austo Vanin is one of the foremost names in blockchain technology in Brazil, leading the way for companies to develop and implement blockchain solutions with OnePercent. With its dedication to using technology to create a positive impact, OnePercent has now evolved into a holding company. Fausto’s belief in impact entrepreneurship also reflects in his work as a fellow in Brazil’s Social Good and as a cofounder of Lanceiros Tech, generating opportunities for young Black people to develop their careers in design, innovation and software development.
When did you found your first company?
I have an entrepreneurial attitude in many aspects of my life, and I have good examples of entrepreneurial people in my family, starting with my mother, Maria Salete. But the first ideas for starting a company were born in 2015.
At the time, I wanted to go to the US to take a business course at MIT. I wanted to raise some money so I could afford the trip. The idea was to set up a course aimed at high productivity in the work environment using digital technologies. It was something to try to break this idea that a person who stays on their cell phone or the internet cannot be productive. You could use online tools to be productive. I thought, how will I put together a course like that? A learning experience where one person speaks and the other person just watches doesn’t match the business idea.
I created a small software almost like a PowerPoint, but the user could access it from their cell phone or computer and interact with it instead of just watching it. They could participate in the Q&A and take notes. I created a prototype and used this tool to present the course. I would send a link for the person to access it, and it was already an interactive pitch. And in the end, people would ask, “Man, what tool is this? It’s fantastic!”
The tool had no name; it was just a platform to sell the course. A friend who is more in tune with the business had taken a course in a creative school and organized some meetings with the school. We presented the idea to them, and they wanted to become a partner in the product. PØX was born, the first company that I joined as a founder.
I was still working at the bank then and running the startup on the side. The big dream of leaving the formal job to go to the startup did not happen with PØX, but it’s a product that plays a vital role in my history and opened the doors to entrepreneurship. It all started with PØX.
And how did you move from PØX to OnePercent?
There is a direct relationship between them. One of the futurism classes that was using PØX ended up forming a think tank called Molho Secreto (Secret Sauce, in English). It was a group of people who got together from time to time to study technology, business models, how new business models were emerging, and what was “the secret of the sauce” of these businesses. Between the end of 2016 and early 2017, this group organized a blockchain event here in Porto Alegre.
I had already been studying blockchain because I was working at the bank, and I’d been tuned into the subject since 2015. I had a general idea of what it was about, but I wanted to get my hands dirty, to see it in practice. Because of that, we created a proposal to make a hands-on event, not just lectures. To my surprise, it was one of the first significant blockchain events in Brazil. More than one hundred people participated in two days of the event. The Friday night was for the lectures, and Saturday, during the whole day, we would have practical activities, hands-on with the technology.
As a producer, I contacted the companies, sponsors and everyone involved to get the names of people to set up practical activities and prepare the laboratory, see if there was a need to install something, etc. The replies were always “I don’t have a technical person.” Many companies had the word “blockchain” in their pitch, but no one had a technical person to present the tech on Saturday.
By Friday night, after the first day, we had got Microsoft to put US$10,000 into developer environments for the people to use on Saturday. The most we had were the Microsoft environment manuals. At about half past ten on Friday night, I went home, got the Microsoft manuals, and stayed up all night putting the development to work… Basically, I was the one who played the practical part in a workshop where I would have liked to be in the audience. I ended up going there and performing the development with everyone.
It did end up being very hands-on for you!
And because of that, I received an invitation from the Blockchain Academy to act as an instructor and do part of the content. I thought I knew very little, but in fact, the little I knew was already more than what the community had. I started to go deeper and deeper and brought the Blockchain Academy to the South, to my region. I made content and taught classes all over Brazil, and founded a business unit in Rio Grande do Sul with a partner to operate here. One of the first groups we assembled became OnePercent.
From 2017 to now, my day-to-day is blockchain. OnePercent is about blockchain, I’m doing a doctorate in blockchain, and I’m in South Korea because of blockchain. These last five years I’ve been in touch with this subject practically every day.
Tell me about your team. It must be rare to find people with this level of technical know-how.
It’s very difficult to dispute blockchain professionals with the international market. Most Brazilian professionals who work with blockchain, who are not entrepreneurs, work with foreign companies. It’s very difficult, and very expensive, to find team members.
We adopted a slightly different strategy because all the founders know about blockchain. Of the initial founders (we are three), two are very involved with technical issues, including me. I end up working more with product profiles, user journeys and experience. We manage to handle the blockchain issues, but our idea is to hire people with great potential. So, today, for example, we have a person on the team who already develops and is interested in seeking knowledge.
There’s a good technical background from traditional technologies, and we have invested a lot in developing these talents in-house because competing with the international market is impossible. Having been on the market for five years, in financial terms, the disparity is very large with other companies throughout Brazil.
It’s possible to generate a new meaning for entrepreneurship. Initiative, for me, characterizes an entrepreneur – not being a business person. You see an opportunity, a challenge, and take action.
How do you see the future of blockchain as a business model in the coming years?
In the past five years, I changed my opinion concerning blockchain, but one thing that seemed to solidify is that blockchain has become an infrastructure. I imagine that in the next few years, many people won’t need or be interested in knowing how blockchain works. It’ll be like saying “this data is in the cloud.” The cloud has become an infrastructure: people do not need to know how it works to know its value.
I imagine blockchain will go down that path. I think this will soon become an infrastructure for a series of monetary and financial operations in a slightly broader aspect of the economy of things.
How does Rio Grande do Sul’s new tech hub influence the entrepreneurial scene?
I closely followed this movement. Obviously, I wasn’t part of the structuring groups, but I participated in some innovation groups, innovation meetings and events promoted by the ecosystem. I was always attentive to it and curious about change and innovation management.
It’s very noticeable that Rio Grande do Sul managed to take a step towards a positive change. But I think we are very far from the stage we need to be for this movement to become sustainable.
Four or five years ago, maybe Rio Grande do Sul wouldn’t even appear as a decision-making factor, and today it does, so I recognize this as a very important advancement; but, trying to analyze it coldly, I think the State needs to do a lot more in terms of building something sustainable.
Such as in social and inclusivity projects?
Yes, but beyond the basic welfare support. I get very involved with these issues of diversity, of the representativeness of entrepreneurship. For me, they are very present. I am part of the Rio Grande do Sul’s Afroentrepreneurs Association, Odabá (which means entrepreneur in Yoruba), a fellow of Brazil’s Social Good, which develops entrepreneurship with an impact perspective, and a volunteer at Aldeia da Fraternidade, a nonprofit organization working with education, development and innovation for over sixty years now.
These conversations are frequent in my day-to-day, this perspective of “What is the face of our ecosystem?” In Brazil, there is compulsory entrepreneurship: people forced to become entrepreneurs because they have no other option. By simply not being able to access jobs in the market, many people become entrepreneurs. I want to remain on the outskirts in terms of my mentality, my way of being. It’s a place that, for me, makes a very important contribution to what I consider true entrepreneurship.
What are your work essentials?
Rituals: dailies, planning, review, partner meetings, agenda.
At what age did you found your company?
What are your most-used apps?
Twitter, Instagram and Slack.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
Think big, start small and act fast.
What book has most influenced your career?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.
What positive habits have you cultivated?