Our C-Suite Series highlights leaders in the crypto space driving real world adoption. For this interview, we speak with Austin Kimm, the COO & Co-founder of Crypterium. Crypterium is one of the most promising fintech companies, according to KPMG and H2 Ventures. Our services let you use crypto with the same ease as traditional money.
I’ve been in financial services all my life, mostly Insurance, where my last job was running one of Russia’s largest insurance groups, Renaissance Insurance. After leaving Russia in 2013, I was constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Whilst Insurance had taught me a lot, there is not much that is new. A small product tweak here and there is regarded as a major breakthrough. I wanted something that was going to change the world. I therefore started to track the concept of digital currencies, and when my chance came along to form part of the Crypterium start up team, I jumped at it.
Do you have any hobbies? What do you do outside of work?
As it is for many people, work is often all consuming, but that’s OK because I really believe in what cryptocurrency can do. But when I do have time, I like to do something manual, whether it is gardening (I have a very big garden that is always demanding my time), walking, or even the odd bit of making something such as a garden playhouse, or patio area. I’m also a huge Liverpool football fan, so if they are playing, everything else becomes secondary..
When did you (or what made you) decide to start/join a company in the crypto space?
The Crypterium shareholders and I go back quite a long way, having worked together on many different projects, not just Crypterium. One such project was a payments application that used QR codes and as the Crypto boom was just beginning to take place at the start of 2017, we realised that there was an opportunity to use our payments expertise to do something truly unique in the crypto space. We were working on the very simple premise of ‘wouldn’t it be great if you could actually spend cryptocurrency in the real world’ Of course since we had that idea, so have many others, but at the time the excitement was huge.
Did you learn anything valuable in the first 60-90 days of running your company?
The company had two launches and therefore two periods of start up. The first was the ideas generation which in turn was critical to a successful ICO. This was during a period when Bitcoin went from $4,000 to $20,000. Competition for market interest was huge. Having a good idea was all well and good, but getting that idea into a very crowded community was the challenge. I think the key learning for me during this period was that there were some hygiene factors that were essential, such as a solid white paper, good advisor team, compelling presentations, etc. but to get through to the wide community, we needed to simplify the message. I liken it to the fabled elevator pitch. We had to get the message across in simple easy to grasp concepts that excited the reader or listener.
The 2nd period was after the ICO. Cryptocurrency is different that practically every other financial service product. Consider a bank, they will start off in one key market, for example the UK, they will test the concepts as they slowly bring on new customers. After a few years if successful, they will expand to a similar, like minded market, perhaps Europe or the USA. 10 years on, they may have opened up in 5 or 6 more key markets, but largely the rest of the globe is still untouched. Even today there is no such thing as a global bank. But Cryptocurrency by its very nature is global. We had token buyers for 150 countries, all of whom expect the same level of service as quality of product.
The biggest challenge therefore, was working out how to strap of cryptocurrency, a global solution, onto an existing financial network that is regional and not so open to the idea of a new financial business mode. This led us down some interesting paths that we would never have considered had we been a more traditional start-up.
How do you deal with competition? What sets your company apart from others?
Competition in this space is good, the more people that have the opportunity to work with cryptocurrency the better. There are thousands of banks, but still only a few companies that offer a suite of banking solutions for cryptocurrency. Our goal is to provide a one-stop shop of cryptocurrency services, from the convenience of a smartphone, to anybody anywhere in the world, whether they are in Brazil, the UK, China, or anywhere else. If you can do something with digital fiat currency inside a banking app, then we aim to be able to offer the same inside the crypterium app, only global, and better.
The key issue is globalisation. Whilst we offer a full set of crypto services such as buying crypto, exchanging crypto, remittance etc. a core element still for many people is the ability to cash out crypto and this can be best served by a payment card. But here is the problem. Payment cards are generally regional. When we launched, there were a couple of cards issued out of Singapore, one of two in the US, but nothing was global. That’s because by necessity, we are working with the existing card giants of Visa and Mastercard, that have regional distribution agreements. Our first CEO was the CEO of Visa UK, and even this could not change the mentality of Visa to a global card issuance program. So we turned east, and Union Pay. Union Pay is best described as China’s answer to Visa, but they have a much simpler logic. China and the rest of the world.
By having a partnership with a Union Pay card issuer, we were immediately able to go global. Anybody anywhere (with a few obvious exceptions), provided they can pass a standard KYC is able to apply for a card.
This gives us a huge advantage. Let’s say that there is a company that wants to send cryptocurrency, perhaps a USD stable coin, to its members employees all over the world. Many companies can support this. But at the other end, how does that employee cash out. With the Visa solution, for example, they can is some countries, but not others. Suddenly the idea of cryptocurrency as a means of payment is no longer suitable. But with a Union Pay solution, we can issue a card to every user, first with simple virtual payment card built into their digital wallet, then with a traditional plastic card that can be used in many retailers, but very importantly works in more than 50% of ATMs
What do you look for when hiring people at your company?
In such a new industry, experience in our space is not key. We need people that have worked in fast moving companies and who can adapt very quickly to changing priorities. We of course need a few specialists, particularly people with payments experience, but after that, it is more about the type of working environment rather than the actual role. I probably wouldn’t recruit myself for many of the jobs in our team. Insurance is as far from the reality of cryptocurrency as you can get.
What is the one thing you wish your customers knew when signing up for your card?
How hard it is to make what is happening actually happen. We have to bring together two parts of an equation that were never meant to work together. An old world payments system, that requires money to be sent around the world using old world solutions, such as bank transfers, and cryptocurrency, which is instant, demands immediate pricing and transfers, and which is planning on replacing those old world systems. If we were just working in the UK, it would be easy, but we are not, we are moving money around the entire world, instantly, whilst combining parts of an equation that constantly battle each other to add up.
What does 2020 have in store?
We want to see through the promise, a simple user experience for all financial services. If it can be done in fiat, it should be capable of being done with Crypto, but faster and better. So we are expanding our range of services. First is to add regional options to our card solutions. We will give customers choice. They can either have the Union Pay card, or a Visa card, which is initially aimed at European customers. But we think this will be a first. Choice. Even modern banks don’t give you choice of card providers. We think we will be the 1st.
Then on top of cards will be a savings function, additional exchange options, simple fiat currency accounts, and generally better solutions in all areas. For example, where we used to work with one crypto acquiring partner, we will now work with many meaning that success rates and user experience will be much higher.
Thank you to Austin Kimm for taking the time to answer our questions! You can visit Crypterium to sign up for their card. https://crypterium.com/ You can follow Austin and team on social channels like Crypterium’s Twitter account and also read our Crypterium Review!