital assets for everyone, not just techies. By simplifying highly technical concepts, they increase accessibility to a brave new blockchain.