Founded in 2015, Bitwala is a blockchain banking service that ensures its customers a secure, fast and easy gateway to a few selected cryptocurrencies. The company’s goal is to also offer decentralized financial products such as crypto loans or savings plans.
One of the brains behind this successful service Benjamin Jones, gives us an inside look into the world of cryptocurrency, his future endeavours as an entrepreneur, and exactly how Bitwala came about in this exclusive interview with Mess Magazine.
Where does inspiration come from to create Bitwala?
Ever since we first got involved in cryptocurrencies in 2013, we’ve seen the same problem. Blockchain is a technology that is absolutely groundbreaking, but it needs to be able to interface with the real world. The pace of change and innovation in the blockchain space is crazy and new solutions are being created every single day. One of the areas we see the most disruption is the decentralized finance (Defi) space. Our mission at Bitwala is to take this value and to make it accessible and easy to use for the average person. The inspiration comes from the incredible potential that we see and the challenge is to build the bridge between two worlds, one centralized, one decentralized.
Which are the main advantages of Bitwala regarding other similar banks platforms?
We make it really easy and safe to buy and sell Bitcoin for everyone. A lot of people worry that they need to be experts to get involved. But Bitwala works just like a regular online bank account. It is completely free and it comes with a free Debit Card, which you can use around the world to pay or withdraw money at zero fees. We also launched Apps this summer and are positively surprised by how many people use it to manage their day to day finances on the go. We are particularly proud that many of our customers use our service as their salary account and that Bitwala is an important part of their daily life. We only charge a 1% fee if you are buying or selling Bitcoin with us. Our customers, which reside in 31 European countries, are benefiting from the fact that Bitwala is made in Germany. Hence, Euro deposits of up to 100,000 Euro are protected by the German deposit guarantee schemes. And as opposed to crypto exchanges that have been hacked in the past, Bitwala keeps no centralized list of Bitcoin wallet keys any hacker could steal. The private keys remain in the hands of the individual customers who store them offline in paper form at home.
We want to empower people to exchange value like they exchange ideas. Globally, instantly and at the lowest possible cost.
What do you hope to accomplish with Bitwala?
At Bitwala we are building the banking service to bridge the conventional financial system and the blockchain economy. We don’t plan to be just another exchange where you can trade hundreds of different cryptocurrencies. From my personal point of view, money – be it Euro or Bitcoin – equals trust. Over the past ten years, people started to trust in Bitcoin as a worldwide currency that could live alongside state-backed money – and maybe revolutionize the way we exchange value on the internet. Trust is something that builds up over time and every day more people are understanding why Bitcoin merits their trust.
How is your day-to-day?
I think the CEO has two incredibly important ongoing responsibilities. The first is aligning the company on the mission and how we’re getting there. The second is structuring the communication between the different teams. There is also a lot of ‘seasonal’ work including fundraising which can be up to 90% of my time when we’re closing a round.
What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of your job?
At Bitwala, we have a great team of talented individuals that are more than just colleagues. When we started it was just three friends and a dog, now a few years later we are more than 50 people, and still manage to keep a close bond with each and every one. We employ more than 22 different nationalities, many developers, and have a significantly higher female quota than most financial firms. Every morning when I walk into the office, it makes me proud that we achieved something that many other companies fail to do – maintaining our company culture as we grow. The best thing can also be the worst thing. Running a startup is extremely rewarding and engaging. Sometimes it’s hard to switch off.
What are the key characteristics of a person who aspires to be an
Problem-solving mindset, flexibility, great communicator, and people skills.
What is the biggest challenge you had to deal with during your professional career?
Well, here’s a good answer: After Jörg, Jan and I had started to build Bitwala in 2015, it took off like crazy. We quickly mustered as many as 80,000 customers and processed over € 75 million in Bitcoin transfer volume.
It was a huge success, but our setup had one vulnerability: We were dependant on a partner company called Wavecrest, which would issue credit cards for our customers. During the turmoil of the cryptocurrency bubble two years ago, that company got its license revoked by Visa. This decision affected all of Wavecrest’s partnering companies, not only Bitwala and we had no part in that decision. But it meant losing 80.000 customers in one day – with no heads-up! Coming back from this certainly was a major challenge for all of us at Bitwala. But the team stuck together and we had already been in talks with our current partner solarisBank of Berlin, which has a German banking license. In December 2018, we proudly launched our current product.
How do you see yourself in 5 years?
Whether it’s in 5 years or longer, I would like to get back involved with promoting technology for social change in the developing world. I previously worked in the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Ghana, teaching African graduates how to build startups.