Peter McCormack: Hi Jesse, how are you?
Jesse Powell: Hey, doing well. Thanks. How are you?
Peter McCormack: I’m pretty good. Thank you. Can I explain how this interview came about? The steps that came in?
Jesse Powell: Sure. Go for it.
Peter McCormack: So you’re a patron of mine.
Jesse Powell: I am.
Peter McCormack: Which is obviously very cool. But embarrassingly, when it came through, I hadn’t made the link. So obviously, you made your regular donation of which are my highest. And when I spoke to you and I was like, “Oh, what project are you on?” You said, “Oh, my project’s Kraken.” I was like, “Oh, you’re that Jesse Powell.” And then I was a kind of a bit embarrassed. So thank you for doing that.
Jesse Powell: That’s alright. Could have also been the R&B singer, Jesse Powell.
Peter McCormack: There’s another … I didn’t know there was an R&B singer. So this is really cool. It’s very cool to have you on. I’m obviously aware of Kraken. Obviously very successful, been going on a long time. It would be very cool to understand and hear how you’ve gone from a Bitcoin enthusiast to running one of the world’s largest exchanges with over 800 people. And how you make sense of it yourself and what kind of perspective you have on it all.
Jesse Powell: Yeah. So it’s been a long road. We got started in 2011. So it’s very early days. And, you know, back then there were very few people even interested in crypto. I remember going to the first Bitcoin conference in New York in August of 2011. And there were like less than a hundred people there. And a bunch of familiar faces that you still know today. Tony Gallippi, Roger Ver, Gavin Andresen. You know, basically guys that all went on to start to become prominent figures in the community. So it was a much … I would say it was a tighter knit community back then. Now it’s kind of gotten out of control where you have the mainstream coming in and all kinds of scammers coming in. You know, people aren’t just in it for the technological innovation anymore or for changing the world. There are many people in it just for profits, which I think is totally fine, too, you know? But it changes the culture.
Jesse Powell: So as far as getting the company from zero to 800, like I said, there are very few people interested in this space. And so we kind of hired wherever we could. So we weren’t just committed to only hiring people in San Francisco, you know? Which would have been … Left the pool very small. So we hired pretty much wherever we could find people remotely. And we continued to do that basically throughout the last seven years. Being a remote first company. The vast majority of our employees are remote. And it was kind of a gradual pace of growth. There were a couple of pickups along the way. You know, 2014 was pretty rough. Going into 2015 was pretty rough. There was a time where the company was like 30 people and we had to lay off half the company just to survive, you know?
Jesse Powell: So we got up to like 30 and then back down to 15. And kind of like grew gradually from there. I’d say like the end of 2015 we became profitable. We began to grow gradually. And then it was really like the second half of last year where things just really started to pick up. And we basically like tripled the size of the company in a quarter. Just trying to hire to keep up with the breakneck pace of growth. And then ended up having to do some layoffs again earlier this year basically to take it back down to a level that was more appropriate to the current demand. So, I mean, there are all kinds of crazy things that happened all along the way there as you might imagine in seven years of crypto.
Peter McCormack: I can imagine the managing staffing levels is sometimes as volatile as the market way. Because if you’re growing quickly you’re going to recruit quickly. But if there’s a sharp drop and you suddenly don’t have to service as many clients or possibly you don’t have the revenues that you’d had from the previous year, you don’t have the luxury of the staff. So you kind of have more of a transient staffing kind of policy.
Jesse Powell: Yeah, and it’s not something as of financial services company that you really want to have, you know? I mean, we prefer to have people that are going to be with us for the long run that we can invest a lot in training that … And we have more time to vet. You know, to make sure that they’re not criminals just trying to get a job on the inside to facilitate a crime. So having to hire very quickly is a dangerous thing. And so a lot of just managing that process securely is building out the infrastructure and the controls internally to make sure that if you do have to hire someone quickly, then at least they don’t have access to do a bunch of stuff that they shouldn’t be able to do.
Jesse Powell: So there’s also like a lot of work that goes into the backend that people just don’t see, you know? The users, of course, are like obsessed with their user experience with the interface. But there’s tons of work that has to go into the backend as a financial services company just to make sure that things aren’t kind of being destroyed from the inside. That your funds are still going to be secure. That people aren’t stealing your information. That we’re following the requirements of the regulators. That we’re meeting the requirements of our banking partners. Keeping the funds secure. So there’s just … It’s kind of like an iceberg, really. There’s all this stuff that goes into the backend that is never seen by the user. And then you have the tip of the whole project which is just like the website that people see and interface with. So it’s a lot to keep up with.
Peter McCormack: What’s the culture like of the business? And how do you maintain that culture with such a large distributed team?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. So since we done this from the beginning as a remote company and the majority of the people are remote, you know, we’re fortunate that the tools for having a remote company have really developed quite a lot. Just in the last seven years. Like, Slack didn’t exist seven years ago. The things like Signal and Keybase didn’t exist. So the tools for doing remote work are improving. G Suite’s improving. The collaboration tools are really getting a lot better. And so it makes it a lot easier to have a totally remote team. So being able to basically hire from all over the world gives us a larger pool of candidates to choose from. And therefore we can be pickier about the candidates that we take and not just stuck with whoever’s in the pool in San Francisco. We can take from anywhere. And so we can raise the bar a bit by doing that.
Jesse Powell: You know, we have some things in the interview process that I think help us keep the quality level high from … We try to develop a test for every role. So that we’re not just kind of hiring the person who’s the best at selling themselves. They’ve also got to like to take some form of test to prove that they actually have the skills and the ability to think about certain kinds of problems that they’re really going to be able to perform in the function that they’re applying for. We also have people that interview for culture fit. For some teams we have this ideological purity test, which is part of a test of whether you’re kind of aligned with the vision of Bitcoin and crypto. And I think that’s important for some teams.
Jesse Powell: You know, a lot of the guys that we have on the team came to the company because they’re just like hardcore crypto nuts. And they appreciate what Kraken stands for. They want to do something that is going to continue to further the space. In many cases they could be independently wealthy. Maybe they bought Bitcoin in 2011 and they’re retired, but they want to continue to work on something that is going to push the space forward. So we’re really lucky to have a lot of guys like that that basically work because they’re on a mission. And I think that really helps like keep the culture strong and on mission, really. Which is for us, it’s not just about making money, which is nice.
Jesse Powell: But we didn’t start this company to make PayPal 2.0. You know, we don’t want to be in the same spot in another 10 years from now where the regulators have taken over. It’s gotten so insane that basically all the advantage of crypto are gone. And we’re just like a PayPal that does bit coin.
Peter McCormack: Is that why it’s important for you then personally to take a stand sometimes and stand up against things? You know, you’ve obviously vocal on a couple of points, and we’ll talk about that shortly. But also, not just that, but the donation you made to Coin Center. Does that kind of crystallise the vision of what Kraken stands for itself?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. So the donation to Coin Center … Well, we had a great year last year, so that was helpful. But, you know, I think as the space grows, Coin Center is going to become even more important. They’re basically the EFF of crypto. They are not defending any particular interest of any particular businesses. They’re basically defending the protocol, the consumers. What is in the interest of the development of this technology broadly. And so they’re interfacing with regulators and law enforcement on behalf of the entire ecosystem.
Jesse Powell: So Coin Center’s interfacing with regulators and law enforcement on behalf of the entire industry. Trying to kind of put the brakes on any unnecessarily burdensome regulation. Making sure that they really understand what the issues are. And that things are being done in a fair way that allows the ecosystem to grow. So they’re doing everyone a huge service. For us, it benefits us. It benefits the whole ecosystem just to have these guys kind of in the way. And also appearing as an independent kind of neutral party that’s not … They’re not working for Kraken. They’re not out there pitching the benefits of a centralised exchange or anything like that. They’re just there to say, “Hey, like, let’s let this thing grow. Let’s hold off on the crazy regulations. We’ll take a risk-based approach.” They’re educating politicians and law enforcement.
Jesse Powell: And I think they’ve really done a lot to keep things alive, you know? To keep things from being crushed too early. And I still think that that’s a possibility. That you could get the UN together at any point and could just say, “Okay, Bitcoin’s illegal. If you’re found with Bitcoin, it’s going to be confiscated or you’re going to prison or whatever.” They’re still like crazy things that could happen, you know? We haven’t gotten there yet, but I think every day is just about buying a little bit more time for it to get a little bit bigger, a little bit bigger. To eventually get it to a point where it’s unstoppable. And I don’t think we’re at the point of being unstoppable yet.
Jesse Powell: So I think organisations like that … You know, even the internet is not unstoppable yet. You constantly see this aggressions against the internet and people trying to control the internet one way or another. So I think it’s just going to be a never-ending battle and to have somebody like Coin Center constantly being kind of a champion of what’s actually good for the consumer is really key.
Peter McCormack: Was your donation matched? The second part?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Yeah, so we offered … We donated one million and we said we would donate an additional one million matching. And yeah, it was actually oversubscribed. So we actually ended up raising more than three million in total for them last year.
Peter McCormack: Amazing. And so having grown a company to 800 people, you’ve obviously gone through the various stages of raising funding. You know, you … I think I saw on Crunchbase there were four rounds, ’11, ’12, ’14, and ’16. I’m not sure if Crunchbase is always accurate. But you didn’t raise last year, which probably would have been the easiest year, the easy … So what’s it been like raising funding at those different points?
Jesse Powell: Yeah, we actually only raised twice. Once was in 20 … The end of 2013. And then again in early 2016. And that was really just like an insider round. We took some more money basically from existing investors and a few others, strategic investors. Getting money, venture capital, in 2013 … And actually we were trying before 2013. And we didn’t actually close out anything until December of 2014 … Or sorry, January of 2014. It was really hard. There were basically no VCs that understood the space. And it was this challenge of having to explain to them what crypto is.
Jesse Powell: And then if you could get them to that, I mean, you just imagine how much time that takes somebody to wrap their head around. Like, “Okay, so there’s this thing called Bitcoin and why should I care about that?” And then, “Why isn’t this going to get shut down in two weeks by the government?” And, you know, so many hurdles to get your mind around. Why Bitcoin’s a good investment. And then on top of that you have to buy this thesis that, “Okay, if there’s this exchange and this exchange somehow is going to manage to not get hacked and not get shut down by regulators, be a competitor against other major financial institutions.” So it’s a super hard sell.
Jesse Powell: And we eventually ended up … We basically talked to like everyone in Silicon Valley. And it was just way too early. It kind of shattered my image of what a venture capitalist is supposed to be. Which until then I kind of thought that there’s these guys that really are very visionary and forward-thinking. And they take risks on things. And it turned out like that was not actually the case. I mean, they understood a few businesses really well.
Jesse Powell: But things that were kind of outside of that box were just hard for them to understand. And there actually are very few VCs that are willing to write the first check, you know? There are many people that will follow. They’ll say … You know, okay, you got … You have Andreessen who’s agreed to invest. “Well, we’ll just throw more money after anything that Andreessen invests in.” So that’s like easy to come by. And that’s not every valuable. So it’s like getting the first check that’s really hard.
Jesse Powell: But eventually we had … We got our first check from a firm called Hummingbird Ventures, which is actually based out of Belgium. And the partner we were working with there is Pamir Gelenbe. And he’s got a new fund now called Libertus. But he was all over crypto from early on. And so we were just really lucky to find Pamir and Hummingbird. And after we got the check from them we were able to get on … We didn’t really get on other VCs. We got on … So Barry Silbert came in before there was DCG. We also had an investment from Blockchain Capital. So there were a few investors that were really focused on the space, but the rest was just like Crypto Angels basically. Like, guys who bought some crypto early, liked what we were doing and were willing to invest in it.
Jesse Powell: And back then it was … It’s always kind of a hard sell getting crypto people that already understand the merits of crypto to trade in their crypto for fiat and like give you some fiat. They … You always have to ask the question, like, is this going to outperform Bitcoin? So, you know, it was really awesome of those guys to come in. And I think actually we have outperformed Bitcoin, which is awesome. So I’m happy those guys actually have gotten a good comparable return on their investment.
Peter McCormack: That’s pretty cool.
Jesse Powell: But yeah, I think it’s still tough for people to raise money. Yeah, last year would have been the perfect time to do it, or earlier this year. Fortunately we’ve been in a spot that we don’t need to raise money. You know, I think if we did another round at this point, it would be purely for like acquisition purposes. Like maybe acquiring more companies while the market’s down or something like that. But the company’s been profitable since 2015. And the last quarter not so great. Not comparable really to Q1 of this year, which was totally crazy. But, you know, we’re still doing very well. And I think the space is just going to continue to grow. So much upside for everyone in the space right now.
Jesse Powell: So hopefully I think people will not need to go VCs so much in the future. You know, I think we’ll continue to see crowdfunding working. I do have some concerns about … You know, obviously there were tons of scams that came out. And I hope that people take more care with what they’re investing in. Just with any kind of early stage project, there’s always like massive risks, you know? And I think that people have seen some of these crypto projects like Bitcoin just go from like one cent to like $20,000 and, boom, that could happen with any token.
Jesse Powell: But the reality is like so much can go wrong along the way that some people kind of imagine this like best case scenario, kind of like for some tokens. Like, “Okay, if they’re going to do this and if they manage to do that for the whole world, that market is worth like a trillion dollars a year and they conceivably could take over that whole market. And so the token conceivably could be worth a trillion dollars. So if I buy in now on day one at a hundred billion dollar evaluation, you know, I still got like a 10X of upside here.” When the reality is like, you have to really price in the risk of execution. Or like anything could happen, you know, in the 10 years or 20 years it takes to go from nothing to actually something that is dominating the market.
Peter McCormack: It is quite an inexperienced market, the retail market, for token trading. Like, I found the market became flooded last year with people who just kind of jumped in, jumped on the bandwagon. They didn’t really know what they were doing. And I don’t think that anyone had figured out really … You know, there’s a lot of hindsight attacks and criticisms on ICOs. But I think at the time nobody … Not everyone understood what was happening with them. And now … So, I mean, that people have lost money this time to reflect and say, “Look, is there any intrinsic value in these things at all?”
Jesse Powell: Yeah. I mean, the market’s pretty much down by like 90%. I think that some things might be more appropriately priced at this point. But I think some things by venture capital standards are still vastly overpriced. And a lot of the projects have had the incentives screwed up, you know? The founders have already taken their exit. They’ve already found liquidity. They’re sitting on $20 million or whatever. The incentive to really work hard for the next 10 years and make something of that project are very low. They’ve kind of got to really feel like a moral obligation to do it at this point, you know? But it’s certainly not going to be for their own financial interests, because they’re pretty much set already.
Jesse Powell: So, you know, I think investors always need to be worried about the incentives of the operators. And when you cash out your operators on day one, how incentivised are they going to be to keep running it for you?
Peter McCormack: But like you said, you know … And it’s almost like we needed this wave, this kind of crazy wave to bring the interest. And I do think another wave will come personally. But I think it will be very different. I don’t think it will be as crazy as we had. And I think … I’ve been looking at some kind of projects. I’m quite interested in some of the work that Bruce Fenton’s doing looking at bringing a little more structure to investing in securities within crypto. And I think it’ll come and I think it’ll happen.
Peter McCormack: But also, conversely, I’m not really sure if too much liquidity is a good thing for these projects. I think sometimes too much liquidity can drive the value down because people want to exit too quickly, you know? And I know a lot of venture guys complain that it’s very hard to exit a project. But usually when they do, it’s at a decent valuation. I’m kind of split on that. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. I think it’s … You know, personally I think from having run a few companies it’s a distraction to have your stock be publicly traded. Where you have … I mean, just thinking about the number of people in the company who are like obsessed with the price of Bitcoin on a day-to-day basis. Just imagine having to deal with that for your company’s stock. And having every employee being kind of obsessed with like, what is the value of their stock today?
Jesse Powell: And what can they do to maybe like optimize the value of their stock around some sort of like personal exit situation versus just focusing on the long-term growth of the company? You know? So I don’t think that having liquidity early on is really … I mean, I think it can be harmful. And it’s nice to have people locked up for a while and kind of forced to like actually build something and have something to show for it at the end of like four years or six years or 10 years.
Jesse Powell: You know, I think more of these projects, if they had just kind of committed to that sort of lockup, like, “Hey, we’re going to raise some money and the founders are not going to get to sell anything for 10 years and we’ll see where we’re at in 10 years. And if we’re more valuable in 10 years, great. Then we’ll get to cash out. If not, then, sorry, we worked for 10 years for nothing.” You know? I think that would be more in line with the investors’ interests. But I think that there are some cases where having a company’s stock be widely distributed can be very valuable. Like when you’re trying to grow a network.
Jesse Powell: If you’re like a Facebook and you want to incentivise a bunch of people to start using your platform and you’re really dependent on this getting it some critical mass for this network effect to be valuable. Then in those cases I think giving away stock would be really great. And then you have the incentives of the platform very much aligned with the incentives of the users. Which is not the case that you have now with Facebook, right? Where you have like the shareholders’ interests are actually at odds with the users’ interests after some point, right? Where it seems like the users are stuck there.
Jesse Powell: So now we can just milking them for everything. And, you know, can start selling their data. We’ll just do whatever we think we can get away with without losing a critical mass of the users. Whereas I think if you had all of the Facebook users as shareholders, I think you would see the business actually operating more in line with the interests of the users, you know? You wouldn’t have the users themselves voting to sell all their data away to marketing companies. So there’s definitely like some value that the users have like on their own privacy that isn’t respected by the company. And shareholders are willing to sacrifice that.
Jesse Powell: So I hope that we’re able to see more of that kind of thing. That’s … It’s problematic to do that right now because of the way securities laws work. But that I think is a good use case for security tokens. You know, more so than like just getting liquidity for the employees of the operator.
Peter McCormack: Yeah. So one of the things I would imagine running an exchange is that constant fear of the giant hack. And I know you haven’t been hacked to date and you probably have some of the best, the most strict policies in place. But is it something you get over eventually? Or is it something that’s always sits with you?
Jesse Powell: I don’t think it’s something that you get over. It’s something that still sits with me for sure. You know, I feel as time goes on just better and better about our infrastructure. We’re just building more robust systems that are monitoring. The better reconciliation systems, like all of the stuff to … Assuming we’re going to get hacked at some point to just deal with the consequences of it or mitigate it to the greatest extent possible. But, you know, the risk is always there. And there’s just new vulnerabilities emerging all the time as well like Spectre stuff and these supply chain attacks and things. You have to … You get more worried about I think operational security and like the security of your personnel. And as the reward goes up for a hack, I think the hackers are willing to invest more in the attack as well.
Jesse Powell: So you could imagine just some crazy like Mission Impossible-style attack where they’re like … Hackers are like buying the building across the street from you and like putting telescopes in the building to try to see into your office to track keyboard strokes or whatever. You know, it’s just like crazy things that people could do if they felt like the reward was high enough. Just like you watch these heist movies where guys are breaking into bank vaults and tunnelling underground and like doing all this crazy stuff, right? And, I mean, fortunately the way that crypto works, we can have keys all over the world and you can’t just tunnel into one vault and get all the coins. But you can certainly kidnap a bunch of people and hold them hostage, right? And that’s like a lot easier to do that it is to get the keys. And so the security of our people is something that we are focusing more and more on.
Jesse Powell: And, I mean, you can look at Jameson Lopp’s stuff all about this. About how to like basically delete yourself from the grid. But, you know, you just make one little trip up somewhere and you get entered into some database and suddenly you’re everywhere. You have to start all over. So it’s a really hard thing to do. And this great thing is you see things on the news of like some guy walks into a bank and holds up the whole bank and shoots 10 people because … For like $50,000 of cash. And you just get the right idiot to think, “Oh, if I break into this crypto office or this crypto guy’s house, maybe I can get $50,000 in cash.” Or whatever, you know? And even though it’s totally not possible, he just needs to imagine that it’s possible and try to do it. So OPSEC’s really important. We’re just constantly paranoid.
Peter McCormack: Is there any part of it like … Obviously, I don’t need to reveal any of your secrets … But is there any kind of part of it that can give me some kind of, I don’t now, lens into the kind of … The complexity and the depths of the operations? Without giving anything away?
Jesse Powell: Well, without … Yeah. Without saying too much, I mean, we do a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that you would just never know about, you know? Which is why it makes it so hard to really like assess the security of other platforms as well. Because you just don’t know. It’s like this iceberg that could be doing … The sky’s the limit with what you can spend on security. But some of the things that we’re doing, you know, we keep keys on different continents or we use multisig for everything. There are strict controls internally on what people can do in logging for basically like every action someone would take internally. We have automated triggers for things for people doing suspicious things internally. There’s a lot of monitoring, really, that goes on.
Jesse Powell: And as far as like personnel goes, the key people in the company try to keep as low a profile as possible. I unfortunately have to be the public face of the company. But like if you look on LinkedIn you probably see the company only has like 200 people or something like that. And that’s because we tell people, like, “Look, if you don’t have a need to be publicly associated with the company, just don’t do it. Because it’s painting a target on your back. You could be hacked. And then the company could be hacked because of that.”
Jesse Powell: Or you could be … Like, the scary thing is people … The SIM porting is still going on. You know, people are still having their phones hacked or their wife’s phone hacked. And the phone companies, at least in the States, seem not able to control that. They recommend people use Google Fi because it seems like the most secure so far. But, you know, you get your phone hacked and then someone gets into your email. And maybe they find something compromising in your email. Like, “Oh, you’re cheating on your wife.” And now they can blackmail you, right? Like, they don’t have to hack Kraken. They can just blackmail you to operate from the inside for them.
Jesse Powell: So, like monitoring for stuff that might indicate that someone has been compromised somehow. Like, they’re looking at an account in the admin console for which there’s no support ticket or for which the user hasn’t actually contacted us. You know, something like that would be suspect and looked into. So really it’s like … Yeah. A lot about monitoring and just trying to keep people off of public like social media platforms and stuff, advertising that they’re affiliated with Kraken or even affiliated with crypto, you know? Because these guys are like scraping LinkedIn and Twitter, looking for anyone mentioning Bitcoin and then will target them.
Peter McCormack: Wow. And do the … Is there like any internal working groups? Like, do you … Do the exchanges talk to each other? Do you share ideas? Or are you completely isolated? Or work completely independent from each other?
Jesse Powell: No. Many … Probably most of the exchanges do work together. We share information about security vulnerabilities. About hacked accounts, to the extent possible. You know, usually law enforcement requests are … Prohibit us from discussing them. But to the extent we can, we share information about threats and account compromises like tracking stolen coins that move from one exchange to the other. And that’s like probably the most common thing that we interact about is coins moving from one exchange to the other and trying to freeze those coins before they get out.
Peter McCormack: And how much of your experience with Mt. Gox influenced how you structured and set up Kraken? I didn’t even know about your involvement with Mt. Gox, by the way.
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Well, it’s been going on for quite a while. Since 2014 basically. So … And before 2014. You know, it was sort of the inspiration for starting the exchange in the first place. I first got involved with Mt. Gox in June of 2011 when they got hacked for the first time. And that experience led me to believe that really we needed more exchanges in the ecosystem and people doing it the right way. And so we, when we started Kraken, we knew from the beginning that exchanges are going to be targets. People are just going to try to hack us constantly. And we really have to do things right from the start. We have to put security above everything else. Because just one hack could blow up the whole business, you know? Everything you spent years working for could be gone in a second.
Jesse Powell: So we really invested in security heavily from the beginning, making it our top priority. And that was largely driven by just seeing Mt. Gox get hacked and then just along the way, have that be reinforced many times by exchange hacks. Or just … It seems like, you know, at least once a quarter there’s some major hack happening. So it just keeps reinforcing the need to have really, really slick security and to invest a lot into it. And first thing, it’s one of those things, you don’t know the value of it until you get hacked. But it’s like, you know, every day that you don’t get hacked is a good day. So we just keep investing in it. And it keeps paying off so far. And our fingers’ crossed.
Peter McCormack: You’re able to monitor attacks? I mean, can you see that you’re constantly under a barrage of attacks?
Jesse Powell: Yeah, there are always things happening. Like, people run bots, and like Fuzz websites and just look for known vulnerabilities. Or look for like outdated versions of software that you might be running that have some kind of … You know, maybe there was like a zero-day or some known security vulnerability and they’re checking to see if you ever actually patched that. So that kind of stuff is happening all the time. It’s rare that you catch something that’s really specifically targeted.
Jesse Powell: You know, cases … Something that happened in the past would be like somebody figures out what data centre you’re at, and then tries to like show up at the data centre and like with a fake ID socially engineer their way into your cage. That actually hasn’t physically happened, but that would be an example of something where you’d have someone red-handed. But there have been cases where they’ve called our data centre and tried to impersonate us. And tried to get the person at the data centre to do things for them. Fortunately, they were smart enough to not let that happen. But, you know, it’s like a scary thought. And then you have to move data centres after that point, right? I mean, you definitely don’t want people knowing where you’re at.
Jesse Powell: So it’s a hassle. But there haven’t really been any … Anything where we’ve caught people like red-handed, you know? Like really in a compromising position or where they’ve gotten really far, you know? Like, no one has infiltrated our office or anything like that.
Peter McCormack: It’s pretty impressive for five years, right?
Jesse Powell: Fortunately.
Peter McCormack: Because like almost all exchanges have had one kind of hack or another. So you must be pretty proud of that.
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Fortunately. Yeah, I am. You know, it’s always a scary thing now, you know? Like, we have to assume we’re going to get hacked at some point and you just do your best to make sure that the damage can’t be that bad when it happens.
Peter McCormack: Yeah. What do you make of what’s happening with Mt. Gox? I had a strange incident … So I went out to … And we’ll talk about conferences and why … I went out to World Crypto Con, not because I wanted to go to the conference, because it was terrible, but I went out to meet up with Lynn Albrecht, because she was presenting there. And while I was there I was invited to an event with Mt. Gox. It was a new lead counsel. They were bringing a case against the Mt. Gox trustees because of all the vault coins that weren’t dealt with and just some other [crosstalk 00:38:45].
Peter McCormack: And it was held in a hotel suite with a DJ. Booth babes with Bitcoin signs. And like a bar and everyone was dancing. And I think the lead counsel was in like a Metallica t-shirt or something. And I was standing there thinking, “What is going on here?” And then in walks Brock Pierce, who I was told who’s now bought Mt. Gox or something, like he’s bought the shell. And anyway, I was just like, “What is going on here? This is weird.”
Peter McCormack: But what do you make of everything that is going on with it right now?
Jesse Powell: Right now … Yeah, the story just keeps getting weirder and weirder as time goes on. But it’s now in this creditor rehabilitation process, which will basically allow everyone to get back their pro-rata share of the balances. Whereas if the bankruptcy process had continued, the majority of the funds would have gone back to the Mt. Gox shareholders because of the way that the value of the coins was determined like at the time it entered bankruptcy. So-
Peter McCormack: Oh, yeah. Because they were going to be paid in dollars rather than receive their Bitcoin?
Jesse Powell: Right. So, everyone was going to get back their coin at $400 a coin basically, you know? Which is like the price when it went into bankruptcy. So … And then anything over that was profit to the business basically. Which would be taken by the shareholders. So this is the only way, creditor rehabilitation is the only way for people to actually like get their coins back out and not have all this money go to the shareholders. So that’s underway right now. Hopefully that’ll be resolved sometime in the next few months. And we’ve actually been talking to the trustee about this problem. Actually of like helping them claim some of these forked or airdropped coins. Which is several million dollars’ worth of coins. You know, given that they’re sitting on like 200,000 Bitcoin.
Peter McCormack: Right. What was your involvement with it? Like, how did you originally get involved?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. So I first … I was trading on Mt. Gox back in 2011, early 2011 and so when they got hacked for the first time back in June of 2011, an old friend of mine from the Magic: The Gathering days in high school, Roger Ver, happened to live down the street from Mt. Gox and he went over there to find out what was going on. He was also … We got into Bitcoin right around the same time, early 2011. And found out that there are like two guys in the whole company. And they needed some help. So called me up. I went out to Tokyo to help them out for about two weeks. And so that’s how I got involved the first time.
Jesse Powell: And then when they got hacked for everything in 2014 and had to finally shut down permanently, we volunteered to basically assist the trustee in the bankruptcy process with doing the investigation, helping them manage the coins, helping them answer questions for people. Helping them collect the claims. And then ultimately helping them distribute the payments back to people. And so that whole thing has been going on since 2014. So it’s just taken forever in part because of some lawsuits that are still open. Like this CoinLab lawsuit that’s got Peter Vessenes has this like 75 million dollar lawsuit outstanding. Basically it’s been holding up the payments. But now that we’re going back into creditor rehabilitation, like, that won’t have to be addressed.
Peter McCormack: Was he part of the Bitcoin Foundation?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Yeah, he was. One of the founders of Bitcoin Foundation.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I thought so. I thought so. Okay, so listen. The one thing I’ve obviously got to talk to you about is New York, the debt license, Ben Lawsky now of Ripple. Ben Lawsy’s BitLicense. So I’ve never read the BitLicense documentation. I think you might even say obviously I did even try to take a look. I got about three pages in of the 44 pages and I was just like, “What? What is this?” So you just rejected it immediately, right?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Well, I mean, we were part of the process of trying to get it to a reasonable state before it actually got rolled out. You know, there were like 3,000-something public comments and I think you can still see them on the New York DFS’s website about this. And we engaged with the DFS and we tried to get it to something reasonable. But, you know, I don’t know what was going through Lawsky’s head. It seemed like he wanted to make a political statement, wanted to get himself in the spotlight for something.
Jesse Powell: And what he came out with was a total disaster. I mean, it was … The cost of putting everything together for the application was tremendous for the time. Now, you know, we could, of course, afford to do it today, but back then it was like money that we really didn’t have to do it. It was going to be like hundred thousand dollars to do this application. And that was probably like half the money we had in the bank at the time or something. So that was absurd. But also just the amount of time it would take to produce all of the documentation for things. And [crosstalk 00:44:46] at a time when-
Peter McCormack: And how much, like … Oh, so sorry. Just like, how much time ongoing to ensure you’re complying constantly?
Jesse Powell: Oh, right. Yeah. Huge amount of overhead there. And some of the things that … Basically it regulates your entire global business. It’s not just the New York activity. You have to answer for everything you’re doing globally and produce documents for everything globally and client information globally. And you can set up a New York entity, specific to servicing New York and kind of carve everything out and have that in its own like isolated system. But there’s also a lot of overhead involved in doing that. So for us, it just didn’t make sense.
Jesse Powell: And also as a statement, just principle, we were opposed to the huge overreach of it. You know, not just about the implications for our business as an exchange, but broadly. It was like regulating miners and all kinds of crazy stuff like you can’t trade CryptoKitties because you need a BitLicense in New York. So it’s just like … It went way too far, you know? And we had hoped that by sitting out that would send a message. And I wish more companies had taken that position and we might have been able to kind of negotiate for something more reasonable. But, you know, there it is.
Jesse Powell: And our last interaction with the New York DFS was they’re not at all considering making any changes. They’re really committed to enforcing that. You know, we heard that they may be willing to work with companies on maybe not enforcing the contract entirely as it’s written. But having some room to take companies on a case-by-case basis and kind of evaluate some kind of customised approach. But that also … I mean, that’s not how things should work, right? I mean, there should … It shouldn’t be like you come to us and you have this one-off thing. It should kind of be like, “Okay, you know what you’re getting into going in and everyone is held to the same standard.
Jesse Powell: But when you have this rule that is just way too crazy, way too strict, and then people have to come in on a case-by-case basis and you’re making exceptions, well, then it’s not really the law, you know? It’s kind of like driven by politics and how well you can suck up to these guys, like get what you want. But then who knows what happens when the guys running it switch up? You know, you got a changing of the guard at the DFS and now the new guy is like, “Well, I wasn’t part of that discussion that you had three years ago. Now I’m actually going to enforce this particular piece of it.” So that’s scary.
Jesse Powell: So it’s all a roundabout thing. I hope that New York comes around at some point. But I know they see themselves as kind of the regulator of the world. And it’s unfortunate and I think the people of New York have missed out.
Peter McCormack: There’s a few big companies in New York where I’ve been. I don’t see the Winklevoss twins being the type of people to … They’re not rebels like you to go and stand up against them. So certain people are going to comply and they’re probably going to sit at dinner with the right people and … Just because that they’re probably the kind of person they are. Like, I expect Jesse … Like, I don’t know you, but I expect growing up, I doubt you were the walk down the straight line kind of guy, right?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. No, I mean, I was a good kid. But I think I have like a … Somehow I have a … I don’t know what got this into me, but I have a problem with bullies, and I have a problem with people abusing their power, you know? And this is like what I saw coming out of New York. And, you know, we saw it with Lawsky. He walked out and walked into a consulting business, consulting on how to get your BitLicense.
Peter McCormack: I know.
Jesse Powell: And eventually … And Ripple, I mean, it’s just so ridiculous, right? I mean, that should just … There should be a rule, like if you put out some law and then you go into consulting about it after, then your law is invalidated.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I can’t really take him seriously. Did you write the tweet from Kraken yourself? The one trolling the New York State AG? I’ve got it here. That’s … This is when they came with the accusations that people were still accessing from New York, right? “Thanks to the New York taxpayers for funding this research. Saved our product team a lot of time. We’ve got some interesting non-public info on our competition. Excellent overview of issues and a nice list of questions should ask.” Did you write that?
Jesse Powell: I did write that. And I do think that they came up with a good list of questions that people should ask.
Peter McCormack: Sure. But it was masterful trolling.
Jesse Powell: Appreciate that. I don’t appreciate the way they went about asking the questions. You know, it wasn’t really presented in kind of a collaborative way. It was kind of like, “Hey, we’re New York. Fuck you. Give us all your shit.” You know, kind of … That was their attitude, you know? And I think if they want to protect a consumer, that’s one thing. There’s a reasonable way to go about it without having to piss off a bunch of people.
Peter McCormack: I find that it’s … It’s kind of hard and there’s 25 thought things for me to get my head around from being from the UK, but is this state and federal laws?
Jesse Powell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Peter McCormack: It’s … It just feels like it’s … You know, someone like Wyoming where you got someone like Caitlin Long who seems to be kind of pushing the envelope and they’re kind of being really open-minded. And then New York’s kind of close-minded. And even … But this is even on a kind of state level, you know? Malta is so open to print their business. And it’s just … People are just filtering all the companies to who’s the most open-minded. It just doesn’t make any sense. For what? Fear of what? Like, money laundering and terrorists and … Come on.
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Well, yeah, at the federal level, the national government is concerned with money laundering. And it’s the States really that are concerned about consumer protection. So that’s why you have these like varying laws, you know? Some states just believe that you ought to look out for yourself. And you make your own decisions and you live with those decisions. Some states feel like they got to protect everybody from everything, you know? And then you end up with this like super nanny situation where you got to ask permission before you brush your teeth because, who knows? It might be you might poke your eye out. It might be dangerous.
Peter McCormack: I imagine you’re more on the Libertarian make your own mistakes and learn from it side of things, right?
Jesse Powell: Yeah, I’m definitely leaning that way. But I think that there is a sweet spot. I think that in the U.S., unfortunately, you got basically zero compulsory education on finance. You can get all the way through college and not have been required to take a single finance class. So, you know, people are not taught about how money works, you know? I even … I didn’t even really realise how fiat currency worked until I got into Bitcoin. And I was like, “Holy crap, this is a total scam.” I thought Bitcoin was great for other reasons, but …. And then I learned all about fiat currency and I thought it was even better.
Jesse Powell: But, you know, people don’t know. You still ask someone today, why did they believe that the dollar has value? And they’ll say, “Well, it’s backed by gold.” And that hasn’t been true for a long time. So people, they just have no understanding of how money works. How investments work. How to evaluate an investment. How to financially plan for your future. It’s just like ridiculous that people can get all the way through college and not have any understanding about these things.
Jesse Powell: And then you have to wonder if that’s intentional. If there’s just somebody in power that maybe controls the financial system that likes that people don’t understand how it works. Because maybe if they knew how it worked, there’d be a bit more of an uprising about it. Or, you know, the opportunities to take advantage of these people that don’t know what they’re doing would not be so great. You know, big banks can charge all these crazy fees because people just don’t have any clue about what they’re doing. It’s like it’s a black box to them.
Peter McCormack: Well, I’m just finding out 20 years after I left school that the two years I spent learning about John Maynard Keynes was all … Is sort of now bullshit according to safety and DeMuth. I kind of-
Jesse Powell: Total waste of time.
Peter McCormack: And everything I’m reading is kind of … Okay, so I had a state education that was teaching me the government rules on monetary policy … Really, it isn’t. What do you make of like what the SEC’s doing and their approach to regulation? Because it seems to me like from where I see, it’s like, I don’t like rules. But you kind of know it’s going to come with the government. And it feels like they’re taking a very … It’s almost like a hands-off approach, and now they’re just kind of step by step by step looking for the obvious kind of scams or problems where they see that consumer protection is needed.
Jesse Powell: Yeah. I mean, I got to give the SEC some credit on actually understanding the space and taking a light touch approach so far. I think that they’ve made some statements or at least some commissioners have independently made some statements that are confusing. Like, everything I’ve seen looks like a security kind of stuff when it clearly … Like, that’s not the case. And … But yeah, so far they seem to be focusing on the obvious scams, you know? Just like outright frauds that are not really specific to tokenised securities. It’s just like somebody tokenised a scam and they’re going after the scam. But I think that they are going to … I think they’re going to be … You know, they’re going after the low-hanging fruit now.
Jesse Powell: And eventually they’re going to have to start going after some of the higher-hanging fruit. Or there’s going to have to be some substantial change in the way that the law works. And I think the EtherDelta thing is really interesting. That they went after this guy for his debts effectively like being not de-centralised enough. And it raises the question, “Okay, so if this guy was actually like really anonymous, then what?” Or if someone just publishes a contract on a Blockchain, like the Dow for example, published anonymously, nobody knows … I mean, we have some guesses about maybe who published the Dow contract, but we don’t really know who published that contract. You know, this is going to happen.
Jesse Powell: I think you’ll see a response to the SEC’s action here on EtherDelta from the other DEXes … Going to be … For the de-centralisation. For the anonymity. And then how they’re going to go after kind of the DEX 2.0, where you don’t have any clue who it is. I think they’re going to have to wrestle with that issue. Like, how do you enforce your rules against this thing that’s completely headless and de-centralised?
Peter McCormack: I also noticed we’ve got a … I think a common enemy potentially in The Wall Street Journal.
Jesse Powell: Oh yeah? I’m not really a fan.
Peter McCormack: I took aim at Paul Vigna this week. Just … I’d been following him for about 18 months and there’s just a very consistent negative bias on Bitcoin articles and some quite patronising headlines that justifies you comparing that to Nathaniel Popper, who tends to write very balanced headlines and balanced articles. I read … He was just constantly like, “Bitcoin still hasn’t grown. Bitcoin isn’t mature yet.” And whenever there’s a price crash it’s, “The price plunge.” And it’s just constant negative. So I went through the archives of The Wall Street Journal for about 45 minutes and I was just kind of ticking, is this negative? Neutral? Positive? And almost everything was negative or neutral. Very little positive.
Peter McCormack: But in there, I did a quick search, and there were three very positive stories. And I’m not saying … I’m not going to say it’s any conspiracy, but it just seems like there’s this bias to write very negative articles that attack Bitcoin. And what I hadn’t realised at the time, I remember the article about ShapeShift, and I remember the article on the block. But I hadn’t linked that article to what I … My issues this week. And now I’m starting to think … It almost is like there is an editorial bias against certainly Bitcoin. But crypto as well. And I think you felt that, right?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. It’s interesting, you know? Paul Vigna used to be I think thought of as one of the crypto champions of mainstream media. He was one of the earliest guys to cover crypto. And he did a book with Michael Casey. So it’s kind of weird to see this. I don’t know what’s happened in his mind over the course of time or if he was always thinking this way. And yeah, the Ripple thing is really strange, right? Like, what are this guy’s holdings? Is he somehow incentivised by Ripple to write this stuff?
Peter McCormack: Well, I didn’t want to make that link in conspiracy, but somebody else said, quite rightly, “Well, Bitcoin doesn’t have a PR team.” So it could just be … It could be that. I mean, who knows what it is? But it’s just this editorial bias which seems to be very anti-Bitcoin and anti-crypto.
Jesse Powell: Yeah. It’s … I wish that … You know, I think Nathaniel Popper does a good job. I wish that there would be more kind of neutral, objective pieces. But it seems so much of the media has generally has just turned into opinion and not about telling like a balanced story or presenting the facts. And I think so much of … You know, this is why when I see the CFTC saying something about market manipulation and Bitcoin, I just have to laugh at it because if you think the market manipulation comes from people like spoofing orders, you know, then it’s just got to be … It’s nothing compared to the manipulation that happens in the media with people posting … You know, timing the postings of their … The negative articles or their hit pieces or whatever. Or their heavily-biased piece.
Jesse Powell: So I think that is really … I mean, look, we can’t even protect our Presidential election from manipulation through the media. So, you know, I think that is really unfortunate that these news agencies basically become marketing companies or ad salesman. They’re selling ads. And everything else is just like a means to that end. And now maybe these guys are prop trading crypto on the side, too. They know, “Okay, we’re selling ads. But why don’t we trade crypto, too? Because we know every time we publish a hit piece on Bitcoin, the price drops 10 points. And so we should just short Bitcoin every time we’re going to publish an article. We’ll make some money doing that, too.”
Peter McCormack: Well, sometimes I also think there’s a lack of understanding. You know, I’ve been no way near as long in crypto as you have. Seriously for coming out to two years, first happened about four years ago but really two years. And I’m still learning stuff now. I mean, every time I do an interview I’m reading and learning. And sometimes I think, “God, how can a mainstream journalist write a real in-depth piece without having spent so much time in that?” The only thing they can do is phone and speak to some people. But then who do they know who to phone?
Peter McCormack: So I give some of the mainstream press like a bit of a pass, because they just hit with the same stories. On the way up, they report a huge price rise. On the way down, they report negative news. But someone like Paul I’m very surprised with because, you know, he does know a lot. He has been in the space a lot of time. He does know who to speak to. And when he was writing about Bitcoin on the anniversary, you know, his quotation was when Jeff Garzik … Which, you know, I’ve got respect for Jeff Garzik for his time in early Bitcoin. But I don’t think he’s a fair representation of Bitcoin after what happened with the Fog. So yeah.
Jesse Powell: Yep. I don’t know … There’s so much terrible coverage of crypto. And I think, like you said, it just … To really write an informed piece just takes so much time. And you really have to invest a lot of time. And unfortunately there just seems to be a surplus of people interested in covering the space that just aren’t willing to put the time in or haven’t put the time in. And maybe it’s one of 10 things that they’re covering. And like we saw with the ShapeShift thing with The Wall Street Journal, they can contact you. You can get contacted by a reporter from a mainstream respected publication. You can spend six months talking to them, explaining everything to them in excruciating detail. And at the end you wind up with this crazy story that like completely misunderstands the whole thing.
Jesse Powell: Or just takes like that two minute soundbite from you. Out of the six months you’ve been talking to them, there’s two minutes in there where you said something that they completely take out of context or they find a way to make it so salacious and sensational that their piece turns to be about that. Because maybe the other stuff just wasn’t that interesting, you know? They did some A/B testing and the piece that accurately describes the situation didn’t do so well. But that piece that’s based on that two-minute blip, well, that did really well.
Jesse Powell: So it’s just like a total shame that you can’t even … It’s hard as someone who regularly talks to the media … You always have to wonder, you know? These guys are often mercenary. They may come to you with an idea for one story and be getting your opinion about that. Like I just told you, I think it’s crazy when the SEC says that spoofing is … Or the CFTC says that spoofing is a problem for manipulation versus like the media. You know, they’re not at all concerned about the media. Even though that’s like a thousand times larger of a problem.
Jesse Powell: You know, you could take that … We could be talking about market manipulation broadly or we could be talking about anything and I would say that. And then your headline would be, “Powell thinks the CFTC is full of shit” or something like that, right? And then like that’s the whole story.
Peter McCormack: That’s what basically I’m going to quote you from this article, this podcast now. We’ve got through about half of my questions and we’re already at an hour 10, so I’m not going to take up too much more of your time. I just want to ask you one more thing. I was out in San Francisco this summer. I love the place. But I … It’s been a few years since my last visit, where I actually had some time in the city. And I was a bit blown away by the increase in homeless people and the drug issues. I’d read about it on Twitter. I saw the complaints about crap on the streets and I hadn’t really noticed it. But then when I was there in the city with my children, and obviously just trying to keep an eye on them, it kind of blew me away a little bit. I’ve also seen you tweet about it. And it’s been a problem for your staff around there. What’s going on there?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve actually had three people attacked by just like totally crazy people out of their minds. I refer to them as crack zombies in my tweet. And I think there is some … I think some people understood crack zombies to be homeless people, which it doesn’t at all. You know, I made no statements, no judgments about whether these people were homeless or not. But yeah, then these people that are just completely out of their minds … You know, you’ll see people shooting up in broad daylight if you walk to one of the train stations there, it’ll just be littered with needles. People shooting all over the place. And they’ll be marching around on the streets among people, turning over trash cans, walking into convenience stores, making a disaster in the store.
Jesse Powell: And it largely goes unchecked, you know? I think it’s a really tough problem for the police to solve because you can’t just put these people in jail. They really need like mental health support. And it’s just gotten so out of control. I think it’s just gone unchecked for so long that it really is just at this point where it’s just everywhere. And you can’t get away from it. And it feels like it’s kind of taken over the city. And you have people, they don’t want to come into the office because it’s dangerous walking down the street. Just in broad daylight because you have these people that are just totally out of their minds and unpredictable.
Jesse Powell: You know, like when some guy grabs you and tries to bite you, you know, you can’t even … Like, what do you do about that? You know, it’s just like, “Okay, they’re like rabid dogs wandering the streets. I’m just not going to be walking on those streets.” And you can’t blame the animal for biting you, you know? It’s not like a rational person. It’s not something you can hold accountable and say, “Whoa, dude. Like, biting me is not really … That’s not an ethical thing to do.” They thought your face was an apple, so they’re trying to bite it.
Peter McCormack: Yeah. Well, my friend left. She said it has become like Dawn of the Dead.
Jesse Powell: Yeah. It really is. It really is. I mean, people are getting their cars broken into for nothing. We had another employee that he had … So, like it’s common practice just to make sure your car is totally empty and there’s nothing on the streets. Not even like a penny, you know, to give them any reason to break into your car. Well, this guy’s car was totally clean. Somebody broke his window, broke into it and stole out of the glove box the car manual. Like, why? You know, so there’s no safe place. The cost of dealing with all this stuff is high. So a lot of people are moving out of the city. A lot of people are starting to work remotely.
Peter McCormack: I mean, there’s a lot of money in the city.
Jesse Powell: The city’s budget is like $11 billion a year now. And what they’re spending all that money on, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be going very far. You know, there’s this problem that California has where we’re not able to really raise the property taxes on people and there’s all this like really ancient property tax like grandfathered in to families and stuff. And so like cities have to do all these crazy things like introduce all these crazy taxes on businesses and payroll and all this stuff to try to make up this tax deficit that they have.
Jesse Powell: So this is like another problem with San Francisco, is you have these sky-high real estate prices, but the landlords aren’t paying for it and the property owners aren’t paying for it. And so then it’s like imposed on businesses. And now businesses are thinking, “Well, why should we have to pay for that? We just employed all these people in your city. You ought to be giving us some kind of benefit for that. Not like an extra tax.” So, I think it’s going to be really hard … It’s going to be hard for the city to retain people.
Peter McCormack: So if we can just finish up, can you just tell us what coming up for Kraken? Tell people where you want them to keep an eye on what’s going … You don’t tweet much yourself, but I think you are worth following for the bits you put out there. But how do you want people to keep an eye on your … Who you want to hear from?
Jesse Powell: Yeah. Definitely follow my Twitter, follow … It’s @jespow, @krakenfx, and @Cryptowat_ch. What’s coming up for Kraken? More tokens. We plan to release a lot more tokens in the near future. New website. Mobile app. We’ve got some really cool stuff coming for Cryptowat-ch, which is also owned by Kraken. So keep an eye on things. Subscribe to the newsletter. Follow the blog. Those are all great ways to stay updated.
Peter McCormack: Cool. Well, listen. Thanks for coming on, Jess.
Jesse Powell: Hey, thanks for having me. Great talking to you.