Innovation And Trust with Mario Nawfal
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Innovation And Trust with Mario Nawfal
I have an international traveler who has no home base and he has been starting business after business. I have Mario Nawfal. He has bootstrapped his first business at age 22. He made his first million in year one and eight figures by year two. He scaled to over 30 countries and launched many other companies including a blockchain consulting company, International Blockchain Consulting, IBC, of which he is the Founder and CEO. He has been through extremely difficult black swan events that would break any entrepreneur and bankrupted business. Those are always risky, especially when you hit on the innovation edge. He is bootstrapping another seven-figure business and documenting the process from beginning to allow entrepreneurs full access to all marketing, logistics, product, operational, financial decisions including failures and successes. He is an open book and I love that because when we talk about doing some of these cutting edge innovation things, we’re sewing new ground and that’s difficult. Thank you so much for sharing that. Welcome to the show, Mario.
It’s my pleasure, Tracy. Thank you for having me.
You’ve had multiple ventures including IBC. Where does IBC, the International Blockchain Consulting, fall in the scope of how many ventures you’ve opened before that?
In 2018, throughout the bare market, IBC slowed down and it’s logical. I was lucky to have other ventures. I’ve hedged my risks. A lot of the resources we had at IBC while we were hiring at one stage a person a day. When you’re innovating, at the beginning of innovation, it starts with hype. It’s normal to gather the gold rush. I was going through it. Luckily enough, I’ve been in business long enough to know a short-term. I spent a lot of time in IBC, 2017, 2018, and bear market. I moved away to the other companies and I’m being dragged in back to IBC. As soon as the sentiment improves and my time gets sucked in and then I’m sucking in my other senior team members out of my other companies to come with me and help. I see the process happening.
That’s why we’re here at the show and why I write my column is because we’re seeing a tipping point for application use of blockchain that is high and great interest in it. It’s gone beyond hype because we’ve seen great, skillful and useful applications. Do you see that as well?
They got into hype cycle and it’s going through the trough of disillusionment according to Gartner. That’s where reality kicks in and that’s where products are being created in the background. That’s where reality sinks in. Everyone that was there for the hype starts to die down. The first time I’ve seen it happen and then the projects when people come to me say, “Everything in crypto is a scam.” The majority’s a scam and that’s normal, but that small percentage that’s not a scam should not be ignored and should not be put in the same basket as a scam. A lot of quality, a lot of value is being created and that’s what we’re seeing. We’ll continue to see more and more as the industry matures. Things take long. The human mind overestimates the short-term impact of innovation, underestimates the long-term value it creates and that’s what’s happening in blockchain as well.
That’s part of why I highlight that use level innovation. It starts to show people there are viable solutions that are realistic, that are solving problems, that are going to take hold whether or not you like blockchain. That’s irrelevant or whether or not it’s investment-worthy at this stage of the game. It doesn’t matter if the use case matters the most to it is exactly what a company needs.
Anything that creates value is inevitable that it will kick in. Humans want to grow. It’s part of what makes us human. When we find more efficient or more pleasurable ways of doing something, if it’s more efficient in terms of blockchain, it will just go towards that direction. Scans, regulations, all these things tend to slow down. Innovation, the conservatives and all that, they slowed down. Anyone that’s conservative in their mindset, not politically. They slow down innovation. It’s about time. It’s a matter of when and you got to be patient if you want to make the most value or if you’re looking monetary value or make money. Be patient and have a long-term perspective whenever you’re dealing with anything innovative, blockchain or non-blockchain.The ones who fail are actually stepping stones for the ones who succeed. Click To Tweet
I found these services in the comprehensiveness of IBC are interesting because on one hand who are helping with the development and the planning and on the other hand you’re helping with investment. You’ve got both sides going on. Why did you develop it that way?
If you look at IBC and that message would resonate with entrepreneurs. Even I’ve got all my companies and I’ve done well, I’m still an entrepreneur in the way I do things in the business. When I launched IBC, the first step is to learn. I’ve learned some things. I hope I can create value, but I’m still learning and I’ll always be learning. When I first started IBC, I was talking to as many people in the industry. I was in Slovenia when I first started the company. My assistant wants to schedule a call from the second I wake up until I go to bed. Everyone knows me in the city center because I go out of my apartment in the middle and I’ll walk around for hours on calls.
Next step would be to see where I can bring value. I start offering many services. Bringing people in, partnerships because I don’t know which service will be in demand. When I came into the industry in 2017, I didn’t know anything what ICOs were. I knew blockchain as a technology. I had no idea about ICOs. The demand came up. It was crazy for ICOsThat dragged us in. A lot of development work there and then started expanding to marketing. The one thing that’s stood the test of time since 2017 and that is helping quality projects raise money. That’s what’s getting me a lot of attention. A lot of big names, family offices. I talked to General Motors. They’re coming to me because they’re looking at how they can put their money into those businesses that are creating value as this innovation takes hold.
I think that you having both sides are critical. This is what I found because I’ve worked in innovation for many years. I have deep experience in being on the cutting edge of innovation at all times. Mostly on the product side of things, but also on the software and service side of things. As we look at that and look at what’s going on, one of the biggest problems for companies taking in and adopting blockchain as a solution, even if it’s the best solution, is that it’s daunting. It’s hard for you to figure out how much is this still going to cost? How am I going to develop this? Do I have the right plan? We go in with this shotgun plan approach to getting funding, then we still have no idea on how we’re going to tackle it, get going and get moving afterward. We’re way more fundable and more likely to be successful in our investment rounds if we have that dialed in and then we have real expertise than advisors.
It’s true. When you say that a lot of people having that shotgun approach, even for experts that I speak to that know a hundred times more than me, some of them pretend to know a lot. They’re still figuring it out. When you have startups wanting to see where they can create value, they missed two things. First, they don’t have enough knowledge of the space to know what they could do. When they have that shotgun approach, they’re trying to figure out what to do and that 90% something that fails, ignore the scans. The ones that fail, they actually are a stepping stone for the ones that succeed. That goes to my next point, which is timing. When people start saying they want to launch Uber on the blockchain, we had a lot of businesses come to us with such grand schemes. It’s great if he came to us in several years’ time. It’s just too early.
You have a lot of those startup mindsets. They overestimate the short-term impact of this innovation. It’s going to take a while for these things to happen. That shotgun approach is these two things being missed. One is not having enough expertise and number two, it’s just not timing it right. Launching the Uber on the blockchain when the protocols are not even set up. You’ve got to set up the foundation first. I think those are the businesses I’ve invested in one business. I’m very conservative. That was more foundational play setting up the technology. I’d love to speak to someone, to people that witnessed the dot-com boom more than I have.
This is why I started this show because not only did I witness what happened and I see it. There were so many great companies that went under because they couldn’t get funded because of the hype cycle and they were fabulous companies who deserved to make it. We scraped it by, but we also had a couple of world issues that happened. Here we are in the midst of the dot-com bust at the same time that 9/11 happens. The bottom was falling out of even stable businesses. We had a lot of other mix things happen, but you could argue that the same thing’s happening. We’ve got national and weather disasters going on, earthquakes around the world. You’ve got tariffs, disruption and trade wars. You do have similar environmental issues as well. We’re seeing that, but then I got myself into 3D printing at 2009 right at the height of it. It went right into the trough of disillusion as well, yet we kept going.
We produced over 560 podcasts and we had audiences growing day after day. When we stopped recording, we had 100,000 audiences per month. We still occasionally record. If we found something interesting, we occasionally add to it because our audience cares. We want to make sure that they have it. They stayed subscribed and they didn’t unsubscribe. What happens is we see that same thing that happened in 3D printing, the companies that were built on great foundations, with great use cases, with absolute filling and need. Some of them went out of business because their business practices weren’t there and their funding dried up. For the most part, the ones that succeeded were meant to succeed and they are still going strong and doing viable business in what they do. What we find out was what we wanted to do wasn’t viable, but our information was viable. That was what people wanted from us was information. We gave it to them until they didn’t want it anymore.
It’s a long-term position. Anyone at blockchain that kept recording their podcast, for example, I have a friend and he kept going through day by day, every morning he records. The market went down considerably. People tuned out. You’ve done the same thing and you’re doing the same thing. That’s what Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and Google did. No matter what happened during the dot-com bubble, they kept building their business. That’s what counts. Amazon is a perfect example that everyone likes to mention. It goes back to your point as well, how many failed Amazons were they back in the dot-com boom? When I say failed Amazons, I mean failed Amazons. A strong team is just as good as Jeff Bezos’ team. A great product as well, great vision. There are so many factors that could play a role whether they didn’t meet the right investor, whether that they didn’t time it properly, they gave up too early, they had bad luck. It’s part of the process and it tends to repeat itself again and again.
Timing is very critical in any business and product development. It is the most critical factor and recognizing that. I also have seen that sealing yourself and building a foundational business underneath it so that you can ride the wave because things will happen over the course of the time that’s right for you is critically important. I actually want to touch on that. Part of why I’m doing the podcast is that I’m exploring and trying to understand and learn because this is part of my learning process. Learn about whether or not this has great application for my podcast production company. I’ve been transparent with my audience about that. What we’re doing is we’re building the Google AdWords for podcasters. We were building an ad-mixing system.
We have all of this technology, we already built it. We have over 200 customers. We have a foundational business that makes money every single day. We have high-profit margins, but do I want to shift and add a blockchain underneath it? It’s been something that I’ve been exploring because if I’m going to build the Google AdWords, why do I want to make the same mistakes that Google make? Why do I not want to make a more trustworthy ad platform? Why do I not want to make a more distributed ledger-style ability for exchange of information? The last episode that I did was with Sphere Identity and we’re talking about logins without forums where podcasters could control their identities.
They could share it with the advertisers they were interested in, but not share it with the general public. Choices being made about all of those could be much more facilitated on the blockchain. In evaluating that, what I have not yet found and curious as to whether or not your company fits this role is someone who could look at that with me and say, “I think your instincts are right, Tracy. I think you’ve got something viable that belongs on the blockchain. Let’s talk about what that looks like and how you develop that.” I’ve yet to find that advisor in the process. Is that part of what your company’s providing?
Look at tokenomics, 100% and what I’ve tried to do, it was hard in 2018 because we’re hiring one person a day, so vetting the people is tough. Someone is going to be very brutal with you that if tokenomics don’t fit, they’ll say, “It doesn’t make sense. If it fits, yes, it’s a great application but wait another year. The protocols are not ready for it.” It’s about the timing aspect. The people that I have around me, I try to get people as direct as I am because that’s what space needs because we connect projects to investors. If we go to our investor with a project that is too early or the tokenomics don’t make sense, if we haven’t been able to spot it, the investor will be like, “Mario, isn’t this too early? Why is your team bringing me this project?”
You have to look at the incentives or whoever you work with. From our case, I’ve been open about our incentives. Our incentive is to please our investors because without them our businesses not as solid as it is. In your case, find someone with IBC with someone else. I can connect you to many people who are very direct and will actually give you that advice if their incentives are aligned. If you go to someone, they do development work. They’ll give you a million reasons why it’s a good idea to go on the blockchain.
It’s because they’re selling your development work.
It’s all about incentives. Charlie Munger said it well, “Incentives is one of the most powerful things in business.” Find someone that their incentive is not to get your money if you say yes to convince you to do that. That’s number one. Number two, even people without any incentive to convince you, they’re very opinionated. It’s important to avoid them because if they believe something and they’re not self-aware enough to question their own beliefs and change their mind. Especially in the early stages where everyone’s still learning, they could drag you down a dangerous path.There's no formula for success; you need to learn a lot. Click To Tweet
For anyone looking at the application of blockchain in their business, look for two things. The incentive for the person that’s giving you advice and them as a personality. How opinionated are they? Are they someone who pretend they know everything and then they’ll give you advice because they think they know everything? Are they someone learning, exploring it, they’ll ask the questions with you and then try to find the answer? If you find those two things, you’ll have an advisor that will give you invaluable advice at this early stage.
Let’s talk a little bit about you deciding what’s innovative and what interests you. You didn’t have a lot of information on ICOs. You didn’t have a background here. What made you decide that it was worth building a business and exploring? You’ve done that multiple times across other businesses. Maybe you can mention some of those other ones as well, but you’ve made that decision to go down an innovative path to try something new. What intrigues you? How do you decide that this is worth exploring?
I mentioned timing. I’d recommend anyone reading to look up. I always recommend Bill Gross. He has a TED speech where he talks about timing. He compares timing to your team, your product, your funding, your business plan, all these different things, and timing was the most important factor in a business’ success. That’s how important it is. I’ve realized after watching the interview, that’s how I do business. I tried to look at the industry and get in at the right time. Not only getting into an industry but the approach I have. About me and innovation, I want to mention a quick comment about innovation in general. Innovation is so valuable if done right. It could build a unicorn business, but at the same time, it could also be the quickest way to failure.
It sounds scary because it’s a high-risk approach. When you’re going down the path that’s innovating, it means everyone’s learning. Whenever there’s an opportunity for high returns, it’s going to have high risk. I try to mitigate my risk and the way I do that is I dip my toes in the water. I’ll use IBC as an example. I knew about blockchain. ICOs, I had no idea. I learned it from these courses that I had. I want to get into this space. I want something new and I want to step outside my comfort zone. I did banking and finance in university. All my companies are eCommerce, some consulting. I started learning. I knew the value proposition was so obvious that I knew that if I plant the seeds it will pay off in a few years’ time.
I didn’t expect it to get to seven figures in a few months, but that’s what happens with hype, but I had a long-term view of the industry. That was my approach. If that brings value to anyone, dip your toes and learn as much as you can, but plant that seed, whether it’s through a podcast, through a blog. You’re positioning yourself early on in the industry with little risk. You can go all in. Do it with the investor’s money. Don’t risk your house on that. That would be my two cents on innovation and how I look at it. I like to mitigate my risk because I want to sleep well at night and want to have a comfortable life.
Mario, I appreciate you saying that. My audience has heard me say multiple times because I have another show called Product Launch Hazzards because that’s my last name. It’s all about those risks that happen. The number one thing we talk about is doing what we call market proof testing early on, which is exactly what you do by dipping your toe. You’re right, you’re checking the market. Sometimes you don’t have because it’s not created yet. The only thing you could do is have conversations about it. You can’t show them something or you have to go all in. Having that opportunity to have conversations with the right market or the right people will help you figure out whether or not this is worth doing. That’s exactly what we did in 3D printing. It’s why we didn’t go into business.
Not only if it’s worth doing, how to approach it. I had no idea about ICOs. When ICOs gave me that boost to get our companies in such a position. When I say ICO is doing it legitimately working with quality projects that still exist, that gave us such awareness. Where’s the opportunity because blockchain is a very wide term. If we got into enterprise blockchain back in 2017, I would not be where I am. At least IBC wouldn’t be where it is. Jim Collins talks about that approach as well, the dipping your toes. He calls in his book Good To Great. Throwing pebbles and when a pebble hits, go ahead with the cannonball. I do this with everything. It’s a lean approach to business. It’s honestly a good approach.
It is an eCommerce approach, which is where you started. There’s always A/B testing, there’s always market testing. That’s where you come to conversion rates and all of these things that are indicators that things are working. What we think in innovation though is that the inventor’s mindset is usually in this place if they haven’t seen it yet, but there’s always little things that you can test along the way. They just ignore it because they are all on. If I don’t show them exactly what it is, they didn’t get it.
It’s always about testing different things, seeing what works. It’s an eCommerce strategy 100%. I have a business in health and wellness that sells high-end kitchen appliances. That was my first business. That’s the one you get seven figures, you want eight figures, you do it 30 countries. That was it. I had an idea, I’m like, “It’s all about the customer in eCommerce.” It’s about lifetime value. The business that will win, the business that will be able to afford to pay the most paid acquisition is the one that will have the longest lifetime value of the customer. That’s where customer service comes in and the power of giving away free product.
I’m like, “I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m going to double down. I will launch a website that will offer health and wellness products like nice, raw, organic chocolate, lollies and snacks to the clients.” The way I did it is that lean approach. Instead of opening a great website, making deals with partners, spending all that time, I have found supplies and got their wholesale list. I don’t have even anything signed with them yet. I’ve got their wholesale prices. I said to the guy, find out the bestselling products. I’m like, “This is it. I’ve got a list of them for supplies. That’s their bestselling products. Put them onto your list. Get a VA. Put it on the Shopify website. I got developers to do a Shopify website in one week.”
The website is going live with all the coolest products in a very simple clean website and then we’ll be sending out an email blast to our database, giving them a 10% discount and we’ll see how many bite. We don’t even have the product. We don’t even have an agreement with the supplies, but it will give me that pebble. It will let me see people are buying. Get the agreement’s done. You have 24 hours, get the products in stock, send it to the customers, less double down, double down on the ads and expand. IBC was the same.
As soon as you get someone as an entrepreneur that gives you that first $10, when you get a podcast, as soon as you have those 100 viewers that are saying, “Great podcast,” double down. It’s difficult to get the initial pebble to hit. Millions of people try competing with you or thousands depending on the industry. For you to actually get someone to pay you their money and not pay someone else means you’ve done something right. Find out what it is and double down on it. Especially when it comes to innovation where risk is high.
We love to do that. When I give my lectures on market proof testing, we call that one sells anything. Anything in the category, anything in the niche, especially if you don’t own it, that’s even better because you haven’t gone deep into inventory. You can spend all of your testings on the market side of things. We love that approach.
Tell them not to worry about making money. Test the market, you make money later on.
I like to go net zero rather than lose money in the process, but if you can go net zero, you learn something, it’s perfect. Sometimes you’ll find some of those products sing and you make money, which funds your venture and then you don’t have to go for that crowdfunding round.
If you make money on those pebbles, it means you need to double down like crazy. You’ll always have those people around you that will say, “What are you doing? You’re not making any profit.” My CFO called me, he’s like, “Mario, are you doing this again? Launching your business without profit?” I got a voicemail from him. You’ll have those people around you that will not understand that approach, but it’s the approach that works. I’m completely open about it. I’m even documenting my business. I’m actually filming myself through it. I’m like, “If I fail, I’ll fail on camera. If I succeed, you’ll watch me succeed.” I have to show people that this is the way to do it. I’m surprised not everyone does it.The human mind overestimates the short-term impact of innovation and underestimates the long-term value it creates. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk a little bit about trust because this is the New Trust Economy. You were talking a bit about the scams and the other things that come through. I think we’re skeptical, especially in that blockchain ICO world because there’s been so many scams and issues. It is common in all businesses. There are lots of eCommerce scams, there are lots of scams in just about every business I’ve ever worked in or worked with. It’s not uncommon and it’s not unexpected, but how do you identify them and have you tripped on some that have almost destroyed your business?
There’s one podcast I did Crypto 101. He called me. I know Aaron well. All he wanted to ask is about all the scams I’ve been through because he’s heard about them. I’ve seen it all. About scams in an industry like crypto. Scams and hacks will happen all the time. There was a Binus hack that happened. Everyone was like, “Mario, can you make a video about it. Mario, what’s the thing about Binus?” I made a video saying I don’t care about it. I completely ignored it because it’s expected. There will be another Binus hack. The industry is maturing. There are a lot more scams in crypto than most spaces out there. There are a lot more scams in cannabis at least in the early stages than anything out there. There are a lot more scams in other illicit activities. You’re not going to be able to trust anyone there. The reason is very simple. There are no regulations or regulations are still maturing.
It’s also lack of knowledge I think too. There’s a thread between lack of regulation and lack of knowledge.
That’s a very good point. Lack of knowledge of regulations. It was the regulations and knowledge as well. I think knowledge is the most important things, podcast. Ameer Rosic’s Blockgeeks, he teaches people about blockchain is so crucial. Some people just don’t have the time to learn. We have the time because we’re involved. Some people that work 9:00 to 5:00, then goes, does another job, wants to get involved and about Bitcoin, don’t have time even to understand what Bitcoin is. They rely on regulators to say, “This is safe.” That’s why there are so many regulations to follow for startups raising money.
You have to have a legitimate team. You have to have a business plan. You can’t have advisors not saying their advice. You have to follow these regulations but not perfect. There are some basic things there to avoid scams. When there are no regulations, and I’m a partner at a law firm and blockchain because I know the importance of following regulations, number one, space will not mature. Number two, there will be a lot of scams. When regulators start catching up and then scammers will see, “These guys getting subpoenas.” I cannot be doing this.
I better change the way I do it.
Instead, “Have I been scammed?” One person that wanted to partner with us, he was working with our CEO at the time and he started taking our clients afterward and we send him a legal letter. He ended up in jail because he scammed other people. When these things happen, others will wake up and realize that regulators are still there. Whether it’s crypto, noncrypto, scams will not work in any industry. Clear regulations are not there, that’s number one. Number two, hypes, people want to make quick money. Number three, education about raising money. It’s been around for a long time. ICOs essentially took advantage of raising money from the public. That’s already there. It’s called Reg CF. Regulation CF, the JOBS Act by Obama.
It’s equity crowdfunding.
There are a lot of potentials there. Long-term, I want to get involved in it. We offer that service as well and I know a lot of people in this space. People thought that utility tokens were not securities and they could do it without following those regulations because it’s a utility token. No, it’s a token still to raise money, you have to follow the same regulations. It took a while for regulators to make that clear. At least some people argue that. That’s why there were so many scams. This is normal. There were a lot of scams. There are 90% something scams in the industry. There’s still that small percentage that are quality projects that kept building while everyone’s screaming, “I got scammed. These ICOs are a scam. ICOs are dead.” They’re laughing in the background and say, “We raised millions. We have an incredible product that’s about to go live.” The value was being created. A lot of value, a lot of gems came out of the ICO. Even a lot of gems will continue to come out of any other funding mechanism. It’s a normal part of the evolution of any innovative industry.
Thank you so much for sharing all of that. Mario, is there anything else that you want my readers to know about investing in innovation and how you become a successful serial entrepreneur?
About becoming a successful serial entrepreneur. There are a lot of things you can learn. I’ve only started teaching those things mainly for free on my channels. I’m not trying to plug it, I’m saying this because there’s a lot you need to learn. There’s no formula for success. The point that we’ve touched on about the timing is important. Before you do anything, before you get funding, before you build the right team, before you come up with an incredible product, before you learn how to manage a team, and you learn the importance of meetings, all the different things that I talk about on various podcasts, nothing matters. Make sure you get into the industry at the right time. If you got into blockchain in 2011 and got out in 2015, it’s not the best place to be.
If you get into blockchain several years from now, the returns will not be the same as if you get in. Getting in early when there’s something innovative going on in any industry, whenever some innovations are happening, it doesn’t have to be an innovative technology. It could be an innovation in the way that something’s being regulated like cannabis. Regulators are innovating their technology or catching up. More broadly, innovative technologies to get involved, make sure you get in at the right time, hedge yourself because there’s high risk. If you get in and you do things right, the returns over the long run are significantly more than getting into something traditional where you can make quick money. Ignore short term returns, have a long-term view, look at what you’re going to make in several years’ time and position yourself. It takes time, especially if you’re young, you’ve got time. Position yourself and create value.
Mario, thank you so much for joining us. You can follow us on social media @NewTrustEconomy. We’ll be sharing our posts and keep following what Mario is working on.
Thanks for having me, Tracy.
See you next time.
- International Blockchain Consulting
- Sphere Identity
- Bill Gross
- Product Launch Hazzards
- Good To Great
- Crypto 101 – episode with Mario
- Roger Chen
- @NewTrustEconomy – Twitter