Ray Youssef co-founded Paxful in 2015 as a global peer-to-peer cryptocurrency platform, which today has more than seven million users, many in developing and emerging markets across Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America. Last year, he was named one of CoinDesk’s 40 Most Influential People. With Paxful, Yusef has a mission to support emerging economies through the Built With Bitcoin Foundation, a nonprofit that supports humanitarian services powered by Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
What are the most promising emerging markets for crypto adoption and why? What lessons did you learn from them?
While it’s hard to predict, Kenya comes to mind, as Bitcoin adoption is the natural next step for where its economy is headed. In Kenya, mobile money has penetrated the market thanks to M-Pesa mobile money. According to the Central Bank of Kenya, mobile money transactions in the country grew by more than 30% in 2021. Specifically at Paxful, we witnessed the growth across the country firsthand. Just in the past year, crypto trading volume on Paxful in Kenya has increased by more than 160% and user registrations have increased by nearly 175%. In our work, people help lead our decision-making process. By staying in touch with the streets, I had the opportunity to listen and learn from them. The people of Africa are clearly set and ready for a solution like Bitcoin – not so, but when.
What is the unique link between financial education and cryptocurrency?
Global adoption of bitcoin begins and ends with education. Financial literacy should really be, but in many places around the world people are being denied this — or worse, misinformed. That’s why we put education at the forefront of our mission. We have built and repaired 10 schools around the world through the Built With Bitcoin Foundation, opened Bitcoin Education Centers in Nigeria and El Salvador, and partnered with the Human Rights Foundation to fund independent journalism on financial education. We believe in the bottom-up approach and the power of local education – it’s key to global adoption.
How do you bring cryptocurrencies into the mainstream, especially in countries where there are fundamental challenges such as lack of internet access and economic fluctuations?
Education about Bitcoin and its real use cases is what drives mass adoption. And it won’t happen overnight, especially when powerful people have a vested interest in keeping wealth central. But we’re in this for the long haul. Our goal at Paxful is, and always will be, to empower individuals by offering both practical and business opportunities from Bitcoin.
Take Rachel, for example, a restaurant employee in Nigeria. After talking to Rachel about bitcoin, I was curious to find out more. Her phone was broken, so she left us her contact information on a piece of paper. It was this meeting and many other things that prompted us to decide to open our first educational center in the country. While challenges will always be a natural consequence of innovation and growth, people yearn for solutions to a financial system that has failed. Over time, they will learn to adapt and an infrastructure for using bitcoin will develop on its own.
Crypto has a decentralized spirit, but it can be argued that companies like Paxful need governments and banks on board to avoid regulation and stimulate adoption. How do you balance this tension?
Calls for regulating cryptocurrencies are growing worldwide with more governments expecting to craft enabling regulations, and rightly as we see rapid growth in the global Bitcoin economy. If we are to achieve global accreditation, regulation will be required. However, no form of regulation should detract from the value that peer-to-peer financing provides.
What is your leadership style and how has it been adapted to this rapidly evolving market?
As this industry continues to evolve, so must we. I strive to encourage creativity and innovation from my team. It is my responsibility as a leader to bring out the best in people and remove any obstacles that might come our way. Staying connected to the streets is a guiding pillar for me and I’m on the ground constantly learning from people. It’s also why I continue to work in our customer service lines and ensure that our workforce reflects our users – with teams on the ground in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Our mission remains our guiding principle and only together can we change the world.
*This 3-minute interview appeared in The Rest of the World Weekly. Register here.