“Innovation is hard work.” With Jason Hartman & Alex Axelrod

There are no easy ways to succeed. In difficult situations, when you have to make a choice between something, always choose the most valuable thing for yourself, something which if you did not do, you will feel sorry for in the future. Innovation is hard work, you literally try to create something that does not […]

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There are no easy ways to succeed. In difficult situations, when you have to make a choice between something, always choose the most valuable thing for yourself, something which if you did not do, you will feel sorry for in the future. Innovation is hard work, you literally try to create something that does not exist. There is no manual, no templates, no business models that can be copied — you are on your own. It‘s only you and your imagination. Follow your imagination!

As a part of my series about “Investing During The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Axelrod.

Alex Axelrod is a serial entrepreneur, CEO and founder of Aximetria GmbH — a Swiss, fully regulated crypto-centric mobile finance service for everyone, and PayReverse — the world’s first white-label cashback rewards service that is built into consumer brands’ apps and websites, helping them save money while shopping.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?

Mystory is about a practical hands-on guy with a fundamental engineering education, who is deeply interested in and who understands technology. I have always been a creator of new and original solutions designed to change the world for the better. By starting the process of creation, you can get a feel for whether the idea is viable and has legs, or not.

My first role was at MTS Mobile TeleSystems, Russia’s largest phone company with over 102.4 million subscribers. I headed the crucial antifraud and cybersecurity systems development divisions, as well we setting up the company’s big data technology expertise, analyzing data traffic, transmission quality and geolocation, helping the company’s marketing activities to promote and deliver better products, services and prices to customers.

It was during this time that I also founded my first startup, called PayReverse, which is a white-label cashback platform that lets each smartphone user monetize on their own advertising traffic. PayReverse works when users Google for anything, and they receive offers for goods and services that match or complement the search, enabling users to save up to 30% of the cost.

After MTS, I was the Director of Big Data at the R&D Center of JSFC AFK Sistema, where I developed mechanisms of data exchange and monetization between the group’s subsidiaries while working in R&D to focus on next-gen technologies, such as geo-targeted advertising and subscriber solvency scoring, based on customers’ active use of communication services and services to counter fraud in remote banking channels. I also led the technical audit of startups, including several acquisitions and while developing anti-fraud systems and geo-analytical services, I had to create several of my own solutions because the technologies that were in place were not fit, in my opinion, for current data demands.

It was during this previous job that I first encountered the frequent problem of cross-border payments, as many customers and contractors are located in different countries and continents, and discovering cryptocurrencies led me to seeing how to solve this cross-border payments problem, and this led me to what I’m doing now.

I also ran into difficulties opening an account at a foreign bank, and then having to pay huge commissions for every transaction. My friends and I were faced with various restrictions inherent in traditional banks and payment systems, so we decided to try to solving these problems using the newly emerged cryptocurrency technology, and were successful in doing so.

This all gave birth to Aximetria, which is not only a faster and more convenient way to handle your finances, but is also a response to the injustice of banks and financial companies dictating terms to us, when ordinary people simply need financial services at affordable rates on a global basis.

Aximetria is a service for people who cannot use the services of traditional banks or payment systems, which you might be surprised to know is actually a lot of people! People can’t easily open bank accounts in jurisdictions other than their own, and many people live in unstable economies where inflation and other monetary issues makes it difficult to save money and spend it freely. In addition, many people are either unbanked or underbanked, as I explain in an answer below, and Aximetria solves these problems.

Aximetria’s service combines all the advantages of cryptocurrencies, fiat money, and money transfer systems, making it possible to preserve savings, while at the same time providing a high level of asset protection, and is a Swiss-level mobile personal finance app for everyone.

We created the first cryptocurrency-based payments card which can be used at any store, with the card also having the ability to transfer cryptocurrency around the world, simply by using a phone number!

Prior to this project, I had no experience in the banking business, and I did not regard the idea as an opportunity to make money. I was driven by a simple desire to help people using an engineering and economic approach. As a result, it turned out as the best-in-its-class fintech startup.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

One story makes me feel somewhat amused at my own naiveté when looking back. Earlier in my career I thought that in order to achieve quick results and recognition on the market, it was enough to just loudly declare that I was in business, and that the business would then quickly grow on its own.

My idea was solid — helping people to monetize their online activities and earning money from this, and I attracted publicity from top media outlets and even the country’s largest bank, but I didn’t have enough momentum to get the idea off the ground.

However, the experience taught me well, and I was able to regenerate the idea and turn it into PayReserve, which is successfully running to this very day.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am the CEO of PayReserve, and I do devote time to it, but I’m currently immersed in Aximetria, where I’m also CEO. It is a Swiss cryptocurrency service where users from all over the world can open accounts, use their bank cards to buy bitcoins and much more. This is also about the inclusion for people in developing countries, unbanked and underbanked people, and increasing the inclusivity of the financial industry.

You may find it hard to believe, but there are about 1.7 billion adults across the world that are unbanked. Broadly speaking, these people don’t have an account in a bank or any other financial institution, and are considered as excluded from the mainstream economy. But this situation isn’t just for people in countries with developing economies. There are 1.3 million people without a bank account in the UK alone, for example, while the Federal Reserve estimated there were 55 million unbanked and underbanked adult Americans in 2018. Many of these are also people in countries with unstable economies suffering from high inflation, with Argentina an excellent example, with the biggest demand for our finance service is in Latin America. Argentina as a country is the poster child as to why there is not only demand, but a real need for a currency that a government cannot control, manipulate or debase.

The Argentinian Peso is one of the most unstable national currencies worldwide, and it has forced Argentinians to buy and hold US dollars, just so they have real money to spend on the things they need. Bitcoin has had high adoption for similar reasons. Today, we get “thank you” messages from people around the world, mostly from places with unstable economies, saying “my country is a prison” and so on.

We feel sad reading these messages, but it motivates us to continue doing what we are doing because our technology is genuinely helping people take control over their finances in ways that were simply never possible before.

Aximetria is the answer, removing artificial barriers so that people can completely control their money, can move and use their savings freely worldwide, save money they’ve earned, receive passive income from their savings while protecting those savings from inflation — and doing all of this legally, under the protection of the most stable economy in the world, and without a bank!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I believe that a person can do anything if he or she believes in themselves and has at least one like-minded person who instills in them this confidence. Throughout my life, there have been many such people, but of course there are the closest friends who wholeheartedly believe in you. I’m especially thankful for the support and confidence of one of my favorite professors at the university Elena Shmelyova, who always reminded us as students of what we can achieve, and to never give up. I was lucky to get to know many good teachers in my life and I stay in touch with some of them up to this very day. I’ve also learned a lot from great books, and one I can recommend reading for self-identification and for assessing whether you are doing enough to succeed is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “SKIN IN THE GAME. HIDDEN ASYMMETRIES IN DAILY LIFE”. This book has had a tremendous impact on me, provided great support and taught invaluable lessons that still guide me today.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

If we talk about family and people close to you, it’s important to maintain an emotional calm, because if you are confident in yourself, people around you are less inclined to panic.

Of course, a lot of things are changing on a daily basis, not according to the will of the people, but on the basis of circumstances. A lot of people weren’t big fans of video conferencing for whatever reason before the current crisis, but are now hooked on the service, with family members asking if you can purchase a subscription to Zoom so their video sessions don’t stop after 40 minutes as it the case with a free account!

It is worth being thankful for the fact that we are experiencing this difficult moment in the conditions when technologies allow us to maintain close relations even at a distance — people in pandemics from centuries past had no such ability. We all need an attitude of gratitude and the knowledge that “this too shall pass”, and that brighter days will definitely return.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know the stock market and the economy in general have become extremely volatile and uncertain. Many people “dollar cost average” and put aside a monthly sum into a long term savings plan for retirement, college, or a home purchase. If a loved one or a client came to you and said, “I have been saving and investing $500 every month in an S&P 500 index fund. Over the next few months until the dust settles, should I be doing something else with my money?”, what would you say to them?

Eventually the economy will recover and rebound. Certain sectors, like travel and hospitality might be hurting for a while. But other sectors, like technology and healthcare, might do very well. If someone wanted to prepare today to take advantage of the future recovery, what would you suggest they do?

In the past, I have said that conservative investors should divide the available money for investments in proportion between stocks and bonds, and the older you are, the more you should invest in instruments with less risk.

Today, however, some of the old rules cease to apply. For now, I suggest that you invest in things that you understand well. Still, some people in various countries don’t have the freedom to invest where and in what they want, with the currency that best suits them. New, digital assets are now playing an increasingly important role in investments, and not only for diversification, but also as an independent asset.

Are there sectors that provide exciting and lucrative investment opportunities today, specifically because of the volatility and uncertainty?

In history, we have seen that every crisis presents an opportunity in disguise. You’ve likely noticed that while most retail businesses have had to temporarily close, there are sectors of the economy that are absolutely thriving and doing more business than they’ve ever done before, such as supermarkets, home improvement stores, video conferencing software makers and home delivery services, amongst others.

Even in the current crisis, we live in a very dynamic society. We have many opportunities, and no matter who you are, you can find a way to make yourself known — it has been proven time and again that a single person truly can change the world. With tech trends, self-driving cars continue evolving and technologies based on the blockchain, in particular cryptocurrency services, continue maturing. Cryptocurrencies open up incredible opportunities for the development of society and is an area we should definitely keep and eye on.

Are there alternative investments that you think more people should look more deeply at?

Bitcoin is becoming more regulated and safer, and while there is still volatility, Bitcoin is also becoming more predictable. The pandemic has managed to plunder and destabilize the world in just the last few months, putting in danger not only lives, but economic boundaries, well-established global businesses, and the very essence of the world’s financial system.

What is different this time is the fact our world has never been more technologically connected, with people able to work remotely, buy online, see a doctor through video conferencing, and purchase digital currencies unencumbered by the limitations of fiat currencies.

Well before the current crisis, digital assets have been a slowly maturing niche, and Bitcoin’s time has come to a new definition of speed, transparency, and reliability, thanks to Bitcoin’s twin revolution of the blockchain.

Gold is always a safe harbor, but even gold has had its issues in the 20th century, with private ownership banned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, and gold fixed at US $35 per ounce from 1934 for many years thereafter. Meanwhile, an original and top-performing crypto-asset — the original and best cryptocurrency, Bitcoin — is playing its own game, weakly correlating with market trends.

Bitcoin’s story hasn’t even reached the end of the beginning yet, and should prove very exciting to watch it the months and years ahead.

If a person in their thirties and forties came to you today and said that they have $10,000 that they want to put away today for a long term investment what would you advise them to do with it?

I would advise to invest about $3,500 in bonds, and depending on that person’s risk appetite, I would recommend that $6,500 be invested in stocks or cryptocurrencies.

Ok, thank you! Here is a more general finance question. You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

Money should never be the goal in itself. Money is a good, simple, understandable dimension of your recognition in society. I would advise young adults to invest not in stocks but in their heads — education, because it’s the best investment they can make. Success is not determined by the amount of money you make but by the satisfaction you gain and the good that you bring to society — the value you add to the world and the way you serve others through the products and service that you specialize in. I would also advise young adults to believe in themselves and pursue their goals.

When implementing such projects, you must be able to determine the main task at hand. You need to identify poorly formalized inputs, capabilities and resources, maximize what you have, and then understand how to most effectively achieve your goals. For success, it is also necessary to have a great team around you, for no one is an island. It is only by interacting with each other and providing each other with the products and services we have become expert in that we all thrive and prosper together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are no easy ways to succeed. In difficult situations, when you have to make a choice between something, always choose the most valuable thing for yourself, something which if you did not do, you will feel sorry for in the future. Innovation is hard work, you literally try to create something that does not exist. There is no manual, no templates, no business models that can be copied — you are on your own. It‘s only you and your imagination. Follow your imagination!

People turn to you for beautiful and interesting ideas, hoping to discover something new for themselves, and stay with you because your product or service turned out to be convenient and useful to their lives. Therefore, the quality of service and customer satisfaction is one of the most important criteria for business success. However, no matter how cool your idea is, bad implementation will sink everything — you really need to be vigilant and have self-discipline if you want to succeed.

Generally, entrepreneurs are doomed to constant disbelief by others in almost everything they do. There is an excellent quote from Mahatma Gandhi on this: “At first they don’t notice you, then they laugh at you, then they fight with you, and then you win.”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Continuing the idea of ​​changing people’s consumption habits, I think that in the not too distant future, we will witness tectonic changes in the field of payments, telemedicine, and entertainment. An avalanche of QR codes that many have learned to use during the COVID-19 crisis is going to challenge the Visa and MasterCard hegemony, and these now old-fashioned payment methods might even fall out of fashion and even cease to exist in the future, overtaken by QR codes or other digital payments.

In addition, now that we have learned to work remotely, gathering a team for a new project from across the city, country or even the world is becoming normal — no one will be embarrassed by your lack of an office or a fashionable (but likely expensive) co-working office. This means there will be even more opportunities for creating startups. Cryptocurrencies have also become more mainstream, with 13% of consumers having already used crypto to pay for their online purchases. To meet this demand, thousands of merchants around the world are beginning to accept crypto in exchange for goods. Despite the growing popularity, though, many marketers don’t know much about cryptocurrencies — what they are, how they work, or the value and benefit they can provide from a marketing standpoint.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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