Ray Youssef is the co-founder and CEO of Paxful, a leading peer-to-peer bitcoin marketplace. He is also the founder of Built With Bitcoin, a charitable initiative that aims to show the humanitarian capabilities of blockchain technology.
In an exclusive interview with Technext, Ray Youssef discusses digital assets adoption in Africa with a focus on Nigeria.
Before Ray Youssef learned about Bitcoin, he marched in Tahrir Square against corruption in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and participated in Occupy Wall Street. With that, he realised that the fundamentals of the financial system were broken.
“Once I learned about Bitcoin, it was an aha moment—a solution that offers a way for anyone, anywhere to access the global market. My journey into peer-to-peer Bitcoin started here.”
Ray Youssef on founding Paxful
Paxful gives people a simple, fair, and secure marketplace for trading bitcoin and other digital assets. With over 450 payment methods accepted, Paxful is one of the most accessible and user-friendly bitcoin marketplaces online, particularly for Africans.
Ray Youssef knew a few people earning Bitcoin by selling gift cards. This idea took hold, and he knew that if the product could scale, Paxful would give financial access to millions of unbanked people.
He recounts that Paxful was built as a trading system over one weekend, and he spent countless hours on the phone with real people using the product and morphed it to meet their needs.
“Paxful’s greatest success will always be its users—standing at over 12 million strong. They are the ones that have defined the real killer app of Bitcoin. It is not just an asset class for the rich, it allows money to flow freely as a means of exchange and it has the capability to change the financial structures that have ruled us for centuries.”
Paxful in Africa and Nigeria
Africa has been a major contributor to Paxful. The crypto firm announced that Nigeria is its biggest market, with over 2.5 million users and over $3.5 billion in trade volume, with over 450 payment methods accepted”. Ray Youssef attributes this feat to the demand and entrepreneurship spirit of the Africans, especially in Nigeria.
Furthermore, Ray states that entrepreneurship in Africa is based on need and entrepreneurship in the West is based on desire.
“In the U.S., for example, there are more traditional job opportunities, and people can easily live a good life working for an established business. Those opportunities are more limited in Africa. So if you can’t find work at your local market, auto shop, or tech company, you have to blaze your path.
On Paxful, people are building their money transfer businesses that undercut the fees of the Western Unions of the world. Others are building out arbitrage teams on the platform. It is the greatest feeling to hear someone building a business and strengthening their country’s economy through Paxful.”
However, Ray Paxful says the people of Nigeria have shown what Bitcoin was made for—they are the leaders in the space, and Paxful is successful because of the people of Africa.
Blockchain regulation in Africa
Some shitcoin projects have scammed many Africans who have heard of Bitcoin, which has set adoption back on the continent. However, people are still open to solutions; this is where Ray and Paxful show them how Bitcoin can work for them and their communities.
“The greatest example of this is the work I do through my foundation, the Built With Bitcoin Foundation.
Our latest project is the Bitcoin Technology Center (BTC), which opened in December in Ghana. By bringing education around finance and technology, we’re leaving a legacy of entrepreneurship and self-empowerment to these communities.”
On the knotty issue of regulation, Ray Youssef says there are two ways a country can integrate Bitcoin—the first is to jam Bitcoin regulations into legacy laws and infrastructure. The second is to approach Bitcoin through a new lens.
“We push for the latter as Bitcoin should not be subjected to the same regulations as securities and commodities. A new approach for a new form of finance is the only way Bitcoin can truly be for the 100%.”
Ray’s main goal with government officials and regulators is to show them that Bitcoin can be used to strengthen their economies. Many of the laws they have enforced are out of fear that their currency will get destroyed by international powers that control price discovery.
“The time for this monetary control is over. Bitcoin is a tool that can make their economies more self-sovereign and less reliant on the will of these money-hungry powers.
Bitcoin is the future of finance, and Africa is the future of Bitcoin. Desperation spurs innovation, and the world should watch Africa—its people are revolutionizing how we use money.”
Ray Youssef’s Built With Bitcoin initiative has two schools built in Nigeria. But there are plans to expand further.
“Our goal is to build 100 schools all over the world. Right now, we’ve built 12. We have a long way to go, but supporting Nigeria and its people are my top priority.
The future is bright, and most of my focus will be on Africa and Nigeria for the foreseeable future. It’s where I want to bet my time and resources as I believe it’s the future of finance.”
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