Ray Youssef co-founded Paxful in 2015 as a global peer-to-peer cryptocurrency platform, which today has over nine million users, many of them in developing and emerging markets across Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America. Last year, he was named as one of CoinDesk’s 40 Most Influential People. With Paxful, Youssef has a mission to support emerging economies with the Built With Bitcoin Foundation, a nonprofit which supports humanitarian services powered by Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.
What are the most promising emerging markets for crypto adoption and why? What lessons have you learned from them?
While it’s hard to predict, Kenya comes to mind, as adopting Bitcoin there 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 over 30% in 2021. And specifically at Paxful, we’ve seen the growth across the country firsthand. Just last year, crypto trade volume on Paxful in Kenya increased by over 160% and user sign-ups shot up nearly 175%. In our business, the people help drive our decision-making. By staying connected to the streets, I’ve had the opportunity to listen and learn from them. It is clear that the people of Africa are primed and ready for a solution like Bitcoin — it’s not if, but when.
What is the unique link between financial education and cryptocurrency?
Global adoption of Bitcoin begins and ends with education. Financial literacy should be a right, but in many places around the world, people are denied this — or even worse, misinformed. That is why we’ve put education at the forefront of our mission. We’ve built and repaired 10 schools around the world through the Built With Bitcoin Foundation, opened up Bitcoin education centers in Nigeria and El Salvador, and partnered with the Human Rights Foundation to fund independent journalism around financial education. We believe in a bottom-up approach and the power of local education — it is the key to global adoption.
How do you bring crypto into the mainstream, especially in countries where there are basic challenges like lack of internet access and economic volatility?
Education about Bitcoin and its true use cases are what will drive mass adoption. And it will not happen overnight, especially when powerful people have a vested interest to keep wealth centralized. But we’re in this for the long haul. Our goal at Paxful is, and always will be, to empower individuals by presenting both the practical and entrepreneurial opportunities of Bitcoin.
Take Rachel for example, a restaurant employee in Nigeria. After talking to Rachel about Bitcoin, she was curious to learn more. Her phone was broken, so she left us her contact information on a piece of paper. It was that encounter and several more that drove our decision to open our first education center in the country. While challenges will always be a natural consequence of innovation and growth, people have a hunger for solutions to a financial system that has failed them. In time, they will learn to adapt and an infrastructure for utilizing Bitcoin will develop on its own.
Crypto has a decentralized ethos, but companies like Paxful arguably need governments and banks on board to avoid regulation and spur adoption. How do you balance this tension?
Calls for the regulation of cryptocurrencies are growing across the globe with more governments expected to formulate enabling regulations, and rightfully so as we see rapid growth in the Bitcoin global economy. If we want to achieve global adoption regulation will be required. However, any form of regulation should not take away from the value that peer-to-peer finance offers.
What is your leadership style and how has it adapted to this fast-evolving market?
As this industry continues to evolve, so must we. I strive to encourage creativity and innovation from my team. It’s my responsibility as a leader to bring out the best in people and remove any obstacles that may be in our way. Staying connected to the streets is a guiding pillar for me and I am continuously on the ground learning from people. That’s also why I continue to work our customer service lines and ensure our workforce reflects our users–with teams on the ground in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Our mission remains our guiding principle and it’s only together that we can change the world.
*This 3 Minutes With interview first appeared in the Rest of World weekly newsletter. Sign up here.