Nischal Shetty has made a name for himself in India.
In the first half of 2021 alone, his crypto business has grown more than 12 times to become the country’s largest digital currency exchange. And now, he’s set his sights on making WazirX India’s first billion-dollar crypto unicorn.
But while Shetty is a tech entrepreneur through and through, the millennial’s foray into cryptocurrency was initially inspired by a rebellion against big tech.
“There’s always a reason why someone gets into crypto,” Shetty told CNBC Make It.
Shetty is the 36-year-old co-founder and CEO of WazirX, a cryptocurrency platform that allows users to buy, sell and trade popular virtual coins such as bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin and Ripple’s XRP.
Started in 2018 alongside co-founders Sameer Mhatre and Siddharth Menon, the company has capitalized on the rising tide of retail traders investing in cryptocurrencies.
Less than two years after launching, it was acquired by Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange. Then in April, its WRX crypto token temporarily reached a billion-dollar valuation.
Yet the trio’s journey first started with a social media business.
“My first start-up was all about social media management. If you had your Twitter account, your Instagram account, you could manage it from a single place,” said Shetty, who started his first business in 2010, shortly after completing his computer science degree.
The idea, later named Crowdfire, took off. But before long, social media giants became more restrictive with their APIs — or application programming interfaces — making it harder for third-party developers to build related businesses. Shetty and his co-founders decided it was time to change tact.
“We had to cut down quite a few features that were creating revenues for us but that was not seen as the right features by these networks,” said Shetty.
“This is what led me to the whole decentralized ecosystem,” he continued, referring to blockchain — a distributed database that is not controlled by any single party or company.
Their timing coincided with a boon in cryptocurrencies, and in particular bitcoin. And in 2018, Shetty and his co-founders decided to use their tech expertise to create a blockchain-based platform for crypto trading.
“I realized there was a large gap in the way international exchanges operated versus the way Indian exchanges operated,” he continued. “With that, we decided we should build an exchange focused on the Indian ecosystem.”
However, weeks after launching, the Reserve Bank of India introduced a ban on crypto-related payments. WazirX had to quickly pivot, acting as a third-party custodian between buyers and sellers.
The shift paid off and the following year, in November 2019, WazirX was acquired by Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, as it made its first foray into the Indian market.
Today, WazirX claims its registered users have quadrupled in the second quarter of 2021 to hit 6.5 million while trading volume in June reached $6.2 billion.
“We’ve signed up more users in the last four, five months than we have in the last three years. That’s been how rapid the growth has been,” said Shetty.
Cryptocurrencies have recorded a meteoric rise in 2021, hitting a total market capitalization of over $2.5 trillion in May. It has since fallen to about $1.5 trillion, according to…