Difficult times call for lots of adjustments. The Paxful team is working remotely but we haven’t let that slow us down at all. Our communication has stayed razor sharp and we’re on our way to breaking the world record for video conferencing.
Recently, I (I’m David, a Senior Copywriter at Paxful) sat down with our founders, Ray and Artur to get the story of how Paxful started as an idea and grew to become a movement that would change the face of personal finance forever.
DAVID: This probably goes without saying, but I’m sure your pile of things to do is about as big as the number of payment methods we offer on Paxful.
ARTUR: Nice plug [laughs]. Work never stops but it’s fine because we love what we do. Anything for our users.
DAVID: I know most of us within the crypto community know who you guys are but for those that don’t, could you introduce yourselves for us?
RAY: My name is Ray Youssef. I grew up in New York City but my parents came over from Africa so I’m a first-generation immigrant. I learned how to run a business in the streets of New York in the 90s at my parents’ newsstand.
ARTUR: My name is Artur Schaback, co-founder and currently the COO of Paxful. I was living in Tallinn until we started the company about 5 years ago. Initially it was really difficult to find the market fit for our product but now we’ve become pioneers in the P2P space.
DAVID: Awesome. I feel like people from very different backgrounds always make the best teams.
ARTUR: I agree.
DAVID: Ray, I’d love to hear more about how working at your parents’ business helped shape your entrepreneurial skills.
RAY: It turned me into a builder. I think the greatest form of accomplishment is building something for someone and knowing you impacted their life. Years ago, I went to New Orleans after Katrina and helped build a school after the hurricane hit and it helped the city open up again. There was so much power in that. That’s why we’re building schools in the emerging world. Built with Bitcoin is a product of that. A lot of people don’t believe in social justice and social good. Our goal is to increase the total wealth of humanity.
DAVID: What about you, Artur? Tell us a little bit about your background.
ARTUR: I’m originally from Estonia, the land of Skype so that’s where I get my tech background from. I’ve worked for a number of different fintech startups in the past. I was doing integrations with banks and spent 12 years in the IT space working on websites and mobile apps. Eventually, I transitioned into launching my own startup and product, which is obviously Paxful. That background helped us build Paxful with world-class technology and approaches.
DAVID: Any previous startup experience for you, Ray?
RAY: My first startup was kind of like Groupon using SMS text messaging, which was after I taught myself how to use a computer at 19. It didn’t work out because these businesses didn’t see the value of it. At the time, a lot of Americans didn’t even know how to send a text. Then I got into ringtones, all because I wanted the “Mission Impossible” theme [laughs]. I did well enough to take care of my family but before Paxful, I had 11 failed startups. I was even a bouncer for a while.
DAVID: Between the two of you, it sounds like you guys have tried just about everything.
RAY: Exactly. It was a journey.
DAVID: So anyone that knows the two of you would probably say you guys are pretty much polar opposites.
ARTUR: Why would anyone say that?
DAVID: Sarcasm doesn’t translate well over text, man.
RAY & ARTUR: [laugh]
DAVID: Okay we’ll stick with saying you guys are different and unique in your own ways. How did you guys meet? Tell us about how your paths crossed.
RAY: It was at the first bitcoin meetup I ever went to at the Bitcoin Center in New York. They had it on the second floor of an old building downtown. I walk in, look around, and this guy comes up to me, introduces himself, and tells me he organized the event. He says he wants to introduce me to someone so I said, “Why not.” I follow him and see a tall blonde guy sitting there rubbing his eyebrows [laughs]. Turns out he was building an application. He had created something and was making money with it. I was really impressed.
ARTUR: When I got to New York in 2014, I wanted to find “my people.” I was already very interested in bitcoin and a friend of mine told me about an event he was planning. It was a meetup at the Bitcoin Center for developers. When I met Ray, we realized we had the same views and ideas. Both of us wanted to build a better product than the ones that already existed. We wanted to help people using bitcoin.
RAY: We definitely bonded over that right away. We met again two days later and decided to start something together. We said, “Let’s help bitcoin so we can help people.” A lot of people ask why we don’t use other cryptocurrencies. It’s because we really believe in bitcoin. It’s kind of our baby.
ARTUR: Back then a lot of the bitcoin apps weren’t made for everyone. We wanted to bring something more user-friendly that normal, everyday people could use. It was about reaching out and offering a hand. That’s why we get along. We have the same vision. We even have the same approach to the work we’re doing.
DAVID: So everything just lined right up. You guys were in the right place at the right time.
RAY: It was our destiny.
DAVID: What made you guys get into bitcoin in the first place? Why bitcoin?
RAY: Really early on, I heard someone talk about it online. I started reading more about what it was but I initially dismissed it as being “nerd money.”
RAY: I did, man! But then I learned how it was gaining traction and how it would actually help the world. I was having an awakening. It was like Neo breaking out of the Matrix. And when I was ready, bitcoin became a part of my life. When I figured out how it could help humanity, I decided to meet up with people and talk about it.
ARTUR: I was driving home one night with my friend from college and he told me about a project he was working on with a client in Europe. Instead of getting paid in the usual bank transfers, he was getting paid in bitcoin. I was like, “What is that?” Back then I was so busy with other projects and building websites for other customers but when the first spike came, I became interested. I was fascinated by the tech side of bitcoin. The volatility, the ability to trade it like stocks, the fact that it’s accessible 24/7, and on top of that, you can use it to make payments. Bitcoin was and is everything. That’s what keeps me interested in it to this day.
DAVID: I think this goes without saying but it’s very apparent that the both of you have genuine passion for what you’re doing.
ARTUR: You have to be when you’re solving problems for your customers. We’re always talking to our customers with lots of care. You have to put love into what you’re doing. If you do, other people will be able to see it too.
RAY: If you’re going to build anything, you need passion and enthusiasm. You need to really believe that you’re going to make something better than it was before. I failed so many times in the past and that’s tough. You have to believe in something in order to pursue it. If you discovered something that would change the world, wouldn’t you be completely dedicated to it? Elon can have Mars. We want to work on Earth, right here.
ARTUR: We’re not coming up with these ideas ourselves. We’re listening to the problems within our community and thinking of ways to solve them. It’s passion that keeps us connected to the streets.
DAVID: How did all of that lead to Paxful?
RAY: We wanted to help the bitcoin movement. New ideas start from the streets and we immediately thought about how we could translate that into a product and how it would improve the system. We started out with a company called EasyBitz, which was a payment processor for merchants, but it didn’t really catch on.
ARTUR: We realized we were trying to solve a problem that wasn’t there. The actual problem was figuring out an easy way to buy bitcoin but we hadn’t solved it.
DAVID: What was the turning point that made you realize the direction you wanted to move in?
RAY: One day, our friend brought up the idea of using gift cards as a payment method to trade bitcoin and it just clicked. Right away, Artur and I talked about how we could scale the process up. We said, “Let’s build this system out.” One weekend, we designed the whole thing.
ARTUR: We wanted to make it so everyone could buy bitcoin. The answer was listening to the people and doing things they actually wanted. And to this day, we still listen to them.
RAY: People are constantly reaching out to us about problems and opportunities. There are good things and bad things too. Because of that we have a lot of confidence. We go in and fix what needs to be fixed.
DAVID: Finding a gap in the market and filling it, right?
ARTUR: Exactly. We knew we could process much simpler.
DAVID: I’m sure you guys experienced a lot of struggles when you first launched.
RAY: Oh yeah. We had no money and no users. Our first few users were our friends. People weren’t interested in bitcoin at the time. We saw how little information was available. Not just in the States but in Africa, Asia, everywhere.
ARTUR: When you’re in the building phase you really have to hustle. New York City rent is so expensive [laughs]. Ray and I were both homeless for a while.
Ray: Yup. We were both couchsurfing from one friend’s house to another.
DAVID: Wow. You really have to believe in what you’re doing at that point.
ARTUR: For sure. You have to keep going.
DAVID: What do you think is next for bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general? How are they going to affect the global economy in the next couple of years?
RAY: I think P2P finance will have saturated the world in the next 10 years and that we’ll have a much more free economy as far as money is concerned. People-powered finance is going to remove a lot of the obstacles that exist today and bring people together. It’s going to create wealth for humanity.
ARTUR: As I said before, bitcoin is everything. It’s not going to undermine fiat currency but rather work together with it. I think we’re going to see more people using bitcoin and finding use for it in their everyday lives.
DAVID: And how do you see Paxful as being a part of that narrative?
RAY: I think Paxful is going to be leading that movement. In fact, we have been leading it.
ARTUR: Yep. We’re going to continue building products that correct the financial problems people are facing, whether that’s sending money internationally, exchanging payments, making online payments, or even something as simple as shopping online. We’re going to enable the unbanked and underbanked to make them a part of the global financial system.
RAY: Absolutely. We’re the trailblazers. Because of blockchain and this amazing network around bitcoin, we can create a financial system that’s powered by the people.
DAVID: Awesome. And lastly, is there any advice you would give your younger selves or to young entrepreneurs who are using bitcoin to build their own businesses?
ARTUR: Set a goal. Think about what you want to achieve and just keep going. Don’t let any distractions or mistakes stop you. Break down your goal into milestones and celebrate those achievements. And make sure you’re always excited about what you’re doing.
RAY: Believe in yourself. You have all the tools necessary to get to the very highest level imaginable. You are worthy and prepared. There’s tremendous opportunity and it’s going to come to you. It’s going to come to all of you and you can get to any level you want. You have everything you need to rock it. Anything is possible.
DAVID: Thank you so much guys. Always a pleasure to pick your brains and remind myself of why we’re all here. Happy to be here at Paxful.
ARTUR: We’re happy you’re here too.
DAVID: Appreciate it.
RAY: Big things coming this year, man!