At the start of this year, I set one goal for myself—make 2020 the year of ZebPay. I’ve been in the blockchain space for almost 9 years now. I called last year my year of Ethereum. I started buying 1 ETH every single day, and still do. When I took over as CEO of ZebPay in January, I didn’t expect any change in the RBI’s directive to banks for several years.
With a mostly new leadership team, ZebPay’s focus was to offer our members whatever we legally could. Our goal was to get to break-even, keep all of our employees, and grow slowly for a year or more until we got regulatory clarity. When the Supreme Court overturned the RBI ruling in March, we were as surprised as anyone and immediately got to work scaling up to meet the demand from old and new customers. As the year closes, I can say our progress exceeds my wildest expectations.
Our ohana (Hawa’iian word for family) is now more than double what it was in March, and every day, they’re each getting a tiny bit better at what they do. As a result we’re seeing this momentum build up in every area. It’s happening within our customer base, our revenue and profit, our culture and how our work feels. This is not to say it’s been a linear path up. We have down days and sometimes, down weeks. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that we still have issues, whether it’s customer service or server downtime. But I believe we’ve got the right mindset to tackle them head-on. And the reality is—we’re seeing long term trends on pretty much everything getting better.
In 2020, we saw a 270% increase in trading volume and registered users from quarter to quarter, a 218% increase in number of users trading, and 143% increase in app downloads—this, without accounting for the explosive growth buoyed by the Bitcoin rally in our fourth quarter.
But more than any number, the most gratifying change I’ve seen this year is the change in customer sentiment. When we first came back, I definitely felt the heat on Twitter. I tried to shrug it off and focus on my work as much as possible, but in many ways, people were right. They were complaining because they loved the brand and felt betrayed. A big part of that was because a couple of years ago, ZebPay had become the dominant player. They would charge roughly 1% to buy or sell, so they made a lot of money. And that’s why a lot of people felt that ZebPay was doing great during the bull market, but during the bear market, we left.
So we worked hard to win them over. We launched with low fees and have continued lowering them as much as possible. In November, we dropped our fees by 50%. We want to be the highest quality, lowest cost service provider in the world, eventually getting the cost of trading in Bitcoin down to zero.
As the year went by, we saw a drastic change in our community engagement to the point where now, our members really see us for who we are. They see us innovating, they see us lowering fees with new VIP fee tiers. And not only are they not complaining, they’re becoming evangelical about ZebPay and recommending us to their friends and family.
In January, I thought my challenge for 2020 would be keeping ZebPay alive in a hostile environment. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the growth we’ve achieved is beyond my wildest imagination. But if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that dreaming big pays off. And so I’m not happy to stop here. More people are entering the crypto space than ever before, and unless we’re scalable, we’re going to fall flat on our faces. 2021 is going to be the year of exponential growth in crypto and at ZebPay, and we’re more than ready.
We’ve got three big projects slated for early next year that we’re really excited about. First, we’re launching a new app called Bitcoin by ZebPay. We already have 4 million customers. How we get to the next 40 million is by making Bitcoin even more simple, to a degree we’ve never seen before—think one-tap buying and investing.
Second: the Zebra token and Project Dazzle, a marketplace where you can buy and sell non-fungible tokens. The Zebra token will give our members unique discounts, promotions, and deals within the ZebPay ecosystem. Not only will it work internally to lower the cost of our services for members, but also give them access to exciting deals from large consumer brands and services. I think at some point NFTs will be even bigger than fungible tokens.
Our third and most ambitious project is to build new financial services. We want to slowly move away from being just an exchange to offering financial services like SIP, earning passive income on your crypto, and being able to borrow crypto against the crypto you have deposited.
There are two major challenges that I foresee for 2021. We like to use the word collaborators rather than competitors. Our collaborators are all very confident, well-funded and strong. They’re doing great work, and we have to adapt with them. We’re very cognizant that if we’re not constantly improving, our customers should go somewhere else. The challenge there is that working in the time of COVID, it’s hard recruiting people. But we’re doing our best and I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made.
The second big challenge is, of course, the regulatory framework. For our part, we’re in talks with policymakers and government officials. We’re trying our best to educate them about blockchain and prove that bitcoin does a lot more good for the world than bad. We’ve seen the media adapting to this fact as well. A lot less people are making the same old arguments of Bitcoin being a fraud or a bubble. A lot more are talking about it as a real asset class. What I see happening over the next year is larger and larger institutions and government officials recognizing that this is a real trend, and being more open to a friendly, honest, and transparent regulatory framework.
India and Bitcoin
Bitcoin is a lot like digital gold, and I think people understand this now. India has always had a love affair with gold, and we’re seeing most of our investors using Bitcoin as a savings product. We have about 2,50,000 members who have positive balances at any one time with us, out of which 60,000 of them trade every month. The other 160,000 of them buy and HODL—and they might skip a month, but then they buy next month. There’s a clear trend of Indian investors looking at Bitcoin as a store of value and holding on to it for the long term. And we love that.
If most of our investors buy just 100 rupees of Bitcoin every single month and pay zero membership fees, it would make me the happiest. It sounds odd because of course our profitability would go down, but I think the long term benefits for our members would be worth it. We’re working with the team to try and figure out the best way to make this happen. India has huge potential in this respect. Indians as a whole probably own less than 1% of the world’s supply of Bitcoin. The sooner we can get Indians to invest in Bitcoin, the more they can enjoy the rewards when the rest of the world gradually catches up. Because if you think Bitcoin is expensive now at 14 lakhs, you have no idea what’s coming. I’m not kidding around when I say it’s going to be worth 1 crore by 2030.