When Janine Grainger first invested in cryptocurrency in 2014 it was the idea of it that attracted her, not its money-making potential.
“I just remember at the time, going; ‘well, this makes so much sense. We’ve got this global village with the internet, everyone’s connected and can share information but we don’t have a global payment system or a global way of transferring value. It seemed like a bit of a no brainer.”
More than seven years later the co-founder of Kiwi cryptocurrency trading platform Easy Crypto says the digital currency has taken a lot longer to become the “next big thing” than she expected but she is still a big believer in its potential.
“We haven’t seen adoption move as fast as I personally would have expected so while we’re waiting for this to become more commonplace in our everyday lives, the main purpose of cryptocurrency has been speculation.
“It’s done really well for people as an asset. It has outperformed I think every other mainstream investment. But that’s not to say that speculation is the real purpose of cryptocurrency. It’s not. It’s around the real-world use case and enabling people to transfer value digitally.”
While cryptocurrency is taking a while to catch on Kiwis have certainly jumped on board its investment potential.
Grainger and her brother Alan launched Easy Crypto in 2017 to make it cheaper and easier for Kiwis to invest in cryptocurrencies.
“We wanted Kiwis to have access to cryptocurrency. We really believed in cryptocurrency as being quite an incredible opportunity but for New Zealanders it was very challenging to get involved, it was quite complicated. There weren’t providers that made it really easy and intuitive and also we saw that the prices in New Zealand were 15 to 20 per cent above global rates, which for a product with no shipping costs and fully digital, that seemed a bit unfair.”
Grainger was working fulltime at Air New Zealand as a strategy manager when the company began and for the first three years it was just her, Alan and one other worker doing the hard yards on the startup.
At the start of 2020, she stepped off the corporate ladder to focus fully on Easy Crypto.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision. I was kind of like it’s a given this has to happen because we had built Easy Crypto on the side and I had been using my regular paycheck to help support the business grow, to make sure that we could hire staff and would have certainty around income to support the staff that were working on the business.
“I just couldn’t not come in to help build this thing that I had helped create and that I had been supporting for the last few years as well.”
Little did she know that a few months later the world would be thrown into a global pandemic, which saw investment markets plunge before coming roaring back as retail investors used their spare time and money to dive into shares and cryptocurrencies.
“It’s been phenomenal. I think I saw stats that, globally, cryptocurrency adoption has increased 800 per cent over the last year.
“At Easy Crypto we’ve seen a 500 per cent increase in customers and turnover so it really has had a big surge over 2020 and 2021.”
From just three staff the company now has around 80 – it hired 17 new workers in November alone and has recently hired some highly experience expat Kiwis after undertaking a $17 million capital raise.
“We’ve been fully bootstrapped up to this point, we haven’t taken any seed investment or angel investment so going straight into a series A [funding round] has given us a great amount of funding to help really drive the business forward.”
Grainger says they plan to use the money for product development and expansion into more countries.
“Right now we’ve got 150 different cryptocurrencies that we sell on our site, but we are really just doing one product which is allowing people to move New Zealand dollars into crypto and cryptocurrency back to New Zealand dollars.
“We want to be able to expand out those products and services. There’s a lot that’s coming in cryptocurrency, a lot of innovation and we want to be able to offer the best of what’s happening in the industry to our customers.”
Easy Crypto currently has around 150,000 customers and operates in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Brazil.
But it is in the process of launching into southeast Asia.
“We really want to keep expanding out across, particularly around the southern hemisphere, where people don’t have as much access to cryptocurrency or even to traditional financial products and services.”
Cryptocurrency has been on a roller coaster ride with many of the coins rising quickly and then falling back at times.
But Grainger believes the acceptance of it has passed a tipping point now.
“A year or two years ago people were always talking about it like it was a fad, a bubble, there was talk of tulips, I haven’t heard that kind of commentary [for a while], and when you look at the market and you look at who’s adopting cryptocurrency from not just everyday people, we are around 10 per cent adoption within the population, which is still quite low, but it’s growing very, very fast.
“But you’re also seeing huge amounts of mainstream adoption with the companies like
Mastercard getting involved and a lot of the payment companies.”
In November the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, parent of ASB,announced a cryptocurrency partnership.
“There is a huge groundswell of institutional support with a whole lot of retail customer support. I think that tipping point has passed and we are just going to continue seeing an increase in adoption of crypto assets or digital assets.”
Grainger says it is difficult to even envision what the possibilities will look like.
“It’s a bit like the internet. There is this great clip of Bill Gates trying to explain to Letterman what you can do with the internet, and this was in 1998 and he just can’t really articulate what the internet’s value actually is and Letterman and just keeps shooting him down.
“When you actually look at what the internet can do now like Bill Gates would never have been able to imagine things like Instagram or HelloFresh all these things are you know just wouldn’t have been able to be conceptualised back then, and I think we’re at a similar sort of inflection point now.”
There are still plenty of cryptocurrency sceptics with many believing it is little more than gambling. Some have lost their cryptocurrency through having their digital wallets or storage places hacked while others have lost passwords blocking them from making millions.
In the early days there were perceptions that it could be used as a black market to launder ill-gotten gains but Grainger says that is no longer the case.
“In terms of the criminal activities, I think this is something that’s a real misnomer.
“Cryptocurrency is actually really, really terrible for money laundering or other illegal activities because it’s fully transparent, fully traceable, every transaction you make is visible on the blockchain so you know, law enforcement agencies, regulators can actually see the money flows and trace transactions. So from that point of view it’s not a great idea for money laundering or crime.
“In the early days, it was associated with things like the Silk Road because it provided that digital payment method that we were lacking through other channels. The transparency has always existed, but people weren’t looking and that’s why in the early days you could get away with criminal activity on the blockchain.
“Now it’s a lot harder and I think it’s something that we will see continually eroded in terms of the propensity for criminals to use cryptocurrencies. Cash is a lot better.
“Blockchain cryptocurrency is not the bad guy here.”
And she said Easy Crypto isn’t a target for hackers because it doesn’t provide digital currency storage.
But Grainger is mindful that there are a lot of scams popping up in the industry.
“There’s two key risks for customers, one is that their own funds are stolen from them, because they don’t have sufficient security around their wallet or their storage.
“And the other one is around scams and frauds which are really prevalent in this industry and increasingly so.”
She says those looking to protect themselves should stick to some key rules.
“if the investment comes and finds you it’s probably not a good investment so definitely do your own research and if you are wanting to get involved, get involved through New Zealand-registered companies rather than going through offshore companies.
“It just provides that extra layer of safety.Do research on any investment you’re making in terms of, you know, where are you storing your cryptocurrency, who you are investing with, and is the product a safe and repeatable product.
“And if you’re at all unsure reach out … ask in some of the Facebook cryptocurrency groups, ask friends and family.”
• Role: Co-founder and chief executive Easy Crypto
• Born: Auckland
• Education: University of Auckland Bachelor of Commerce, economics and finance
• Career: Auckland Regional Council strategic policy adviser, Auckland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group emergency support, adviser for Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, senior analyst at PwC, corporate strategy manager at Westpac, strategy manager for Air New Zealand. Co-founded Easy Crypto in 2017.
• Age: 38
• Family: Partner with a step-daughter
• What was the last movie you watched? Princess bride because we’ve been having a bit of an 80s movie education session with my step daughter
• Last book you read? No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention and Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon
• Last holiday you went on? I got to Rarotonga for a little break when there was that little window when things opened up.
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