“One of the main challenges still facing cryptocurrency is its adoption”: Interview with Luno’s co-founder and CEO, Marcus Swanepoel

London-based Luno, founded by Carel van Wyk, Marcus Swanepoel, Peter Heyns and Timothy Stranex, is a fast-growing global cryptocurrency company that’s been turning heads since 2013. Luno currently operates in Africa, South East Asia and Europe, where their products make buying, selling and storing Bitcoin and Ethereum a breeze, while educating their users about cryptocurrencies, which they believe is “the future of money”. With +6 million users in +40 countries under their belt, their goal is to achieve 1 billion clients by 2030, while upgrading the world to a better financial system.

If you’d like to peek behind the scenes of this fast-growing fintech scaleup, including how to built an engaged team, predictions on whether cash will soon be extinct, and the future of crypto, then read on for an insights from co-founder and CEO, Marcus Swanepoel.

Thanks for joining us, Marcus. Before founding Luno you had leading roles in big traditional banks. What did you learn while working there that you brought to Luno, and what did you feel have to be changed in the sector?

I always felt there was a better way of moving value around the world, but the idea of Luno didn’t happen right away. I actually spent some time travelling the globe and immersed myself in various tech trends that were taking off. I had a few conversations with founders of challenger banks at the time, but it didn’t seem like the right fit to really deliver the sort of change I felt was necessary.

What sparked Luno’s inception was when I first heard about bitcoin at a conference that I attended in Silicon Valley. I was introduced to a few people, one of which Timothy Stranex ended up becoming my co-founder, and things took off very quickly from there.

What would you do differently today in the beginning of your startup, if you knew all you know today?

If I could change anything it would be to move faster and invest more time in building the team earlier on so we could have scaled faster than we did. This is something I’d advise no matter what stage the business is at, but it’s certainly something that, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d have done at the start.

Luno is about giving people an smooth customer journey to buying, holding and selling cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Ethereum – but was this the goal when you created the startup or did you have to pivot along the way?

Our aim has always been to upgrade the world to a better and more open financial system – and that has not changed in the past 7 years. The goal was to build the best platform we could that could make cryptocurrencies accessible to everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are located. We haven’t waivered from either of those goals: everything we’ve done since 2013 has been to provide the best possible experience for our users.

Digital Currency Group acquired Luno in September 2020. How do you see this acquisition and how did Luno benefit?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Barry Stilbert, DCG’s founder, for several years now. We’ve always been aligned in terms of our culture and long-term vision, so the DCG acquisition felt like a good fit right from the start. What it means for us in real terms is that we’re better equipped to scale, with more expertise and resources to reach our target of upgrading 1 billion people to a better financial system by 2030. While it is something that could have been achievable on our own, the path there is now faster and better with the support of DCG. Otherwise, we would still be running independently, and our customers would still be receiving the same service to buy, sell, store or learn about cryptocurrency that they always have.

What differentiates Luno from the rest of the market today?

We have a big focus on really educating our users. We see Luno as more than just a wallet – it’s an environment where newcomers taking their first steps into cryptocurrency can feel welcome. One of the main challenges still facing cryptocurrency is its adoption, so we feel a responsibility to do our part to educate the masses on why we believe cryptocurrency is the future of money.

We are also quite selective with regards to the cryptocurrencies we have on our platform. You might find dozens of coins available on other platforms, but we try to ensure every coin we have on our platform is properly decentralized, very secure, has a credible team behind it, and has a clear use case with significant market traction. While we believe that the future will involve multiple different currencies, we want to make sure that each cryptocurrency available on our platform is of genuine value to the user.

What are the 3 main points you recommend in order to increase employee commitment and retention in startups today, in a time with such a fierce competition for experienced talent?

It’s important to ensure your employees have a clear pathway so they can see exactly what the next stage of their progression looks like, and just as importantly, the steps they need to reach that next level. If employees do not feel as if they have a realistic way of achieving their goals or if they aren’t really sure what progression is available to them, it’s natural that you’ll see disengagement.

Benefits and culture are important too, but this is more than having a nice office and social events. In the wake of the pandemic, one of the key things we are all seeing is the importance of flexibility. Most companies will be made up of parents, part-time workers and more, so you must do what you can to cater to as many people as possible while ensuring that you maintain good lines of communication and workflows.

Finally, get it right at the start with your recruitment. Turnover will always be inevitable, so when that time comes, you must recognize that a thorough hiring process will ensure you bring in the right people who will be more likely to give you longevity.

Are you in favour of the total extinction of cash in notes and coins? Why?

Our focus is really on the benefits inherent to bitcoin that make it a more viable alternative. It’s understandable that people are resistant to change, especially when it comes to something as long-standing and emotive as money. We don’t really see Luno as a vehicle to eliminate cash, but to educate and convince the general public as to why we think cryptocurrencies are a safer, easier and frictionless way of transferring value.

How do you see the market in the next 5 years? What is your vision for Luno for the future? 

2020 was a big year for bitcoin and cryptocurrency, with continued adoption and breakthrough into the mainstream. There is nothing suggesting that this will change anytime soon, and with more institutional investors and governments on board, it will only help increase the rate of adoption.

From Luno’s perspective, our mission remains the same: we want to continue to bring our platform to more territories across the globe, while also working closely with partners and regulators to support the industry. It is an exciting time for cryptocurrency, and we want to be right at the heart of it.