For those closely following crypto, the meteoric rise of the Binance exchange has been a sight to behold. Under the leadership of 41-year-old genius Changpeng Zhao, Binance became the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world by trade volume in about 165 days, following the platform’s launch in July of last year. The key to the company’s success has been largely attributed to Zhao’s aggressive strategy of expansion into global markets.
Originally based out of Hong Kong, Binance faced some setbacks when in September of last year, China shut down all domestic cryptocurrency trading, but Zhao was able to quickly relocate Binance’s headquarters Tokyo. The company’s relocation sparked the keg which sent Binance flying into disparate markets, including Uganda, Switzerland, Singapore and almost everywhere in between.
Binance exchange is currently home to 10 million global users, and the company reports earning $350 million in profits during the first 6 months of 2018, largely from transaction fees. The Chinese market has since been monopolized by Beijing-based companies OKCoin and Huobi, but Zhao’s exit may have been a blessing in disguise.
Zhao has been traveling the world this year, hiring new staff and attending industry events, forming new deals with large cryptocurrency firms in places like Switzerland and South Korea. While Binance typically only offers coin-for-coin trading, Zhao is planning to open platforms offering local currency trading in 10 different global markets. Major targets include Uganda, Liechtenstein, Malta and Singapore. Binance’s fiat-to-crypto exchanges are set to begin launching before the end of the year.
Zhao has been pleasantly surprised with how welcoming countries outside of China have been to doing business. Binance’s expansion initiatives appear to be playing a crucial role in achieving cryptocurrency mass adoption.
If a government “doesn’t welcome us, we will definitely not go there”, said Zhao in a new interview published by the South China Morning Post. “Wherever our leadership team goes is where our headquarters [will be].”
“It’s clear that Binance is playing a game of regulatory arbitrage,” explains Arianna Simpson, founder of US-based cryptocurrency hedge fund Autonomous Partners. “Fiat to crypto on-ramps remain a clear bottleneck in terms of crypto adoption, but being able to offer this type of access is a strong competitive advantage for exchanges – at least, temporarily until others catch up.”
“He is like the Jack Ma of cryptocurrency: he came out of nowhere and scaled very fast,” said Timothy Tam, a banking veteran who co-founded Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency intelligence platform CoinFi. “Personally, I don’t think it’s luck because he has a track record of working in the trading space.”
Zhao’s success in scaling Binance to the powerhouse company it is today is remarkable, but the uncertainty regarding regulation in the space casts a heavy shadow. Earlier this year, Zhao received a letter from authorities in Japan demanding Binance exit the region and warning against operating the exchange without a license. While branching out into obscure regions has its upsides from a regulatory standpoint, many experts believe it a dubious practice.
“There is no incentive for cryptocurrency exchanges to go out of their way to enter markets with poor or no regulations in place,” said Joseph Young, a Hong Kong-based analyst and early investor in cryptocurrencies.
In the fallout from the Japan incident, Zhao remains positive. He tells the CSMP that the industry still has room to grow at least “a thousand times”. This viewpoint stands in contradiction to some of the biggest names in crypto, like Vitalik Buterin, who recently said that the exponential growth previously seen in cryptocurrency will never return.
But to Zhao, an optimistic outlook on the future of crypto is what keeps driving him forward. “This isn’t a job for me,” said Zhao. “It’s very meaningful to me, and has become the only thing I do.”