In this interview with NIKE POPOOLA, the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Paxful, Mr Ray Youssef, speaks on how the Federal Government can leverage digital currency to strengthen the naira, among other issues.
The Central Bank of Nigeria recently placed a ban on cryptocurrency transactions; how do you intend to work around this?
We don’t intend to go around anything; we want to engage everyone, including the regulators. We want to sit with them and show them what this is all about. When Nigerians are motivated, they can move things very fast, such that they will start wondering what this is all about. Their concern is to know whether it is safe, with the spate of money laundering and terrorism. The regulators of the world, including those in America, are asking the same question. Paxful is everywhere; we only need to engage the regulators and assure them that it is safe and can increase wealth for everyone. We also need to show them how it can make things easier for them to pay their taxes.
How would you describe Paxful’s role in the global cryptocurrency market?
Paxful started very small but we think big. My co-founder and I started some years back in New York City but we believe bitcoin is going to help, and we are sticking through our vision. Bitcoin is not just about technology and money; we believe it is about helping people and that is why I am here in Nigeria. Our vision for the future is to impact people on how they can make money and be wealthy. We help them to build businesses by allowing them to use their money the way they want it. That is their human right; the fact that people don’t have equal access to finance is a crime. Financial access should be a fundamental human right. People in the West will continue to imagine why it is so hard for people in Africa to send money easily. Imagine where an American couldn’t send money from New York to New Jersey, which would be a nightmare. My vision for the world is a place where people that deserve to have wealth are hardworking people. Look at what Nigerian youths have done in the last five years; they are leading the global cryptocurrency industry, and think of what the next five years will bring. Our goal is to educate the people by showing them that there is something that can actually help you in your everyday life. I foresee a pan-African movement arising in the next five years, countries working together and being able to transact freely. I see a situation where a young college graduate without hope of getting any job has three side hustles, all made possible by cryptocurrency.
There is so much scepticism about cryptocurrency. What is Paxful doing to protect people’s interest?
Scepticism is healthy because a lot of people have been scammed in other places more than in the African countries. There are scammers outside the continent who are preying on the African people; so, skepticism is healthy. Some people will come up and tell you that bitcoin is going to blow up and that you should just put your life’s savings there; that is a scam. What we have done is to create a platform where you can exchange any form of money and bitcoin is just a tool to make things easy. It is a technology powered by people. In using this system, you can access money anywhere in the world. You are not going to get rich quick; it is about building your own business. If you put your mind to it and work hard, you will make it. Wherever there is a high profit, there is also a high risk. The number one thing I will say to people is to educate yourself. If your money is not in a building, then it is in your computer or phone and the only thing that can give people access is your password and one password is not enough. When you open a bitcoin wallet and your email address is the same as your password, you are going to lose your money because 99 per cent of all African websites have been hacked by some hackers in Russia, America and other places. Anywhere in the world, you need to have your password and email address so that you can use two-factor authentication. This means you have to get a message on your phone as well as a basis and if you don’t do that, you should not be in the game. It is a good thing to have your money on your system or phone because no one can control you but at the same time, the responsibility is on you to protect your money. To me, bitcoin is about free money transfer and not all these speculations about scammers. It is about you using your money naturally without any limit. Why should the bank ask me question on how I want to use my money? If you want to send money to anywhere in the world, you should be able to do it anytime. If you can use WhatsApp only from Monday to Friday, will you use it? Why should our money system have those limits? Why should we accept that kind of limitation and inefficiency in our financial system?
Employment has been a major issue among the youths. Does Paxful plan to create jobs?
Yes, Paxful users here in Nigeria have got their own version of Western Union and PayPal by helping people to send money. People can build their own businesses, their own foreign exchange and money transfer businesses with the use of bitcoin. You can start small first and it grows. My advice to the youths is to forget everything and learn about cryptocurrency. You don’t need much money to start; play around with a little amount and see how it works. Let your entrepreneurial skills come up. An entrepreneur does not think of other things but ideas. Look for problems. Do you have any problem sending or receiving money? Solve that problem for yourself with every tool that you have. If crypto makes sense, great! And once you solve the problem for yourself, then think about trying it as a business. If it works and people are willing to pay a value for it as a business, then you can scale it up. You scale up a business process that makes sense and keep finetuning the process. What happens when you fast forward a year or two: you become successful.
How does cryptocurrency help a country like Nigeria to strengthen its currency?
By adopting the use of cryptocurrency, Nigerians’ overdependence on the US dollar will reduce and as such strengthen the naira against the dollar. Cryptocurrency is the only thing that has the potential to do that. I want to make it clear to people that we are living in the era of the currency world. Before the bad guys will come and put a gun into your head, they will first attack your money supply. If they really don’t like you, they will make your money worthless. They can destroy the value of your currency exchange rate in a single day by buying a huge portion of it and crashing it down by selling it all at one time. This is the gun that is being held to the head of the leaders of countries and not just Nigeria, but the entire globe. That’s how they control the reserves of the world. The question is: do we have a shield against that? That’s the trillion-dollar question. How do we use cryptocurrency to change the game?
As the co-founder of a US-based global cryptocurrency trading company, you visited Nigeria recently. How prepared is Paxful to work with the Nigerian government to regulate the market
We are ready. I will love to meet them and engage them all. We are not going to do this with any kind of hatred or animosity by apportioning blames. We want to bring the government and the regulators to the table and discuss the way forward.
What are your expectations in this country?
I am always very optimistic and open. I intend to meet the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to share my vision with him, listen to him and understand all their concerns. We would show him the data and let him see what is happening. When we come together, we can look at regulation that is innovation-friendly because Nigeria can do better.
How is Paxful positioning itself in the industry for growth and expansion?
At Paxful, we go by word of mouth. We don’t spend money on Facebook or Instagram. We focus on basic fundamentals like response instance support. People want to do business with institutions that they can trust, where you can go to and talk to someone if you forget your password. Is there someone I can talk to? Yes! We give 24/7 instant support.
What is the role of the organisation called ‘Built With Bitcoin Foundation’?
The Built With Bitcoin Foundation started as a social good initiative from Paxful. It is now an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to creating opportunities by providing access to clean water, quality education, healthy food, and a healthy environment via sustainable farming. Paxful focuses on building schools because of the role they play in the community. In addition to lessons, Paxful provides the school campuses access to clean water, healthy food and a healthy environment through sustainable farms and gardens. The first of the four schools were completed in December 2017 in Rwanda; the second, also in Rwanda, was completed in 2018, while the third school was built in 2020 in Kenya. The fourth school is the first in Nigeria – in Ankara Nandu Village, Kaduna State – a nursery school serving a community of 6,000 people.