Nischal Shetty has made a name for himself in India.
In the first half of 2021 alone, its crypto business grew more than 12 times and has become the largest digital currency exchange in the country. And now he has set himself the goal of making WazirX India the first billion dollar crypto unicorn.
But while Shetty is a tech entrepreneur through and through, the millennial foray into cryptocurrency was originally inspired by a rebellion against big tech.
“There’s always a reason someone is looking into crypto,” Shetty told CNBC Make It.
Entry into social media
“My first start-up was all about social media management. If you had your Twitter account, your Instagram account, you could manage it from one place, ”said Shetty, who started his first company in 2010 shortly after graduating from computer science.
The idea, later called Crowdfire, worked. But soon social media giants became more restrictive with their APIs – or application programming interfaces – making it harder for third-party developers to build related businesses. Shetty and his co-founders decided it was time to change tactics.
“We had to cut some features that were generating revenue that these networks weren’t seeing as the right features,” Shetty said.
“That brought me to the entire decentralized ecosystem,” he continued, referring to blockchain – a distributed database that is not controlled by a single party or company.
Leap into crypto
Their timing coincided with a boon for cryptocurrencies, and bitcoin in particular. And in 2018, Shetty and its co-founders decided to use their technical know-how to create a blockchain-based platform for crypto trading.
“I realized that there was a huge gap between how international exchanges work and how Indian exchanges work,” he continued. “We have thus decided that we should establish an exchange with a focus on the Indian ecosystem.”
However, weeks after its launch, the Reserve Bank of India put a ban on crypto-related payments. WazirX had to quickly turn around and act as the third custodian between buyers and sellers.
The shift paid off and the following year, in November 2019, WazirX was acquired by Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, when it made its first foray into the Indian market.
Riding a meteoric rise
Today, WazirX claims that its registered users quadrupled to 6.5 million in the second quarter of 2021, while trading volume reached $ 6.2 billion in June.
“We have registered more users in the past four or five months than in the past three years. That’s how fast the growth was, ”said Shetty.
Exposed to pressure from the authorities
A chance for India’s tech freaks
“If you look at the history of India, one of the main reasons we made rapid economic progress was software. Now if you look at crypto, crypto is an extension of this entire software ecosystem so that India fully understands that we cannot miss this opportunity, ”he said.
With all of this, the future path for WazirX – and cryptocurrencies in general – will be bumpy. But after the ups and downs Shetty has endured over the past few years, he said he was ready for an exhilarating ride.
“Our mission was to make crypto accessible to everyone in India and I think we are still very early,” he said. “I believe India has the potential to get 100 million people into crypto and our journey has only just begun.”
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