Startups from Crypto Valley: Relai

Switzerland has established itself as the home of Crypto Valley, a location for up-and-coming Blockchain startups. In this format, we illuminate companies from the “Valley” and offer them the opportunity to tell their story of origins. In this article we present Relai

Investing in Bitcoin is still a complicated and costly matter for the general public. The Swiss Bitcoin App “Relai”, which claims to be the simplest in the world, tries to change that and finally give everyone access to the mother of all crypto-currencies.

Julian Liniger, Relai’s CEO and co-founder, tells the story of how the Crypto Valley startup came into existence.

What lasts long will finally be good

After several months of conceiving, designing, researching, tinkering, pitching, failing, learning, fundraising and developing, our baby was finally born on July 1: Relai – the world’s easiest Bitcoin Investing App “made in Switzerland”. It was a great and long-awaited moment for the team as well as the numerous partners, supporters, test customers, supporters, and the entire Swiss Bitcoin community. We worked hard and shed a lot of sweat and tears. All the better it felt on the day of truth when the app went live and the first positive feedback came in.

But let’s start from the beginning

By September 2018, I, Julian Liniger, Relai’s founder and CEO, was tired of helping his friends and colleagues who wanted to invest their first few Swiss Francs in Bitcoin through the same tedious procedure over and over again. Set up an account at an online stock exchange, enter personal information, upload documents and selfies, have the profile verified, transfer money, wait for it to arrive, log in again, exchange the money for Bitcoin, open a wallet, transfer the Bitcoin to this wallet and finally the most important thing: secure the private key. All these steps had to be carried out.

For most people, this process, which took several days, was too laborious to invest only a small amount of money in Bitcoin. That must definitely become simpler, thought also several members of the Bitcoin Switzerland Telegram Group, and so Julian and two comrades-in-arms from the Swiss crypto scene, Bernd Lapp and Stefaan Ponnet, began to tinker with the concept of the simplest Bitcoin Investing App in the world: A need became an idea.

This is Julian’s story:

An idea catches fire

In our spare time we met, exchanged information via video chat, did research, designed and refined the Relai concept and discussed it with potential users at an early stage. People from different backgrounds, old and young, rich and poor, Bitcoin beginners and experts, liked our project and assured us that they would use this app once it was online.

In March 2019 we participated in the annual F10 Hackathon in Zurich. There we met Adem Bilican, now Relai’s CTO, and Ivana Mitrovic, who is still an active supporter of the project. In these intense 48 hours, we built the first prototype of the Relai app and made it to the finals. After the great feedback from the audience and from the top-class jury, it was clear that we should dedicate more time to the whole thing: An idea became a project.

Let’s get started

Full of zest for action, we got down to work right after the event. Within a few months, the prototype became a functioning MVP (Minimal Viable Product). A website and social media channels came to life and we participated in every startup competition that took place in 2019.

At one of these competitions, the so-called “Bernese Business Creation Competition”, we met our first business angel, Lars Diener-Kimmich. He was and is a key person for Relai. At a very critical point of the project at the end of 2019, when the founders were already thinking of giving up because fundraising was not going well, Lars continued to believe in the team and took over the first Angel Investment in Relai with one of his longtime friends, Nick Haller, at the beginning of 2020: A project became a startup.

Let’s found a company

Inspired by this first small injection of money, but above all by the trust that was put in us, we set out on a 3-month mission with the goal of releasing the Relai App on July 1, 2020. We were in startup mode! With a lot of eagerness and tunnel vision, we worked day and night on our product, our business model, and building a community.

Finally the time has come

In the night before the official public launch of the app, we still had nightmares and big doubts. Because the app was anything but perfect. There were still many bugs and countless possibilities for improvement. “Is the product even ready for the market yet?”, we asked ourselves.

It was definitely courageous to launch the app so early on. Despite the countless tests, it felt like a “Leap of Faith”. Not only from a technical point of view, but also from a market perspective: Would anyone even care that the app is finally live? Or will people have nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders for the result of our months of hard work?

Despite all these uncertainties, we dared to release Relai into the wilderness on July 1, 2020. As Reid Hoffman, founder of Linkedin says: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

The moment of truth

It was a heavy burden on the team when we were flooded with positive feedback in the first 24 hours and there were no serious technical problems. What a relief, which was of course also duly celebrated at the exclusive Relai Launch Party in Zurich’s Langstrasse. The interest in our app was greater than we had dreamed of! The fear that the launch wouldn’t interest a single soul was quickly dispelled.

Relai Launch Party (Alexis Roussel, Nick Haller, Adem Bilican, Julian Liniger, Lars Diener-Kimmich)

To illustrate: The tweet ”Relai is live!” has received over 100 likes and more than 6’000 views. The first reactions and comments we received via social media and our community chats also surprised and delighted us positively. Our service seems to have hit a nerve in the European Bitcoin community and beyond. One of our followers wrote on Twitter: “Perfect! This is exactly what I needed”.

Don’t get cocky now

All that glitters is not gold. We quickly realized that the product was only just a version 1.0 and far from perfect. In addition to the many positive feedbacks, we also received numerous bug reports, support requests, change suggestions and critical comments. So we had to collect ourselves and come back to reality.

What we had also underestimated a bit was that we are now in the public eye and every step we take is observed, evaluated and criticized. Significant for this was the announcement of a new advisor who recently joined the Relai Team. We are talking about Demelza Hays, who is very well known in the crypto industry, but also notorious in Bitcoin circles. We were delighted to announce the new addition and were promptly met with harsh criticism from the same fans who had praised us to the skies just a week before. On Twitter, influential Bitcoiners have already renounced us again. As is well known, pride comes before the fall.

Fortunately, our first Shitstorm was over quickly and we could concentrate on our daily business again: Making Bitcoin accessible to everyone. And that in the usual Swiss manner: step by step. Or as Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, would say:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

About the Author

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The CVJ editorial team consists of crypto experts, active in different areas around the blockchain technology. In cooperation with selected authors, CVJ.CH provides a high-quality resource around the distributed ledger technology. Independent and up-to-date reporting according to journalistic standards as well as educational content around the topic blockchain, rounds off the offer. 

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