Distichain, building digital Silk Roads

Distichain, building digital Silk Roads 

CEO and co-founder Haisam Jamal explains Distichain’s origins, its mission to simplify and digitize international trade, and its focus on food & agriculture.

All of CEO and founder Haisam Jamal’s career seems to have led to the creation of Distichain, a UAE -based platform that combines technology, ecosystem integration, and a robust legal framework to drive global trade into the future. 

Whether in his role as General Manager for the Levant region at Nokia where he was overseeing a two-billion-dollar business across six countries (and coincidentally working with his future co-founder Wassim Merheby), or next at Chalhoub Group, one of the largest luxury and beauty groups in the region, Jamal’s work involved distribution, trade, retail, procurement, and e-commerce on a global scale. 

So, when in 2017-2018, he started hearing about new technologies emerging in fintech and supply chain, using blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), Jamal realized that digital transformation was going to change the way work was done in his very analogue, paperwork-heavy industry as well. However, “The question was, how would people know these services exist and how would they access them? Large companies would know but what about everybody else?” he explains. 

Hence Distichain, an orchestration  platform that gives the whole ecosystem access to innovative, exciting services that simplify international trade. “When it comes to trade, you don’t just need logistics, insurance, and payment; you need them working seamlessly together. And in international trade, that’s quite complex. Technology is only one  part. The legal , different standards and complex rules, are complexities invisible to most. Different standards and complex rules are complexities invisible to most.- is a complexity that is invisible to most. So, in the simplest terms, Distichain delivers International Trade as a Service” Jamal says. 

A three-pronged approach 

Distichain focuses on three components: technology, as an API-led platform; instantaneous access to a wide ecosystem of service providers; and,the legal framework to tie it together.

In order to achieve this ambitious vision in a repeatable and scalable way on the technology front, Jamal enlisted Alberto Lobrano, now a co-founder. “Alberto who took Souq.com from an eBay to an Amazon model, just before building noon.com’s tech from scratch. He’s probably one of the most prolific tech leaders in the region in the marketplace and infrastructure space,” says Jamal. “It takes someone like that to bring this vision to life..” 

In terms of building the ecosystem, the timing was key. Others had seen the need for a platform like Distichain and had tried to launch one before, but even five years ago, the services were not ready yet. Today, they are more mature and improving quickly. “We are creating an ecosystem of trade that is accessible via technology. So, we needed to connect all the elements: banks, logistics, etc. We needed to convince success stories of global identity verification services, crucial fintech providers, and others to come together,” explains Jamal. “The challenge was to bring in the first ones, because everybody wants the ecosystem to be ready before joining. It was the classic chicken-or-the-egg situation, but we managed.” 

As for the legal expertise, the team worked for months with two law firms just to understand how to put Distichain and its offering together from a conceptual perspective. “The problem with B2B e-commerce is that everybody thinks that it works like B2C , but distribution, procurement, and wholesale is different from retail. International trade can’t be managed in microseconds; the volumes are not the same; you can’t use credit cards. You need to build that into your DNA ,” says Jamal. Distichain simplifies the whole process and cuts down the time spent on negotiations by activating its network of partners. 

Developing long-term relationships 

Launched in the end of 2021, Distichain is now going full throttle, catering to three categories of customers: B2B marketplaces; large corporations with complex supply chains; and governments and trade associations looking to empower SMEs. 

As Jamal explains, trade is a process and Distichain connects different parties and then ensures that each step happens correctly, enabling significant cost savings. “The added value of Distichain is multi-fold,” he says. “We give B2B marketplaces a full, ready-to-go platform for the cost of one developer; they can focus on commercial immediately. For all users, we also enable efficiencies that lead to cost saving: in an industry that operates at 90% on paper or manually, automation can be a life saver; our system doesn’t go on vacation, documents don’t go missing, mistakes are avoided, time is saved. And as we deal with a number of providers in a very fragmented landscape, we can negotiate rates that significantly improve their cost structure. Lastly, we remove the need for brokers, which can save up to 20% of costs for some companies,

not to mention avoiding the headache.” Meanwhile, as governmental institutions increasingly digitize internally, Distichain enables a connection between different touch points that is simple and smooth - a digital Silk Road that empowers trade. 

As an ecosystem play, Distichain has collaboration at its core and relies on a revenue-share model. “We have a small sign-up fee and a monthly minimum licensing fee. But ultimately, the transaction processing fees will build long term viability . That’s how we succeed when our customers succeed,” says Jamal. 

One step at a time 

For now, Distichain focuses mainly on the food & agriculture industry, aiming to address a critical global challenge, food security, by leveraging technology and collaboration to develop a more sustainable and efficient ecosystem

“In many countries, food security is a pressing issue,” Jamal explains. “By automating and digitizing trade processes, we can match supply and demand , improve traceability, and enable faster and more transparent transactions. This not only benefits businesses but also helps ensure that food reaches efficiently ” 

Jamal envisions a future where, by leveraging technologies like blockchain, AI, and IoT, Distichain helps create a decentralized and transparent ecosystem that empowers all stakeholders, minimizes food loss and ensures fair pricing. 

However, food & agriculture is just a first step, as Jamal explains: “The processes are fundamentally the same, only the levels of complexity vary. Once we create an ecosystem that is extremely relevant to these providers, build a mass, then we’ll move to the next frontier.”

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