If there’s one thing that we know about the crypto economy, it’s the lack of banking infrastructure to support it. We sat down with Maria, product manager at Bitwala GmbH to talk more about the process and challenges behind Bitwala’s vision to empower people to exchange value like they exchange ideas by bringing a crypto banking product.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do at Bitwala?
My name is Maria and originally I'm from Moscow, Russia. Back there I was a product manager for MTS, Russia’s largest mobile operator, where I developed online top-up and other financial services, working alongside partners such as Visa, MasterCard, Wargaming and Sberbank. I moved to Berlin in 2014 for my second Master’s program and joined Bitwala in December 2017 as part of the newly established, two-month-old Product department. We’re now a team of three and are looking forward to bringing the best blockchain banking experience to our prospective users.
What does your day-to-day look like?
I really like this quote by Mario Andretti, “If everything's under control, you're going too slow”.
My day usually starts at 9 with a cup of coffee in hand. At 9:15, I’d have a squad stand-up, and afterwards, it’s always a different day. Being in a startup like Bitwala means having to always stay on your toes for anything, so routines don’t work here. As we are building a blockchain banking experience, we are also entering a highly regulated sector.
My days are filled with a focus on planning and gathering requirements to ensure that we will be 100% in line with regulations and can offer our customers a reliable, secure, and user-friendly product. As a huge fan of different productivity methods, like the Pomodoro technique [a time management method], I try to make my everyday work and meetings as efficient and effective as possible.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of building a crypto banking product?
Working to offer a blockchain banking experience means dealing a lot with third-parties. In our case, it would be a partner bank, who will provide the banking infrastructure for us to work with as we do not have enough in-house resources to do so alone. We want to create the best experience for our users: the best of traditional banking along with all the benefits of cryptocurrencies. This includes educating users on how to buy and sell crypto and also to ensure that the application is safe yet still easy to use.
We are hard at work in putting further emphasis on the security of our future accounts by working with third parties, ensuring that we meet all regulatory requirements and being GDPR-compliant when it comes to ensuring the safety of our customer’s data.
From your perspective, what seems to be the major challenges in bringing a blockchain banking experience?
The first would be the bad reputation of cryptocurrencies itself. When Satoshi Nakamoto published his whitepaper back in 2008, many believed it was fraud, swore it would fail, or simply disregarded bitcoin as the currency of criminals on the Dark Web. A decade later, the crypto world is still well alive and kicking.
Second would be the lack of knowledge of the industry from authorities. As authorities gain more understanding of the crypto industry, crypto regulations would also see significant improvements.
The last challenge would be the fact that we will be the first ones to do it in the crypto space. Being the first mover comes with many advantages. However, this also means we have to invest heavily in building this new product and in educating users whereas later entrants can identify areas of improvements and reverse-engineer products and make it better or cheaper.
When it comes to startups launching new products, many use Agile methodologies. Do you believe in Agile or would you prefer taking a more traditional method?
We like to experiment with different methodologies in order to find what works best for us. At the moment, we are adopting the Squads and Chapters methodology and looking how it suits us best. Here at Bitwala, we use agile methodologies that give us the ability to work in small iterations, push it live to the public, and quickly receive user feedback.
For new products or features, we develop concepts following feedback on what our users need. This allows continuous improvements to our products and features. To sum up, yes I believe in Agile, as it gives us the ability to work fast and quickly adjust to changes.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Bitwala?
Easy, I really love the whole team. I was so happy when I joined as I met interesting and smart individuals who share the same work values as I have, such as transparency, being proactive, trust in what you do and more. Everyone on the team is highly skilled at what they do, and I am very happy to be working alongside them.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
Sure! I’m in no way advertising a product right now, but I think this is quite interesting. So, I love cooking and for the first salary that I received in Germany, I spent most of it to buy a Thermomix, this awesome German kitchen appliance that my parents have back home in Moscow. It was not an impulsive purchase, mind you. It just makes cooking much faster, and my team also benefits from it as they occasionally get brownies and cookies as well. Everyone wins!
Quick, name 3 things that are always on your desk and why!
I have a pretty basic setup. Aside from my MacBook Pro, smartphone and a nice hot cup of Chamomile tea or coffee (depending on the time of day), I have plenty of Post-Its and colorful pens for me to write down random ideas that pop up in my head. I also try to keep my desk as clean as possible in order to minimize distractions.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
I’d be up to meet more like-minded people in the industry. You can find me on LinkedIn here - https://www.linkedin.com/in/martynovamaria/, feel free to say hi!