“The ban was a problem for exchanges that were already established and large. Since we were just three weeks old, we were already at zero level and we knew that we can’t go lower than that. So the ban didn’t bother us much,” Nischal Shetty, CEO and co-founder of WazirX, tells Quartz over a Zoom call. Dressed in a classic black t-shirt, Shetty, part techie-part entrepreneur, exudes the confidence of having fought one of his toughest battles yet. And rightfully so.
In a bid to navigate the regulatory hurdle, a nimble-footed WazirX launched a peer-to-peer system barely two days after the ban. This would completely eliminate the need for financial institutions and link sellers and buyers directly. “At that point, this launch was very crucial because no one else had it. This was one of those key moments where growth skyrocketed,” recalls Shetty with a smile.
Since then, WazirX hasn’t looked back.
The volumes on the exchange are soaring as more Indians have developed an appetite for cryptocurrencies—ranging from bitcoin and dogecoin to ripple and litecoin. It also helps that the regulatory environment isn’t as hostile as it was two years ago. A combination of these factors has enabled WazirX to hit a user base of over 1.75 million with monthly trading volumes to the tune of $2.3 billion (Rs171 crore).
How then did a 32-year old Shetty along with two other co-founders spot an opportunity in this nascent industry, survive the ban, and scale up to become India’s largest crypto exchange? The answer is as intriguing as the cryptocurrency space.