The Indian crypto market has been going through very challenging times over the past 18-20 months. Soon after the banking regulator, RBI barred banks and financial institutions from dealing with any crypto entities in the country, the industry has witnessed a near-collapse with players either downing shutters or relocating to other countries. However, despite all this, a Mumbai-based P2P crypto exchange platform WazirX survived the regulatory pressure and grown its business, primarily because the exchange didn’t have to deal with banks directly but buyers directly pay to the seller’s bank accounts. WazirX, an online platform to buy, sell and trade cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple, was acquired by global crypto giant Binance on November 21 for an undisclosed amount. Nischal Shetty, Founder of WazirX, spoke with IBS Intelligence on the details of the acquisition, challenges, and future of crypto in India. Edited excerpts:
Could you please tell us a little about when and how you started WazirX?
I have been a believer in blockchain for many years, but it was in 2017 that I decided to build something around it. I had tried using Indian cryptocurrency exchanges, and felt that the UX and lack of transparency were disappointing. 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 and, trust. The name comes from the word “Wazir” which means the “queen” and the most powerful piece in chess. Our goal is to build WazirX the same way. We keep innovating and want to give our users the most powerful trading interface.
It has just been a little over a year and you have been acquired by the biggest crypto player. What does this mean to the Indian as well as global crypto ecosystem?
We launched the WazirX exchange platform on 8th March 2018. During these 20 months, we have innovated, grown and become India’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. This acquisition is a historic moment for the Indian crypto ecosystem. WazirX is India’s first-ever cryptocurrency exchange to be acquired by an international one. This is a great validation that India is a key market for crypto and we will continue to work towards growing the Indian crypto ecosystem. Now, everyone in India feels more confident about crypto thanks to Binance acquiring WazirX.
What next for WazirX? How do you plan to integrate your operations with Binance and when?
We have successfully solved the fiat <> crypto problem of India with our unique auto-matching P2P engine. Together with Binance, we plan to solve the world’s Fiat versus Crypto problem for more countries. Next week onwards, we will link WazirX P2P on the Binance fiat gateway for its users. This means, existing Binance users will be able to buy/sell cryptocurrencies with Indian rupees on Binance via WazirX P2P. In the first quarter of 2020, WazirX P2P will have deep integration into the Binance platform. Existing Binance users will be able to place P2P orders directly from within the Binance platform itself.
What all-new offerings the Indian users are going to get a post this acquisition?
We have plenty of new and interesting things lined up. But to start with, WazirX P2P will be available to all Indian users who are already on Binance. This will help bring in a lot more liquidity on P2P.
What are your views on the current banking ban and its impact on the crypto ecosystem and the draft cryptocurrency bill?
The banking ban is an arbitrary move by the Reserve Bank of India that has caused massive brain drain, businesses to shut shop or move out. It also restricts new people from entering crypto, because they are not sure about its legality. No new foreign investments have entered India in the crypto space due to this uncertainty. However, I don’t think the ban will have an impact on the crypto draft bill. We have been running a Twitter campaign called #IndiaWantsCrypto and meeting our government officials to bring in positive crypto regulations. I am optimistic that our government won’t let us down.
What are some trends that are likely to shape up the Indian and global crypto/blockchain ecosystem is 2020?
I believe that the next phase of cryptocurrency adoption will happen when the world’s Fiat <> Crypto problem is solved for the masses – especially for developing and under-developed countries. Together with Binance, WazirX P2P will bring onboard millions of people in crypto. With tech giants like JP Morgan, and Facebook jumping on the crypto bandwagon, within the next few years, crypto will become mainstream, and we will see more and more use-cases of crypto come to life. The future is exciting.
What does this acquisition say about the crypto talent in India?
M&A (merger and acquisition) is a strong indicator of success in a sector and proves that India has a vast talent pool with immense potential. Slowly, more and more people are becoming aware of crypto, and wanting to pursue a career in Blockchain. I am seeing so many blockchain-related developers, YouTubers, marketers, lawyers, accountants around me.
Can you tell us why the Indian government is supportive of Blockchain and DLT but not crypto?
The government’s stance stems from a lack of information and understanding about cryptocurrencies. Promoting DLT but banning crypto is like saying we want Internet but no websites. Blockchain is a nascent technology, and the Indian government needs to involve the crypto industry of India in understanding it and follow the lead of developed nations like Japan, and the US. Banning is not a solution.
What are some myths around crypto that need to be cleared?
One of the most important things is that crypto does not pose a threat to fiat currency. Yes, it’s one of the many possible use-cases of crypto. But cryptocurrency can also be used as an asset (just like gold), utility, or even securities.