Book review: ValueWeb

Chris Skinner – author of the bestselling book Digital Bank – recently published ValueWeb: How FinTech firms are using mobile and blockchain technologies to create the Internet of Value. The ‘”ValueWeb” covers the rise and importance of blockchain technology, describing it as a key technology for authentication and transactions. Skinner positions blockchain technology as a means to an end, with the ValueWeb being the ultimate outcome. The ValueWeb, being closely linked to to the Internet of Things, allows machines to trade with machines and people with people anywhere, in real-time and at virtually no cost.

The blockchain can be used as a shared ledger for shared economies. One of the things I liked about the ValueWeb book is how Skinner removes all sense of buzz around blockchains by stressing the fundamentals which underpin this new technology: “The blockchain creates a marketplace for globalised value exchange that is trusted, secure and irrevocable.”

These are the main things that I took away from reading Value Web:

  1. Mobile as an authentication tool – Skinner makes the point that mobile “makes invisible banking visible.” He also explains how mobile serves as a very effective authentication tool, based on four key mobile attributes (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Africa shows the way to the future – The book’s chapter titled “Africa shows the way to the future” felt the most inspiring. In this chapter, Skinner zooms in on the success of M-PESA in Kenya. M-PESA is a pioneer with regard to facilitating mobile money transfers between people in Kenya, through mobile network operator Safaricom, a subsidiary of Vodafone. Through M-PESA, a mobile wallet, the mobile phone is acting as a ‘value exchange mechanism’, making it easy for people to send and receive money. M-PESA’s “agent network” is the key component here. Agents in Kenyan towns take money and text the agent in the location the money needs to be delivered. The agent in the receiving location gets the text message and then issues cash to the target recipient.
  3. Digital currencies –  The ValueWeb is based upon two key technologies. Firstly, mobile, which enables people to exchange value in real-time and facilitate real-time authentication (see point 1. above). Secondly, digital currencies, to provide a store of value to exchange. Bitcoin is the key value currency which started it all. The key thing to know about bitcoins, and the different variations of this cryptocurrency, is that it was the first ‘enabler’ of online value exchanges, conducted in real-time and at very low processing cost. Skinner offers a good overview of what the bitcoin is (see Fig. 2 below).

Main learning point: In “ValueWeb”, Chris Skinner does a great job of demystifying some of the buzz around blockchain technology and bitcoins. By focusing on the value that people can now exchange in real-time, Skinner paints an exciting picture of great opportunities that are are already starting to happen.

Fig. 1 – Mobile as an authentication tool, four key mobile attributes – Taken from: Chris Skinner, “ValueWeb”, p.  47

  • Tokenisation – You can check the customer is who they say they are by locating if they have a second token – a mobile registered to their account – with them.
  • Geo-location – You can geo-locate customers using location. For example, a company called XYVerify does this using telecom masts, rather than a mobile device. The system will establish a person’s location based upon where their signal can be located between different mobile transmitting masts.
  • One Time Passwords (‘OTP’) – You can authenticate who the customer is interactively OTP by text messaging. An interactive text or app-based OTP process means that mobile can offer a great second level authentication tool.
  • Mobile biometrics – Using mobile biometrics can become a very effective way to authenticate customers. For example, Banca Intesa in Spain was using mobile apps for iris recognition and Voice Commerce offer voice verification by mobile.

Fig. 2 – A quick overview of bitcoin – Taken from: Chris Skinner, “ValueWeb”, pp.  81-86

  • New bitcoins are generated by a network bode, and these network nodes are created each time a solution is found to a specific mathematical problem.
  • The people trying to solve these math problems are called miners, and each time they successfully solve the problem they create a new bitcoin.
  • This math challenge is so difficult to solve that there are businesses dedicated to this, with data centres running thousands of computers focused upon bitcoin mining.
  • The reason they do this is that each tine a bitcoin is created, the company or person who solved the problem receives 25 bitcoins, which were $250 each as of August 2015. Hence the bitcoin miners do this to earn virtual currency rewards.
  • Before you can buy any coins you must create a wallet to store them. You can do this by installing the bitcoin client, the software that powers the currency, or use an online wallet, where this data is stored in the cloud.
  • A bitcoin transaction is recorded on a public ledger system called the blockchain. The blockchain is a shared ledger system that means all of our bitcoin wallets can be see publicly.
  • No one knows who made the transaction, but the fact there is an electronic shared ledger ensures transactions cannot be made twice.
  • All confirmed transactions are included in the blockchain. This way, bitcoin wallets can calculate their spendable balance and can be verified to ensure they are spending bitcoins that are actually owned by the spender. The integrity and the chronological order of the blockchain are enforced with cryptography.



App review: Azimo

Money remittance is big. Think Transferwise, WeSwap and World Remit; services that simplify the way in which to transfer money, offering attractive rates and a great user experience. Another good example is Azimo which I used to transfer some money to the motherland, The Netherlands:

  1. How did Azimo come to my attention? – A few months ago I listened to an episode of the “Breaking Banks” podcast in which Marta Krupinska – co-founder of Azimo – explained what led her to start Azimo. I loved her story how she’d fly and back forth between Poland and the UK ‘strapped for cash’ because the exchange rates and commission fees weren’t great.
  2. My quick summary of Azimo (before using it) –  I expect a service similar to the aforementioned TransferWise and World Remit. I would imagine that Azimo will cover a multitude of currencies.
  3. How does Azimo explain itself in the first minute? – “Send Worldwide” is what it says on the welcome screen when I open the Azimo app in iOS. The strap line below it reads: “Transfer money to over 200 countries, in over 70 countries, in minutes” (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – Creating an Azimo account feels very straightforward. The only thing I’m curious is about is the 5-digit pin I need to create – in addition to my password. I imagine that this for security reasons, but it doesn’t become apparent to me straight away.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – I feel encouraged when I land on a screen that promises that I can send money in 3 easy steps (see Fig. 2 below). I like that as soon as I start typing the name of the country that I want to send money to, the list of applicable countries starts appearing automatically (see Fig. 3 below). I know that this isn’t a groundbreaking feature, but simple things do help to make the overall user experience feel very intuitive. However, once I’ve chosen The Netherlands as the country that I want to send money, I’m slightly thrown by the screen that I then land on (see Fig. 4 below): I’m not clear why under “currencies” it gives me Euros and Dollars as options, nor I’m clear about what “SWIFT” entails as a ‘Delivery’ option. I know that mobile interfaces come with certain restrictions, but it would be helpful to provide users with some explanatory text, even if it’s just to reassure the user.
  6. Getting started, what’s the process like (3)? – I feel I’m getting close, but then I learn that I have to provide an IBAN code for the account that I want to transfer money to. By the time I come back to the app with my IBAN code – 5 minutes later – I seem to have lost the data that I’d entered previously and I’m back at square one. I wonder whether this is down to simple user error or some security issue that has thrown me out of the standard user journey. I believe it would be good to include upfront the information a user needs to have to have in order to transfer money. Also, a progress bar or some indicator of time or steps left remaining would really help in guiding the user through the process.
  7. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – It did, but I by the time I eventually completed the transaction I felt that the journey could have been even more intuitive; e.g. understanding upfront the bank/account details I need to provide and a better indication of user progress. Even though the overall experience could be improved in certain areas, I was happy with the outcome; payout into my Dutch account happened speedily and I was happy with the exchange rate and the fees that I had to pay.


Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Azimo’s welcome screen on iOS


Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “send money” landing screen on iOS

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Choose a country” screen on iOS



Fig. 4 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Send Now” screen on iOS


Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Send Now” screen on iOS


Fig. 6 – Screenshot of Azimo’s “Send Now” screen on iOS


Related links for further learning:


My product management toolkit (8): learning who my users are

It’s great if you can find out what your user needs are but you’d also need to know who your users are in the first place. There’s risk of us product managers assuming that we know who our users are or how they behave. WRONG. I’ve learned over the years how important it is to know and understand your target audience before you start solving their problems.

Tool 8 – User research, learning who my users are

These are the main things I typically want to learn about my users:

  • Who are they? – Understand the demographics and characteristics of my target users
  • What do they do? – Learn how my target users behave and why

Why is it important to know who your users are? – I always wonder how you can say that you’ve solved a user problem successfully if you don’t know who you’ve solved the problem for. Identifying who your users are or aren’t will help you in three areas. Firstly, comms will improve as a result of shared understanding of user characteristics and behaviours. Secondly, measuring whether you’ve solved a particular problem will become much easier. Thirdly, a thorough understanding of your users will provide a good framework for tough prioritisation or tradeoff decisions.

Why is it important to know what your users do? – As a product person, I believe that fully understanding a problem that you’re trying to solve is absolutely critical. In order to understand what you’re trying to solve and why, it’s important to learn how people currently solve a particular problem. For example, through observation and watching your (target) customers in action there’s so much you can learn about user problems or frustrations.

Learning what your users do is by no means a one off exercise. Before you start designing a feature or write a single line code, understand whether the problem you’re looking to solve is an actual problem for your user. Similarly, once you’ve launched a feature or a service, do go back to your users and see whether it has indeed helped to solve their problem.

What are some of the things to learn about your (target) users? – These are the key things I’ll typically try and learn about my users:

  • What are the key characteristics of my target users? – Think about objective characteristics such as gender, location and age. I believe it’s equally important to understand how users can be best segmented based on shares characteristics or behaviours.
  • Which market segment(s) does my target audience form part of? – Is it an existing segment we operate in already or an adjacent segment where we need to look at reapplying our product or service?
  • How knowledgeable are users about our product or service, and competition? – I always find it helpful to have more context about users in a sense of my understanding e.g. whether users or heavy users of my product, use competitive products, etc. For example, can your users be grouped as “extreme users” – i.e. people who use your product or service a lot – or “limiting users” – people with limited knowledge of your product or service?
  • When do they use – or are likely to use – my product and why? – Understanding the context in which people use your product or service is crucial. For example, do people use the product when they are on the go or when they are relaxing at home?

How can you learn who your users are? – Interviewing and observing are two good ways to understand who your users are and what they do. I’ve outlined some common observation methods in Fig. 1 below. My classic example is Intuit, a big financial software business, who have a dedicated “Follow Me Home” programme whereby everybody in the business visits customers in their natural environment, watching how they use their products. Bang & Olufsen, the high end TV manufacturer, is another good example, as their employees will sit with families when they watch TV in their homes.

If it’s pure user demographics you’re after, your database or CRM system are likely to be your best friends. For example, a simple SQL query will help you to find out about the average age of your customer base.

Main learning point: Don’t just assume who your users are, make sure to understand their demographics and behaviours!

Fig. 1 – Common observation methods:

  • Field observation
  • Field study
  • Contextual inquiry
  • Guided tour
  • Fly-on-the-wall
  • Shadowing
  • Ethnography

Related links for further learning:


App review: World First

How did World First come to my attention?World First came to my attention when reviewing Azimo and Transferwise, another London-based money transfer service. A simple Google search to find Azimo and Transferwise competitors surfaced World First. I subsequently learnt that WorldFirst specialises in foreign exchange – the conversion of one country’s currency into another – whereas Azimo focuses on remittance, which is the transfer of money by a foreign worker to a person in his or her home country.

My quick summary of WorldFirst (before using it) – I expect a service that lets people transfer money at a cheaper rate and in an easier way compared to the mainstream banks.

How does WorldFirst explain itself in the first minute? – “Currency transfers aren’t just about money” is the main strap line on World First’s homepage. It says “We’re changing money” underneath the WorldFirst logo. I get the sense that World First’s mission is to transfer the way in which we transfer money. WorldFirst aims it services at consumers (“For You”), businesses (“For Your Business”) and people/businesses who sell online (“For Online Sellers”). It’s the latter category that I’m intrigued by, since you could argue that both consumers and businesses sell online.

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Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – After clicking on the “Get started” button, I arrive on a landing page which shows me three signup options (see screenshot below). The page feels quite busy, and I’m wondering whether the copy on each of the grey tiles could be tightened up. For example, if I’m looking to sign up to WorldFirst for my business, the reasons why I should do so don’t feel entirely convincing. For example, “Award winning service”, “Industry leading foreign exchange solutions” and “Transparent and fair rates.” With some of these reasons I felt like “so what!?” and “what does this mean?” I believe that demonstrating tangible value at the earliest opportunity is paramount to successful customer onboarding.

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After lingering on the page for a mere few minutes a popup appears which urges me to leave a reason for not signing up. Whilst I fully understand the ratio behind this popup, I wonder why this message has to appear so quickly. It feels like I’m hardly getting the chance to make up my mind about signing up.

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Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – I don’t want to leave the sign-in process, I want to sign up ‘for me.’ I like how WorldFirst makes it clear from the outset that the service is only for money transfers for an equivalent of £1,000 or more.

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The signup process feels pretty straightforward. I like that when I select countries to transfer money to, I’m being presented with suggested countries as soon as I start typing the first letters of a country.

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However, I’m slightly surprised to learn that the detail around “Where did you hear about us?” is a mandatory part of the onboarding process. I appreciate that onboarding with WorldFirst is likely to be more onerous than other products, because of the very nature of the service; it’s money, and it’s a service that’s heavily regulated. However, something has to give and I feel that detail about how I found out about WorldFirst shouldn’t be a mandatory field.

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I then get a notification to say that I’ve signed up successfully. The screen also tells about next steps that I could take: “Add payee details” and “View live rates and graphs” – followed by a call to action to go to my account:

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How does WorldFirst’s onboarding process compare to others? – Creating a free account on Skrill feels very simple at a first glance. Six steps to onboard successfully and a nice, clean interface – it should be a walk in the park, shouldn’t it!? Nope. Something seems to be the matter with my chosen password and I keep being pushed back to the first step without any guideance on the password error I need to correct.


Apart from introducing unnecessary friction, Skrill also doesn’t highlight the benefit of its service which I believe is one of the hallmarks of a successful onboarding flow. In contrast, competitors like Transferwise provide an onboarding experience that is both frictionless and clear about the value of its proposition.

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Payoneer, provides clear tooltips for each of the fields that I’ve got to enter when onboarding.

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It was interesting to see that creating a free account on Valuto’s iOS felt incredibly easy, but when I then logged into my account dashboard I still need to add additional information to be able to send or receive money.

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The onboarding flow that the Revolut iOS app uses feels the most intuitive and seamless. I feel that the app does a particularly good job in highlighting the benefits of its service, in a compelling but non intrusive way.



Did it deliver on my expectations? – Yes. Signing up with World First felt fairly seamless and intuitive. However, I can’t help myself in feeling that certain aspects could be simplified further. For example, I wasn’t entirely clear about the distinction between “For you”, “For your business” and “For online sellers.” Similar apps just distinguish between exchanging money for personal and business purposes. Equally, I feel that the benefits of using World First could be communicated better, especially given that the business already operates in a fairly crowded market.

Related links for further learning: