February 1, 2023
President of Pearmill, ex-Head of Product at Taplytics, ex-Head of Mobile at Frank & Oak. YC fellow.
How did Chris Maurice, the co-founder and CEO of Yellowcard solve for the massive problem that existed of sending payments from the west internationally? By creating a transparent and customer-centered crypto exchange in Africa that’s now grown into 16 countries on the continent.
Chris shares what the biggest contributor has been for their growth, marketing tactics and programs developed for early user adoption, and how the current and future recession will impact the crypto industry.
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[00:00:00] Chris Maurice: Basically we went over there thinking that we were gonna solve this. Like why does it cost so much money to send money to Africa problem? Right.
[00:00:06] Chris Maurice: And what we realized really quickly, and sort of to your point about like TransferWise and some of these other companies, is all of these companies solve the same problem, which is they move money from the global west to developing countries, right?
[00:00:23] Chris Maurice: To parts of Africa, to South America, to Southeast Asia, right? None of these companies actually focus on the experience or what goes on the ground in these emerging markets, right? And so what we realized pretty quickly once we got there is, hey, the world doesn't need another remittance company, right?
[00:00:47] Chris Maurice: But Nigeria needs a way of actually being able to interact with the local economy if you have crypto, right? And so instead of trying to build a remittance company, we just built an exchange where you can actually buy and sell crypto locally, right? How do you actually on and off ramp into this crypto ecosystem from the local economy?
[00:01:12] Nima Gardideh: [MUSIC PLAYS]
[00:01:13] Nima Gardideh: Welcome back to another episode of "The Hypergrowth Experience". I am your host, Nima Gardideh. Today we're going to hear from Chris Maurice, who's the co-founder and CEO of Yellowcard, a transparent B2C crypto exchange that's focused on the African market. It's very similar to Cash App or Coinbase and they've scaled to 16 African countries quite quickly.
[00:01:36] Nima Gardideh: It's an interesting study of how product market fit really pulls you in and you're able to scale up our user base. It was very interesting to hear Chris's journey of discovering the specific problems that the African market with transferring cash from different parts of the world. It is one of those sort of very obvious use cases of crypto that has been sort of the main use case and the sort of the original use case for the scale of the platforms and the scale of the currencies.
[00:02:09] Gardideh: And I must admit that, this happened right after the FTX crash and it was my first time going on one of these podcasts with someone and discussing an issue that was sort of a hot topic, but then realizing that I'm not a journalist and I'm not the best at maybe being very direct and asking these harder questions.
[00:02:33] Gardideh: So it was a good learning experience for me. But we did touch on security at these types of firms. It seems like they have fully outsourced their security, which in a sense is probably smart. They've gone after a few firms that specialize in making sure that the funds are safe.
[00:02:55] Nima Gardideh: And they're mostly sort of like a marketing layer and a distribution layer on top of these ecosystems, which, if I were to start a company in this space, I'd do a similar sort of thing and in the US I think Coinbase has fully done their own work and are protecting people's funds all the way.
[00:03:17] Nima Gardideh: Gemini who's going through issues doing similar stuff with their own products. So, there is definitely a whole ecosystem and whole set of questions that we could have explored on the security side and the fun parts of what's happening in this sort of ecosystem. But as always, the hyper-growth experience.
[00:03:37] Nima Gardideh: We focused on the story behind the growth of the company and I'm pretty excited to have you hear it. It's a very different market, very different approaches to growth than sort of your normal quote unquote web2 product. Chris begins with sharing how he got into the crypto game super early on.
[00:04:00] Chris Maurice: It was the international payment aspect, right? So, I hadn't made any money off crypto at this point. In fact, maybe I shouldn't say this in case my mom listens to this, but, in fact, the only sort of experience that I had in terms of like the financial aspect of crypto was I, like I said, I was all in, so I was like, I'm gonna dump my savings into this.
[00:04:27] Chris Maurice: And my mom had control of my savings account at the time. And so I was like, Mom, I need, like, I had what, like $5,000 in there that I'd saved up from like selling Pokemon cards and all that, right? And, I was like, Mom, I need all of that money to buy magic internet coins.
[00:04:47] Chris Maurice: And, I bought at the time would've been what, like 20, let's call it 21 Bitcoin and I just had it sitting on like a, on a hot wallet online. And somebody got into the account with no 2FA two FA and just took all of my Bitcoin. It's, so that was my only experience in terms of like the financial aspect of Bitcoin at this point, right? So, I was fully sold on the idea in the tech. I had actually lost money.
[00:05:20] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that's like, I feel like there's so many of those stories. I had a friend right in around 2016, 2017, he had this USB with him with the wallet in it. But it was one of those USBs where you have to have the right combination, the physical combination on it for you to be able to actually connect it.
[00:05:37] Nima Gardideh: And he had already maxed out his tries. He had one more try and he didn't remember the code. there was something like a hundred plus Bitcoin sitting in it
[00:05:46] Chris Maurice: Oh, Jesus.
[00:05:47] Nima Gardideh: I think he lost that money. I don't think it ever came around. But, he must have felt awful about that. I think at the time he thought it was being smart by having it like a non-custodial wallet on his USB key with this cod on it.
[00:06:02] Nima Gardideh: But, he lost, a couple hundred thousand dollars in today's probably dollars now. By doing
[00:06:08] Chris Maurice: Good
[00:06:09] Nima Gardideh: that.
[00:06:09] Chris Maurice: Good God.
[00:06:09] Chris Maurice: Yeah. Yeah. That's, I mean, man, we did, yeah, God, I lost my entire savings that I tried to keep in Bitcoin, which in hindsight was a good decision. It was good to move all my money into Bitcoin. I would've done really well if you but
[00:06:27] Chris Maurice: So I'll take credit for the decision. But, and then man, we screwed up. So this was also about the time that Ethereum was coming out, right? And you could actually start mining Ethereum, right? Like what, circa 2015, 2016, after the presale and everything. Right?
[00:06:44] Chris Maurice: And so, Justin and I, we pulled our like collective money together to buy a mining rig, right? And we were like, one of the first, we were like one of the first miners on the Ethereum network, right?
[00:06:58] Chris Maurice: And on this like $200 mining computer. And, we accumulated, I wanna say like, let's call it like 30 eth right? Over the course of relatively quickly, right?
[00:07:12] Chris Maurice: And
[00:07:12] Nima Gardideh: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:14] Chris Maurice: pretty low cost, right? We weren't really paying for theric and all that, right? And all this is obviously before like the chain splits and everything else, right.
[00:07:25] Chris Maurice: And, one day he just, he starts smelling smoke and the CPU had popped and of course we never backed up this wallet, right?
[00:07:35] Nima Gardideh: Classic.
[00:07:36] Chris Maurice: Everything's just sitting on this hard drive. Yeah, it's so funny, like looking back the amount of money that, like, cuz you know, everybody assumes, oh, you get into Bitcoin early, you must have a lot of money. And it's like, well I do in theory.
[00:07:53] Nima Gardideh: You would've in theory. It's interesting, so you were messing around and this is your friend from college and you ended up starting a company with Right.
[00:08:02] Chris Maurice: Yes.
[00:08:02] Nima Gardideh: Right, Mm
[00:08:04] Chris Maurice: Yes. Yeah, Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I met him right before college. We were volunteering at a camp in Mobile, Alabama. And, we met there and then both ended up going to.
[00:08:14] Nima Gardideh: Right out of college you started this company. So what was the insight there? So you said you were attracted to the financial side. What was it about let's call the FinTech innovation part of the, of blockchains that what was the first use case that pulled you in?
[00:08:32] Chris Maurice: Yeah. So it was really the international payment aspect, right? And so at the time, like I said, I was doing, some sales online with like trading cards and that kind of thing. I was also, especially in like the beginning of college, I was doing writing. I was writing ghost writing for different websites and all of that.
[00:08:55] Chris Maurice: Yeah, anytime that you're dealing with international payments, it's really a pain. Right? And I mean, I remember some of these websites that I would write for would pay me through like Western Union, right? Which is, I mean, just a terribly inefficient way of having to do things, right?
[00:09:16] Chris Maurice: Having to go, fill out forms and collect cash and then go deposit that cash on a bank account so I can actually buy cheeseburgers or whatever the hell I was right?
[00:09:25] Chris Maurice: And so I mean, like crypto, that was really the initial attraction, right? Is it's like, Hey, even from the early days, just pay me in Bitcoin.
[00:09:36] Chris Maurice: I can cash this out immediately on at the time Circle or Coinbase, right? And then that's it, right? And it's so much easier. And that was like sort of that, that sort of real world use case is what really attracted me to it, right? Yeah, I think like the price speculation was cool, but I mean, obviously at the time, It's like, I think anybody would be lying if they said at the time they actually thought it was gonna go to like $60K at one point.
[00:10:03] Chris Maurice: Right. I still remember when Bitcoin hit $10k I was like, this is like the greatest thing ever, right? It's never gonna go higher than this. And so, yeah, it was, I mean it was really that use case that attracted me to it more than the price.
[00:10:18] Nima Gardideh: An interesting problem where I think at the time, TransferWise there were like other solutions that started popping up for the international solution. The problem of transferring funds. again, all of them had this, and they still do have this problem of like, there is multiple middle men in, in, in the process and they're all taking slight cut and it's widely inefficient.
[00:10:43] Nima Gardideh: Or someone's taking risk actually. Right? So like if you use transfer wise and you send money, From the US to, let's say Nigeria. There are at least, like, I think one or three parties that take on some risk for about 24 to 72 hours, before the check clears, right? So there's an interesting process of decoupling from all of that infrastructure that needed when we first created the financial system.
[00:11:14] Nima Gardideh: But that can be definitely change with crypto. And so that international variation took you to create this company. So tell us about Yellowcard. What is it that you guys do? What was the first version? is it now? Has it changed since you started? What's happened?
[00:11:34] Chris Maurice: Yeah, it is. It has changed quite a bit, right? So I think the initial idea that we had when we were starting this company was we were gonna take a gift card, put it in CVS, Walmart, places like that and then you would be able to walk in, buy this gift card, redeem it for crypto, right? And so we start building this out.
[00:11:57] Chris Maurice: This is like, let's call it end of 2016 into 2017. Now, we start building this out and we're probably a year into building. And, one day I meet this Nigerian guy at a Wells Fargo who's sending $200 bucks to his family, and the bank charged him $90 to send $200 to Nigeria. And I was like, wow, that is absurd, right?
[00:12:24] Chris Maurice: There's no way that should cost that much. All of that. And I talked to this guy and basically said, Hey, have you heard of Bitcoin? It's free, it's instant, it's fun, all this great stuff. And I go home and I just start thinking what is this guy's mom gonna do with $200 worth of Bitcoin, right?
[00:12:46] Chris Maurice: Like, we've solved the middle of the problem but then, you can't pay your rent with that. Right. You can't buy food with it. Even in San Francisco, you'd have a hard time, living on Bitcoin exclusively. Right. Especially back then. Right. . So, I don't think I knew where Nigeria was on a map at the time.
[00:13:07] Chris Maurice: They don't teach nearly as much about Africa as you might think they do in the Louisiana education system, but I set out to, I just, I set out to understand everything that I could, right. And I start doing all this research and trying to understand the space, right? And eventually I come to the conclusion that, okay, if I actually wanna understand what's going on in Nigeria or Africa more broadly, then I just need to talk to somebody from there, right?
[00:13:36] Chris Maurice: And, so I put out this ad online that said, looking to speak to Nigerian men, which in hindsight, I probably could have worded better. And, I end up talking to this guy, right? And we kind of hit it off. And, this is why I tell everybody that Nigerians are the most convincing people that you'll ever meet in your life. Because within about a month and a half of meeting this random Nigerian man on the internet, he convinced me to go get my passport and take the first international flight of my life.
[00:14:08] Chris Maurice: So like I said, I had been on a plane maybe four times in my life at this point. And, this guy convinces me on a six day old passport, no visa, no shots on a one-way ticket to fly to Legos and basically move everything that we were doing over there, right?
[00:14:27] Chris Maurice: And so I spent all of our money on this one way ticket and literally landed in Nigeria with the options of make the company work or live in Nigeria for the rest of my life. So that's,
[00:14:39] Nima Gardideh: So you all moved there you and your co-founder went in there. What was the pitch like? What did he tell you to convince you to move to Legos?
[00:14:48] Chris Maurice: What did he tell us? Not nearly enough that in hindsight, it should have convinced us. It's so funny because it worked out right? Obviously, like if it didn't work out then it wouldn't have been as funny. But, like it's very funny in hindsight cuz like, I sent him $500 of Bitcoin in advance to like reserve the hotel and to like, get tickets to like this conference we were gonna go to and all of this, right?
[00:15:19] Chris Maurice: I sent this guy that I have never even FaceTimed with in Nigeria, $500 of Bitcoin, right? And it didn't even, it didn't even click for me until the day before leaving. Like, oh wow, I should probably at least FaceTime this. right? So as I'm packing, I call him on FaceTime and he answers and he goes, Chris, what do you need?
[00:15:44] Chris Maurice: I'm getting a haircut. And he's sitting outside in the barber's chair. He is got his, like the bib on and everything. And I was like, man, I'm gonna be honest. I just needed to make sure you were a real person. So what did he tell us? I don't know. Apparently, I guess like 20 year old me didn't need much convincing Right.
[00:16:06] Nima Gardideh: Yeah.
[00:16:06] Chris Maurice: And so, I don't really know what he said, but it worked.
[00:16:11] Nima Gardideh: So you move there so you, because at this point you've decided that you're working, you're gonna solve this international transfer problem, and then using usage of, if I'm holding Bitcoin, I should be able to live with that money. Is that, was that the sort of new idea at this point?
[00:16:25] Chris Maurice: That was basically, yeah, I mean basically we went over there thinking that we were gonna solve this. Like why does it cost so much money to send money to Africa problem? Right.
[00:16:34] Chris Maurice: And what we realized really quickly, and, sort of to your point about like TransferWise and some of these other companies, is all of these companies solve the same problem, which is they move money from the global west to developing countries, right?
[00:16:51] Chris Maurice: To parts of Africa, to South America, to, Southeast Asia, right? none of these companies actually focus on the experience or what goes on, the ground in these emerging markets, right? And so what we realized pretty quickly once we got there is. Hey, the world doesn't need another remittance company, right?
[00:17:15] Chris Maurice: But Nigeria needs a way of actually being able to interact with the local economy if you have crypto, right? And so instead of trying to build a remittance company, we just built an exchange where you can actually buy and sell crypto locally, right? How do you actually on and off ramp into this crypto ecosystem from the local economy?
[00:17:36] Chris Maurice: And that's really, I mean, what we figured out is it's like, wow, Bitcoin is actually a much better way of sending money across the world, right? It's much more effective. It's much cheaper. You get a better rate, all of that. But then again, what are you gonna do with it locally?
[00:17:51] Chris Maurice: Right? And so that's the problem that we ended up really setting out to solve is the local side, as opposed to focusing on sort of the US customer experience.
[00:18:01] Nima Gardideh: And so it's an exchange in that I can my Bitcoin and my wallet and then it to a local currency that I have and then transfer it to my bank account or just use it. So you were solving more of a consumer problem as opposed to sort of like a financial trading problem. Does that sound correct?
[00:18:20] Chris Maurice: So yeah, I mean you can think of the product as Cash App or Coinbase, right? It is Cash App or Coinbase for Africa, right? In that, you go on, you load money, right? Through any locally applicable payment methods. So I load in Nigeria, I load Nira through bank transfer, right? In Kenya through mobile money, through cash, right?
[00:18:42] Chris Maurice: And then I can buy and sell crypto, right? So I can buy Bitcoin, I can buy USDT, I can buy USDC, right? And then move it anywhere in the world. Works the same way in reverse. So, hey, I need to, I'm in Nigeria, my friend is trying to send me money, right? Western Union's not a great option.
[00:19:00] Chris Maurice: Transfer wise is not a great option. You get a terrible rate. Right? So how are people doing it? They're doing it through crypto, right? And so you send crypto to that wallet and then you can cash out to a Nigerian bank account to a mobile money number in Zambia, right? Wherever you need that money, you can just, we spit it out to you.
[00:19:17] Nima Gardideh: Gotcha. So and so Nigeria was the first market and now you've expanded to all these different areas of the continent sounds like.
[00:19:25] Chris Maurice: Yes, so now we're the largest exchange on the continent. We're in 16 countries total. Nigeria was first but we are in 16 African countries.
[00:19:35] Nima Gardideh: That's super cool. So let's talk about the early days. So what was the first, so you discovered this problem, you moved to Africa to build it.
[00:19:46] Nima Gardideh: How did you first grow the exchange? Like, what did you do to get the first set of users for it to begin with?
[00:19:53] Chris Maurice: Yeah. So we launched, we actually launched in what, June of 2019. And at first, I mean, it was just like, hard, painful growth. Right? It was like, tell your friends and get your friends to tell their friends. Right. We didn't have any money for marketing. We didn't have any money for, any type of promotion.
[00:20:18] Chris Maurice: Right. We had a little bit to like grow the team a little bit, but, not for much of anything else. Right. And so it was just, hey, tell your friends and they'll tell their friends and then everybody's happy. Right? And I mean, looking back it's like, I mean, it's actually, it's almost embarrassing, like how bare bones the MVP of this product was.
[00:20:40] Chris Maurice: Right? I mean, you could basically, in Nigeria, you could give us nira and then tell us where to send the crypto. There was no wallet, there was no cell feature. Like there was nothing else. It was just an on-ramp at that point, essentially. Right. And so. Yeah, it was a matter of, it was really a matter of like, okay, let's get as many people using this as we can, right?
[00:21:06] Chris Maurice: And then just listen to what they tell us, right? And so the first thing they said is, well, look, I can buy crypto on here, but what if I need to sell it? And so, okay, well let's add that feature, right? And so, we worked on that, added that feature. Hey, I'm new to crypto, I need to buy it cuz you know, my friend is asking for it or whatever.
[00:21:26] Chris Maurice: But I don't have a wallet. I don't know how to set one up. Okay, well we needed to add in a wallet system, right? And so it was, I mean, it's really just iterating based on customer feedback, right? I mean, the product was nowhere near where it should have been when we launched, right? But that's, I frankly, that's okay.
[00:21:44] Chris Maurice: Right? I think it's okay to look back and be embarrassed by the mvp. As long as you're willing to sort of adapt to what the people that are actually using it tell you, right.
[00:21:54] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. I mean that, yeah, that, that makes a lot of sense. And I think like expanding. Your product in order to match more use cases is just a clear way to grow as well anyway. Right. You're now expanding the number of people that can potentially use the product because you're solving more of the different nuanced use cases in the general problem space.
[00:22:12] Nima Gardideh: Right. What is the, so you could first buy the different tokens or different currencies eventually could sell them. How do you, so you guys are out of school, know about crypto. How did you solve the security problem? Like obviously there is a lot of that going around right now in exchanges and Coinbase is regulated and there's all these people doing audits.
[00:22:40] Nima Gardideh: Like when did you start thinking about, oh wow, there is a lot of money being exchanged in the system. How do we structure it in such a way that is secure?
[00:22:53] Chris Maurice: Yeah. So I think the advantage that we had going in is, like I said, we've already kind of taken our beating in crypto
[00:23:03] Nima Gardideh: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:03] Chris Maurice: from a security standpoint, right. From like losing all the Bitcoin and the Ethereum and everything else, right? And so going in, it was like, okay, this has to be secure, right?
[00:23:15] Chris Maurice: And we've learned our lessons on how to do that. And so, I mean, really the main thing for us was, okay, we obviously do not have the, like we as a small startup are not gonna be. able to build the most secure wallet in the world, right? Like, let's be
[00:23:36] Nima Gardideh: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:37] Chris Maurice: honest about that. And so instead of trying to build it ourselves, what we did is we went out and partnered with, at the time Bit Go and now fire blocks, right?
[00:23:46] Chris Maurice: And so, basically what we did is we went out and said, okay, like who has the best institutional grade security for crypto assets and how can we work with them? Right? And so essentially all of the wallets on the platform were just whitelisted, right? Or, sorry, white labeled wallets for bit go at first and then now for fire blocks, right?
[00:24:09] Chris Maurice: Because as far as we're concerned, they are experts when it comes to security for these assets. And we could spend a couple million dollars trying to develop a system that would not be as good as theirs. Right? And so, yeah, we work with them and just sort of ride on their security and their expertise and their technology from that standpoint.
[00:24:32] Nima Gardideh: That's interesting. So you've kind of like outsourced this problem to another company whose sole purpose is to make sure they get this. essentially.
[00:24:42] Chris Maurice: exactly. Yeah. Especially from like the wallet security standpoint right now. So for us, there's also, there's other security implications, right? We have bank accounts, we have a web app, we have a mobile app, we have things like that could also potentially be exploited, right?
[00:24:57] Chris Maurice: And so, yeah, I mean, so from there it was a matter of, really just expertise, right? You wanted to bring in the right people, right? So we brought in we brought in two people that, we really thought could. I could help. And I mean, over the course of the past year, right, since our CISO joined, we've made pretty tremendous strides in terms of security, right?
[00:25:24] Chris Maurice: And so that's really, I mean, look, cybersecurity is always, it's a matter of sort of how do you say, prevention, detection, all of that, right? You can't stop everything. But the goal is to make sure that you know when something happens and make sure that you can stop any bleeding, right?
[00:25:41] Chris Maurice: And so anytime that something happens, we have tons of mechanisms in place to make sure that they have access to very limited anything, right? They have access to no user data they have access to, you set up honey pot wallets, all of that, right?
[00:25:56] Chris Maurice: And so, it's set up in such a way where even if something were to happen, they would not be able to get to anything of importance, right.
[00:26:07] Nima Gardideh: What's a honey butt pot wallet?
[00:26:09] Chris Maurice: Essentially like you set it up, like it's essentially, how do you say, it's like a wallet that, if somebody can get into, if somebody can get into the system, then it's like they can take that, right? So it's like you kind of set it up and it's like, Hey, okay, cool, you won. Here you go. Here's, you know?
[00:26:27] Nima Gardideh: Is it like a bait?
[00:26:29] Chris Maurice: It's essentially, it's like bait, right? It's like, you know, hey, you got in, right? So, you know, here you go. This is like the easy grab and, you know, leave everything else alone, right? Everything else is behind further layers of protection and all anyways, right? And so it's like, hey, this is, you know, this alerts us that something's going on and, uh, yeah.
[00:26:48] Nima Gardideh: How much of this security apparatus that you've, you've built is externalized in order to create trust in the app? Like do you feel like as a consumer that wants to install the app and use it, do people care about trust? Are they like holding a lot of cash on your systems or they're using it in transient like, do you think trust essentially is a big part of it?
[00:27:19] Nima Gardideh: Has that changed since the crypto ecosystem has gone through these, especially this year? Uh, of, you know, what is the phrase people in crypto use? Fud, fear, uncertainty and doubt. Uh, when there's been more of that around, do you feel like that's reduced growth for you, has made it harder? Uh, how has that changed the, the, the way you've been thinking about growth?
[00:27:43] Chris Maurice: Yeah. So the, uh, the recent events in crypto have actually helped us pretty significantly because we are the only company on the continent that's actually put time, energy, and the effort into, uh, sort of the blocking and tackling, so to speak, right? Like the compliance, the security, the legal, the licensing.
[00:28:05] Chris Maurice: We're the only exchange on the continent that's licensed, right? We have licensing in seven countries. We're the only exchange that at least as far as I'm aware, right. That has a actual dedicated security team, right? And, and you know, a CISO and all of that, right? We actually have a dedicated compliance team, right?
[00:28:27] Chris Maurice: We brought in the woman that was running all of Africa for MoneyGram to run our compliance team, right? We have a dedicated legal team in-house, right? And so, we invested quite a bit in building up like the, how do you say, the security, the compliance, the legal licensing, all of that.
[00:28:44] Chris Maurice: And the bet was that eventually people are gonna care about this. Of course, I did not think that it was gonna come in the form of, you know, a 30 year old stealing 11 billion from the industry, right? But, uh, you know, we'll, we'll take it any way we can get it, I guess, right? And so, yeah, all of a sudden people care about it though, right?
[00:29:06] Chris Maurice: And so it actually matters now that we have this stuff. And so that's helped pretty significantly, right?
[00:29:12] Nima Gardideh: Interesting. So it's, it's almost been like a positive outcome for people who then, then trust your system better, um, and come in and become a user. is, so that's interesting. So tell me about how the structure of the growth team works. Like who is, how are you going after users? Is there a growth team separately?
[00:29:36] Nima Gardideh: Is there a marketing team? Like, tell me about the org on trying to grow this app from the early days, I assume there was like a point where you had enough features where then the, the market obviously grew in the size in which you could, you could go after it. There's, um, you became a full exchange and that took a bunch of product development and you want to, want to scale it to, to millions of users.
[00:29:59] Nima Gardideh: um, how before you started doing multi-market stuff, I'd love to hear that story of like, how did you first start growing dramatically in, in the first market Nigeria, and then how were you thinking about, opening up markets?
[00:30:11] Chris Maurice: Opening up new markets was part of the plan from day one. Um, and so we, we launched in Nigeria. Uh, obviously, you know, we were focused on Nigeria at first, but the plan was always, you know, Hey, we wanna move as quickly as we can to other African countries. Right. Um, and I think that that's something that we saw differently than, I mean, still really still any other exchange that's operating, but certainly any exchange that was operating at the time is that the continent is bigger than just Nigeria and South Africa and Kenya.
[00:30:42] Chris Maurice: Right. There's 54 countries and there's a lot of opportunity across the continent if you, if you're willing to look at it. Right. Um, and so, yeah, I mean, you know, we launched and things took off, you know, slowly, but were, we're growing in Nigeria. Right. And I mean, you know, I think we did. maybe a hundred thousand dollars a a month Right.
[00:31:05] Chris Maurice: To start with in, you know, early like June and July. And so, and then by November, uh, we were sort of planning our rollout in South Africa and Botswana, and at that point we were doing about a hundred k a day. Right. So we, we had grown, you know, a hundred K a day is still nothing in crypto. Right. But, you know, we had grown Well at that point.
[00:31:29] Nima Gardideh: If that's like 30x growth in a
[00:31:31] Chris Maurice: It's Yeah, exactly. Right. I mean, but it's, you know, it's 30 x from like a dollar to $30. Right. So Um, and so yeah, I mean it was, it was good growth, right. But it's, you know, it was still, we still had a long way to go. Right. Um, and I mean, you know, really though, what, what really set it off and what, what I like to say is where we went from plane startup to like actually like, oh shit, we have to run a company Now was when Covid hit.
[00:32:00] Chris Maurice: Right. And so, Around what? Like March and April, the world is ending and everybody is locked down. Nobody's allowed outside their house in some countries and everybody turns to the internet for payments, for jobs, right? For everything. And all of a sudden we have this influx of users, right? Especially people receiving remittances, right?
[00:32:28] Chris Maurice: All of a sudden, a lot more money is flowing back cuz people in the US are getting all these STEMI checks, right? So all of a sudden you got all this money flowing back now and so we, we see this influx of users and we go from like maybe a hundred k a day to like a million dollars a day, right? Over the course of like two months.
[00:32:46] Chris Maurice: And so that was, that was when it was like, oh crap, okay, now we have to figure out what we're doing. Right? . Um, and so that was when we really started. having to hire, right? Having to, having to think about like, okay, we need a fully fledged marketing team, right? It can't just be like one guy that we, you know, like we had just our C M O at the time who's like, that's like, that was it, right?
[00:33:12] Chris Maurice: It was just him trying to do stuff. Right Now it's like, okay, we need like an actual marketing and growth team. We need a, like a real dev team, right? Like our CTO cannot be the only one coding, right?
[00:33:24] Chris Maurice: We need, we need a dev team, we need customer support, right? We need, you know, all of a sudden it's like the, the team goes from being what, maybe seven people to 30, 40, right? Cuz it's like, crap, we have to hire all these positions, right? We have to actually figure out what we're doing for all this stuff. Cause now we have this influx of users and what el like what are they gonna do?
[00:33:47] Nima Gardideh: Just needed to support the traffic that was coming in at that point. And were you only in, sounds like you were in more markets minimum. Were you, uh, in more markets at this point, or were you just in South Africa and Nigeria.
[00:34:00] Chris Maurice: Botswana, South Africa, Nigeria were definitely the three markets that were doing volume at that point. I, I, wanna say by April of 2020, we would've also been in, let's say, Zambia. We would've been in Uganda. Um, yeah. So I wanna say we would've been five markets at that.
[00:34:21] Nima Gardideh: interesting. So you, the effectively had one. Marketing person. Um, doing all of that work, what was the, what were the initial tactics and then it sounds like there was like a market shift and you were one of the players that had a decent product in this space, and then people were sort of flocking to it, uh, which is a great space to be in or a good place to be in. What, what were the tactics that you all were using in the beginning and then how has that changed since?
[00:34:52] Nima Gardideh: Growth
[00:34:52] Chris Maurice: marketing tactics used and a building referral program
[00:34:53] Chris Maurice: We again, had no money for marketing, so it was all sort of either viral marketing or social media, you know, posts and like share this with your friends or it was, you know, hey, get, you know, get a couple bucks if you refer somebody and they trade and things like that. Right? I mean, this, this was when we rolled out like our referral programs and, and uh, you know, other, other things that we could do, not completely free, but essentially free, right?
[00:35:22] Chris Maurice: The idea of the referral program is you don't get paid unless you refer somebody that does something, right? Um, and so, yeah, I mean we just, we started rolling out these programs and I mean, especially in Nigeria, we had people where their full-time job would just be using their referral. Right. And so, and I mean even today you still have that, right?
[00:35:44] Chris Maurice: And it's not just us, it's, it's, that's like relatively common in, in Nigeria and other, uh, certain other countries, right? Where it's like you'll have, I mean, you can get people who will just do that full-time if the, the referral program is paying enough, right? so
[00:35:59] Nima Gardideh: just go out there and find users for this thing and they'll tell them, there's this, there's this app, yellow card.
[00:36:05] Chris Maurice: AS long as there's something in it for them, they will essentially be your, like, I don't want it not unpaid because we're paying them the referrals. Right. But they will be your like, sort of part-time salespeople like working on commission. Right.
[00:36:18] Nima Gardideh: are there limits to your referral program? Uh,
[00:36:21] Chris Maurice: there were not, at the time
[00:36:22] Nima Gardideh: it rip? Yeah.
[00:36:24] Chris Maurice: so, uh, some people did really well off the referral program. at the time we had an employee that was referring people on the side. , which, uh, I don't know. I guess I, back then we certainly didn't have any policies. Right. And it was, you know, it was a, a true startup.
[00:36:41] Chris Maurice: Uh, now I'm sure, I'm sure like, probably would have to be like, Hey, you know, that's not really cool. Um, but, uh, he actually, he referred so many people that he was actually making more money off referrals than he was like, working
[00:36:56] Nima Gardideh: Wow.
[00:36:57] Chris Maurice: And so, um, yeah, that was, that was the kind of stuff that like tipped us off, like, oh wow.
[00:37:03] Chris Maurice: We are like paying out quite a bit. We actually, we have not really implemented many changes though since then to the referral program. So it's still like uncapped, it's still, uh, we have better like, fraud detection now, right? So you can't like, you can't like refer yourself and, you know, things like that.
[00:37:21] Chris Maurice: Right. But, um, yeah, I mean, uh, you know, look, if, if people wanna refer their friends, especially, especially in Africa, it's, it's, it's pretty, how do you say? It's like, uh, it's definitely part of sort of a culture that like, if I'm
[00:37:38] Chris Maurice: gonna refer somebody to you, then I expect something in return, right? Like, I expect, you know, hey, if, if, uh, if you know I'm gonna refer somebody to sponsor your podcast and they're gonna give you a thousand bucks, well, you know, what's my cut?
[00:37:49] Chris Maurice: Right? You're gonna kick me back something. Right. That's very common. Um, and so, yeah, I mean, you know, really, I mean, even till now it's like we want a program that encourages that to, you know, come to us. Right.
[00:38:02] Nima Gardideh: So you're tapping into this, this culture that makes a lot of sense. I, yeah. I, I feel like the, the referral programs that have worked well, there's always these folks that are on the edge of using it a fraudulent way, but actually they're, they're providing a lot of value. So you want to let them be in the ecosystem, um, where there are basically acquiring customers for you, but they might be doing work that you should be doing there.
[00:38:27] Nima Gardideh: There was, um, a period of time, and I don't know if you, you all have dealt with this yet, but there was a period of time where there was arbitrage to be made in how much money you spent on Google ads. And how much money Uber will give you back. And so people were running ads on the Uber keywords themselves with their referral codes riding around San Francisco for free because it was just cheaper to do it like that, where you fronted the capital and Google, you were really good at running Google ads, and so you ended up making money on, on the spread.
[00:38:59] Nima Gardideh: And then so driving around at a massive discount and, and, in San Francisco. And so maybe some of that is happening. I don't know if you've all dealt with like people trying to bid against you on these, on these networks, but it's, it's a, it's an interesting space to be in, but usually it happens when the referral system is useful and that people end up using the product afterwards and, and it's working very well.
[00:39:20] Chris Maurice: Yeah. Yeah, a hundred percent. I mean, in, in the early days, right? Uh, the, like, the exchange rates on the platform, uh, a lot of it was updated manually, right? Because, I mean,
[00:39:31] Chris Maurice: again, this is like a bare bones mvp and, uh, and yeah, you could always tell when the exchange rate was outdated. because that's when, that's when all of a sudden, you know, volume spikes, right?
[00:39:43] Chris Maurice: All of a sudden it's like, wow, where's all this traffic coming from? Well, you know, people are smarter than you, right? . And, uh, a group of people is smarter than you, right? It's like,
[00:39:52] Chris Maurice: you know, one person versus, you know, a couple thousand that are, you know, checking this out. And, uh, as soon as the rate is, you know, sort of below market, then it's like, hey, all of a sudden, you know, volumes have spiked, right?
[00:40:05] Nima Gardideh: Wow. So people were finding arbitrages on your network and so you were, what happened in those? Did you lose a lot of money in those scenarios where people are exchanging and you just can't fulfill at the same rate
[00:40:17] Chris Maurice: Not a lot. Um, actually, so funny enough, um, what we, what we did to combat that is, uh, there was, there was this one guy, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna say who it was, but there was this one traitor on the, on our app, um, who we knew was like particularly good at spotting these arbitrage opportunities.
[00:40:39] Chris Maurice: And so what we would do is anytime that he would log in , we would like, we would like, we would be alerted, right? If we would go check the rate and then that's and, and sure enough like that, that was pretty much how we, uh, that was pretty much how we beat that system, right, is we had, like this one guy, we never told him obviously, but like we knew that this guy was looking out for these ARB opportunities and was really good at finding them.
[00:41:05] Chris Maurice: And so just any time that he would log in, it was like, okay, hey, you know, this guy's logging in. Let's, let's make sure that, uh,
[00:41:12] Nima Gardideh: Alert, alert
[00:41:14] Chris Maurice: Yeah. tell tell somebody to check the rate. Let's,
[00:41:16] Nima Gardideh: Human push notifications. Like there's, there is someone who's figured out that, that something may be wrong. So I assume that's all automated now. And, and,
[00:41:24] Chris Maurice: that is all automated now. It's, uh, it's been automated for a while now, but, uh, yeah, I mean, like I said, I mean, you know, we went, I mean we literally went. Plain startup to having to run a business, right?
[00:41:37] Nima Gardideh: Mm-hmm. So what, what was that first, so you went from like six, seven people to 40 or so, and you're all early in, in your, in your experience as founders, what was it like going through hiring that many people? How did you learn how to structure the organization? Was there a lot of like trial and error were, or did you have advisors, like how do you go through this first stage of growth?
[00:42:08] Nima Gardideh: Um, and I'd love to hear specifically about the, the marketing growth team. Did the CMO there hire everyone underneath them? They do. You have a separate growth function versus a marketing function. How? How did that team come about?
[00:42:22] Chris Maurice: Yeah. Yeah. So, um, I, I wish, I wish that I could tell you that we had this, like grando vision and, uh, we executed on it perfectly and you know, this is how it happened. Uh, but it, I mean, it was really just all trial and error, right? I mean, so we were, we were hiring people at the time, and I mean, We had a hit rate of probably like one in 10.
[00:42:49] Chris Maurice: Right? , I mean, like, we were, we were just, we were not doing, like, we were not doing great at first. Right? And then we, uh, that was about the time that we started like, working with a recruiter and, and kind of like we formalized the process a little bit more and that, that was when we actually realized the value of recruiters, which is like, oh wow, we have a full-time job.
[00:43:13] Chris Maurice: And like, hiring is just more to do on top of that versus like, you know, this person that their only job is to find good people. Right? And so, um, yeah, I mean, at the time though, we, we did not have a good hit rate, right?
[00:43:28] Chris Maurice: And.
[00:43:28] Nima Gardideh: When you say head rate, is it like people you were giving out offers to weren't accepting them or you're not, you're just going in a lot of calls with, with folks that were not high
[00:43:37] Chris Maurice: No, I mean, like, people were joining the team and then we would find out like, oh, this guy is working three jobs at the same time. Like
[00:43:45] Nima Gardideh: damn
[00:43:46] Chris Maurice: right? Like stuff like that, right? I mean, yeah. I mean, oh man. Yeah, we have like some horror stories from the early days, right? But like, it's, it's stuff that we didn't even realize that you have to watch out for when you're, when you're hiring on the continent.
[00:43:59] Chris Maurice: Right? Cuz like, I mean, in, in the US it's like, you know, if I, if I hired you to do something and then it turns out you were working two jobs, then it's like, that's like fraud, right? I mean, that's like theft almost, you know? It's like if you're working two full-time jobs at the same time, during the same hours, right?
[00:44:18] Chris Maurice: Like, you know, we're not talking about like working one during the day and one at night. Right. Um, and, uh, and yeah, I mean, it's, it's. , if you don't stay on top of certain people, they will just work multiple jobs and they will just not do anything for you until they're told to. And if you don't stay on top of them, they'll just go work somewhere else and get paid from all these places at the same time.
[00:44:43] Chris Maurice: Right. And, and so it was, it was a combination of like, we had to learn how to manage across cultures. Right. How to make sure that, you know, that we're, uh, like, you know, appropriately managing the people that we're bringing on. Um, it was how to find good managers, right? It was, oh man. I mean, just, uh, yeah, I mean, just a number of lessons learned the hard way.
[00:45:08] Chris Maurice: Right. But I mean, I think, uh, I think the really, the key thing that we learned from that time though is that, you know, again, we might have had like a one in 10 hit rate in the early days, uh, when it came to like people actually working out. But the, the ones that we found that were good, it was like they, they were really good and most of them are still with the team.
[00:45:28] Chris Maurice: Right. And so it's like the people that were really good, we liked to, you know, we made sure that we were rewarding, right? And we made sure that, you know, we were keeping them happy and that they were encouraged to stay with the team. And then the people that did not work out, we made sure to move on from quickly.
[00:45:44] Chris Maurice: Right. And I think that's really, yeah, I mean that's, you know, for, for any startup, right? It's like, that's, that's really the only way to do it, right? It's like somebody either fits into a startup culture or they don't, and if they don't, then you need to move on quickly. And if they do, then you need to make sure that you, you know, reward them and, and, you know, keep them happy and, and, you know, keep them on the team.
[00:46:03] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. 90% of people not working out is extremely high. I, I'd never heard that before, but it makes sense. There's a cultural differences that you hadn't encountered for, uh, and then you learned the hard way it sounds like, on how to, how to go around them and vet people, um, in, in a whole culture that you're not from, um, that's interesting.
[00:46:25] Nima Gardideh: So you went through this first part of growth, like tell me about how you're doing growth now. Um, it sounds like you've, you've kind of written a couple of waves, which is extremely useful, right? There was like the covid wave and now there is this, um, F FTX wave that. Somehow is helping you, which I thought was not going to be the case.
[00:46:48] Nima Gardideh: So, and that, that always helps for growth. But what are the systems behind what's working now? Uh, is it just market expansion and using your referral system as the main lever? Are there other channels of growth that are working out? Um, and how are you thinking about the next 12 to 18 months?
[00:47:09] Chris Maurice: Yeah. I mean, realistically, right? I, I look at, um, I look at the position we're in, so we just, we raised series B earlier this year, right? We have plenty of cash, we have plenty of runway, you know, into, you know, past 2023 into 2024, right? And, and then I look at the market around us and it's like, oh wow.
[00:47:29] Chris Maurice: We're in a significantly better position than nevermind crypto, right? We're in a better position than most fintechs on the, on the continent, right? Um, in terms of. You know, the amount of money that we raised when we raised it, the amount we have on hand, all of that. Right? And so, yeah, I mean, really, um, when it comes to, when it comes to, uh, you know, thinking about the next 12 to 18 months, it's, it's just continuing to ride that wave, right?
[00:48:00] Chris Maurice: I mean, we're, we're in a position where, you know, again, I mean, like some of our competitors are laying off, you know, 25, 50% of their staff, right? And we're not necessarily, you know, we're not growing the team by a hundred x right? But, you know, we're still hiring right where we need to, right. We're still, you know, growing the team a little bit, right?
[00:48:21] Chris Maurice: Uh, we're still spending on marketing, we're still spending on, uh, you know, these other, these other growth levers, right? And so, I mean, that's, that's really the big thing for us is like, okay, look, we, we played our cards right. We're in a good position. We have some cash, we have some runway. , nobody else really does.
[00:48:39] Chris Maurice: So we're not gonna go overboard, right. We're gonna kind of maintain course, we're gonna, you know, keep doing what's working and yeah. And just sort of ride out this wave into the next bull market, right? Um, the, I mean, the only thing that I would add to that is that we're, again, we're in sort of a unique position on the continent where it's not even, I, I, I shouldn't even say like riding it out to the next bull market, cuz the market cycles don't matter a ton, right?
[00:49:08] Chris Maurice: They matter. Like, uh, like some stuff hurts us, right? Some stuff does not. Uh, but like, regardless of the market, people on the continent need to be able to make payments, right?
[00:49:18] Chris Maurice: Inflation is not slowing down. People need to protect their savings, right? People need to be able to receive remittance and that's really what crypto is solving, right?
[00:49:27] Chris Maurice: And so we have a much more practical sort of user and, and platform than say a, you know, a Coinbase, which is. , you know, or I guess Binance would be a better example, right? Which is largely speculative.
[00:49:40] Nima Gardideh: uh, I guess two questions on that. One is, uh, your, your business model, is it just like an exchange where you make a cut on, um, so the transaction volume matters you greatly. Does that, does that sound.
[00:49:57] Chris Maurice: Uh, definitely, yeah. I mean, yeah, volume, volume matters, right? Uh, we make, we make more in certain countries than others, so volumes not always the perfect indicator because the margins can be different by country, right? But the, the breakdown of like the volume and where it's happening certainly matters.
[00:50:15] Nima Gardideh: And so are you, are you charging some like fee or are you doing some form of arbitrage where you give out a specific, let's say exchange rate and then you go and, and clear it at slightly? Like how, how is this transaction thing making, making your own money?
[00:50:33] Chris Maurice: Yeah. So there, there are fees, um, and, and you know, spread and that kind of thing. Um, all of that gets baked into the, the, the price that the customer sees, right? And so, you know, we, we provide a, um, you know, a more detailed breakdown if that's what they they want, right? But, um, yeah, I mean, from a user experience standpoint, we try to pro, you know, look, kind of kinda like we talked about earlier.
[00:50:56] Chris Maurice: We try to make sure that nobody has to do math, right?
[00:50:58] Nima Gardideh: Mm
[00:50:59] Chris Maurice: And so, uh, yeah, I mean that's like one of my bigger pet peeves with some other exchanges is it's like, okay, you get to the checkout screen or the, the confirmation screen and it's like, well, , you know, now all these numbers are different and there's this fee and that fee and everything, right?
[00:51:14] Chris Maurice: And so we try to, we try to just, uh, upfront, hey, you know, this is the exchange rate. This is exactly how much you'll receive on the other end. Right? And then we give sort of a breakdown of how we got to that number. But we try to do all the math for you. Right?
[00:51:27] Chris Maurice: And so it's, I think it's a little different. We're not trying to hide any fees or anything like that. Right?
[00:51:32] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, so it's all out in the open, which is good. Um, then, so you're saying you, you're spending on marketing, so the referral channel wa was the original path for growth and then you ended up going after some other paid channels. What is, are there restrictions in, in the African market for running ads on crypto?
[00:51:49] Nima Gardideh: Has that's changed over the last couple of years and, and what is the channel composition? Tell me about the African market. Uh, how do you acquire users on these, on these ad networks?
[00:51:59] Chris Maurice: Yeah. I mean, so there's, uh, I guess to the initial question, there's not really restrictions. No. Um, Yeah, I mean unfortunately there's not really crypto regulation or anything like that in most of the markets that we deal in. Right. And that's, that's, I mean, that's a big part of our pitch to the regulators when we meet with 'em is, Hey, people are doing this, people are going to continue to do this.
[00:52:24] Chris Maurice: Do you want them to do it in a safe and regulated environment, or do you want them to end up, you know, going to ftx, right. Which is, I mean, it's, you know, people are going to end up there one way or the other if you don't allow this, you know, freely and openly onshore. Right. Um, and so, yeah, I mean there's, uh, no, there's not really restrictions.
[00:52:44] Chris Maurice: Right. Um, and so, yeah, I mean, you know, look, we don't do anything necessarily out of the ordinary. Um, I would say the, the one thing that we do uniquely. that matters is, so there's, you know, there's digital ads and there's, uh, you know, billboards and all that fun stuff, right? But then the one thing that we do well, that, that really matters is, uh, the ground game, right?
[00:53:09] Chris Maurice: And I think when it comes to like, how do you acquire users on the continent? There's, there's two steps. There's the awareness step, which is obvious, you know, hey, somebody has to have heard of you in order to, to want to use you, right? And then there is the education step, which is a little bit more granular, right?
[00:53:27] Chris Maurice: And, uh, we take two approaches to that. One is we have an entire Yellow Card Academy, right? Which goes over all the, I mean, everything from nevermind crypto, just like financial basics, right? How do you save money on an irregular income? Things like that, right? Um, all the way to more advanced, like explain Defi, you know, what is the one inch protocol, right?
[00:53:51] Chris Maurice: All, all of this, right? Um, And so yeah, we cover, we cover a lot on the academy, but then the other thing that we do on the ground is we actually host events and we host activations and meetups and all of that in each country that we work in, uh, to invite users to come out and ask their questions, to meet our team locally.
[00:54:11] Chris Maurice: Right? To see that, you know, hey, this is a real company that has real people on the ground, right in the country, right? We have an office in each country that we work in. We have a registration, we have a local bank account. Uh, all of that, right? And
[00:54:24] Chris Maurice: so, yeah, that's, that's the part that we sort of do uniquely well, that I think really matters on the continent is that, that like local ground game,
[00:54:34] Nima Gardideh: And do you have offices multiple places in each country or is it just a major cities, like how, how have. and, and is there like a clear ROI that you've, like, calculated, just makes sense to do these events? Or it just was originally a community thing that's, um, come about as a, as a growth lever? Like how have you been thinking about
[00:54:55] Chris Maurice: Yeah.
[00:54:56] Nima Gardideh: Allocating capital, uh, behind these offices?
[00:54:59] Chris Maurice: So, uh, do we have, so we typically only have one office per country, right. Um, and it would be in, you know, the major financial center, right? So, you know, Legos or uh, you know, Nairobi. Right? Um, what I would also say though is look, we have, uh, what, 200 and uh, just over 200 people on the team in 21 countries.
[00:55:22] Chris Maurice: And I hate going to an office, so I'm not gonna make anybody else go to an office, right? . And so, uh, I mean, the offices in these places are. You know, we're not talking about like, massive offices, right? We're talking about like dedicated coworking space, right? Like
[00:55:37] Chris Maurice: WeWork style. Uh, so it's not, it's not, you know, that's, uh, of, of everything that we spend money on that's not, you know, that's not what's gonna do us in, right?
[00:55:46] Chris Maurice: So, um, uh, yeah, I think that's, that's all, that's all fine. Um, and it helps again for, you know, being able to host events and, and things like that. It helps with, you know, uh, how do you say, sort of neutralizing those costs. Um, but yeah, I mean, in terms of the roi, uh, what I would say is that if you do it right, these events don't have to cost much money, right?
[00:56:05] Chris Maurice: You're, I mean, basically telling people, Hey, everybody come meet up at this place at this time. Right? You know, we'll buy some pizzas or, you know, some food for the, for everybody that shows up. And that's, that's really about it, right? And then it's, and then it's just a matter of like, people hanging out, getting to ask their questions, getting to understand, you know, what is crypto?
[00:56:23] Chris Maurice: Why should I use it, why should I use Yellow card? How does it work? All of that, right? And I mean, we'll get significantly more signups. Um, and in my opinion, even more valuable than the signups is the feedback, right? Because if, you know, if 50 people show up to this event and 30 of them complain about the same thing, well, okay, obviously there's a problem here.
[00:56:44] Chris Maurice: We need to fix this, right? So let's find the bug, let's, you know, let's squash it, right? And so these, these events are, it's, it's more than just customer acquisition, right? It's also really how we figure out, hey, this is where, this is where things are not working perfectly on the app, right? You know, hey, th there's, there's a problem with, you know, the, the display rate in Zambia, right?
[00:57:06] Chris Maurice: Okay, cool. Let's go fix that, right? Or, you know, hey, in, in Botswana, we had multiple people complain that, uh, you know, when they put in their wallet address, it says that it's invalid. Right? Okay, let's go, let's go fix that, right? Um, yeah. So that's, uh, you know, that's, that's also part of the value, right, of, uh, of these events is that it helps us with that, that user feedback, right?
[00:57:28] Nima Gardideh: you have like a direct conversation with the users and, and that's very useful in these scenarios that, do you have like a different app per country, and a different code base, or is it all the same singular app people can download and, and, and use?
[00:57:44] Chris Maurice: It's all, it's all one app. Uh, right now it is a unique experience by country, though. So if I'm downloading this app in Nigeria, then I'm gonna have my sort of unique Nigerian experience, right? I'm gonna see Nira as the, the base currency. I'm gonna have Nigerian payment methods available, et cetera, et cetera, right?
[00:58:02] Chris Maurice: So based on your location, it's, it's changing the experience, the currency, things like that. But it's all, it's all one app.
[00:58:11] Nima Gardideh: And are, are your product and engineering teams separated per market, or is it like per function? How, how have you organized the product develop?
[00:58:20] Chris Maurice: Uh, no product, product and and development all happens centrally, right? And so,
[00:58:25] Chris Maurice: cuz like I said, it's all, it's one app, it's one code base, all of that, right? And so, uh, the idea is that anywhere that we find these issues, they get thrown to the, the centralized product team that, you know, puts it together and then the, the dev team fixes it, right?
[00:58:38] Chris Maurice: Um, and so yeah, we try to, we try to avoid, um, with like, , uh, how do you say? Like, things like marketing, development, legal, stuff like that, right. To the extent that we can, we try to avoid making it super country specific, right? We try to have diverse teams from across the continent, uh, that, you know, are available in this essentially pool of resources, right?
[00:59:03] Chris Maurice: And then in each country we have a country manager, right? And we have, you know, leadership for operations in the country. Um, and then they have access to this just pool of resources, right? So if they need help with legal, well, we have a, you know, a great legal team based across the content that can help, right? Things like that.
[00:59:19] Nima Gardideh: Gotcha. And, and are you supporting all these different languages at these, in these different countries? Like are you fully localized or are you just using the most common language, which I assume is English or French?
[00:59:32] Chris Maurice: Yeah. So we support, we support a number of local languages, right? Uh, so yeah, English and French are, I mean, look, with English and French, you basically reach the entire continent, um, excluding North Africa, right? Um, which, but even in North Africa, there's a ton of French, right? And so, um, between French, English, Arabic, Swahili,
[00:59:53] Chris Maurice: Uh, we have what, a couple of other local languages in like South Africa, Rwanda, uh, you can reach essentially everybody, right? And so, uh, we are working on adding more and more support, right? We're adding, uh, we've added in support for, I mean, even like Somali, right? And langu and countries that we don't support yet.
[01:00:14] Chris Maurice: We've added in support for the languages, right? Uh, and we're, we're constantly working on, uh, sort of improving that and making sure that that's available on all, uh, how do you say, assets, right? So we want that available on the web app. We want that available on the mobile app. We want that available on the academy, right?
[01:00:31] Chris Maurice: We want it available everywhere, right? And so that's, we have, we have an in-house team that handles the translation mainly for French, right? Um, and yeah, the French and Swahili. And the goal is to make sure that that's available everywhere.
[01:00:45] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. I mean, that makes so much sense when you're trying to grow across a continent of people speaking all these different languages, that this is like a huge growth lever to tap into because you're tr you're trying to go after you expand the percentage of the market willing to use this, this product.
[01:01:03] Nima Gardideh: I, I would assume that you would want to, almost even have the academy eventually in all these different languages and,
[01:01:10] Chris Maurice: hundred percent. Yeah. And that's, I mean, that's the goal, right? Is, I mean, we want everybody to be able to use it in their native tongue, right?
[01:01:16] Chris Maurice: Regardless of where that's from. Now that, I mean, you know, when you're talking about, I mean, what, several hundred languages just in Nigeria than , you know, it's, it becomes more and more difficult, right?
[01:01:27] Chris Maurice: But, you know, we we're, we're doing our best to support the main languages right? In each country and, and try to get as granular as possible, right? So, I mean, you know, we want Swan on there, we want Zulu, we want Hausa, we want all these different languages, right? And so for now, again, English, French, Swahili, you know, we cover basically the entire continent with that.
[01:01:48] Chris Maurice: Um, but we do have, uh, what I think we're up to 10 languages on the, the web app and the mobile app, and then working on like the academy and, and things like that to get all that translated.
[01:02:00] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes so much sense. All right, last speculative question for you. You know, I think, uh, I don't know how much you follow financial markets. I assume a lot. Given that you're in it, how are you thinking about the recession? Do you feel that in the next, you know, it seems like the, the general consensus is that there's, there's one coming and, and, uh, let's say second half of 2023, do you think that's going? Change the dynamics of how people use crypto. Do you think that's going to slow it down, speed it up, change the transaction volume on, on your network? Uh, you know, how, how is that going to affect the ecosystem? Do you think?
[01:02:44] Chris Maurice: Yeah. Everybody seems to think that we're heading towards one. I don't know why people don't think we're in one right now, but especially with, you know. Yeah,
[01:02:54] Nima Gardideh: one. We're out of the technical one. Um, but yeah, I think we're gonna be another technical one basically in, in to eight months or uh, or something like that.
[01:03:04] Chris Maurice: yeah, yeah. And so, I mean, you know, look, what, what's the impact on crypto gonna be? It's, it's hard to say, right? I, I, I think that overall, I think that, uh, crypto booms when there is a lack of trust in the financial system, right? And I think that we've seen that, uh, In a couple of points, right? Um, and so I think, you know, if, if, you know, if it starts to go that way right, then it's, it's very possible, right?
[01:03:30] Chris Maurice: If inflation doesn't get under control, then you know, hey, look, I, I think that people will continue to, uh, to move into, you know, crypto and, and all of that. That, that being said, the first thing that people do when a recession is on the horizon is sell off everything for cash, right? .
[01:03:48] Chris Maurice: And so, you know, I mean, similar to what we saw, like right as Covid was hitting when Bitcoin dumped to what, like 3000, right?
[01:03:56] Chris Maurice: We, it's not impossible that we see something like that again because everybody's dumping their coins cuz they, they just want the cash, right? And they wanna be safe. Um, hard to say, right? Uh, I think, uh, when, when we look at like our exchange specifically, I don't think that a recession will have a tremendous impact, right?
[01:04:15] Chris Maurice: I think we'll see. Sort of the, I think we'll see sort of the normal impact of like, hey, people are sending a little bit less money home. Right? Businesses might not be doing as much business. Uh, but, you know, look, overall, I mean, a lot of countries on the African continent have, are in almost like a permanent recession, right?
[01:04:33] Chris Maurice: With, I mean, the, you know, inflation is outta control, uh, you know, key, you know, the, the economy is completely dependent on oil or it's completely dependent on another natural resource that's not doing too hot. And so, I mean, you know, this is largely business as usual in a lot of, in a lot of countries that we're in, right?
[01:04:51] Chris Maurice: And so it, it, uh, you know, we'll, we'll see, right? We'll see what the impact is, but we don't expect a massive impact, if anything. I mean, it just, again, it's, it's another reason why people need to use crypto to actually be able to make transactions and actually be able to move their money around without fear of the, the financial system, right.
[01:05:11] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, so they, they want to be even saving more money on fees. And so you're kind of a solution to that general problem if they're doing remini sense from, from the west, that, that makes a lot of sense. Like they're around the, I hadn't thought about the, the recession or the recessive nature of a lot of these countries and, and how inflation is really not tamed in that part of the world.
[01:05:31] Nima Gardideh: I'll ask you one last question, uh, which is, I, I'm just mostly outta curiosity about the exchange. Are you thinking that your growth will come mostly from new users coming in on the platform and transacting, or, or have you seen a lot of growth just come from existing users becoming more crypto native and, and using it, um, more as, as they've gotten into integrating the app into their lives?
[01:06:01] Chris Maurice: Uh, I think, I think it's largely, it's largely from new users, right? I think that if you're using crypto on the African continent and you're already a crypto user, then at this point you should know who we are, right? We have, you know, we have. You know, like I said, we have billboards up in your city, right?
[01:06:20] Chris Maurice: We're advertising, we're, you know, people know who we are. If you're looking for crypto on the continent,
[01:06:25] Chris Maurice: uh, it's, it's really the new people. Um, and it's, it's not just new individuals. It's new businesses, right? It's, it's businesses and individuals that are, that are realizing, hey, this technology is really the, the best and only way to be able to move money around this country.
[01:06:41] Chris Maurice: Right? It's, uh, you know, look, my business needs to import shoes from China and we don't have access to the dollar. because the, you know, our bank doesn't give us dollars. Right. And the, the central bank takes, you know, months to approve, in some cases, these, these dollar transactions, we need our business to continue.
[01:06:58] Chris Maurice: We're gonna use crypto to be able to, to make these, you know, make these imports. Right? And so, you know, same for remittances, right? Kind of, kind of like you mentioned, it's like remittances to Africa are still the most expensive in the world, right? 9% on average to send money to the continent, 19% to send money around the continent, right?
[01:07:15] Chris Maurice: So if I'm sending money from Nigeria to Ghana, you're talking about 19% as opposed to 9%. Right? And so when, you know, it's like fees are that high, people start to catch on that, wow, there is a better way out there. Right. And it's not always intuitive, right? I, you know, I'm, I'm, I'll be the last person to tell you that.
[01:07:33] Chris Maurice: Like, you know, crypto is super intuitive and my mom is gonna be using it tomorrow, right? But like, it's, it's something that when it solves problems the way that it does on the African continent, people come to realize that and they, they start adopting it, right?
[01:07:47] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, this is so interesting because I feel like this use case is talked about a lot of like, Hey, you know, sending money around is gonna be easier and, um, faster and cheaper, but most people that talk about it, at least in the west, aren't actually experiencing this problem. So they and abstract understand that this, this exists.
[01:08:05] Nima Gardideh: But we deal with it. We, we, we actually hire out of Nigeria for instance. We have, we have engineers there and, um, , they constantly deal, deal with it. And they're super aware of the crypto ecosystem. I was so surprised that they were all felt like Crypton native folks and they were, uh, talking, talking to me about it.
[01:08:22] Nima Gardideh: Where, where in New York, where I live, um, if I'm at a party and talking to people about crypto, they just generally understand that it exists because it's been in a news a lot. And some of them have like bought these things and, and all of that, but they don't really know why. And, and they just think it's like some scam and, and speculation.
[01:08:38] Nima Gardideh: Um, and so it's interesting to see an actual use case in, in this continent where the problem of moving money around isn't as solved as like, I think within the US you can pretty much move money around for free now with a c h, right? So,
[01:08:51] Chris Maurice: Cash app and you know, apps like that, it's like we've solved the problem, right? And so, yeah. But no. Yeah, I mean, yeah, no, a lot of other parts of the world still have not solved that problem. And so, yeah, I think, you know, where people in the west see Bitcoin as like speculative, um, it's, it has a lot more powerful use cases in other parts of the world.
[01:09:11] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. That's super cool. Well, Chris, thank you so much for coming and talking to, to me about how you all have gone through the last couple of years. Sounds like it's just the beginning and you're gonna be in 54 countries by the end of the year. Right? You gotta tell your
[01:09:23] Chris Maurice: Oh, Jesus, doing what we can, man, that's
[01:09:27] Nima Gardideh: Uh, but that's, that's super interesting. And yeah, thanks. Thanks for coming on and maybe we'll, we'll chat again when you're at, uh, you know, twice the number of countries and, and how things have changed and, and how you've been thinking about, uh, the next stage of the company. So, uh, excited to, uh, see and, and experience the, the growth you're, you're all about to go through.
[01:09:44] Chris Maurice: Beautiful. Let's make it happen.
[01:09:46] Nima reads: And that's a wrap. Uh, super grateful for Chris for spending a time with me on this a and telling us a story. It's, it's very interesting to see how some companies, when they catch fire, they're, they become an operational problem and, and. They have to learn how to scale as fast as sort of the market is pulling them in.
[01:10:04] Nima reads: And, and it seems like they've been on that ride for the past couple of years. Um, we've got a next episode coming again with Karim, who's one of my co-founders. He's breaking down a recent experiment. We've been running with one of our clients, Vejo. Uh, it's our first attempt as at going tactical with this podcast and just kind of being in the weeds of what it takes to actually run some of these experiments and.
[01:10:29] Nima reads: Learn from them and try to help grow one of these, some of these companies, um, especially this one is quite interesting, uh, because they're, they're, they have a very unique business model. So I'm excited for you to hear that. Uh, thanks for watching and listening. You know, as always, if you've been enjoying these episodes, please comment on things, subscribe to them, and follow us, I'm excited to do more of these this year.
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