It was September 2008. Lehman Brothers had just crashed and, with it, global stock markets. Bear Stearns, which six months earlier had had to sell itself to JP Morgan to avoid bankruptcy, and the Lehman downfall, blew the whistle on a looming recession. With their worst fears confirmed, companies went into a cash-saving mode and instituted a blanket hiring freeze.
That did not bother Sathvik Vishwanath, a student at Melbourne Business School at the time. A coder and a creator who hailed from South India, he knew he would survive the recession.
Sathvik was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug early. In 2001, when cyber cafés were becoming popular in India, he used to help visitors create websites and custom email IDs.
In 2008, the tech maverick decided to create an online virtual gaming platform, Second Life, after he realised there was a market for internet-based games. Sathvik moved back to India the next year and soon incorporated VentureNext, an online platform that helped people create their virtual avatars.
“What I would do is create an automation script that an individual could use to do a particular activity. These are similar to flash animation scripts, which are done behind visible objects behind the screen,” Sathvik explains.
From virtual animals to currency
Four years after that, Sathvik decided to broaden the platform, and in partnership with Fennux, a company in Ohio, created and sold virtual pets. Using special instruments such as genetic engines, the game helped pair animals and give birth to offspring in around a week.
“This became a popular concept in Second Life. It also gave birth to different businesses based on our project. For example, if they wanted a unique food for their animal or wanted to sell for a certain price, there were virtual auction houses, for animals, land, and farms,” Sathvik says.
To monetise the game, Sathvik created a closed-loop currency called Linden Dollars, which could be bought and sold by players. Two hundred and fifty Linden dollars were worth $1, and they could be used like a real currency.
The transactions took place on PayPal, which unfortunately charged them hefty conversion and handling fees.
“We knew that we had to build a separate platform as I would lose close to 7 to 8 percent with every transaction,” Sathvik recollects.
This was in 2013, when blockchain and bitcoin were just starting to pick up. The timing could not have been more perfect for Sathvik, who had started attending several cryptocurrency meetups to learn more about using digital currencies and converting them at cheaper rates.
He realised that crypto was an effective and easy way of converting his Linden dollars, too.
“I was fascinated with the idea of digital currency being popular across developed nations, and that they could be used for easily moving funds, globally. So I decided…