Please tell us more about your background, how you got interested in blockchain & DeFi and what you are currently working on?
My name is Julien Devoir (you can follow me on twitter), and I'm 33 years old. I'm the Product Manager of Request Invoicing, the very first app of a suite of financial tools to make life easier for crypto organizations, built by Request.
We launched Request in 2017, and we’ve been working on this specific app since June 2020.
The first time I heard about blockchain was in 2015. Back then, Christophe & Etienne, “Request” co-founders, were working on a fintech startup called Moneytis. Moneytis mission was to lower the cost of international money transfers.
After they pitched it to me, I quickly decided to quit my € 60 000/year job in one of the most promising French startups, and I eventually joined Moneytis as the 5th person, to help them get Traction & Growth. It was time for a new & exciting adventure: less money, but a lot of enjoyment and a team of 4 people whom I already loved.
Moneytis was the Booking.com for international money transfers. It allowed people to compare & find the cheapest, easiest, or fastest solution for their international money transfers. Within the comparison tool (including TransferWise, MoneyGram, Western Union, XendPay, and 50+ other service providers), we were building our own solution, in order to provide the cheapest service ever. And this is where it gets interesting: we were using blockchain to do so.
What is the slight moment which changed everything for you?
October 15, 2017. The date of the Request Network ICO.
After 3 days, we raised the equivalent of $33 million.
These 3 days were crazy. They were some of the most important moments of my life. I remember us doing night shifts to be available for the community 24/7 on our different social media platforms. Actually, it was difficult to find time to sleep. I think our adrenalin was at its maximum.
Getting funded by people, at this speed, was the ultimate form of validation for me: I knew that we wanted to build the right thing.
And we finally had everything we needed to succeed: a great team, funds, a fresh community keen to support us, and a lot of excitement & motivation.
As a blockchain enthusiast since 2015, 2017 showed me that the whole industry was going to become something really big. The revolution I was believing in and expecting was happening, right under my eyes, and I was an actor of it.
Andreas Antonopoulos says that the measure of the success of Bitcoin is the principle, not the price. I 100% agree with him, since day 1. I strongly recommend you to watch this talk by Andreas Antonopoulos, which is one of the greatest talks I have seen about crypto.
I believe that if you focus on the principle and not the price, you can do big things in DeFi.
I'm not that interested in $BTC, $ETH and altcoin prices.
I'm interested in the tech behind it. The tech offered us freedom. The freedom to focus on what we do best as a team: building.
We didn't do marketing, we didn't make big announcements to make our token pump, we just focused on building. The hard way. In silence.
It cost us a lot (our community was angry at some point) but today, 3 and a half year later, our mission is to simplify finance for crypto organizations & small businesses, and we are on the path to succeed.
What have been your most important failure and what did you learn from it?
My biggest failure is directly linked to Request's biggest failure.
As a team, we spent almost more than a year trying to build a tech that no one needed.
After Request’s ICO, we focused on the tech and built the Request protocol for several months. We were 100% tech-driven.
Since we were building real innovation here, we decided it was a good thing to build it based on our vision & gut feeling, rather than user research. Unfortunately, this was wrong.
Some great visionaries did that and succeeded.
I can quote Henry Ford: "If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse!"
or Steve Jobs: "Some people say, "Give the customers what they want." But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page."
But it was not the right thing to do. We should have focused on solving a real-world problem and go talk to people.
As a non-tech guy, it was my responsibility to warn others and to deeply explore solutions. Which I didn't do.
If you could change anything from the past, what would you do differently?
I'm happy when I'm working on a product, building things, not conceptualizing, and waiting for the tech to be done.
While I couldn't change Request’s tech focus & mindset, I would push harder internally to build a real product while most of the team was focused on the tech.
I tried to do that, but it was not enough. I should have definitely pushed harder.
But in the end, I am exactly where I want to be today so I guess I wouldn't change a thing. You know what they say... It's about the journey, not the destination.
What soft & hard skills have been most helpful in helping you succeed in the DeFi ?
In order to succeed in DeFi, you have to be curious, self-taught & a fast learner. Especially back then. It helped me a lot because it was hard to find relevant information in 2015.
It took a lot of effort to learn everything about blockchain (DeFi was not a thing yet). So I had to be very curious and spend a lot of time looking for the right information, sometimes in the deepest parts of the internet.
Today, 6 years later, it's still important to be all of these 3 things. If you are not curious and don't keep learning about DeFi, you will be left behind, because the market moves at a speed you can't imagine. Every day, something new & important goes out: a new project, a new tech, a new event, a new personality to follow, a new announcement, and a new drama.
Also, no one will teach you everything about DeFi. You have to put extra effort to deeply understand it & make it yours.
In the end, this is what DeFi does: it gives you back the power over your money, but you have to be mentally ready for that and make the extra effort. No one will do it for you.
Freedom is not given, it must be earned.
Also, my experience in growth marketing & design helped me bring value to Request from day 1. These are skills you can apply in any market, so it's easy to activate.
If you are good at something, keep mastering it. Learn everything about blockchain & DeFi if you like this industry, and tomorrow will be easy for you. DeFi projects like ours are always looking for the best people to work with, and it's a real challenge to find them.
How have DeFi and blockchain changed your life?
On a professional level, our ICO gave us the opportunity to focus on building, no matter what. We are grateful for this. It's really life-changing when you don't have to care about raising funds as a startup.
On a personal level, I had never before been interested in investment and personal finance before learning about crypto. It has been my window to this new world.
What is a typical day for you? What are your work habits?
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is not check my emails. I open Asana (our collaboration tool with the dev team) and I look at all the notifications I got there and take care of everything I need to deal with.
This is my priority every day, and until it's done, I don't do anything else.
After that, I catch up with emails, Slack messages, and meetings I have throughout the day.
Communicating well with the rest of the team is at the core of the PM job. I don't like meetings, so I try to be as pertinent as possible, using async communication to avoid spending time in meetings. It's better for everyone.
Once this is fully done and I'm sure everyone is aligned, I can focus on my different tasks. Also being the designer of Request Invoicing, I spend a lot of time in Figma every day, writing & designing specs.
What are the best resources (media, blog, influencer, podcast, nl…) you follow to be always up to date on the DeFi and your niche?
My main resource is my DeFi Twitter account that I love checking every day. By following the right people & using it the right way, it's a powerful tool to discover the best people & projects before everyone else. And also, of course, get all the information you need to know, cutting the noise.
Reddit is also a good resource for me. By following 3-5 subreddits on a daily basis, I don't miss any important information in the market. There is a lot of BS too like trading memes, so there is an extra effort to cut the noise, but it's still really useful to ensure that you do not miss anything.
And lastly, of course, my teammates. We're a dozen of DeFi enthusiasts, to say the least, so we're always sharing news & talking about it every day.
I don't like to be flooded with information, so I try not to multiplicate sources of information.
What is your favorite DeFi Project?
I love cryptozombies. It's been here for a long time now, and I think it has been useful to a lot of people. The fact that it's still free after all these years is amazing.
I love 88mph for their branding. It's the best brand I have seen in the whole industry. Every time they make an announcement, they share a 3D animation with it. These animations are so beautiful they could be NFTs. Here is a live example.
I know that there are only 2 people working on the project, and I find it amazing to be able to ship this level of quality by being only 2.
Finally, when I discovered Rarible, I remember I was amazed by the way they built their platform: being truly community-first.
A lot of people are talking BS about communities in the tech ecosystem today, and Rarible did a really amazing job here, using community as their first & main leverage.
Among the people you’ve worked with in DeFi, who do you admire most and why?
Christophe, Request co-founder. He's a great leader and is highly responsible for what Request is today. It has not been easy every day, so s/o chris.
What is your vision for your niche? What do you expect to come in the next few years? What developments in the field do you find to be the most exciting?
I expect more and more businesses to start using crypto in their financial flows.
At Request, we talk a lot to our users. When I say a lot, I mean it. It's an obsession. Surely because we didn't do it at the beginning.
What we see is that our users want to do a lot of things using crypto, but they can't because they don't have the right tools to do it.
CFOs of crypto organizations are struggling today with all their crypto flows. It's hard to track what's happening in the wallets, hard to contextualize transactions, to bookkeep it the right way, and to be compliant.
When this tool will be on the market, it will be huge. If it is Request, it will mean we have succeeded.
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What problem does your company solve?
I actually said everything in the previous answer: CFOs of crypto organizations are struggling to manage their crypto flows.
We're building a platform to help them manage all their crypto transactions in one place. We started with invoices, but we're already working on delivering a solution for internal crypto transfers & expenses management.
After that, we'll focus on payroll & accounting.
About your product, what's the most important or impactful feature you shipped? What made it so important or impactful?
At the beginning of Request Invoicing, you could only denominate an invoice using the same currency as the payment currency. It means if you wanted to get an invoice paid in DAI, you had to denominate it in DAI.
A few times, we've allowed our users to denominate an invoice in € for example, and get it paid in DAI.
It does not look like much, but first it was technically challenging. And second, it's a game-changer for accounting.
Today, there is no accounting tool that allows our users to do bookkeeping in cryptocurrencies. So the simple fact of denominating an invoice in fiat (euro, usd, pounds, etc…) and being able to pay it with crypto is mind-blowing for any crypto organizations. Our users love it, and it really helped us grow in the last couple of months.
We would have never guessed this by ourselves. It's part of the things you discover by building and talking to your users.
What is different working as PM for a DeFi project?
I think that while working as a PM in DeFi, it's important to be ready to make a lot of compromises.
The tech is very new, still immature, and most of the time, the MVP (minimum viable product) or MVF (minimum viable feature) that you ship is very different from the experience you have in mind.
You are going to make choices between UX versus decentralization, take side roads, find turnarounds, and make compromises because of the current tech limitations.
But it's ok. You're innovating, and it's a long way to go. You just have to accept that, and everything will be ok.
What is something you're working to improve?
I'm working on writing better specs, especially since our tech team is still growing.
It's not that easy to be clear in specs. It's a long road to go between what I have in mind, how I express it in the spec doc, what the developer reads, what they understand, and what they actually deliver.
There is a lot of room for friction in this whole process.
Writing easily understandable specs is a rockstar skill.
For the readers who want to become better product managers in DeFi, what would be your best advice?
Learn all you can about the tech you're working with. I'm not telling you to learn how to code in solidity or whatsoever. It's not your job. But it's your job to deeply understand how it works. Don't just learn the basics. Go one step further. Two steps. Then three.
The tech is at the core of the DeFi industry. You have to understand everything you can about it in order to deliver the best value to your team.
It's new, it's exciting, so it should be easy.