In our latest interview, we speak with Sharan Nair, who serves as a Senior Vice President at cryptocurrency exchange aggregator CoinSwitch. He previously served as the Vice President at Unocoin – one of India’s oldest cryptocurrency exchange and has been in the cryptocurrency space for over 4 years.
We speak about crypto, blockchain, Coinswitch, regulations, RBI and more over an email interview. Without further ado – here you go!
CCI: Sharan, you’ve been in the cryptosphere for quite long. You have seen the boom and witnessing the current market bust. Do you believe that crypto still holds a chance to be widely accepted mode of payment
Nair: “I am very confident about crypto payments [becoming] mainstream. There is a need for a payment system that protects user privacy, avoids middlemen and is fast, reliable & trust-less. Although, the current state of crypto isn’t there yet but I am sure with innovations like lightning network we are closer than we think we are.”
CCI: So do you believe lighting is the key to fast and reliable payments? Aren’t there other projects that can be a better digital currency than Bitcoin?
Nair: “While it’s not very certain if Lightning Network is the saviour we need but it certainly is a way to light at the end of the tunnel. While there are many other projects that may serve the purpose of payments better than Bitcoin but when it comes to building a successful payment system two major things come into play – the overall trust on the asset and the network effect (numbers of places accepting payments in a particular asset) and Bitcoin seems to be leading the game.”
CCI: Now let’s talk about Coinswitch, you’re the senior VP here. Tell us what is coinswitch?
Nair: “CoinSwitch is the easiest way for anyone to exchange one crypto asset into another. We aggregate the leading global exchanges for users to compare prices of their favourite coins/tokens and buy it at the best rates without having to create an account with any of these exchanges. We are like the booking.com of cryptocurrency. We support over 350+ currencies and 45,000+ exchange pairs – the highest in the world. We also give the freedom of using your own wallets for receiving funds and this way users do not have to worry about their funds being stored with us.”
CCI: Tell us the story from the beginning!
Nair: “CoinSwitch is started by three friends (Ashish Singhal, Govind Soni, and Vimal Tiwari) who at the core are traders themselves and built a solution for solving the problems they faced. With enough appreciation and validation of their idea, they decided to open it up for the world. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. How do you get users to know about your service and how do you get them to trust you? They would take turns to stay awake throughout the night and provide 24/7 support to users. They would answer every single question in detail and win the customer’s trust. As the number of customers grew, they referred more and more people and to this day our customers are our biggest marketing tool. Our current referral scheme of giving $5 to every user who refers a friend is aimed at thanking our users.”
CCI: Tell us more about the investors. Who are the backers?
Nair: “The major investor in CoinSwitch is Sequoia Capital which is a tier-A VC fund. There are few angel investors on board as well.”
“The general tendency of any customer is to avoid KYC and this is not because they have done something wrong.”
CCI: Do users need to have an account on Coinswitch for trading? If yes, do they need KYC?
Nair: “Users necessarily don’t need an account on coinswitch but they might have to do a KYC if our systems or partner exchanges identify suspicious transactions or addresses.”
CCI: How does it impact coinswitch when exchanges like Shapeshift or IDEX start mandating KYC?
Nair: “The general tendency of any customer is to avoid KYC and this is not because they have done something wrong. Everyone including you and I are not okay with our personal identification data being stored in some server. So naturally, when exchanges start requiring KYC, the user tends to move to an exchange that doesn’t need them to do so. In our case, we aggregate over 11 exchanges and hence user has enough options to trade without KYC. Also, things like KYC is not in the hands of exchanges as they have to comply with the law of the land.”
CCI: Does Coinswitch provide wallet services?
Nair: “No, CoinSwitch is a non-custodial exchange and users are free to use a Wallet of their choice.”
CCI: Besides being a crypto aggregator, CoinSwitch also provides other tools like Airdrop tracker, Widgets, instant exchanges for anyone, how is the adoption of the other tools?
Nair: “One of the key elements of all our products is the convenience it brings to users. Every time we make a new product, we ask ourselves if this particular tool is going to make the lives of our users easy. And this obsession for making easy to use products is the reason why we have been super successful in our other products as well. Our Airdrop tracker is already one of the best airdrop trackers for users to participate in leading airdrops and get some free cryptos. The widget and instant exchange have been even a bigger hit. We had over 200+ activations of our instant exchange in less than 90 days after launch. Our API services are already live on some of the largest wallets like Trezor, Exodus, ImToken, Guarda etc.”
“Can you enforce a law that prohibits Indians from buying or possessing Bitcoin in India? Yes. Can you truly ban cryptocurrencies in India? No.”
CCI: Coming back to you, What do you have to say about the RBI’s stance on cryptocurrency trading in India? Has it impacted Coinswitch in any way?
Nair: “In a country like India, policymakers have a tough job. One of the major worries for a policy maker is the extent to which a system can be exploited well within the legal permits. Also, there is very less understanding about cryptocurrency and blockchain within the decision makers. This can lead to an ineffective policymaking that isn’t really pushing the country forward. Having said that, an outright ban or building up an environment where a crypto investor feels threatened is also not the way forward. What we need is better communication between the companies in the crypto space, the customers and the policymakers.
The RBI’s stance doesn’t affect our business as such because we are a company that serves users worldwide. If I strictly speak about India then again we haven’t been affected much because we are a crypto to crypto exchange and there aren’t any laws in India that prohibits that. Yes, it’s true that there is a slight fall in the number because of the blockage in the fiat-to-crypto space in India.”
CCI: Can we truly ban cryptocurrencies in India?
Nair: “Can you enforce a law that prohibits Indians from buying or possessing Bitcoin in India? Yes. Can you truly ban cryptocurrencies in India? No. Cryptocurrencies work beyond geographies or political ideologies or law of the land because it’s decentralised. The only way to ban cryptocurrencies is to shut down the Internet.”
CCI: What is your opinion on the whole Unocoin ATM fiasco?
Nair: “I started my career at Unocoin and have worked very closely with the founders. And I can bet on the fact that they have done a tremendous amount of work to build a crypto ecosystem in India well within the legal permits. There is no denying to that. As far as the Unocoin ATM thing is concerned, the real culprit is some section of media that has done irresponsible reporting and also the usage of the term “ATM”. Had it been called a kiosk instead of the ATM because it technically isn’t an ATM then I think this whole issue could have been avoided.”
CCI: Coinswitch allows users to buy cryptocurrency using cards. We did a video on it. Given the heavy charges and constant warnings from the bank, why would I prefer to use that feature as an Indian citizen?
Nair: “See, we are a company with a global appeal. We build products and services with a global approach. The credit card purchase facility is widely used globally as it gives users instant access to buying their favourite coins. Please note that we do not encourage anybody to use our services if they are legally not allowed to do so and we take absolutely no responsibility for it. Also, these features are provided by our partners and not us.”
CCI: Where are most Coinswitch users coming from?
Nair: “We have had users from over 130+ countries and most coming from the US and European countries. We have a sizeable audience from India as well which has been increasing rapidly.”
CCI: What is the percentage of the trade volume across different countries?
Nair sent us the data Quarterly data until the month of October. India only accounts for 2.5% of the volume.
CCI: What is coinswitch doing to create crypto awareness?
Nair: “Creating awareness about crypto is something we have always put on the top of our priority. We have a team that writes really easy to understand content around the latest news and happenings from crypto space. We have written really good articles explaining forks and other things that are very prominent.”
CCI: What would you recommend the community to do to create proper awareness of cryptocurrencies and blockchain?
Nair: “First and foremost is to read instead of relying on others for information. Be active on twitter and reddit and follow relevant people. Almost all major crypto personalities and exchanges and other entities are pretty active on Twitter. Here is a great set of resources managed by Jameson Lopp: https://lopp.net/bitcoin.html “
And with that we concluded the interview. I would like to thank Sharan for his time and our contributor Indiancryptogirl for assisting with the interview.
Disclaimer: Coin Crunch India has deployed the Instant Exchange, a widget and the payment service (for donations) using CoinSwitch. We receive a referral commission if our readers use the widget or exchange to trade cryptocurrency. The user is not impacted at all.
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