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By Lyn Chan
SINGAPORE — Singapore's cryptocurrency platform Coinhako has been busy the past few months and is going to get even busier.
The crypto platform earlier this week received in-principle approval from the Monetary Authority of Singapore to provide digital payment token services under the Payment Services Act as a major payment institution.
The news came amid the startup's recent rash of activities that shout out in a big way it wants to seal its position as the platform to trade crypto in Singapore.
Coinhako said at the beginning of the month that it would tap on Duco’s cloud-based data automation and reconciliation services to manage its data. It also collaborated with Appetite to present "Right Click + Save", Singapore's first large-scale non-fungible token exhibition. In October it established Privé, a digital assets platform for high-net-worth individuals and institutions.
Roll back to August when Coinhako became the official sponsors of ALMGHTY, an esports team based in Singapore. The sponsorship will run July 2022, and will be partially funded in Ether.
“The synergy between cryptocurrency and esports is growing, especially with many in-game items being traded on online marketplaces as NFTs, and in-game currencies getting listed on cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, Yusho Liu, Coinhako’s 34-year-old co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance Singapore.
“Furthermore, the sponsorship will provide a boost in reaching a younger, mobile-first generation, and raising (crypto) awareness through talented players in Singapore’s gaming industry,” he added.
Liu also looks to double Coinhako’s current staff strength of 130 in 2022 as the trading volume on its platform has already risen by more than 1,000 per cent since the start of 2021, compared to the whole of 2020.
There are 350,000 registered users in Singapore, with an average of 150,000 monthly active users based on year-to-date data, Liu said.
A rosy picture? Sure. But not always. Shortly after starting Coinhako with Gerry Eng — who is currently the company’s chief technology officer — in 2014, the duo was bogged down by the fallout from the Mt. Gox demise, as well as the lack of investor and public interest.
“Unfortunately, crypto went downhill after Mt. Gox went bust; we had liquidity stuck there," Liu said. “Securing interest from investors in Singapore and Asia also proved to be tough, as the market was surrounded by novelty and unfamiliarity. Gerry and I realised that we had to look outside of Asia to build the momentum we needed to catapult our start-up. Otherwise, we had to stop.”
Between chasing and closing, the founders chose the former because “we knew it was going to be huge”. They headed for Silicon Valley, where Coinhako received a personal investment totalling US$200,000 from Tim Draper and Josh Jones, both venture capitalists.
Coinhako saw its next big break in 2017, as the Bitcoin bull went on an extraordinary run to peak at close to US$20,000, and in 2019, another layer of funding arrived in the form of US$1 million, also from American investors. The company now has a nine-figure valuation, Liu said, declining to give more details.
Interest in crypto as a viable investment has been soaring and recent crypto developments have sent investors the world over into a tizzy.
Despite the massive appeal of cryptocurrency among Singaporeans now, Liu feels that more can be done. “There’s a big gap in education and accessibility for crypto. We still have a long way to go before we onboard the last mile of users. NFTs have increased the top funnel of crypto enthusiasts, but it still takes a fair bit of crypto education and market knowledge before they buy their first NFT.”
Liu and his team are presently working through the conditions of Coinhako's in-principle approval to meet MAS' requirements to obtain the Major Payment Institution licence to provide digital payment token services in Singapore.
An initial public offering could also be in the works, Liu confirmed. “Our growth figures are stellar and we are taking necessary steps to set us up for a listing when the opportunity arises.”
Liu, who is married and enjoys tennis and cycling, talks about his entrepreneurial experience.
How did the idea for the company come about?
The truth is, I never planned on starting a crypto trading platform. I became inspired to do so about seven years ago after recognising that there was a gap – and significant opportunity – in Singapore’s financial services space.
At the time Gerry and I wanted to buy and trade Bitcoin but found no platforms in Singapore that were simple enough for non-technical users. When Coinhako was launched, cryptocurrency was still largely an unfamiliar piece of technology in Asia.
What do you think helped drive the company from a start-up to the success it is today?
Our hypothesis going into Coinhako was always that Bitcoin would go mainstream with the right infrastructure in place. We stuck with our gut and focused on growing our start-up to support this. On top of that, we focused on gathering great people with the same mindset, drive and long-term view on crypto early on – this has been a catalyst for our company’s growth.
What lessons have you learnt from building a start-up?
While I have watched crypto start-ups come out stronger from 2017’s crypto bull run, I have also witnessed businesses fold during the 2018 crypto winter. This taught me that, to survive and thrive, any business in this space needs to achieve a good balance of conviction, perseverance, and agility.
We prepare for, and face adversity every day. It is commonplace for any business to face disruptions and situations that do not go according to plan but we push hard as a team to overcome the challenges that come our way. We also grow as a team.
Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
First, don’t be distracted by shiny objects. New, trendy ideas are easy distractions. Remember to stay focused on your goals. Second, take risks and don’t be afraid of failure, but avoid making the same mistake twice. And third, hire people who are smarter than you. Let them handle tasks you aren’t an expert in, then focus on your strengths.