Bringing the crypto payments ecosystem around the world: Ray Youssef

Although he has had 11 enterprise failures, at this time Ray Youssef is constructing Bitcoin-funded faculties throughout Africa as government director of the Constructed With Bitcoin Basis and helps thousands and thousands of individuals purchase and promote cryptocurrency as CEO of Paxful. Nevertheless, Youssef additionally admits to looting {hardware} shops on behalf of a convent college after Hurricane Katrina and says he was almost shot as a suspected CIA agent in the course of the Egyptian Revolution.

He has simply returned from El Salvador, the place he hung out at Bitcoin Beach — the place he says even youngsters are utilizing Bitcoin (BTC). Crypto funds companies are vital there as a result of 70% of individuals in El Salvador haven’t any checking account. For Youssef, peer-to-peer monetary networks spell hope for the growing world.

All roads result in Bitcoin

When Youssef first heard about Bitcoin in 2011, he rapidly “dismissed it as nerd cash.” He had extra urgent issues on his thoughts, as that yr he left the relative consolation of New York to help the revolution in his native Egypt. There, he went to the core of the protests at Tahrir Sq. in downtown Cairo and “almost died on the primary night time of actually loopy preventing” throughout which he was arrested by the navy as a suspected CIA agent. “I may write a e book on that one night time alone,” he concluded with amusing that exuded thriller.

He’s not the primary crypto chief to throw themself right into a revolution — like Griff Inexperienced, who as soon as protected polling booths in Catalonia, or Amir Taaki, who went to battle with the Kurdish YPG. After he returned house to america, nevertheless, he started integrating his experiences of the revolution and questioning many issues about society.

One of many rabbit holes he descended was that of cash. “I began asking questions on cash: The place is it? The place does it come from?” he stated. Quickly, he “started to see historical past by a really totally different lens.” That’s when he returned to Bitcoin, the place he felt he may discover solutions.

Plainly crypto attracts revolutionaries, maybe backing the concept of a technological or monetary revolution introduced on by blockchain. As he arrived at Bitcoin Middle NYC for his first meetup in 2013, he puzzled in regards to the different Bitcoiners: “What are they like? Are they on the identical journey that I’m on?”

Describing the occasion, he sounded not in contrast to a pilgrim recounting a story of a faraway shrine the place they’d hoped to search out different seekers of reality. The primary particular person he met, Artur Schaback — his soon-to-be enterprise companion — was the one different tall man within the assembly, “So we received alongside, and we actually bonded over the idea that Bitcoin may assist the little man.” Quickly, they began engaged on a Bitcoin retail answer, however it was no straightforward journey.

“We ran out of cash — we had to decide on between our startup or a spot to dwell.”

The 2 adventurers “ended up homeless, browsing couches.” Youssef felt he had hit all-time low, and he wanted to ask for assist — he was fearful of his mom discovering out about his scenario. He fasted for a month, and he prayed. “I needed to be really humbled and actually begged God for assist — I used to be damaged, defeated, and I received a really particular night time — it was the Evening of Energy of Ramadan,” he recalled solemnly. No matter he skilled then, for Youssef, it represented a turning level.

Youssef initially moved to the U.S. along with his household from Egypt when he was 2, and by 8, he was already working odd jobs. He studied historical past at Baruch School in New York beginning in 1996, however his actual ardour lay with computer systems. He received his first PC at 19 and “taught myself to code immediately and began doing startups.” He labored as a senior software program engineer at early smartphone firm YadaYada first for 2 years earlier than embarking on his entrepreneurial path. The primary of those was associated to coupons being distributed over textual content messages, however the thought failed to realize traction.

The younger entrepreneur quickly went on to have his first style of success, nevertheless, as he pivoted to downloadable ringtones. His new firm, referred to as MatrixM, “went from like $0 to $1 million income in lower than six months.”

“The largest drawback was primarily that the customers who needed ringtones have been unbanked individuals — youngsters.”

Although he received off to a robust begin, the following decade didn’t present a cushty journey. Youssef greatest describes this turbulent a part of his life on LinkedIn, the place he writes his title as “Entrepreneur” at “11 failed startups and lots of classes discovered.” The truth that he didn’t quit throughout that point speaks volumes. Although his preliminary success might be attributed to mere luck, it certainly helped him to imagine in himself regardless of years of failure. Whether or not he was a reliable entrepreneur after his first success or not, he certainly had put within the arduous yards to change into one after the eleventh failure.

In his work at MatrixM, Youssef found that peer-to-peer infrastructure, then nonetheless in its infancy, was the important thing to having access to ringtones and a broad viewers — customers may add ringtones in addition to obtain them. In the present day, Youssef defined, peer-to-peer platforms like Uber and Airbnb have “change into a part of our every day lives.” The identical will quickly occur with peer-to-peer finance. “Humanity has been ready for this one for a very long time,” he stated. Whereas developed international locations can profit, Youssef stated that the necessity in rising economies, like all through a lot of Africa, is far better.

He described the problems individuals face round transacting cash as “mind-bending — even when they’ve a checking account and get a financial institution card, they will solely spend $100 a month most along with your Visa card.” Which means that sending cash out and in of Africa can rapidly change into a nightmare, as retailers can’t simply purchase items from China, for instance. “They must undergo like three or 4 hops, flip their cash into USD on the black market, and discover a method to get that right into a checking account that may really wire the cash as a result of their private accounts can’t,” he defined in an exasperated tone.


A while later in 2015, he was advised of a way to revenue by promoting reward playing cards for BTC. Youssef was suspicious however determined to strive it out of desperation. “I believed it was a rip-off, however it labored, so we scaled it up,” he recalled as if nonetheless shocked. With their system working, Youssef and Schaback determined to construct a platform for buying and selling cryptocurrency for reward playing cards, seeing it as “one of the simplest ways to onboard the unbanked” into the world of cryptocurrency. After 72 hours of coding, Paxful was dwell.

Youssef remembers a time when he took a customer support name from a “determined woman” needing to buy $2.50 value of BTC to be able to pay for an internet labeled advert. All the way down to her final $13 and and not using a checking account, she had no thought purchase Bitcoin, as no companies have been geared towards individuals like her. Along with her youngsters crying within the background, Youssef guided her to go to a close-by drugstore and purchase a $10 Walmart reward card.

“‘Okay, I’ll stroll you thru the entire technique of turning a Walmart reward card into Bitcoin, after which really sending the Bitcoin to that deal with.’ It was two hours — it was tough.”

The expertise was formative, because it illustrated the true struggles of these with out entry to the standard banking system who attempt to use trendy internet-based companies. “That’s why Paxful is on high — we’re prepared to do what others usually are not, we’re prepared to go the place others usually are not prepared to go, like Nigeria,” Youssef defined, referring to the truth that small transactions carry little revenue. He stated that he feels a deep connection to Africa due to his roots. “This complete time, my dream was to assist Africa,” he asserted.

In the present day, Paxful permits customers to purchase and promote cryptocurrency by way of lots of of strategies. It’s worthwhile and boasts over 6 million customers, supported by “virtually 500 individuals in 9 workplaces all over the world.” Quickly, he believes, the platform will go mainstream, especially in Nigeria — which is the corporate’s greatest market and Youssef’s part-time house. “They’re those who’re going to tug the remainder of Africa ahead. Nigeria is the Lion of Africa,” Youssef stated with satisfaction, as if he have been a Nigerian himself. Quickly, Youssef believes, will probably be the Silicon Valley of Africa.

Constructed with Bitcoin

The Constructed with Bitcoin Basis, the place Youssef serves as government director, goals to construct 100 faculties all over the world in help of native communities — an thought impressed by his expertise after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in August 2005. Youssef noticed the devastation on the information and determined that “I’m happening there myself.”

On the bottom, he discovered numerous charities to be of little assist. “Lastly, I managed to search out these 5 Dominican nuns within the French Quarter. That they had a college, and so they needed me to assist rebuild and reopen the college.” Youssef went across the metropolis to scavenge constructing supplies and provides, generally placing himself in nice hazard. At one level, he befriended a trucker, and “Me and him really ended up looting a Lowes [hardware store] to get provides to the college.”

“Throughout this time I had plenty of adventures — one the place I used to be almost killed by the police, who noticed me wandering by town pondering I’m a looter.”

The opening of the college, Youssef believes, was key to serving to town reopen after the catastrophe, because the police and fireplace division “wouldn’t have come again in the event that they couldn’t have put their youngsters again to highschool.” Faculties, he realized, are a pillar of group improvement and civilization. “That’s the place I received the concept for Constructed with Bitcoin — 100 faculties within the subsequent 5 years, and we’ve already constructed three of them,” he stated. To this point, the group has accomplished three faculties. Along with faculties, there’s a give attention to sustainable farming and the supply of wells to be able to assure communities entry to scrub water.

Based on the web site, 92% of funds go instantly into initiatives. One of many current college initiatives in Rwanda was accomplished in collaboration with a charity referred to as Zam Zam Water. Whereas the constructing of faculties and wells actually nourishes communities to develop, the concept that the proliferation of cryptocurrencies might help kind extra sturdy native and internationally related economies is a a lot newer one. “I think about myself a Bitcoin optimist,” Youssef stated.

El Bitcoin

When El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, just lately introduced that Bitcoin was an official forex for the nation, the worldwide press was skeptical. Youssef was among the many CEOs who flew to the nation within the weeks following the announcement, little doubt in hopes of opening up a brand new main marketplace for Paxful.

In his view, the brand new Bitcoin Legislation, which is seeing all residents obtain an airdrop of $30 in BTC, advantages the common people. Still, he noted that “The old aristocracy of El Salvador came out” to disparage him as a colonizer after he “took a photo-op at the airport with a bunch of police guards who are not working for me.”

Youssef is confident that this is just the beginning, as grassroots use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will “spread to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras as well, and eventually Mexico and all Central America — we’re seeing that very clearly.”

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