Ross Carter-Brown – CEO and Co-Founder

meet the BitPrime team: Ross Carter-Brown, CEO and co-founder
Meet the BitPrime team: Ross Carter-Brown, CEO and co-founder.

Who Are You? And What’s Your Background?

I grew up in Christchurch, in the South Island of New Zealand. When I was about 20, I went overseas and spent a couple of years travelling, then I came back and spent some time living in different parts of New Zealand before I started University.

I earned a Bachelor of Science, majoring in ecology and soil science. I then started a research-based master’s degree. But, by that stage, I was already heavily involved in cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin and that soon changed from being a hobby into something more serious quite quickly. I’ve been interested in crypto since about 2014/2015.

Eventually, I was earning more than I would be in my chosen career path in biological sciences.  So, I took a big risk and left my master’s partway through to launch BitPrime.

 

Who Personally, Has Been Your Biggest Influence? And Why Have They Had Such a Significant Effect on You?

I’ve always believed in Dean Karnazes’ saying, “listen to everyone but follow no one”.

I read widely and have done all my life. In terms of nonfiction, everything from psychology, economics, personal finance, history, classics, all sorts of things. There are certainly many different people throughout my life that I’ve drawn on their beliefs in my experience. It would be hard to pick any one particular person who has had a lot of influence; if I were to pick one, I would probably say The Buddha.

I’ve always followed and researched a lot of philosophy from a secular standpoint. Also, I’m a big believer in understanding the mind or understanding yourself because if you can’t master the self, you can’t really master anything else. So that would be a big underpinning of my worldview or understanding of reality.

Within that, I’ve certainly followed many different people in the business world, particularly around productivity. There are some good books out there, like, Deep Work by Cal Newport. I follow a wide range of different writers on business and entrepreneurial topics. A lot from the Harvard Business Review, for example.

One person from a business perspective is Derek Sivers, who you could almost describe as a bit of a digital nomad these days. He was the founder of CD Baby way back when, and he sold it for a decent chunk of money. I think he donated most of it to a charitable foundation to be used for supporting the arts, particularly music, when he dies. And he owns very little, and he travels a lot. I think he sees the world very clearly for what it is and that while money obviously gives you a lot of options and makes things better, it’s not the answer to the big questions in terms of “the secret to happiness”. Gratitude is a very big part of happiness. One of the key points I’ve learned from him is that business can be very simple in many respects, and it’s about identifying your key market and giving those people what they want.

I would tend to go through phases where I’ll spend a few months on topics like economics or psychology or something or other; more recently, society from a scientific perspective, particularly around climate change and how those effects are inevitable. Even if we did everything we could now, there would still be some huge issues to deal with from an environmental perspective, which underpins our entire economy.

One of the latest books I’ve read is called Dirt. I hate the name because it’s not “dirt”, it’s soil, but it follows the whole story of soil and how it underpins all of human civilisation and looks at various previous civilisations such as the Romans, where the collapse of their society was underpinned by the destruction of the natural capital, specifically soil and soil erosion. This is becoming a much bigger problem again now in both developed and underdeveloped economies.

In many respects, I take inspiration or ideas that feed into the business even from places like the world of fiction because, in novels and fiction, the writer can create worlds by their desire and their choosing. It’s kind of like a model for experimenting with different ideas and thinking about the world in different ways. And, I’ve certainly drawn some quite successful ideas from the world of fiction before! So, generally speaking, I get information and knowledge from a wide variety of sources. I pick and glean and adapt concepts and information that can be beneficial in the business world and BitPrime.

Others who inspire me include:

  • Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken
  • Meltem “making benevolent mischief” Demirors, CSO of CoinShares
  • Pavel Durov, founder of Telegram
  • Brooke Roberts, CEO and co-founder of Sharesies

 

What Has Been More Valuable in Your Career, Your Education? Your Experience?

Definitely experience. Most people assume that I come from a finance or investment banking background. Of course, I don’t – my background is in biological sciences and chemistry. So definitely experience – everything I’ve learned about crypto, finance and banking has come from the school of hard knocks, in conjunction with reading and researching extensively and widely.

 

Cryptocurrencies are an essential part of any portfolio but should also be part of a wider diversified portfolio, including many traditional and non-traditional assets.

How Did You Become Interested in Crypto?

I became interested in crypto primarily on the back of the global financial crisis in the mid-2000s. And my mentality at the time was definitely that the system is broken and inefficient and serves those that have control of the capital more than it serves the people as it should or as it’s supposed to. So that’s where I kind of got the inspiration. And I encountered Bitcoin through online forums, news and things like that.

I was quite curious about it as an alternative, and of course, in those days, Bitcoin was very niche – there were very small numbers of users relative to today. And it was very much viewed, I guess, in two camps, or two lines of thinking – either the Bitcoin evangelists who think Bitcoin was going to be the future of all money and then the other group, which I probably fell into, was more that this is like a lab experiment. We’ve got this fantastic piece of software that can potentially completely revolutionise the way that the world works, particularly in a financial, monetary sense. An experiment with huge potential. And I definitely viewed it from the experiment standpoint instead of a belief standpoint.

So I kind of view Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies as a huge opportunity, but still an experiment – we still don’t know, once the dust settles in 5, 10 or 20 years, what that will look like. But I think that’s partly because the industry and technology move quickly. It’s almost impossible to predict with accuracy what it might look like because the opportunities are so numerous – there are so many different directions it could go.

I think that cryptocurrencies are obviously fantastic, and that’s why I got interested in them early on, but I also say that, like people, cryptocurrencies are imperfect, and markets are imperfect. So, you know, I’m also realistic about things as well, which feeds into my philosophy with BitPrime: that cryptocurrencies are an essential part of any portfolio but should also be part of a wider diversified portfolio, including many traditional and non-traditional assets.

So, yeah, I think it’s still an experiment that’s been growing exponentially and delivering all sorts of new technologies and new business models. And I think there’s a really huge opportunity for economic growth for the countries that embrace it.

Bitcoin Money What Gives Cryptocurrencies Value?

 

What Problem Is Your Business Solving? What’s the Inspiration Behind BitPrime?

The inspiration behind BitPrime is that cryptocurrency markets have been traditionally, and I believe currently, difficult to access and navigate for the average everyday person. Most platforms where you can buy or trade cryptocurrencies are based on the exchange model.

And traditionally, that exchange model, with “bid and ask” order books, has been restricted in use to professional investors and institutions that trade things like equities on the international market, foreign exchange, commodities and things like that. Those exchange interfaces have never been designed for, or widely used by, the general population until the occurrence of cryptocurrencies.

So I believe the exchange method, especially regarding the interface, is not well suited to the general population. Obviously, the goal is mass adoption – for everyone to be using cryptocurrency in their everyday lives in some shape or form. Whether that’s as a form of money or the Web3 technology it supports.

We realised early on that those exchange interfaces were not going to best serve the general population. So we came up with a model that was more familiar, which is the e-commerce type interface where you can go through and add assets to a cart, and then pay for those assets, or if you’re selling them, through a traditional checkout process that you would have with a website where you might buy some shoes or order some groceries. So we’ve modelled our retail business on that standardised e-commerce approach, which has been hugely successful and made cryptocurrencies far more accessible to New Zealanders, and soon to be many people overseas as well.

 

What Else Makes BitPrime Stand Out From Its Competitors?

What makes us stand out is primarily the level of service and support we provide. We have 24/7 live chat with response times that are less than a minute.

Everyone hates ticket-based communications; if you’re a customer, you know, you send an email or open a ticket, and you might get a response in 24 hours, and for the next reply, you get another response in another 24 hours. It’s horrendously cumbersome and slow and irritating.

So that’s why we’re focused on live chat with low response time, so we can respond to requests and resolve issues on the spot in real-time, which I think is really important if you’re dealing with some complex questions or some technical problems somebody might have with their wallet. So we really excel in support in that area.

And increasingly, we’re moving to an account management business model with our premium customers, people that are heavily invested in crypto or trading larger volumes. We’re now connecting them one on one with an account manager that they can contact through channels of their choice – you can message your account manager while you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix. You can fire them a message through WhatsApp telling them that you want to source X coin or any other sort of requests that you have.

Phone calls, SMS, email, whatever channel the customer prefers, we will be there. We’ve found that the account management model and very high levels of personalised and customised service to be exactly what many people need and what a lot of people expect.

People who have large portfolios or have large disposable income and are investing in cryptocurrencies demand that higher level of service and very few exchanges well, no one in New Zealand, but certainly it’s very rare in the world and the cryptocurrency industry globally, that higher level of service with that account management model.

So effectively, those premium customers have one person at BitPrime with whom they build a very close business relationship and get to know each other in terms of needs and expectations.

So we’re far better placed to meet their needs than the same person going to an international exchange where they have to fire off tickets in that very cumbersome process.

Crytocurrency consultation education NZ

 

Is Your Role What You Thought It Would Be When You First Started BitPrime? And if It Differs, How?

I guess the short answer is no. I didn’t start BitPrime in the way that some big tech companies have been launched; we didn’t have a roadmap or a five-year plan or anything like that. It started off with me as a sole trader. Effectively selling cryptocurrencies in a peer to peer fashion to individuals.

And then, as things snowballed in 2017, BitPrime was launched as an information website, predominantly with blogs and things like that, and designed to sort of drive traffic to my individual p2p listings and then things exploded.

I had to hire staff to keep up. We started adding trading functionality to what was a blog site initially, piece by piece. So BitPrime is definitely an evolution from me as a sole trader sitting on the couch with my laptop to this big company with millions of dollars of trading volume and staff worldwide. So it has changed hugely.

If we took the starting point with me as a sole trader to these days as the CEO of BitPrime, I have far less to do with the trading side of things. My role is much more similar to a CEO in any other tech company.

I deal with a large range of different topics and issues. Obviously, my focus is on understanding where the business is at, at any given point in time, making sure that we’re on the right track to meet our strategic goals and that that strategy is effective.

And obviously, we have a focus on our competitors, where we are positioned in the market, making sure that we’re offering the right services to the right people.

I also deal with IT security, regulators and law enforcement a lot. I do a lot of negotiations with different liquidity providers and different service providers.

So my current role is very different from what it used to be on day one!

 

What Do You Enjoy Most About Your Role As the CEO?

What I enjoy most is the people. Whether that be our staff and all the people I talked to on a day to day basis or talking directly to some of our customers. Unfortunately, sometimes that might be when I’m dealing with a complaint; I like to keep a close eye on any complaints that we might receive. So there are those negative interactions, but from those, we will learn a lot, and we can improve what we’re doing.

Dealing with all suppliers and cryptocurrency enthusiasts. I like talking to the people that run some of these ground roots crypto meetups and events that we sponsor. I like dealing with charities and things like that – we deal with some NGOs that want to increase the revenue or donations coming from crypto.

Yeah, it’s really those interpersonal interactions that I enjoy. Because I’m not so much on the frontline as I used to be, I enjoy the opportunities to talk directly to our customers, which obviously I am not able to do as much as I used to. But we are planning on improving that  – we’ve got some AMAs planned, we’ve got some chat groups planned for our premium customers through a platform called Marco Polo, which is kind of like a closed version of Tik Tok, so that myself and our premium customers can all talk on a more personal and direct level.

So yeah, definitely the people, and I’m trying to get back more of that one-on-one interaction that I used to have a lot more.

 

What Are the Main Challenges That You Face as CEO of BitPrime? What Sort of Issues Do You Run Into? Have You Had to Change Course?

There are a number of challenges that we have faced and do face. In the early days, it was access to banking services; obviously, we exchange crypto for fiat and vice versa. It was very hard to get into banking services in the early days, so that issue has been resolved. And now we just have different issues to face.

For example, at the moment, the New Zealand government is reviewing the cryptocurrencies sector in New Zealand and looking at a range of different regulatory options and things like that. So I’m involved with providing feedback on that and trying to steer regulation to facilitate growth in the industry in New Zealand. So that’s one challenge at an industry level that I’m involved with. I’m also on the Executive Council of Blockchain NZ, which is involved in steering that conversation as well.

And related to potential regulatory changes, I’m also on the Ministry of Justice industry advisory group, reviewing the anti-money laundering legislation, which has been in place for 10 years, so I’m involved in providing feedback on that.

So one of the challenges right now is that push to improve regulation in the area, so that that’s a big challenge, or I see it is an opportunity to steer things in the right direction where we can protect investors and reduce money laundering, but also foster economic growth for the New Zealand economy that has traditionally been limited by distance to market and primary industries and exporting things.

Whereas with crypto, there is zero distance to market – it’s borderless – and as a largely cloud-based company, we’re a model of other ways the New Zealand economy can grow without increasing our carbon footprint.

Other challenges we’re facing are scale. The cryptocurrency market has exploded. During the crypto winter of 2018 to 2020, about half of the exchanges in the world went out of operation. So there’s this kind of consolidation move. We’re ending up with a smaller number of much larger companies.

So our challenge is to try and scale because our business only really works at scale in a very competitive environment. And we’re doing it by focusing on doubling down on highly successful areas, which is in those higher levels of personalised service, particularly in the boutique market.

We’re going through some business transformation now; we’re moving to the account management business model. And we’re doubling down on the premium end of the market, whereas in the past, we’ve tended to try and be everything to everyone. And now we’re definitely going more niche, focusing on the premium in the market, both domestically in New Zealand and soon internationally.

Other challenges we face are probably similar to what other businesses face when they grow quickly. In the latest cycle of the market, we’ve gone from six or seven staff to approaching 30 staff. So there are those normal challenges you have within an organisation where it grows quickly: having suitable structures in place, helping staff deal with change and things like that.

So yeah, there are lots of challenges specific to our industry, but there are also many challenges that apply to all businesses.

 

Knowing What You Know Now, What Would You Have Told Yourself When You Were First Starting Out With BitPrime?

That’s difficult to answer in the sense that I sort of learned everything by navigating. I had businesses before BitPrime, but they’re all on a small scale, and they weren’t in the financial services industry. So I guess there would be many things that I would tell myself on day one when we launched in 2017.

I would have perhaps been more conservative. We grew very quickly at the end of 2017, from one person to over 20, with a big office in Christchurch. And then there was the market crash followed by two years of contraction with the crypto winter. So I probably would have been more conservative in the early days.

And I probably would have started mapping out the platform at a much earlier stage. Because we sort of went through this evolution of adding features as quickly as we could, as they were required just to try and keep up with the demand from one day to the next, because the market was just insane, it was going crazy, we really struggled to keep up with demand. So, I would think I would have mapped out the platform, the framework it runs on and things much sooner.

Now we’re dealing with the after-effects of it being a much more costly effort to improve the site and some legacy system issues. So yeah, I definitely would have placed a much bigger focus on the development roadmap early on.

I think those would be the two key things, perhaps growing too quickly in the early days and not having a really effective development roadmap in the early days that we have now.

I think there are other things I think we’ve done really well. Other New Zealand providers have failed for various reasons; sometimes, they didn’t have access to banking services. And in other cases, it’s because they expanded into international markets too early. Or those markets they expanded to were already saturated, and they got spread too thin and ended up failing.

So in some respects, keeping to the New Zealand market earlier on was probably a very good decision.

 

What Has the Experience of Building and Growing a Business Like BitPrime Taught You?

The biggest thing it’s taught me is that often, the impossible is possible. I think it’s the key difference between businesses that stay small and local and those that achieve success on the international stage.

I think it’s realising that things that seem challenging or insurmountable are often overcome.

I think having that can-do attitude, but it’s not a blind sort of, you know, happiness charging headlong in. It has to be supported by having a really deep understanding of your product and your market.

And also predicting potential future events and changes in technology, changes in consumer demand and things like that. You definitely have to try and predict the future somewhat and place some bets on where you think the market is heading.

 

The biggest risk to a crypto investor isn’t having their coins stolen; it’s losing access to them.

Okay, With This Next Question, the Timeframe Is Almost Half a Lifetime As Far as Cryptocurrency Is Concerned, but Where Do You See Things Headed in the Next Five Years? As Far as Bitprime, Other Future Projects, etc.

Well, I guess I should frame that within where I think the industry is going. I think the industry is getting more embedded or more connected to traditional financial markets. So I think we’re going to see a time in the near future where you can use your phone to pay for items like you can now, buy things through Google Pay and Apple Pay, etc. But rather than just being able to pay with the New Zealand dollars in your bank account, you’d be able to pay with any digital asset of your choosing. And the retailer will receive payment in whatever form of value of their choosing, and it will be frictionless and happen in fractions of a second.

So a big shift away from where we are with traditional banking, where you can’t move funds on the weekend and public holidays and all that sort of rubbish. It’ll force changes in the banking industry to potentially leverage more blockchain technology to move towards the direction of real-time settlements.

I think we’ll see more tokenisation of traditional assets. So that’s taking an asset and then turning it into a token – it could be something like a house. You know, you can’t afford to buy a house in this crazy housing market we have in New Zealand right now. So it might be a case of where you have a group of friends or work colleagues who could buy a property or properties that are divisible by or takes the form of readily tradable tokens, so it means that people could say get on the property ladder, by purchasing properties a group for example.

I see big changes in the insurance industry and digital identity, intellectual property, you know, all these areas are moving towards leveraging blockchain technology.

So where BitPrime fits into that – we operate as a financial service provider, providing trading services. In five years, I see we will be heavily embedded in the premium end of the market. So we’ll be providing personalised trading services through our OTC desk but also probably a move into managed funds and other investment products that include baskets of different cryptocurrencies so you can effectively make it easier for investors to access the cryptocurrency market through a grain of diversity and financial products, but also a move towards custody.

You know, the biggest risk to a crypto investor isn’t having their coins stolen; it’s losing access to them. So, you know, in five years, we would expect to have sort of a world-class insured, cold custody, product available for our customers, as well as general portfolio management services, whether that will be through their personal account manager or through offering those asset bundles and managed fund offerings as well. We’re also planning a significant capital raise, so anyone interested in that is free to reach out to me!

That being said, a lot can happen in five years. So there may be other opportunities or changes in the market that mean that there may be other products or services that we may offer as part of that.

I also see that we’ll be a leader on the global stage in terms of services to customers in the boutique end of the market. And with that custody offering, we see that having cold storage with full insurance based in New Zealand is very attractive for international business people and family offices and so forth because of New Zealand’s low corruption, strong personal property protections, and relatively stable economy.

We see that New Zealand is already seen as a safe haven for many people, especially people living in countries with a higher level of corruption or are struggling with autocratic governments and things like that. We see these sorts of Western democracies highly regarded as very popular places to do business and store assets.

 

 

What Is the Best Advice You Have for Someone Looking to Get Into the Area Career-Wise With Cryptocurrency or Blockchain?

That’s a question that I get a lot!

The most important thing is to build up a really good understanding of the industry by reading reference technology, following news, and things like that.

I would caution people from getting too involved in some of the more fanatical pro-crypto groups or ideologies; obviously, I’m very pro-crypto, but I see cryptocurrency as part of a wider global financial system.

So it’s definitely worthwhile for those people to perhaps study or read up a lot on general investing, personal finance, and investor markets in general and understand how cryptocurrency is placed within those markets.

There are many different entry points; you could work as a trader at a place like BitPrime. Obviously, there is also the customer service and account management side. You know, we hire many people who don’t have previous experience in crypto – we look for the right personality and the right background. But it’s certainly an advantage to have a lot of knowledge about crypto.

So you know, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if you can’t get into a role at a cryptocurrency trading platform; you can still start out working in different positions in traditional finance or investment banking, but try not to get stuck there.

That’s the service or trading side of things, but there are huge opportunities in the development side of things with Blockchain development and stuff like that.

Experienced developers or blockchain developers say, with five years experience, can get a job with a visa in the United States making 150,000 USD a year, for example. So there’s big money to be made on the development side. I would say that that’s probably where the biggest opportunities lie in terms of financial sort of reward is the development side of things.

There are also opportunities working for crypto funds, or crypto banks, digital banks, with things like algorithmic trading. So that’s another side branch of the development or where trading and an IT approach cross over.

But in general, we’re still very early in the adoption curve. I think we kind of where the internet was in 1996-1997 in terms of the proportion of the population using Blockchain or cryptocurrency in some way. Obviously, that will continue to increase and probably at the current or at a faster rate.

So I think anyone starting out working in some type of blockchain or cryptocurrency centric business is still getting in on the ground floor regardless, so most of the people working in the industry now will be the CEOs in 10, 20 years. They’ll be the managers, innovators, the entrepreneurs, so if you can get into any role in the cryptocurrency industry now, even if that’s not your desired long term role, it will give you experience and inside knowledge of the industry and help to guide you on which of those career paths might be best.

There are courses increasingly available. I think one New Zealand university is doing some blockchain or crypto papers. A wide range of international education providers, including online courses from Stanford, Harvard Business School, and others. Where you can do well recognised, intensive courses on various aspects of cryptocurrency. Whether that be the trading side of things, technology, or even trying to understand how blockchain might be used in your current business, that might be a tech company that’s not actually using Blockchain or trading cryptocurrencies, but is looking to see how then how you might leverage that technology. So there is a whole range of courses out there. Obviously, most of those are very expensive, but you can still do a lot of free or low-cost courses that may not give you much extra clout on your CV but will undoubtedly increase your knowledge.

So if you’re a bit tight on money and want to learn more, then definitely make use of some of those lower-cost courses. And working towards being a certified Bitcoin professional or a certified Ethereum professional can be a good thing too.

And if you want to get into the industry, showing how eager you are and how committed you are is really important. Highlighting all the different things or actions you’ve taken to understand the industry and get involved in the industry.

If you’re passionate about a particular blockchain, in an interview, really convey that passion to the interviewer. It is really important because somebody determined and passionate will be a good employee. So try to translate your interest and passion for distributed ledger technologies and cryptocurrencies into your applications, cover letters, and CV.

And obviously, if you’re applying for jobs at BitPrime or other platforms, make sure you’ve written your application and resume specifically for that company and for that role. We certainly see lots of applications in this industry where they’ve just fired a CV at you without much thought, and many of them are not even worth reading.

We only really look at applications where the person has specifically written them for our company and that role and demonstrates how hungry they are for the job. So if I was to sum it up, being hungry is my advice.

edX

How Can People, in Terms of Affiliates or Businesses, That Want to Collaborate With Us, Reach Out to BitPrime?

We always like to collaborate with a whole range of different content creators – whether you run a crypto news site or a Personal Finance Blog, you’re a successful YouTuber or Tik Toker – we’re always keen to work with you to put in front of your viewers some options of accessing the cryptocurrency markets that are best suited to their needs. We believe personalised service is the best approach. So we’d love to work with you to put some of those options in front of your readers and viewers that will hopefully save them some money and improve their lives.

We’re also keen to work with the likes of charities. And also, entrepreneurs; we’re looking at a BitPrime residency where we will have some early-stage startups based in the BitPrime HQ for six months at a time where they can leverage our networks and knowledge etc., and we can help them grow their business. We can, in return, learn from their startup and leverage a lot of new thinking and ideas that they are growing.

 


Disclaimer:

The above references an opinion and is for informational purposes only. Do not take this as personalised financial advice or investment advice. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent the opinion of BitPrime.

 

Last updated: 26/04/2022





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