As governments across the world scramble to regulate the revolution created by cryptocurrencies, the world’s largest democracy and the 7th largest economy in the world, India is no exception to the current drive. In April 2018, India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India directed all entities regulated by it to not deal in cryptocurrencies or to provide services for facilitating any person or entity in dealing with or selling cryptocurrencies. As a result, many crypto exchanges shut operations or moved out of the country, yet WazirX, India’s largest crypto exchange survived the hostile environment and has now undoubtedly become the most trusted crypto exchange in India.
Today, at CryptoNewsZ, we have with us the CEO and Founder of WazirX Nischal Shetty, who apart from being an immensely successful entrepreneur is a changemaker, and the voice of #IndiaWantsCrypto movement on Twitter.
CryptoNewsZ: Nischal you made it to “Forbes 30 under 30” much before WazirX took the Indian crypto market by storm and have also called yourself an “accidental entrepreneur” in the past, what was the idea that kick-started your journey as an entrepreneur?
I started my career as a software developer in a large corporation in India. During this period, I was deep into the Twitter ecosystem. When Twitter launched its APIs, I started a blog that was dedicated specifically to Twitter third-party apps. Since I was using Twitter a lot, I ended up following too many people on Twitter which led to my timeline being clogged by spam. This led me to build my first successful product Crowdfire. I built Crowdfire for my own use and surprisingly many others wanted to use it (it has over 20M users now).
The success of Crowdfire led me to quit my day job and take it up full-time. This was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. Over time, my co-founders joined me and eventually, we grew the team and the revenues. We raised venture capital of $2.5M for Crowdfire and continued to grow it. Crowdfire’s rapid growth also got me on India’s first-ever list of Forbes ‘30 under 30’.
Around the same time, having built on top of permission APIs such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., I was beginning to see the drawbacks of building on top of permission systems. It was this problem that attracted me to crypto. And WazirX was born.
CryptoNewsZ: It’s quite a remarkable achievement to create one of the most powerful and social media growth tools in the market. From what we know Nischal, you not only physically built it, but also bootstrapped it to its first million in revenue, and took the service from 0 to over 20 million users without spending any money on marketing or advertising and if I am not wrong, this was around 2012 when things were not as easy for Indian entrepreneurs as today. How did you manage to pull-off such stupendous success with Crowdfire then?
Yeah, that’s correct. We bootstrapped Crowdfire to $1M in revenue and over 8M users before raising our first round of venture capital. Crowdfire was also one of the most successful global products from India back then. To pull off something like that you need:
1. A product that solves a problem
2. A team that is passionate about solving that problem
Fortunately, Crowdfire solved a large problem of social media management and growth. I was also fortunate to have hired and built one of the best teams in the Indian startup ecosystem. We replicated the same with WazirX as well.
CryptoNewsZ: What was blockchain’s first use case that motivated you to dig deeper?
More than the use case, it was the philosophy behind Blockchain that attracted me.
It’s permissionless: To a software developer, there’s nothing more motivating than the fact that they can build what they want, how they want without needing anyone else’s permission to do it. Blockchain/Crypto offered all of that and much more.
CryptoNewsZ: WazirX, the name itself has a very unique ring to it, what’s the story behind such a creative name Nischal?
The name “WazirX” comes from the word “Wazir” which means the queen piece in chess. It’s the most powerful piece and can play any move. Our goal is to build WazirX the same way. We keep innovating and we want to give our users the most powerful trading interface.
CryptoNewsZ: Would you share with us the idea that lead to the inception of WazirX?
I’ve been a blockchain believer for many years, but I decided to build something around it in 2017. I had tried using Indian cryptocurrency exchanges and was disappointed with the UX and lack of transparency. The price of Bitcoin was also at a very high premium in India at that point. We set out to build WazirX with three things in mind:
1. Ensure that Indians can buy crypto at the cheapest rates
2. Provide the best trading experience
3. Build a company that has open and transparent communication with its customers
Having built Crowdfire, we understood what it takes to build and scale a global tech product out of India. Our team loves challenges, and so we decided to build WazirX – a cryptocurrency exchange for India which offers people world-class UX, transparency & trust.
CryptoNewsZ: Around 18 months ago, during WazirX’s launch, there did exist a few other exchanges in the Indian market which eventually either shut shop or entirely moved out of the country, due to the RBI’s regulations and the subsequent hostile environment that followed. We would like to know more about WazirX’s USP and strategy that not only made it withstand pressure but also pushed it to become India’s largest crypto exchange within a very short period.
It has to be WazirX P2P. We innovated and launched the world’s first auto-matching P2P engine after the Reserve Bank of India put a restriction on crypto.
WazirX P2P has been a game changer for the Indian cryptocurrency ecosystem and helped us become the largest crypto exchange in India. With its unique nature and simple interface, WazirX P2P is the cheapest, fastest and simplest method to deposit/withdraw INR in India.
CryptoNewsZ: WazirX’s recent acquisition by Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume is a milestone in India’s crypto ecosystem. WazirX has now become India’s first-ever cryptocurrency exchange to be acquired by an international one. Why Binance? Was the acquisition on the cards a planned move?
Binance has been working on creating fiat gateways globally. Since WazirX has the world’s first auto-matching P2P, it’s a great fit for them. Besides, India is a very important market for Binance. WazirX is India’s most popular exchange and Binance is the world’s biggest exchange. This acquisition was an obvious next step for all of us in order to achieve our mission of making crypto accessible to everyone in the world.
CryptoNewsZ: How does this new partnership affect your role and control over WazirX and WazirX as a brand?
TWazirX will remain an independent brand of Binance. I will continue to run and grow WazirX with my team. We’ll continue to innovate and bring in more improvements in WazirX. We’ll solve the world’s fiat <> crypto problem by spreading P2P all across India and around the world. Fiat <> Crypto conversion problems are the biggest obstacles on the path of crypto adoption today. We’re here to solve that for the world and with this partnership with Binance, I’m confident we will.
CryptoNewsZ: How does the acquisition affect the existing users on your platform?
Nothing much changes for our existing users. They can continue to use WazirX P2P, STF, and trading exchange.
Moreover, we’ll also add fiat on-ramps for more countries to help them convert fiat to crypto and vice versa.
CryptoNewsZ: Nischal, would you please be kind enough to explain how the entire integration between Binance and WazirX will take place?
We have released the first phase of this integration where WazirX P2P is provided as an option within the ‘Buy Crypto’ page of Binance. It is similar to other third-party options available on this page.
However, it’s in the second phase of our integration where the real magic will happen. Binance users will be able to place buy/sell orders on WazirX P2P right from within the Binance platform. We’re super excited about bringing it to every Binance user. Both the teams at Binance as well as WazirX are working super hard towards it.
CryptoNewsZ: Nischal, Binance’s interest in the Indian crypto market is definitely a noteworthy move in the global crypto ecosystem but there are a lot of rumors and myths that surround the Indian crypto markets. According to you, what are the top 3 rumors about the Indian markets that need to stop and be addressed at the earliest?
Some of the most common rumours are:
1. Crypto is illegal in India. The RBI restriction doesn’t imply that crypto is illegal in India.The legislative power to ban something lies with the government.
2. Crypto is a threat to INR. The government needs to look at more use-cases of crypto like assets or a utility.
3. Blockchain is good, crypto is bad. That’s like saying the internet is good but websites are bad
CryptoNewsZ: India has a 5 million-plus youth population that stands for crypto. What we would like to know is how do you think crypto as a blockchain use case will benefit approximately 66% of the rural Indian population?
Crypto can help the unbanked with financial inclusion. People can access crypto just by owning a mobile phone and the internet. Since India is seeing a high Internet penetration, crypto can reach people in places where bank infrastructure is yet to reach.
Crypto can also help find new ways of earning through your mobile phone. Until now it’s difficult for Indians to easily participate and earn online unless payments are made to their Indian bank accounts. Since crypto removes geographic barriers, Indians can work for anyone, anywhere in the world and earn.
CryptoNewsZ: As the face of WazirX, you’ve been at the forefront of the #IndiaWantsCrypto campaign which has lasted for over 400 days now. Would you like to share what lead to the campaign which has gained momentum among the Indian youth on Twitter? According to you, how long will it take for the government to take notice and give crypto a fair chance in the country?
Countries around the world are bringing in positive crypto regulations. I think 2020 will be the year when crypto will see a surge in regulation and adoption. I’m hoping that the Indian government will take notice of it, and start a dialogue with the Indian crypto industry soon.
CryptoNewsZ: Nischal, the aim of blockchain has always been decentralization, free from any central authority. On December 5, RBI’s governor, Shaktikanta Das spoke about cryptocurrency during a press conference and said that RBI is against any private digital currency in the country, but also mentioned the prospect of an RBI-issued digital currency at the appropriate time. Don’t you think if RBI introduces any form of cryptocurrency, the entire cause of decentralization will be lost?
Decentralization has various phases to it. Absolute decentralization may take longer but look at the progress with respect to what it is today. If RBI comes up with a digital currency, software developers will have easier access to building products on top of the digital currency compared to today where it might take you months and tons of money to even get permission to start building anything that deals with INR. Any attempt involving blockchain is a step forward from existing centralized systems.
CryptoNewsZ: The RBI governor even said that the cryptocurrency issuance is a sovereign mandate and will not be handed over to a private company, as there is a huge challenge around money laundering. Your thoughts?
Fair enough. The majority of crypto out there have their own set of use cases that involve being used in their respective blockchain. I see crypto more as an asset or a utility and that’s a more appropriate definition of it.
CryptoNewsZ: According to you, to what extent has WazirX been successful in filling the gaps and loopholes in the existing crypto ecosystem in India?
We’ve been able to bring down the premiums for crypto in India to a large extent. We’ve also made it super easy and fast for Indians to buy crypto. We still have a long way to go and we’ll continue to innovate.
CryptoNewsZ: What are the top emerging cryptocurrency trends to follow in 2020?
1. Regulations 2. Country-specific stable coins 3. DeFi
CryptoNewsZ: Let’s talk about you, Nischal. What are your interests outside of work?
If I’m not working then I’m probably travelling, I like that a lot. Experiencing new cultures helps you get a better perspective of the world.
CryptoNewsZ: What is that one piece of advice that you believe someone should have given you before you became an entrepreneur?
Make sure to focus on every aspect of company building. I used to focus a lot on the product, and forget everything else. But a startup can be successful faster if you work on product, tech, business, marketing etc. simultaneously.
CryptoNewsZ: Would you like to give out a special message to the strong WazirX community, its loyal supporters and followers?
Without the support and love of our community we would have never become India’s largest and the most trusted exchange. We’ll continue to listen to our community and build the right solutions for them.
Thanks for your valuable time Nischal, It was our pleasure talking to you and we at CryptoNewsZ wish you success in all your future ventures.