CV Labs has found its unique niche in the blockchain development market. It is creating an infrastructure in which cryptocurrency companies, developers of blockchain, DeFi and GameFi solutions, NFT market participants, and everyone else somehow connected to this industry can feel comfortable.
CV Labs has offices in Switzerland and the UAE, but the company’s geography is much more extensive. Oliver von Wolff, Managing Director of CV VC and Head of CV Labs Dubai, talked to us about creating infrastructure for blockchain companies.
– How did the idea of your business model come about – creating an ecosystem for blockchain projects? Who was behind it?
– The idea belongs to the company founders – three gentlemen named Matthias, Olaf, and Ralph from Switzerland. Initially, they rented out coworking offices to startups. And as it turned out, a huge demand for coworking spaces is coming from blockchain companies. So the founders came up with the plan to implement a full-fledged blockchain ecosystem in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
– What obstacles did you face at the early stages of project development? What achievements are you most proud of?
– Since I was not present at the initial stage, I cannot speak from personal experience. Based on what I heard, the difficult part was creating an environment for companies to feel comfortable.
– And what has been achieved since you joined the project?
– It’s hard for me to tell, since I haven’t been in the company for that long.
– What is your current role in the company?
– I am currently the Managing Director of CV Labs in Dubai. CV Labs, operating in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Dubai, has six main areas of work. The first is the coworking space. This is what you see here. We give blockchain startups the opportunity to settle, help create a company and provide them with a place and environment to work. It is how we do our part, and we are pretty good at it.
We also host many events. The last one was in Switzerland, and the attendance was excellent. There were 50 people from the UAE alone.
Another area of our work is education. For example, we retrain people in blockchain as well as in company formation. We try to help them overcome the first hurdles they might face, specifically in the UAE. Furthermore, our CV Labs incubation program featuring CV VC (Crypto Valley Venture Capital investment company) puts money into blockchain companies in the early stages. So we not only create an ecosystem for them but also provide them with the initial investment.
Part of our business is advisory. If a startup or a company in the later stages needs some assistance, we can advise them on a wide variety of business areas, help them be more successful, and build their own success story. The last part works almost like a collaboration.
Here in Dubai, we are now heavily focused on the coworking space, the education, and the event organizing. In addition – and this is something completely new – we have also launched our first venture fund for companies ready to issue their tokens or preparing for it.
– You have coworking spaces in Zug, Vaduz, and Dubai. Why those locations?
– It all started in Zug. It is a very progressive place when it comes to blockchain and crypto. Zug was one of the first municipalities to adopt and recognize crypto early on. The city also has a very favorable tax infrastructure. It is a kind of “hot spot” for blockchain and crypto companies even at the very early stages of their development. The whole environment was created specifically to benefit them. And today, about 960 blockchain companies that operate and deploy their blockchains are successfully doing business in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
– What about Dubai?
– Having started only in May, we already work with around 30 companies here. And we expect to reach a hundred by the end of the year.
– Do you follow the crypto industry development in the Middle East? If so, how do you assess the potential of the region?
– I think the potential here is very high. If you go back a year, there were hardly any crypto businesses here. Now everybody is really excited and positive about blockchain and crypto. You see a lot of promising advancements in the area on the part of local authorities. The Dubai Blockchain Strategy lays the roadmap for the development of our market segment. The government realizes what huge potential the blockchain has and how it allows for reducing costs. In many ways, blockchain can help the administration be more efficient.
Regarding the Middle East, I could talk about the “three pillars” principle. Pillar number one is effective governance. Pillar number two is the development of the local blockchain industry. We in CV Labs maintain a public-private partnership with the authorities represented by the DMCC administration. The third pillar is international leadership in the area. I think it is very relevant for Dubai because it is a “hot spot” for Asia, Africa, and Europe. For this reason, I believe in the potential of this place.
– Would you call Dubai a regional cryptoindustry leader?
– I would agree with this statement because of how many initiatives Dubai has launched here. Dubai is definitely one of the leaders in blockchain development at the moment. Plus, the city is open to all kinds of new ideas. You can already see local authorities working with blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
– Are you interested in partners from the Gulf region? What requirements must they meet?
– Of course, we are always interested in regional partnerships. It is because of them our ecosystem can grow. And I cannot say that there are any specific requirements for them at the moment. It all depends on the projects, each company’s background, and what they bring to the partnership.
– EXPO2020, beginning in Dubai in October, is a major event partially dedicated to crypto. From a European perspective, how, if at all, may it affect the global development of the industry?
– I would phrase it a little differently. I think Dubai is an open space. This opportunity for people to meet and go to exhibitions is a significant advantage for Dubai and the Expo that organizes it all. Also, there are multiple blockchain and crypto summits stretching from late September to early November. And I think this will be an additional step towards achieving development goals in the area. That’s how I would put it.
– Do you think the stars of the crypto industry coming to Dubai can help engage newcomers from the region?
– Everyone is looking to establish links with big people and companies, but the real growth usually comes from smaller companies. And also from startups that form the infrastructure itself. In my opinion, this is the same as the Internet in the 90s. Many people at the time were wondering, “How can I make money using the Internet?” Today we don’t think about it anymore, because we all have the Internet.
And it’s the same with blockchain. People keep thinking about how to make money on the blockchain. I am looking to develop blockchain for the future. It is a different approach. So let’s focus on startups and creating an environment for companies that come here, build here, and develop here. I believe this is a better approach.
– As you may know, when the Klondike gold rush in the United States first began, there were only two types of people. The first type was those who tried to dig for gold. The second type created the infrastructure (hotels, railways, services for the sale of tools, etc.). And those who worked to build the infrastructure were generally far more successful than those who tried to mine gold. Does it sound similar to your project? Are you setting up the infrastructure as a way to guarantee your profits?
– You could make the comparison, of course. But the main thing for us is the ecosystem as a whole. It would allow everyone to benefit from working with each other and with all the technologies available. We are creating this infrastructure, and alongside DMCC, we can go through all the main stages to set up a favorable environment for companies that come here. And, perhaps, one of these companies will prove to be the next Facebook or Google.
– You have a 3-month incubation program tailored explicitly for blockchain startups. Who are the startup investors at this stage? What venture funds are you working with or planning to work with?
– As I’ve mentioned, this incubation program is us investing in blockchain companies in their early development stages.
– Do investments come from your own capital?
– This is capital from our Swiss fund that we use to invest in young blockchain companies. For us, this is a kind of “assessment center”; it gives us the ability to envision each project’s prospects. It essentially serves as a kind of incubation program.
– What renowned industry experts provide consulting services to your clients? Do you invite anyone to fill the advisory position?
– We provide services directly to our clients, without using any third parties. Most likely, if we invite experts from Europe, it will be too expensive. I mean, the newcomers on the market are always limited in their spending. So they must be free and independent to choose the service provider they think is right for them. You know, if I come as an investor, I expect a return on my investment.
I think it is very important for the companies that choose their service provider to work with a network of partners that allows them to be efficient and cost-effective, and to structure themselves. I think this is much more important.
Of course, if someone comes along and asks for a specific service, we can provide it.
– You mentioned your consulting work. Is it correct that you advise the royal family of the Emirate?
– They consulted us on visas, accounting, and the like. But we don’t advise them on anything essential.
– Your website mentions that among your clients are 130 leading blockchain projects. Can you name some famous ones?
– We work with such blockchain platforms as Tezos and Cardano, as well as LISK (a blockchain-based decentralized applications that uses the LSK token).
– What infrastructure has the most demand from blockchain projects?
– It’s DeFi, yield farming, liquidity tokenization, and, especially in Dubai – the tokenization of products and commodities, as well as real estate.
– How do you see the future of the blockchain development market?
– The future? Very bright!
– DeFi projects, tokenization projects, blockchain payment systems, infrastructure projects, or, for example, blockchain solution projects for various business areas – which area do you believe will increase its market share?
– I think all of them are necessary to develop a full-fledged environment. Let’s let the market decide which one it needs the most.
– And what’s your prediction?
– My prediction: It seems that DeFi has the most potential.
– You expect a lot from DeFi?
– I believe in DeFi and especially like blockchain platforms when it comes to infrastructure projects.
– What are the most popular educational services for blockchain startups?
– I’m sure you have seen the LABS Academy we are building. Its goal is personal retraining and understanding of various products, primarily basic ones, for people who have started their journey in this industry and want to learn as much as possible about it.
– How do you plan to develop going forward? To what regions you would like to expand? What new services add to the existing ones?
– As I said, we are primarily based in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. This year we also launched in Dubai, so of course, we want to focus on the entire MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. But we have opened an office in Cape Town (South Africa) as well. Africa, I think, is a great market for future development, especially Ghana, Kenya, South Africa. Those are all promising markets. We are looking at Asia and Brazil too.
– What about additional services? Any plans in this area?
– No, not really. We are focused on the four areas I’ve spoken of.
– It is a great honor to pioneer this new era we are now entering. What will you tell your grandchildren about these times when everything changed, about your first steps, and what it was like to be ahead of the curve?
– Great question; there are different ways I could answer. You know, the only thing that you cannot duplicate is human capital, innovation, and technology. I think this is very important not only for Dubai but also for companies, blockchain and others, to understand the importance of human capital for technological innovation. So I hope that in the future, my children will have the same opportunities that I have in my work.
It is a new space for technology, a new space for innovation. I talk about it the way my great-grandfather spoke about the first locomotives a hundred years ago. He talked about it with pride; we saw it.
I always look at my grandmother. She was born in 1898. She is very old now. She saw the 1930s, lived through two world wars. When she was born, locomotives were just starting to go, but then she saw people flying to the moon. You can imagine how much she has seen in her life over the years. I think this is part of human development: moving forward and looking for new approaches.
However, today we are still using technologies of the last century. And I hope that the moment will come when we switch to the technologies of the future to create a better environment. I think blockchain can be a significant part of this. I hope that in 15-20 years, no one will ask about the blockchain anymore because it will just be a part of our life, the same as the Internet today.