Since the creation of Bitcoin in 2009, cryptocurrency has been touted as the future of banking, payments and financial services. And the future of every other global industry obviously.
Sometimes blockchain use-cases can seem a little bit of a stretch, but for financial services at least, a fintech fuelled, cryptocurrency, blockchain and smart contract enabled future looks realistic.
In a number of ways, blockchain technologies offer advantages over the current financial system. A case in point is foreign exchange, one of the key speculative use cases for the blockchain maximalist: in short, it’s difficult, expensive and slow to send $10,000 overseas using our current system of banking; but it’s easy, cheap and fast to send the equivalent amount in cryptocurrency, free from foreign exchange fees, in just seconds. But no one has actually proved out this use case. Yet.
Enter Singapore startup TenX. They’ve created a global credit card, using blockchain technology to take advantage of fast and cheap foreign exchange, but running on existing MasterCard and Visa infrastructure to ensure payment is easy and scalable.
On the front end users can make payments anywhere Visa or Mastercard are accepted. On the back end, the credit card is linked to a cryptocurrency wallet, meaning assets are held in Bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin. TenX instantly converts the cryptocurrencies stored in the wallet into the native fiat currency when a transaction is made, whatever the location.
A few weeks back Digital in Asia met with Toby Hoenisch, one of the founders of TenX, to talk about their ambitious vision to become the only platform necessary to create a bridge between cryptocurrency and existing global payment systems.
Digital in Asia: Good to catch up Toby. Is it true that you launched your first start-up four years ago? That’s pretty early for blockchain.
Toby Hoenisch: Back then, we pitched another startup, not blockchain. It was the same co-founders or partially the same co-founders anyway. It never went anywhere but we learned a lot of lessons back then.
DIA: What were the biggest lessons?
TB: Get users. Don’t just build and hope for the best.
DIA: That’s solid advice for any startup! So, when did TenX kick off?
TB: Three years ago. And that was still quite early for blockchain, three years ago. I’ve been in the blockchain space for five, six years. Part of the funding we used for the previous startup was through early gains and Bitcoin. I’m not a trillionaire right now like how I might wish, because we spent all the Bitcoin we had back then on the previous startup. But we’re doing quite well for our company, so it’s all goo
DIA: What was the inspiration behind TenX?
TB: Connecting the blockchain and crypto world with the real world. Three years ago, it was still crypto-geeks and nerds like myself, and everyone else was like, “What the heck is this?” And it was really disconnected. We wanted to bring the benefits of cryptocurrency to real people. And the first thing to solve is making it spendable.
DIA: Can you just quickly detail what TenX does and the value proposition?
TB: TenX makes cryptocurrency expendable. We have a cryptocurrency wallet. You deposit Bitcoin, Ethereum, tokens – whatever it is – and we give you a debit card that you can attach to your wallet, and then spend it anywhere in the world where Visa and Mastercard are accepted.
DIA: In many ways, you’re moving into an area that is almost the inverse of cryptocurrency, certainly ideologically. And payments are also seeing more regulation recently.
TB: You’re right, it can be complex. But what we do is simple. We’re basically the bridge to the real world of payments. Right now, we have Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. But our goal is to get to 200 cryptocurrency and tokens ready for payments within another year.
DIA: And what do you think is the future of the payment space in the short and long-term? Who will be the big winners and losers?
TB: Very early to tell. Depends on the timeframe. We’re still so early in crypto that what we do actually makes sense. Because we connect this new industry to the existing payment rails that are out there. Visa, Mastercard, maybe UnionPay or Alipay in the future. You have to remember, merchants don’t care about crypto right now because there are not enough users out there. Merchants care about revenue first. So for the next five years, I think it will be players like us bridging crypto to existing payment rails. But once you have sufficient penetration on the general population, you actually can do peer to peer payments. And then you can actually directly own merchant payment relationships. Our business will have to change and adapt because there are major interests betting on those legacy players. Crypto will disrupt, but it will take a while, and it may shape up quite differently to how it looks now.
DIA: So what does the future look like for Visa and Mastercard?
TB: They will still be around for a long time. Simply because they’re already there. But they will have to lower their fees to compete with crypto, and the channels will change. The cards themselves have a ten-year shelf life. You might still be paying using Visa payment rails in the future, but you’ll use your phone or other technology. The terminal will still stick around for a while.
DIA: TenX is based in Singapore. How many people do you have? How have you found Singapore as a place to set up a blockchain business?
TB: We have 60 people in total at TenX, and 80% are based here in Singapore. We’re a global company. Crypto is always global. We do have a big user base in Europe. Mainly because three of the four co-founders are Austrian. We have a very strong German-speaking user base. Singapore is good because it’s a relatively friendly regulatory environment. It was a bit of a bet three years ago as a place to build a cryptocurrency finance app in Asia, but today, it turns out it’s one of the top countries to be as a cryptocurrency business.
DIA: How many users do you have and how fast is your growth?
TB: Maybe I should share that we had a bit of a setback earlier in the year. We launched our cards last year, and we scaled really quickly to 200,000 users towards the end of the year, and then our partner bank lost their license. Their Visa license. So our card stopped working. And now we’re working with five different insurers to deliver a live product. So the growth metrics don’t make sense at this point. We are on it. We have new insurers. We have multiple strategies, and we’re trying to get our own license so we don’t have to worry about that anyway.
DIA: Something similar happened to Coinhako, in that their fiat on and off ramps got locked down. Was your issue a Singapore problem, or a global problem?
TB: No. It was a European bank, actually. The good side to that is that this specific payment bank was also the issuer for many of our competitors. So now we know that 200,000 is not the market users. The market is way bigger than that, and all of those users are waiting for a card.
DIA: Who wants to spend their crypto? The market is so focused around HODL right now.
TB: That’s looking at it in reverse. Of course, a lot of people still look at crypto as an investment and hope it should go up. Our users have passed this step, and are like, “I don’t want the old world.” Because there is more friction in the old world than there is in the new world.
Even though the crypto world is still smaller, the financial services you can access here are still less in number than in the old world, this is changing rapidly. And advanced users want to stay in this world.
Some of them, yes, they want to get the maximum upside, but they stay in this world because it’s a more seamless experience everywhere on the planet. And we just add payments to that, so you don’t have to actually go back.
DIA: How do they get their crypto in the first place?
TB: They are already in this world.
DIA: Sure, but unless they’re mining, sitting on a massive pot of crypto which they’re spending bit by bit, or they get paid in crypto, they’re still going to be operating in the non-crypto world. They’re still going to have a bank account where real money can come in. How many people are 100% in the crypto world right now?
TB: We pay salaries in Bitcoin for a lot of people. It’s just so much more convenient. If you run an international company, a small one, you can’t figure out payroll in every country in the world. That’s hard. Bitcoin solves that problem, super easy.
DIA: Cool. Do you think that supports the Bitcoin store-of-value argument?
TB: I mean, Bitcoin has a volatility problem, which is one of the things that people don’t like, or don’t want to put all their money in it, which is a very valid point. In the crypto world, Bitcoin is still the strongest store of value. If it’s the one you should bet on depends on your personal situation. I would say everybody should have some money in the crypto space, some Bitcoin, and then allocate, whatever.
DIA: So, at the moment, you’re a bridge between cryptocurrency and the world of ‘real’ money. Do you have your own token to facilitate this?
TB: Yes. We have the PAY Token, and we launched token sale last year, June. And we continued to work on the exact model, mainly because the regulators keep changing the rules, but yeah. It’s been working very good. When you compare a token sale or a token, compared to venture capital, venture capital, you get around one, two, three investors. Hopefully, they’re all strategic, which they never are, maybe one.
Or you have like us, 50,000 token holders, probably most of them are users. They’re directly related to you. They will tell you what you do wrong. They will care. They will come to your user testing. It’s just so much better. That’s the huge upside that a token sale can do that venture capital just cannot do. Base it on your boredom, hopefully, you pick the right guy to tell you what to do, but maybe one or two. You have 50,000.
DIA: And that community markets for you as well, and they’re influencers.
TB: Yes. Of course. It just goes hand in hand. It’s like, token holders and users, it becomes like a community form of money, or token, or whatever you want to call it. And it incentivizes people to really stick with us.
DIA: That’s awesome Toby. Thanks very much. Very interesting discussion.
TB: Yeah. Thanks for the chat.