Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

Interview with the CEO & Co-Founder of Paxful – Ray Youssef | Humans of Blockchain

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Welcome to our comprehensive interview series – Humans of Blockchain  where we get the best in the business to answer a diverse set of questions.

This series will clear the air of doubt in the blockchain space today by focusing on bringing more transparency to the readers.

Our guest today is Ray Youssef – CEO & Co-Founder of Paxful 

Ray is also an experienced personality in the Cryptocurrency Industry and has some insightful opinions about the financial improvements which can be made. 

Humans of Blockchain had the pleasure of meeting Ray at TOKEN 2049.

Not wasting much time, let’s hear it out from Ray himself.


1. Your journey is a motivational one because you kept on trying even after many failed startups and finally found Paxful. 

Yea it really has been, I mean, we at Paxful have been growing at 130% even in a Bear Market and we are just getting started. We are a great team, real believers, real fighters as well. 


2. We would love to know more about you and your journey which brought you into the Blockchain space. 

I met this guy, Artur Schaback, at my very first Bitcoin meetup at the Bitcoin Centre in New York, and the organizers introduced us (we were the only two tall people in the meeting haha, so they thought we would probably get along). So I just started learning more about Bitcoin and expanded my connections meeting more new people through such meetups and these people won me over (really good people, idealistic, libertarians, smart and ambitious). I was just coming off of my ‘10th’ startup, and this was a hard time for me because it had been almost seven years of failed startups, my first two were very successful, not so much after those two. And when I met this guy I thought we should have a go with Bitcoin and we tried to startup in Bitcoin, a retail POS for merchants to accept Bitcoin payments. Didn’t work, my eleventh failure because no one wanted Bitcoin to use so we had to turn around and do something else. That is basically how I got into this Industry. Meeting these new smart people and I thought ‘hey, let me try this crazy nerd money and see where it takes me’. 


3. Then you started Paxful. Can you tell us more about Paxful as a company? 

Paxful was born out of desperation. Me and Artur, after that eleventh failed startup, we ended up homeless in the streets of New York. I managed to get Artur a place to crash with my roommate but then I lost my place. I didn’t really tell this to anyone at the time but I, what I liked to call it, was doing a ‘tour’ staying out (hahaha)

Then a friend of mine came up to me and told me ‘hey ray, you are not doing too well but did you know you can make a hundred percent profit selling Bitcoins for this gift card’ and I was like what? I mean it sounded like a scam, I said no way but I tried it and it worked! Then I saw all these people selling Bitcoins on localbitcoins, other platforms and people were buying them! I said this is amazing! Lets build a platform that focuses on this and once we saw that it was working, Artur and I weren’t homeless anymore, we started hiring, getting our friends, teaching them the basics but once all of this got big, Artur said we need help… because up until then we were doing all the programming and operations by ourselves. He said that he has a friend who’s a programmer and he’s in Estonia. I said Estonia!? Where the hell is that? I really had no idea where it was 

But I said alright let’s go to Estonia. Been there for 4 years. Married an Estonian Girl. We have like 70 people in that office. Pretty amazing. 


4. What are the future plans for Paxful? 

The future plans at the moment are to expand more. Truly become a P2P Financial network. We have this listing service and this escrow wallet to create such a service and it works but now if we want to reach out more, we gotta build layers of abstraction on top of that. Abstract away the Bitcoin, the payments like a guy in China sells goods to Europe and the European company pays the person, now if we abstract away the Bitcoin, and make this process invisible/ faster and as simple as possible. This is the key to the future and we are looking for development partners to help us build this and Paxful Escrow and API will just be the backed for all of it. We are launching our app to make things easier for the people, where we will also tell people ‘hey this is what you can do with Bitcoin, it is not just a tool for speculation’ and in fact, there’s nothing you can’t do with Bitcoin


5. Where is the company based out of? 

We have four offices – New York, Estonia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. We have about 110 people. Our development and product is in Estonia, compliance and legal is in New York City, a Business Team in Hong Kong. We will soon be opening up an office in Johannesburg, South Africa. We’ll be opening up Paxful Incubators as well all across the world and we hope in India as well. 


6. Do you see Jurisdiction as a Pulling factor or a supporting one as the company is in the Financial ecosystem for Blockchain? 

We are in the age of compliance right now and it is something we all need to face. We really want to help as many people as possible and an open financial system is not the answer, it must be safe. Like Coinbase is like ‘yea our mission is an open financial system for the world’ heh. Our mission is a safe and open financial system for the world. The reason that they really don’t put the word safe into there is because they really don’t have to and are constrained by banks all across the world. Banks are not P2P or decentralized. We, on the other hand, open up our services for the entire world. So if you think about what we have created. We have created Banking without Identity, which is an awesome thing but it can also be a total shitshow if we let people in from all across the world (they are not necessarily bad people) but we still have to build the checks and balances because Bitcoin is irreversible, every other form of FIAT is reversible and there is a serious counter-party risk on the FIAT side. How do we solve that? Because the people who keep selling Bitcoin, get burned from bad actors and the economy won’t grow. We have to protect them. 

KYC is one of the ways to do that. Now there are two ways to do KYC. 

You can do it in a way that closes doors

And you can do it in a way that incentivizes but keeps those doors open. 

So that’s the way we are gonna do this and keep those doors open. You want a better merchant, faster price, you gotta go through KYC. These things make sense. There’s no magic bullet here. And we are taking things very seriously because the arm of the US law ‘man’ is long (haha)

We are gonna be here to help all the people. As long as I am CEO, I will make sure I keep those doors open


7. What are your thoughts on the current Education/ Information flow in the Blockchain Industry? 

Uh, it sucks… it really does. Now people who search Bitcoin and type it into a browser (what is bitcoin, how do I make money from this, can I make money from bitcoin), and there are many more but there are problems. What I see is there’s a lot of Misinformation, like in Africa, if people hear about Bitcoin they either relate it to a scam or multi-level-marketing scam, which has ravaged Africa or a mining scam and they think of it as a speculative investment. They’re like ohh the price went down and hey it’s okay to be skeptical but people in Africa are on another level and Canadians too actually (haha) 

Anyway, I told these guys, there is something else you can do in the crypto industry, not just something to buy, hold and speculate on. The price doesn’t matter. You take it, get it, flip it, use it as a way to use your money and help other people to make a profit. Basically, an exchange which you control (like PayPal and Skrill) and decide your own margins. And they came back like Really!? How does that work? We need to educate more people about P2P Finance. Bitcoin started off with P2P Finance but now everyone only hears about the price speculation, and centralized exchanges – that’s where all the power is collecting. It’s going away from P2P, however, our mission is to bring it back because that’s where it’s powerful and carries more incentives. So it’s really about aligning incentives like a lot of people in India have money but they can’t use it. We don’t see it, we think they are in the bushes but they are Human Beings and are smart. So we tell them about P2P Finance and their eyes open up, especially young people so our mission is to start educating the young minds. In May we are doing a tour in Africa, specifically Eastern Africa and Western Africa. Also hosting multiple workshops in many universities about Peer-to-Peer Finance. And we are gonna be starting an initiative – ‘one Bitcoin per school’ where we will donate one Bitcoin per school and split each Bitcoin so that every student has a piece. 


Any ending remarks for the Industry, Ray? You have striven through hard times and you put in the work to get back up, so you follow the idea of ‘if you fail, get back up’. 

Absolutely. I don’t even like the word Failure, we go through things, we try things, if they don’t work, we learn. The truth is, I would not be able to what I do as the CEO of Paxful unless I have the experience of those failed startups I got through. Every single one of them taught me something different. That is absolutely critical to what I am doing now and every single one of them – payments, billing, all this was again how do I solve this? It taught me about billing from the different angles and most importantly it taught me that you have to pay attention to your customer. You have to listen to them, don’t just stick your nose up to them. These people barely have smartphones and these are the people we are out to help. It’s not about the technology, it’s not about Bitcoin. Bitcoin is mean less unless it’s helping real people so our mission is to make a day-to-day difference in the lives of normal people. 

A day-to-day difference in the lives of normal, working-class people around the world. Wherever they are. This is what every politician should be thinking of when they wake up in the morning but they don’t give a damn. The United Nations should be giving everyone a Bitcoin wallet and a global P2P Passport, but they’re not. So we are gonna do it. At the end of the day, that’s the best thing about Bitcoin. That’s the best thing about entrepreneurship, we don’t ask for permission, we get the things we want. To all the entrepreneurs out there, get into P2P Finance, it’s absolutely life-changing and this is where you can have the most impact. Most importantly, don’t get stuck. Go down to the street to the front line, start talking to customers, no matter who they might be, how humble they might be, or technically illiterate they might be. Those are the best sources of information and that is how we can make applications to make a day-to-day difference in the lives of normal, daily, working class people. 


Check out More Humans working in the Industry Here!

What do you think?