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Interview with: André Vasconcelos, VAKT
LACS spoke to André Vasconcelos country head of VAKT – a tech start-up whose shareholders include oil companies BP, Shell and Chevron – that recently set up a research and development centre at LACS Anjos. This British company applies blockchain technology to the post-trade value chain in the oil industry and plans to hire around 40 new team members, to add to the current team, by the end of this year.
Can you explain what VAKT does as a business?
VAKT emerged from the need of its initial shareholders to solve a problem. That problem begins from the point at which oil is either bought or sold. What we in the business call post-trading. Everything that happens after the trade is agreed. After the traders close a deal, the entire logistical and back-office part goes into action. There’s a process of confirming that those trades are matched and correct, then those trade details are enriched, culminating with a contract that must be drawn up and signed, meaning that you have to deal with lots of paper, emails, and many calls.
Then, there’s an even more complex part: the logistics. How will the goods be transported ? Where will they arrive? What about the specifications of the product? How will the goods be loaded? How will they be delivered and invoiced? Some markets may be slightly automated but generally it’s a very manual process that is mostly paper-based.
And these processes all have to fit together? How does Blockchain come into it?
VAKT’s value proposition is to digitize these part of the value chain, providing a more innovative way to deal with that. It’s a platform that helps to bring the entire process together in one place. VAKT comes in as part of an ecosystem and has everything there – written in stone – registered in a way that can’t be deleted or changed.
Blockchain is exactly the technology that makes it possible to store data in such a way that it can’t be deleted. It encrypts the information so that it can’t be altered. It introduces a level of confidence to every party involved in a transaction. From post-trading to invoicing, the VAKT platform deals with everything whilst bringing that level of automation and trust the process requires.
Why Portugal. Why did VAKT choose to come here?
VAKT development began with a partnership with software engineering firm, ThoughtWorks, who provided great part of the technology team. VAKT wants to establish its own internal development and support competencies. So, we are setting up a nearshore development centre. We considered a few countries, but Portugal stood out as best option. Proximity was an obvious factor, the time zone, but the level of education and skill, the country’s climate and the quality of life also scored well. It also had to have broad appeal to a diverse workforce.
How big is the Lisbon team at the moment? And how many nationalities does it have?
The plan is to have around 60 people by the end of the year, and we have recruited around 20 people already. Most of them are Portuguese, followed by Brazilians. Most of the vacancies are for technological profiles, developers, infrastructure and support. We also have vacancies for project managers and business analysts.
“Blockchain technology introduces a level of confidence to every party involved in a transaction.”
Where is VAKT’s business focused geographically?
VAKT operates in the BFOET (Brent, Forties, Oseberg, Ekofisk and Troll) market, essentially the North Sea oil market, we chose this market as it is very valuable, but quite standardised with a small number of players – around 18.. It’s a good market to go into to test the first product and to validate the platform. That market is already in production and soon we will have a first version for a second market, which is the ARA market (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp), in North West Europe at the end of Q2
Who are VAKT’s customers?
Both Oil Majors like BP, Chevron and Shell, and Trading Houses like Mercuria and Gunvor – all of whom are Shareholders as well as customers. But VAKT has a huge potential within the oil industry.. We might go into other markets in the future. Who knows?
Could the VAKT platform be applied to other processes?
Why not? The problems that VAKT helps to resolve in the oil market are similar to the problems experienced in other commodities markets. For instance, minerals, metals, grains all have very similar problems.
Why did you opt for LACS?
If we look at VAKT closely, it’s a start-up. But a consortium created the start-up rather than the start-up chasing down investors. VAKT wanted to be close to other business that innovate and create. In London VAKT is also located in a flexible workspace and it was natural for us to do the same in Portugal. We want to be in an innovative environment and be part of a creative community, with start-ups around us. LACS made sense from that point of view.
You started at LACS Conde D’Óbidos and are now moving to LACS Anjos. Why the move?
We had a small space and Anjos is more central. Given the types of people we will have in terms of their tech profile, mostly young people living in central Lisbon who need the metro and other transport links nearby, Anjos made sense, so we moved. We have more room now and can accommodate 60 people. We’re experiencing a fun and very dynamic process at VAKT at the moment.
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