Uriel Jaroslawski, CTO, Edenred UAE

Uriel Jaroslawski is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Edenred UAE. He is a seasoned leader in the realm of Technology and Product Development, renowned for his expertise in building high-performing teams. Uriel’s career spans startups and large corporations in Latin America and Middle East with ambitious transformation goals, and he firmly champions the Lean product mindset as a core philosophy. Throughout his professional journey, Uriel has spearheaded innovative digital solutions within industries that have experienced significant disruption, including e-commerce, urban mobility, and financial services. Beyond his corporate pursuits, Uriel is an avid enthusiast of blockchain technologies, and he also dedicates his time to mentoring young startups and offering his expertise to fellow Technology leaders.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Uriel shared his professional trajectory, his approach to creating a culture of experimentation and innovation within his team, insights on the most impactful innovation in the last five years, personal sources of inspiration, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

What’s your background, Uriel? How did you get started in this industry?

I’m a Computing Engineer from Argentina, passionate about solving problems using software and working with talented people. After taking a couple of part-time programming jobs while I was studying in Buenos Aires, at 19 years old I had the opportunity to join Mercado Libre as an Intern in their team of almost 30 engineers. Little did I know at that time that I was going to take big responsibilities and build a 14 years’ career at what would become the largest ecommerce and payments company in Latin America, which also turned out to be a case study of entrepreneurship and digital culture. I also spent a few years working in the startup ecosystem in Brazil before I moved to the Middle East in 2022.

How do you describe Edenred UAE to people who ask?

Edenred UAE is a unique combination of a purpose driven business, a startup-like passionate team, and a company with the financial discipline of a global enterprise. We serve most of the vulnerable working population in the country with C3Pay, the app and the card that enable financial inclusion through easy and digital access to remittances, local and international bill payments, mobile recharge, unemployment insurance, salary advance, online purchases and more with an industry-leading customer support. All these services are complemented with the payroll platform we provide to the employers (our corporate clients), that is accessible, simple and intuitive for businesses of all scales.

What are some of the technology challenges facing the industry right now?

At Edenred we do not develop technology for the sake of technology, but we do it always as a mean to create a positive impact in our users and clients. When I mention the word “vulnerable” while referring to our users in UAE, it’s related to their lack of financial safety and, in many cases, also to their low level of literacy. That’s why our main technology challenges derive from continuous efforts to simplify the access and usage of our services, strengthen our fraud prevention and cybersecurity capabilities, and scale our customer support efficiently. The key technology enablers we rely on to conquer these challenges are: reaching an efficient mobile development stack with great performance in the native experience (especially considering lower-end devices), building a scalable cloud-based architecture for our back-end APIs to constantly grow our services and integrations, and implementing a strong cloud-based Data platform to embed advanced analytics and AI in our product development cycle and in our support channels. I believe these points are common across our industry and some players are also facing challenges related to the application of blockchain technologies and testing low-code or no-code solutions to accelerate the development of new products. All of this is happening in a context of an evolving compliance and data protection environment, which should be considered as early as possible in every initiative.

As a leader, what approaches do you use to create a culture of experimentation and innovation within your team?

First, we ensure that across the company we share the same definition of success and thar our goals are all easily connected and converging, which is key to minimize unnecessary politics or commitments to activities that don’t create the right impact. For example, we try not to define a goal based on completing a project, but we do it based on achieving an impact that we can connect with the company’s success, like increasing the penetration of a certain service. Then, we empower people to participate in the definitions of their team’s quarterly objectives and in the prioritization of efforts during the product development cycles. We build interdisciplinary squads where we don’t call anybody “owner” because we want everyone to embrace ownership. With great power comes great responsibility, so we also expect everyone to have awareness of the user’s needs and to develop a good understanding of the product and the business challenges. Our process requires teamwork and it’s meritocratic: solid ideas derive from combining a good understanding of our users, insightful hypotheses about the problems to solve and ingenious candidate solutions to validate the hypotheses, so we can achieve the desired outcomes. The decision of what we roll out to our users depends on the data-driven evidence of the impact. We continuously launch new candidate versions of our products using A/B tests and by turning the build and release processes as lean and quick as possible. Lastly, we teach our team to embrace uncertainty while building products, where we expect them to prioritize efforts based on the level of confidence of each initiative and to continuously invest in discovery activities to reduce that uncertainty. In other words, we encourage learning from our users as part of the work. Having explained these points, it’s also very important to acknowledge that this is not for every person or every company, dealing with uncertainty requires genuine curiosity and certain emotional conditions, so it’s reasonable that some people just prefer to have their work defined and their success to be measured based on a specific delivery. That’s why this is a fundamental filter in the cultural alignment we expect when we hire talent at Edenred UAE.

Do you think that CTOs and CIOs officers are developing a new level of authority within the C-suite, and if so, how can they maintain this authority?

I think that this will always depend on each company and their CTO, but in general I do see an increase in awareness about the fact that we are all going to be disrupted at some point through a new technology, and every attempt to disrupt yourself from inside the company is strategical for the business. This awareness does give the CTOs authority, and to maintain it I believe is key to develop a strong business mindset and the ability to drive measurable impact to customers continuously through technology and manage expectations clearly. It’s delusional in my opinion to call at this stage of the industry a part of the team Business and to think that Technology is separated from it, we are all Business. At the same time, every CTO should incorporate good user experience and operational stability as common-sense elements, where the basics should always be considered before going on an innovation journey. It’s also crucial to minimize the need to convince senior leaders to embark on long term Tech projects that are difficult to connect with business goals. Instead, CTOs should look for proofs of concepts and small investments that can provide enough evidence of the impact they’re trying to make and recurrently reassess the most important things the team should be working on. When the team fails, the CTO needs to make sure they capitalize on the learnings, communicate clearly, correct the path, and move on until they reach the impact that is needed. Lastly, the only way to drive impact continuously is by building strong and empowered teams.

Speaking specifically of the financial services and payments platform space, what in your opinion is the most impactful innovation in the last five years?

Even if I’m more curious about the decentralized ecosystem, in my opinion, the most impactful innovation in the space in the last five years has been the real-time payment solutions developed by India and Brazil, UPI and PIX respectively. Although UPI was launched in 2016, more than five years ago, it reached an impressive adoption and a transactions volume of 1.6 trillion dollars in 2022 according to the National Payments Corporation of India (the organization that developed the service). PIX was launched in 2020 and, according to the Brazilian Central Bank, it reached a transactions volume of 2 trillion dollars in 2022, impacting more than 140 million people (from a total population of around 200 million). Both initiatives clearly accelerated financial inclusion in their respective countries and enabled small businesses to leverage this technology to grow their sales and to digitize their financial needs.

What technology are you most excited about right now?

I’m currently very excited about blockchain and crypto projects, where we are witnessing the early years of a new global financial and digital-ownership ecosystem. The same way that consumers in China leapfrogged the adoption of credit cards to onboard directly on mobile wallets around 10 to 15 years ago, I believe that in this decade many people in Africa, Asia and Latin America will probably leapfrog our current centralized payment solutions by embracing wallets and payment rails based on blockchain platforms. Access to financial services like loans, investments, exchanges, etc. will no longer require a medium to high level income and it will potentially work independently of the infrastructure of the financial system of a specific country. Even when this implies a big challenge for regulators around the world, the potential for financial inclusion is undeniable. Also, traditional financial players will find in this technology a great opportunity to gain speed, strengthen security and reduce costs.

What, personally, has allowed you the success you have had in the role of a leader in technology?

Success is subjective, but I am very grateful for the opportunities I had in my career and the impact I was able to create with the teams I worked with. Building the first stage of my career at Mercado Libre, allowed me to be immersed in an unconventional entrepreneurial culture at the time, where I was very empowered to make decisions from the very beginning and I was accountable for the impact beyond Technology. There, I developed a product mindset and I had the space to make mistakes while I was being part of one of the greatest success stories in the internet age. Not everything is perfect and many of the aspects I described might have changed over time, but that experience provided me with a differentiated understanding of digital product development which, combined with a deep curiosity about teams’ cultures, enabled me to expand into different industries and geographies, and to scale my impact as a leader over time.

Where or whom do you seek motivation and inspiration from? How?

I seek motivation in the conversations I have with the people I lead every week, by seeing them conquer new levels of impact and by understanding that the coaching hours I invest will compound over new generations of leaders. Once a leader understands how to drive impact with a people-centric mindset, it hard to go back to the previous stage. When I look for inspiration, I try to zoom out by disconnecting from the work environment and spending time at a different place. This can be just sitting at the beach, enjoying nature somewhere, or travelling to new locations. I also infuse my inspiration with audiobooks and podcasts about various topics.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I’m about to take on a new challenge at Edenred, leading the Technology team that builds the applications of our global platform, that impacts users in more than 30 countries. This opens the door to a very exciting transformation in the following years. At the same time, I’m launching a book in 2024 called Digital Irreverent, which is about my approach to digital product development and what it means to empower Technology teams in an uncertain environment. I estimate that today at least 95% of the digital talent worldwide still works in teams that carry a strong industrial influence and miss the chance to experience the empowerment potential that our space naturally enables, I hope to expand this awareness by provoking more reflection about the way we work through this book. I’d also like to continue mentoring and supporting entrepreneurs in this space in different ways.

What piece of advice would you give to aspiring CTOs?

Again, success is subjective, and the thing I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do is pursuing a CTO role for the wrong reasons, even if the title might look cool on LinkedIn. Passion for technology and great skills in software engineering are great, but not sufficient to succeed in this path. Today our space offers a wide variety of roles and challenges to fit different combinations of skills and interests, so I’d always suggest following a path that resonates with what one really likes doing and where one is able to drive impact. Having said that, great CTOs spend reasonable time with non-technical people and have the responsibility to connect business strategy with a digestible technical vision, so my first advice to an aspiring CTO would be to exercise the understanding of the main business challenges and the problems at the user level in order to navigate through the solutions with a broad perspective. It’s important to articulate the trade-offs so they become clear to the rest of the team, as well as how they connect with the right technical vision. My second advice is not paying too much attention to titles and promotions, but to the genuine interest of serving fellow engineers by simplifying complex problems, caring about their career development, and helping them connect the objectives with whatever is the most important thing they should do in every work cycle to maximize the chances of achieving great impact. Resilience and time will take care of the rest.

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