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FINTECH FRIDAY$ (EP.4-Aug 10): Importance of Smart Contract Safety Net with Amy Wan, CEO & Founder at Sagewise

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NCFA Canada | Craig Asano | Aug 10, 2018

FINTECH FRIDAY$ (ep.4-Aug 10): Importance of Smart Contract Safety Nets

Host: Manseeb Khan, NCFA, Fintech Fridays show host

Guest: Amy Wan, Founder & CEO, Sagewise

About this episode: On this episode, our host Manseeb Khan sits down with LA legal tech entrepreneur Amy Wan, the CEO/Founder of Sagewise, a smart contracts dispute resolution startup. They talk about why smart contact safety nets are important, the bridge between legal tech and fintech and how Amy closed out her seed round while being pregnant. Enjoy!

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Transcription of Interview

Manseeb Khan: Hey Everybody Manseeb Khan and you are tuning in to NCFA newest show Fintech Fridays. Today we have an amazing guest. She's a rock star in the industry. Ladies and gentlemen. Amy Wan is with us today. She's the CEO of Sagewise Amy thanks so much for making it.

Amy Wan: Thanks for having me.

Manseeb Khan: I just want to let you just closed out your seed rounds. I know you're super busy. I just want to thank you again for taking time out of your super busy day to make time for us.

Amy Wan: Of course of course. Anything for you guys. And honestly you know we were grateful for the exposure.

Manseeb Khan: So I guess for the listeners. Could you give us this like a minute of who you are, what you are and a little bit more of what Sagewise was.

Amy Wan: Sure I'll explain a little bit about myself and the company. So, I am a legal tech entrepreneur. I'm based in Los Angeles California. You know start off my career working for the federal government in international regulatory affairs and then was general counsel at a real estate crowdfunding platform. Then a fintech lawyer and law partner at a law firm that basically I'm rules. I'm a securities transactional attorney by training and started seeing that there was a huge issue in the block chain and smart contract industry. You know in early 2017 there were lots of ICO's that you know every other week were getting hacked and losing several millions of dollars. And I thought wow this is a huge gap in the ecosystem. Someone really needs to build dispute resolution infrastructure to handle these gaps otherwise there's no transactional competence or certainty. And so that's you know what we do now we build a safety net for smart contracts. The name of the company is called Sagewise and you know we just closed our seed round and are looking forward to launching the full platform later this year.

Manseeb Khan: I work with startup and I know how stressful it could be closing out a seed round I guess. Could you talk about the feeling or like the immense joy or the most just sigh of relief that you felt finally closing at.

Amy Wan: Well we are very relieved to finally close it. But at the same time this just means there's more break right now. Now we must sit-down concentrate building out the product and getting traction. The seed round I will say though was it was not easy right. And for a couple of different reasons one is because you know at the very beginning we had to decide to do we want to go out there and tokenized right away or do we want to do it more or more traditional equity round. And we decided to do the latter because in late 2017 when we were making this decision I went out and talked to couple crypto whales and they were really looking for you know instant liquidity and massive discounts. And I thought to myself. Man, I don't think these people are investors they're not true believers. They're not going to be great partners. They are speculators who want a quick flip and we really didn't want that kind of capital infusion into our company. The second thing is just that you know block chain is a technology. But for some reason this industry the space comes with a lot of philosophy. You know there's a lot of people in the crypto community who are like oh you know decentralized everything and immutable everything. There's a lot of philosophical dogma behind what blocking technology should be which I think clouds not only the industry but also the investment thesis within the industry. And so, we've found that when we went out to investors we needed to quickly determine what their philosophy if any was. Before we pitched them because there were certain people who were just not going to like you know what we were doing. And the third thing was just you know personally I was pregnant slash had a baby in the middle of raising around. And so that was that was you know a great personal challenge.

Manseeb Khan: Wow that's incredible. So, I just talk a little bit more about what is the life transition like from being a lawyer to an entrepreneur like those are in a sense to different wheel houses what they do have similarities. Would you say being a lawyer and now a new mom has a helped in your entrepreneur career.

Amy Wan: Oh absolutely. I mean so being a lawyer you know especially having a bit of a background in capital markets and structured finance I think that helped me to make the determination of what kind of capital we wanted. Right. We weren't just trying to go out and raise several millions of dollars. And sell away the entire company or get investment that weren't necessarily strategic in our seed round. We've vetted every entrepreneur that invested every investor that put capital in and we took money. Always is for a very specific reason and then you know in terms of being a mom man it's made me become super-efficient rights because I you know I'm where a lot of hats nowadays great but also it's liberating in some sense because you know when we first came up with the concept I thought my God we have a huge thing here. It's a very inspirational. But it could be potentially very lucrative. But it's also very hard, very difficult. And I think when I found out I was pregnant I think kind of be the chains came off a day. I felt a bit liberated because I was like Now I'm a pregnant female minority founder. There's not much of a worse position to be in. And so, I feel like I've got nothing to lose. Let me just like go for as opposed to why you should try and tone this down a bit and have a more realistic goal.

Manseeb Khan:] Yeah that’s great way to look at it because I guess a not a lot of people would see that because it's like oh wow. I'm now going to be a mom on top of everything else. Fantastic that's the best the odds are out against me. That's wow.

Amy Wan: I couldn't even imagine. Oh, it's been. It's been very interesting although I'm very lucky.

Manseeb Khan: I'm I bet.

Manseeb Khan: Sooner or later you can have your little one just running around handing out t-shirts and giving out business cards.

Amy Wan: Oh totally, free labor.

Manseeb Khan: Exactly. You touched a little bit on smart contracts and why they're important. Could you I guess get a little bit more in depth of I guess letting the audience understand the limitations of when it calls smart contracts. If there's a dark side to smart contracts and how everyone should have like you a realistic view when it comes to this.

Amy Wan: Absolutely so. So, you know there's a lot of hype around smart contracts today biting to effectively reward them and use them. You must always understand the tool that you're using. And so, you must really understand limitations behind smart contracts as well. And so those limitations are just as if you're working with a traditional attorney right. The smart contract that your smart contractor opera creates for you. It's only as good as the code just as when you're using an attorney to contract that they draft for you. It's only as good as a lawyer who has drafted it right. And so, your smart contract you know it may have coding errors it may have a security vulnerability you may need to amend, modify, or terminate smart contract these on changing situations, right? because code is static that human beings’ human situations are not. And finally, you may have genuine disputes or how smart contract executed. And so those who were kind of the gaps that we saw going into this space in late 2017. And so, we're really trying to solve for those gaps because even if you have a great smart contract developer that's your first level of defense then you may have a great summer contract security auditing company. That would be your second level defense. But those two are not good enough were really your third level of defense were the safety net. Right. And what we're really doing is building dispute resolution infrastructure. So that you can freeze execution of the smart contract and have the luxury of time to resolve those coding errors or those amendments or to resolve those disputes before it gets written onto the boxing forever and make up may cause more problems in the future. We're on our mission really is to go after basically a transactional confidence and certainty problem today because basically today cryptocurrency investors apparently seem fine with randomly losing value. Right. And that's just not good enough for the mainstream audience to really get this technology to go mainstream. People need to feel confident that to the extent that they're using tech the technology they will be able to get out of it what they really intended. Just like you know how in the early 90s you know people were afraid of buying things online because they weren't sure if they'd get the widget. But once eBay, PayPal and Ali Baba and Amazon put into place reputation systems dispute resolution mechanisms than people are like OK I'm not going to get it, so I don't mind buying it online.

Manseeb Khan: Yeah, totally agree I think it kind of goes back to what we talked about moments ago when I was a crypto wale right. Like they really want this super liquid pump and dump kind of system because they're not really worried about losing or they're oddly okay with losing all the money because they know there's 15 businesses lined up that can do the exact same process and make up the margins or whatever. And for that to go mainstream it's really hard to build an economy based on the right if everybody's just super willing to lose money and not really going to make money on it.

Amy Wan: Yeah absolutely. I mean transactional cost and certainty is I think a key thing in any sort of ecosystem you're trying to build. Right. If you're trying to build a new economy that people can't transact or they don't have confidence that the transaction will go through or that they'll get what they intended to get. You know what good is that system.

Manseeb Khan: Why is it important for Fintech entrepreneurs to understand the bridge between legal tech and Fintech?

Amy Wan: Yeah sure. You look legal infrastructure power. You know I think maybe unbeknownst to a lot of people really power is so much of how financial transactions and economy works. Right. If you don't have good legal infrastructure people don't. There's just no confidence there in the entire ecosystem. And so, I think that's just crucial in general. You know the beautiful thing about smart contracts is in some aspects they can act as usual escrow. And in other aspects because they do execute automatically you know your kind of alleviating some of the trust issues there. So, for example if we look at a real-world example cross-border trade today or even cross-border finance right oftentimes you may be dealing with a party that you've never met. You don't know. You're never going to be able to track down. And so, if you do this transaction via a smart contract it can alleviate a lot of trust issues. I talked to you know a guy at the State Department a couple of months ago and he was telling me that upwards of you know 35 percent of international you know cross-border transactions end up in dispute but are never resolved because of the cost of resolving those disputes is just not feasible. Often you are you might be agreeing to jurisdictional law in New York or China and who knows what that law is right. That's a that's a huge concern and it eats up a lot of transactional costs and a lot of you know brainpower when you're trying to do business internationally. So, I really think that smart contracts offer a great potential solution here.

Amy Wan: But at the same time for everything that goes wrong because you know late in life lots of things go wrong you still really need a safety net and you know the STK that we are creating that it's part of the infrastructure that we're creating that is basically like an arbitration clause in code form. We take it you plop it into your smart contract and it anything is going wrong. Hey, you still have a backup solution because there's no way that your smart contract developer or our auditing firm is going to be able to code out everything that might possibly happen. You know human beings are just far too imaginative far too creative. Right. And things just happened that you never would have thought about. And so, you know for everything that you can't code into the smart contract you know we're there to basically provide a catchall almost insurance type solution.

Manseeb Khan: Aside from arbitration what how else do you see smart contracts being further implicated in both spaces?

Amy Wan: Sure as far as the legal profession and legal tech. I indeed think smart contracts will become increasingly used and get more adoption. But you know the funny thing is less than 2 percent the population can read code and smart contracts are basically there are agreements to perform written in code. And so, I think lawyers are going to have to start getting a lot wiser in how they're going to deal with this. Right. Even if they can't read code they have to find some way to facilitate understanding what is said in a smart contract and how it can execute. Otherwise there are going to be doing a big disservice to their clients on the tax side. There's already a lot of applications out there today that are trying to block Shane and Smart contract technology. And you know if I were to give any sort of advice for your listeners it is you know make sure you really understand the limitations of the technology because you know if you're just going out and using this technology willy nilly without really understanding it can cause more problems for you. Future.

Manseeb Khan: That makes total sense it's like a little kid with a handgun. Absolutely yes. I go for full disclosure I'm part of the 98 percent can't read code, the minute I see on screen. I walk the other way I'm like no that's fine because you're in the majority.

Manseeb Khan: Yeah super intimidated. It's OK. While the lines moving so fast? Why is there words and numbers were going on?

Amy Wan: But that's a problem right because if not she goes mainstream. But it is right now it's largely the domain of you know computer science geeks and basically you know the less than 2 percent of the world population. That's a problem. And I think one big issue in this space is creating a user-friendly interface like no one goes around saying Oh I use TCAP IP technology. No, they just they use the Internet. Right. They use. There's been a lot in the past few decades` have been done around creating user friendly interfaces. When you are using blocking or smart contracts had that technology you should not know that you're using blocking or smart contract technology. It should be that simple.

Manseeb Khan: Companies like you and other companies that are making block chain making crypto and making all these new markets a little bit more understandable and a lot more I guess user friendly when it comes to understand and code understanding what it is how is implemented and what they're really trying to build.

Amy Wan: Completely agree. You know I've heard stories where you know there is an ICAO launching that has a smart contract and the way a smart contract is coded. It is not reflective at all of what the company has said publicly it's not reflective of the white paper because the developer is developing it had not talked to the business team. Right. And so, deficit that's a big disconnect there. And it's a problem that needs to be solved.

Manseeb Khan: That I totally agree with, what you're saying or what you're doing is not matching up. That's not. Not a good way to run a business. What would be your advice and golden nuggets that you would know you'd love to share to our listeners

Amy Wan:] Yeah, I mean I think all this technology present certainly presents a lot of potential. But you know the pace at which the stuff is evolving is literally it's on a day to day. Right. And so, for those who were interested I would say follow the conversation closely please. Engage as well because I think right now this space is dominated by a lot of technologists who come with a lot of philosophical dogma about how the space should be, but I don't necessarily think everything has to be decentralized. Everything must be immutable. And I think if we get input from more business people, more people from the real world more people with real experience in things like financial services and FinTech. I think that will had very richly to come to the conversation to make this technology usable by real people.

Manseeb Khan: Yeah, I totally agree. I don't it’s kind of scary that a lot of people have the burn the world mentality and let's rebuild a new one that's oh boy.

Amy Wan: And we'll see what happens.

Manseeb Khan: Yeah exactly. We'll see what happens. All right. Amy thank you so much for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule. It means so much for me for you to sit down with us and talk to us and to share your vast legal knowledge when it comes to Block chain.

Amy Wan: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

Manseeb Khan: All right take care. I can't wait to have you again when you close out Series A and when your kids start handing out t shirts and business cards.

Amy Wan: Awesome I'll let you know when that happens.

 

End of Podcast

 


The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with fintech, alternative finance, blockchain, cryptocurrency, crowdfunding and online investing stakeholders globally. NCFA Canada provides education, research, industry stewardship, services, and networking opportunities to thousands of members and subscribers and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding and fintech industry. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: ncfacanada.org

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