bitFlyer USA COO on why it’s focusing on less coins and the need for the “separation between state and money” bitFlyer USA COO on why it’s focusing on less coins and the need for the “separation between state and money”
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bitFlyer USA COO on why it’s focusing on less coins and the need for the “separation between state and money”

bitFlyer USA COO on why it’s focusing on less coins and the need for the “separation between state and money”

Cover art/illustration via CryptoSlate. Image includes combined content which may include AI-generated content.

CryptoSlate recently had the opportunity to chat with Joel Edgerton, the COO of bitFlyer USA.

Joel is currently the COO at bitFlyer USA, a global cryptocurrency exchange with offices in Tokyo, San Francisco, and Luxembourg. Joel leads the company’s expansion in the USA, developing a strong team with institutional and retail customer experience. He has advocated for cryptocurrency exchanges to go beyond simply offering products, to better protect customer interests and solve customer problems.

Prior to joining bitFlyer USA, Joel held senior positions in Tokyo and London with Citibank, State Street, Legg Mason and BNP Paribas. He also founded his own fintech company offering personalized financial advice via algorithms based on behavioral economic theories. Joel is bilingual (Japanese and English) and holds an MBA in International Finance.

Interview with Joel Edgerton, bitFlyer USA COO

What is your professional background and how/when did you get into crypto?

My professional background is tech and finance. I mainly worked in traditional finance (capital markets, asset management, trust, corporate banking, and insurance). I have spent nearly two decades working in Japan and the UK. I started my own company in 2006 using algorithms based on behavioral economics to help individuals make better investing decisions. That start-up crashed and burned since the laws/regulations of the time were not friendly to automated investment advice to individual customers.

I started following Bitcoin around 2012, though my wife stopped me from investing in it at the time (and she still does not regret it…)

Tell us about why you decided to join bitFlyer US?

When I told my wife that I was talking with bitFlyer to build their business in the US, she was against it. She thinks the stock market is gambling and banks can’t be trusted. She and technology have an adversarial relationship. So a crypto exchange checked all of the wrong boxes. 

However, I thought it was a unique opportunity to really help people gain more financial independence. bitFlyer is the leading blockchain/crypto company in Japan. You can go into an electronics store in Japan and buy things with Bitcoin because of bitFlyer. I wanted to bring that here to the US.

In the end, my wife saw that it was exciting to me and that it is a real business that can make an impact. We still have a lot of hard work in front of us, but it is going to be a fun journey and I have a great team to make it happen.

Where is your team located and why did you choose that jurisdiction?

We are located in San Francisco. We chose it because there is a deep talent pool in the area, and it is easier to work with our team back in Japan than from the east coast.

What are some of bitFlyer US notable achievements or milestones?

We are still building in the US and have a lot to prove. We have expanded our coverage to 47 states and territories and were the 4th recipient of the New York Bitlicense. We also accept institutional clients from Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands. Since launching, we expanded our core products, Buy/Sell Marketplace and Lightning Exchange. We have recently developed Instant Deposit to get around the delays in moving money caused by traditional banks. This has led to over 2.5 million customers trusting us with their money globally.

I think it is also important to note what we have NOT done. We have not gone offline during market volatility, we have not been hacked and lost customer money and we have not abandoned our customers to avoid regulation.

What are the benefits of using bitFlyer US as opposed to other crypto exchanges?

I think the number one benefit is that we care about our customers and doing right by them. There are larger crypto exchanges with more coins and massive leverage. There are fintech companies with slicker screens that have been consultant-tested. We purposely choose to have less coins, in order to focus on ones that solve real problems. We purposely choose to minimize leverage, to protect our customers from too much risk. We are always working to improve our interface to make it easier for our customers to make decisions and not gamble their money. We are not perfect and have many things to improve, but we care about our customers and helping bring them the benefits of crypto and financial independence.

What can you tell us about bitFlyer US’s product roadmap? What upcoming features are you most excited about rolling out?

I am excited about the many different improvements we have in plan. I think our IT guys are getting tired of me constantly adding to their workload.

We have two main products: a simple buy/sell feature and a more advanced trading product. 

For the buy/sell product, our direction is mainly about simplifying the product to help our customers purchase the coin they want with the least hassle and helping them learn more about the crypto world. We are quite conservative about adding coins since we want to protect our customers and are a regulated exchange. We want to focus on coins that are being used to solve real problems and have some fundamental value.

For our advanced trading product called Lightning, we are talking to institutional traders to help them reduce trade and funding frictions that add cost or waste time. We are working to consolidate liquidity among our various exchanges in Japan, US and EU. 

Behind the scenes, we are spending a lot of effort to protect our customers, keep bad actors off our platform and continuously improve security.

What are the biggest challenges of building a crypto exchange which you have personally encountered?

Let’s just say sleep is a luxury for me now. The biggest challenge (beyond all of the technical, legal and operational hurdles) is building trust and a relationship with our customers at a scale that is a viable business. We are a late entrant to the USA and we face a lot of larger companies with extremely deep pockets. We can not simply buy our customers with celebrity Youtube ads. It also seems every fintech company out there suddenly has a crypto offering. We need to do a better job of letting people know they do not have to accept the status quo. They do not have to accept crashing platforms at the time they want to trade the most. We really want to listen and add value to our customers. We want our customers to hold us to a higher standard and push us to become better.

What other projects and/or blockchain developments are you most excited about?

I like decentralized applications (DAPP) gaming and the ability to have fun while also being able to profit from my effort. Our Japan office has done some work with Brave Frontier Heroes and created unique in-game assets which are cool. I think MobileGo is promising in this area. 

I also like the Brave browser and its emphasis on privacy, security and speed. We need to control our data and reward companies that respect our privacy while still providing a good experience.

Do you have any blockchain and/or crypto predictions for 2020 and beyond?

During the Internet boom, you knew the revolution went mainstream when AOL bought Time Warner. We can not wait for traditional companies to really understand blockchain or crypto. I look forward to the day when a blockchain company buys Oracle and a crypto exchange like bitFlyer buys Charles Schwab or Bank of America. This means we have proven our value and we can now really accelerate the change of the system for the better.

What are the biggest obstacles for mainstream adoption of crypto?

We have not proven we matter in people’s everyday life. We have to prove we make your life easier, that we save you time and money every day.

How will your company fare if there is not another crypto bull run in the next decade?

If we need a crypto bull run, then we have not done a good enough job adding value to our customers. We are not here to ride the coattails of the market like many of our competitors. We are here to help make the world simpler with blockchain.

What is your most controversial opinion relating to blockchain and/or cryptocurrency?

I agree with the idea of separation of state and money. However, we have a very long way to go before that is practical. Finance has been around for thousands of years and humans have been trying to trick each other out of their money that entire time. Finance has built systems and rules for protection that allow smooth movement of goods and services around the world. Crypto and blockchain technology solve many problems in our existing financial system, but it also creates new problems that still have not been solved. It is going to be a fun journey and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Connect with Joel Edgerton
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