In this spotlight we interview Moe Alkhafaji, the founder of Pure Platform.
Please give us an introduction to Pure Platform
Most economies in the world are based on cash, mostly due to the lack of mutual trust between consumers and banks, and to high-interest rates imposed by payment platforms. This forces enterprises to base their online businesses on a pay-on-delivery approach. This proved to be extremely expensive. Pure Platform aims to be the first company in the world to create a frictionless (no fees), immutable, peer-to-peer ecosystem where cash can be absorbed in, in the form of digitized utility tokens, namely Kidus, without asking the customer or the business to trust a financial institution or a middle entity to house their money! Due to the genius of the mechanics of the platform, Pure Platform is able to offer common products and services from local as well as from online stores at the cheapest possible price. Kidus (after the ancient Sumerian character Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh) are not money. They are a form of a reward system. They cannot be cashed out by customers or bought speculatively. At Pure Platform, we aimed at solving this global cash-only problem by starting in Iraq. Our goal is not only to become the biggest fintech technology company in the Near Middle East, we also wanted to do it while leaving a made-in-Iraq stamp on the global portfolio of fintech companies. We are an Iraqi owned and run technology company, where the quality of our enterprise systems is superior not only compared to local software produced in Iraq but also in comparison to some of the biggest technology companies in the United States.
What stage are you at now?
We spent 2 years building out the business and the technology, creating an IP portfolio, recruiting the right advisors from top 10 technology companies in the United States, and training/hiring staff. We launched to select businesses 5 months ago. We, then, officially launched to customers around 6 weeks ago. We have passed the proof-of-concept stage in the Iraqi market, and are currently gearing up for noticeable expansion in Baghdad. The current stage includes targeting partnerships with big-name companies while targeting businesses with high transaction frequency and value in Baghdad. We will be targeting other provinces starting from Q4 this year. We have an aggressive plan to occupy significant market share by Q4, 2020.
Have you looked for external funding?
At this stage, Pure Platform has been entirely funded by an angel investment network. The second round of funding was opened and immediately over-subscribed within days in May. The third round will be available to select private group of investors (not open publicly) this month and will be closed within two months. The group of investors are selected strategically to drive significant growth and open potential partnerships with big US-based companies.
Have you received any external help?
We have a great pool of investors as well as advisors. They combine for over 150 years of experience. They have been involved in well-known acquisitions and IPOs. They are experts in their fields, and bring in a great support network primarily in the fields of technology, economics, security, intellectual property, e-commerce, international law, etc. We haven’t run into a problem where lack of expertise was the main driver.
Have you participated in any startup events and communities?
While I have presented at several universities, I haven’t participated in any startup events here in Iraq before. I’d love to. My first mini event will be participating in a round table on Tuesday (18/6) at the Station. I’m looking forward to participating in many others to come. Overall, I am or was a very active member, mentor, advisor, and/or investor in several US-based startup incubators such as Y Combinator, 1871, MATTER, WeWork, Draper Executive Program, etc.
What is the plan for the next stage?
Our main objective now is to spread the use of the Kidu and popularize it as an attractive rewards program. We are working on several strategic partnerships that will bring Kidus mainstream, all while continuing to target and embrace highly frequented businesses in Baghdad. We are aiming at returning as much money back to our customers as possible when they shop, so they can immediately turn around and purchase something of value through our application from Iraqi as well as online stores. Over 80% of our customers can purchase something with the free Kidus they have earned immediately after their shopping experience. Because of the Kidu ecosystem, and its patented mechanics that distinguishes it from money and cryptocurrencies, we are able to offer our customers significant rewards that can go up to 20-30% of their total spending, and add them right back into their wallet without any fees. This latter property makes it significantly more attractive than any other reward program that mostly offer a small percentage of profit.
What advice can you give someone thinking of building a startup?
I usually tell my mentees that starting a new company is a significant commitment and not just a 9 am to 5 pm job. You need to begin by fully believing in your idea, and your ability to execute it. If you doubt either, or if you cannot be passionate enough about it, you are destined to fail. Then, I tell them, you need to understand your journey will be very difficult and eventful, and I also always remind them: if it were easy, everyone would have done it. Lastly, I also ask my trainees to pick a challenge in their personal life and commit to overcoming it (such as losing or gaining weight, exercising, etc.) because if you cannot command personal challenges in your life, you are less likely to have the will to succeed with your adventure where obstacles can be significantly more difficult. Other traits that I found to be very important are persistence, insistence, patience, being humble, being decisive, embracing of being lean, being frugal and becoming incredibly knowledgeable in your idea’s domain.
What was the main obstacle you overcame in your experience so far?
I have built several successful companies in the past. However, I’ll choose to answer this question about Pure Platform due to it being my first experience in Iraq. The main obstacle was to find the right staff, and training them to “unlearn” many things they have learned over the years, and learn what appeared to them as strange and unconventional in starting and operating a new business in Iraq.
What is missing here in Iraq that would help startups like yours?
Nothing. Iraq is ripe and full of opportunities. I’m an optimist and opportunist when it comes to observing problems around me. I believe in the golden opportunities behind the mountains of difficulties in Iraq (such as the lack of favorable regulations, lack of incentives for new companies, the weakness of the private sector, the crumbled infrastructure, etc.) At Pure Platform, we have done a great job in turning these problems into opportunities, these obstacles into stepping stones, and pessimist youth into energized and motivated employees who claim to have finally seen the purpose in their day to day job.