Stani Kulechov was a trainee in the Helsinki office in 2017, before he decided to follow his passion for FinTech. Read on to find out about the development of his leading Blockchain start-up and decentralised lending platform, Aave.
Can you talk us through your reasons for setting up Aave in 2017? Where did your interests in FinTech and Blockchain come from?
We started Aave in 2017 from our vision of having an internet of smart contracts that removes the base of trust between entities. This came from the idea to build an open permissions financial system where everyone can participate, which has become DeFi (decentralised finance).
I have always been interested in FinTech, even in law school and when I was working at Bird & Bird. My true passions are economics and financial products, and the complexities of them both, so FinTech has always been in my blood.
I was still studying in Helsinki, in between my bachelor's and master's degrees, when Aave was founded. In those days, the big boom in blockchain technology had just begun. Once we had started our project, we ended up raising over €15m in funds. It was so exciting and felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity, so from this we realised that we had a very interesting idea and wanted to pursue it further.
What did you find the most challenging experience of setting up Aave?
Of course when you have a start-up business growing, there are risks everywhere and you are basically a fireman putting the fires out for the first 12 months! Regulation is the biggest challenge in our industry, which is why working with the right people is really important. There's legal icebreaking, corporate finance, and changing how we interact with financial systems, the regulatory landscape is a bit of a challenge at the moment.
What about the most rewarding?
I think the most rewarding thing is seeing my team all aim for the same goal. It's great to be able to see all of my team members work together, becoming more developed in the field and becoming experts. There are about 20 of us now. We are all achieving something unique and big together.
Why did you decide to base Aave in London? How have you found working in London different to Helsinki?
Aave was started in Helsinki but we decided to relocate to London because of the pretty big financial sector. The issue was that in Finland we were always looking at what other companies were doing, which can be hard from an innovation perspective. It was also more difficult to attract capital and talent since this is concentrated in the big cities.
There is a vibrant blockchain community in the start-up hub of Shoreditch in London, which made it any easy choice for where to base ourselves. There are so many financial applications for blockchain being generated from this area of London, along with lots of investors and talent, so it is a great match for us.
I live in London now with my family, but Aave still has strong connections active in Helsinki (where we have two employees).
Are there any parallels between the world of law and FinTech? Has your legal experience proved helpful?
Definitely! Statutory law and innovation always come up, and knowing about different kinds of compliance is always useful. Similarly to the legal industry, there is also a lot of interpreting and innovating in FinTech, with new things coming up.
The legal experience has helped me to understand things and work with simple contracts. We have so many different backgrounds in our team and the biggest thing a legal background has helped me with is having a broader perspective.
How would you describe your experience with Bird & Bird?
I think that experience wise, Bird & Bird is definitely the most interesting place I have worked. There was enough flexibility in the traineeship but the firm itself has a lot of innovation around it all the time. It makes Bird & Bird very unique, especially if you are a tech geek like me! It was definitely the right place to work in Helsinki.
What's next for Aave? What's your next big challenge?
I think for the next few months we are looking to scale the product. We want to get more talent into the company, along with working more towards the institutional side of things.