Earlier this year, blockchain startup Band Protocol — based in Singapore and Thailand — managed to raise $3 million in seed fundings from Sequoia Capital India. This is Sequoia Capital India’s first foray into blockchain investment.
We recently spoke to Soravis Srinawakoon, CEO and co-founder of Band Protocol to find out the steps he took to raise seed funding two years after their inception.
1. Tell us a little more about your startup journey and what a day in the life of Soravis is like
My name is Soravis and I am the CEO and co-founder of Band Protocol.
I’m in charge of business strategy, corporate partnerships, and fundraising for the brand. Despite how I’m mostly in charge of business, I have a technical background. I have a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and a Masters in Management Science and Engineering — both from Stanford University.
I became an active crypto investor a few years back and since then, I’ve truly believed in the power of decentralisation and how it will change the way we live in the next few years.
Seeing as how we are an early stage startup, everyone on the team needs to put their heads down and get their hands dirty. To start the day, we usually have a quick 10 minute meeting where we stand and update everyone on their statuses.
My personal schedule is packed with both internal and external meetings ranging from discussing potential business partnerships to making presentation decks and discussing technical roadblocks.
Due to the global nature of the blockchain industry, I often have meetings late into the night because of the time differences in the U.S. and Europe.
2. How did Band Protocol came about and how did you find your co-founders (Sorawit Suriyakarn and Paul Chonpimai)?
I’d say we were really lucky. We found each other through mutual friend as there were not many Thai students studying in the U.S. — let alone those interested in blockchain and decentralisation.
Sorawit and Paul got their first Bitcoin in 2013 from MIT and have been studying Computer Science since primary school.
At that time, I was looking for strong technical co-founders and these two stood out to me as they’ve been best friends since childhood and have worked on multiple projects together.
Our first project as a team was a Bitcoin faucet back in 2015 that was quite a success given we were the first to built one.
Fast forward to 2017 and the bitcoin industry blew up. We found ourselves with plenty of suspicious projects in the industry. We used to visit the Ethereum subreddit on Reddit every day for technical discussion but because the industry was growing so rapidly, the discussion centred around price and speculation.
This was why we started Band Protocol — we wanted to build an infrastructure and contribute meaningfully to the growing ecosystem.
3. Were there any difficulties in working with your co-founders initially?
Yes, my co-founders are really technical and hence tend to focus purely on the technical side of things. Meanwhile, I tend to focus on business and adoption. It was difficult to agree on a direction — whether we want to focus on refining our technical architecture or just quickly bring it to market.
Being a public blockchain protocol complicates such matter as it is a lot more difficult to tweak protocol once launched. Changing a live protocol is similar to changing a plane engine midair — a lot of value is at stake.
To overcome this, we drafted and agreed on manifesto, a document that clearly states our objective that we cannot compromise and their priority.
Now every decision is no longer arbitrary and we would consult the list when we are faced with a difficult decision.
It becomes much easier to agree on these critical decisions without long debates.
4. How Is Band Protocol Different From Other Companies In The Blockchain Industry?
I would not claim we are very different to other companies in the blockchain industry in terms of our product and engineering. All of us are trying to find the right product market fit with new infrastructures and token engineering.
For Band Protocol though, we focus on shipping products and iterating fast based on user feedback — especially in UI/UX.
What distinguishes us though is our strategic location in Southeast Asia — specifically Thailand.
Thailand has shown a very open and friendly stance towards regulating the blockchain industry. They issue clear framework and guidelines for dealing with tokens and crypto exchanges, which is very positive and gives confidence to traditional companies that are looking to deal with us.
In addition, Southeast Asia’s population have shown very positive feedback toward cryptocurrency and blockchain in general. These factors open many doors of opportunity for us and allows us to move fast compared to some of our competitors in the U.S. which has a constraint from stricter regulation.
5. What Was The Road Like To Securing Seed Funding From Sequioa Capital India?
Raising funds in one of the worst bear markets (the blockchain industry) is definitely difficult.
While we were pitching to a lot of crypto investors back in 2018, Sequoia Capital India stood out as they have one of the most intensive due diligence processes. While it took a long time to conclude the deal, we truly believe they are not just our investor, but thought partner as well who provides more value than just capital — which is very important for an early stage project.
Our initial plan is to find blockchain-focused investors who have a strong track record in helping companies build.
All of our current investors fit the bill as they are longterm partners who bring a wealth of experience from traditional VCs to the blockchain industry.
6. Why Do You Think Sequoia Capital India Decided To Take A Chance And Invest In Band Protocol?
As a pre-product, early-stage company, I believe team and potential market size are two of the biggest factors.
Startups iterate and pivot often, so the end result usually does not resemble the beginning vision at all. What stays constant though is the team and hence early-stage VCs often invest in team rather than just idea alone (obviously idea and market size should also justify the investment).
7. What are some of your best tips for startup founders and companies looking to get funding from a major venture capital firm?
1. Focus on an A-star team
Quality of team is one of the most important factors. What constitutes A team? I believe it’s a combination of skills, proven track record and passion.
Ultimately, you have to demonstrate that you have potential to execute on your vision and perseverance to go through the ups and downs of running startup. Complementary skill set between co-founders, track record of working together and a passion will carry you a long way.
2. Early stage investment is more Art than Science
Instead of focusing on creating crazy Excel sheets and refining those assumptions, focus on elaborating your overall vision and market size.
At a very early stage with no clear traction and actual numbers to justify your valuation, it is better to optimise for strategic partners than your valuation. Once we know we have found a good partner, we quickly agree on valuation so that we can focus on creating real value.
3. Pitching itself is a skill to practice and work on
Treat your pitch like your product. Fail fast and iterate fast. We stacked our pitching session so that we pitched to smaller investors first.
This allows us to not only practice but also refine our pitch. It is important, crucial even, to always ask feedback on your pitch even if they decline to invest. This allows you to refine and hone your presentation. We pivoted our presentation and the way we pitched probably four or five times before we found the right message.