Brett Harrison is the President of FTX US, a US-regulated cryptocurrency exchange. Prior to joining FTX US, Brett was Head of Semi-Systematic Technology at Citadel Securities, where he managed technology for the firm’s Options, ETF, OTC, and ADR trading globally. He began and spent the majority of his career at Jane Street, where he led the firm’s algorithmic trading system development. 00:34 - The role of FTX.US’ president 01:24 - About FTX 02:55 - Nontraditional brand marketing 08:05 - Educating people about Crypto 10:46 - Being at the forefront of regulation 14:52 - Collaborating with other players in crypto 19:03 - FTX's policy in exchange and crypto 23:19 - FTX and NFTs 26:44 - CeFi / DeFi exchange and Cross-chains 31:36 - Building interconnectivity between centralized crypto exchanges 34:59 - Market hours in crypto? 36:33 - Process of evaluating a token 38:44 - Things he is hopeful for
Brett Harrison is the President of FTX US, a US-regulated cryptocurrency exchange. Prior to joining FTX US, Brett was Head of Semi-Systematic Technology at Citadel Securities, where he managed technology for the firm’s Options, ETF, OTC, and ADR trading globally. He began and spent the majority of his career at Jane Street, where he led the firm’s algorithmic trading system development.
- 00:34 – The role of FTX.US’ president
- 01:24 – About FTX
- 02:55 – Nontraditional brand marketing
- 08:05 – Educating people about Crypto
- 10:46 – Being at the forefront of regulation
- 14:52 – Collaborating with other players in crypto
- 19:03 – FTX’s policy in exchange and crypto
- 23:19 – FTX and NFTs
- 26:44 – CeFi / DeFi exchange and Cross-chains
- 31:36 – Building interconnectivity between centralized crypto exchanges
- 34:59 – Market hours in crypto?
- 36:33 – Process of evaluating a token
- 38:44 – Things he is hopeful for
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I’m Austin Federa. Welcome to the Solana podcast. Today, we have Brett Harrison joining us, who’s the president of FTX.US. We got a bunch to talk about today, including the role of FTX in the markets, his sort of path there, and a bunch of what’s been going on recently in crypto. So, Brett, thanks for joining us.
Yeah. Thanks for having me on, Austin.
I wanted to kick it off. What does the president of FTX.US actually do on a daily basis?
Yeah, for sure. A good question. So yeah, I joined FTX.US exactly one year ago. Little bit of background first. So FTX is obviously the global cryptocurrency derivatives exchange. It’s the second or third largest in the world. Around a year and a half ago, FTX.US, a separate company affiliated with FTX, was started for the purpose of creating a US regulated set of businesses to be able to do things like offer a spot cryptocurrency in the US, but also to satisfy some of our broader ambitions to enable other kinds of investment products for US customers such as US crypto derivatives, stocks, and things like that. My role is to sort of help run the ship over here, hire the team, and put people in the right offices, but also like do everything from think about regulatory strategy and policy to some actual software development in architecture and on some of our products. So it’s sort of a little bit of everything.
Yeah. It’s kind of an interesting role. How big is the FTX.US operations at this point?
We’re around 80 people right now.
That’s pretty sizable for one year.
Yeah, for us at least.
You’re at the top of a pretty interesting organization nowadays. When you joined, the pace of excitement and interest in crypto from a mainstream audience was far lower. The presence of FTX was far lower than it is now. There’s many people who are familiar with crypto, who have been for both FTX for a very long time, as both the FTX international and FTX.US as two different entities that play an important role in pushing the concept of a centralized exchange further. Before you guys came on the scene, the role of a centralized exchange was maybe not quite as professionalized as it is now. There’s sort of more of a lot of respect in the market for the speed that FTX is able to execute on and both sort of the pace of innovation that’s come out of that.
But at the same time, in the United States specifically, which is where we’re talking about today, you guys have done a huge amount of what I would call very traditional marketing usually reserved for banks, and telecommunication companies, and these sort of like old Titans of industry in the United States. But this is a very new operation. Walk me through a little bit about that process of saying not only do we see a target opportunity here, but we’re not going to take the path of most other companies, and run a ton of digital ads, and put up select billboards. But we’re going to put our name on AAA, IP, and media.
It’s incredible to see where we are now compared to a year ago, two years ago, and FTX.US were fairly obscure in the United States. Not so much overseas where FTX had already really gained a name for itself as this leading cryptocurrency derivatives exchange. And it was really competing with the other top exchanges around the world that have been trading these derivatives products traditionally. But in the US, we had just started. We’re up against 10 year incumbents in the space and very few people ever heard of FTX. And now we’re on Super Bowl commercials. We are the subject of congressional hearings. It’s like quite amazing to sort of see the way that we’ve sort of infiltrated the crypto ecosystem in the United States, in a way that’s really established our presence as a brand that people trust, as one that feels innovative and fast moving.
So I think just taking it back a bit. So we wanted to be able to get into the US market, and the US has one of the largest retail user bases in the world, maybe the largest retail user base in the world. So the number of people who are traditionally using their phone to trade stocks, for example, for themselves, is just much higher percentage in the United States than almost anywhere else. And so you have this broad class of people now getting interested in crypto, who want to be able to have access to that as a means of investment. But if you think about where crypto has been for the last decade, there’s been a lot of ups and downs and noise. You have exchanges that lose customer funds, or they go down, or they get hacked, or they like suddenly become slow.
And if people are going to invest in this still fairly risky, volatile, asset class, where there’s a lot to learn for people, it’s a very high learning curve. They’re going to want some brand that they feel they’re comfortable taking that leap, and putting their money in, and investing with. And so in the beginning, it was very difficult to acquire customers for us. And then Sam had this idea of, what’s the largest thing that we could do, as fast as possible, and reach tens of millions of people. And it’s not go out and buy Facebook ads. And the conventional wisdom here for us was, “Okay, when’s the last time you saw an ad on Facebook for like Citibank or JP Morgan, and you are like a Bank of America customer? And then you said, you know what, I love this Facebook ad. It’s time to move all my money from my checking account to this other one.” I think it doesn’t usually happen. I think it’s a pretty high activation cost for doing something like that. It’s not like giving some new website a try.
Just plain and simply this is like a serious investment decision. And so we really needed to build that trust for people, and do it quickly, and in a way that really established ourselves as a unique player. And so the biggest thing someone could think of was, well, what if we put our name on a stadium. And it seemed crazy at the time, but then we did it and we put our name on the Miami Heat stadium, the FTX Arena. It was an amazing deal, the right place at the right time, because we got to also work with Miami Dade County on many of their anti-gun violence initiatives. So it was a really good fit. And short time after that, we did two other big deals. One was with Tom Brady and the other one was with the Major League Baseball.
And for those, first of all, Tom Brady being this universally loved and respected individual for just his incredible talent and drive. And then for Major League Baseball for being this time modern institution. I think it, the signal to people was imagine what it took, what kind of due diligence was required for an institution like Major League Baseball to come trust FTX, crypto exchange no one’s ever heard of. And let alone do anything in crypto. That’s how I think we were able to sort of catapult ourselves into the US market very quickly was through this somewhat non-traditional way of doing this brand marketing. And since then, it’s been amazing. I mean, we went from 10,000 customers at the beginning of 2021 to like 1.2 million customers at the end of 2021. So a huge growth in a very short period of time, on the eve of some of our new product offerings that we’re launching. So pretty excited about the growth so far.
What’s very interesting for me on this, apart from just the growth of FTX.US in general, is this is against the grain for, I would say, the last 20 years of marketing. Which is that you really want to focus on identifying your core demographic, activating that core demographic, using them as voices and ambassadors. And this is the way that most crypto exchanges, and honestly, most cryptocurrencies have gone about growth as well. They’ve said let’s put a bunch of resources into the very narrow domain things that are working, and then it will be an organic growth kind of coming out of that.
And you normally see something like branding rights for an arena or a major partnership with MLB or some, or any sports team, something along those lines as being something that a company that isn’t trying to educate customers, but is just looking for general awareness, goes through. Right? Staples Center, UBS, all the big banks have their names on these places. Not because they’re trying to differentiate Bank of America’s products versus Chase’s products, but because they want general awareness. What was that process like to say, “Okay, we’ve got a stadium, but no one knows what crypto is still.” What’s that part two of that strategy?
Yeah. I think we had to rewrite the playbook there. Because we don’t yet know what the right demographic is for crypto, but also we don’t want to pre-select a demographic. I mean, the whole spirit of crypto is to enable people to have access to investment opportunities, wealth creation, control over your personal finances in ways that have typically been difficult for many parts of the country. And if we just sort of start by saying, okay, well, who is the most obvious demographic to target for this? And let’s just run Facebook ads that target them. I think it sort of misses the point. We’re here to educate people, as you said, about not just the investment class, but also the promises of the technology itself. The fact that this will represent a new way of building internet based applications, in ways that allow people to share in the upside of those applications. It’s going to enable for greater robustness and stability by using decentralized technology.
I think these are all things that it’s going to be difficult to teach people over time, but we have to start somewhere. And that starts with a general awareness. And it starts with trust, right? People have to understand that we are a very legitimate company. We are highly regulated, contrary to popular belief. We have, between FTX and FTX.US, we have something like a hundred different regulators. We have 50 different licenses. We need to be able to break through the noise and convey that to people. And that’s why we started more on this general awareness. And now we’re doing some of the other stuff. Like we’re starting now to run some Google ads. We’re starting to go for iOS App Store placements and traditional SEO. And we’re doing that now that we have the product that we like and we’re happy with where it is, although we’re always trying to improve it. And we’ve built that general awareness and trust.
Yeah. So, so you mentioned that you are both in a highly regulated industry and yourselves, highly regulated, by various regulators who look at the industry. FTX has, over the last year, put itself at the forefront of regulation in crypto in the US. You and Chainalysis are right up there together, testifying in front of Congress, and also putting out this FTX policy proposal that came out, was that six months ago or so, as well. What was the decision making process like internally to say, this is something that not only do we want to engage with, but to actually make a decision to be a face of. There are many exchanges that operate in the US. None of them have necessarily taken that as the mantle, as proactively, we are going to put ourself in this position. I’m sure that was both risky, and you saw a lot of opportunity in that process.
Yeah, absolutely. So there’s the part that’s specific to FTX and the part that’s general. Starting with the part that’s specific, we would like to be able to offer an array of different products and services in the US. Some of those has to do with spot cryptocurrencies. Regulation in the US for spot cryptocurrencies are not well defined. And that is because of the two market regulators that exist in the US, and the US is one of the few countries in the world that actually has two separate market regulators not one, the SEC and the CFTC, the lines of jurisdiction over digital spot assets are not very well drawn. That’s not true for traditional securities like Apple and Tesla and US government bonds, which is regulated by the SEC. And it’s not true for the CFTC, which regulates commodity futures, and other sort of broad based index futures, and sometimes security futures as well in conjunction with the SEC. But for actual things like Bitcoin to USD spot markets, it’s not clear.
And what we want to do is help shape that regulation, such that we can safely innovate and offer products that also protect consumers. And in terms of how we influence regulation, do so in a way that doesn’t push all of the intellectual property and all that innovation overseas. I mean, you guys know this too, that so much of the intellectual property, the founders, the CEOs, the developers come from the United States. And then ultimately move themselves to somewhere outside the United States because they don’t feel like they have a safe place to be able to build their business and to be an entrepreneur. We really want to help that. So I think that kind of actually combines both sort of specific and general of what I wanted to say.
Which is that on the specific front, we want to be able to offer all the spot tokens that we think are appropriate. We want to be able to list CFTC regulated margin derivative products in the US for US customers. We want to maybe eventually do more innovative, ambitious things like create tokenized stocks or tokenized treasuries. But then, at the same time, we want to make sure the playing field is great for all crypto participants in the US. And they really want to stay here and work here and build here, because we just think that’s going to be good for the country. Now what’s been interesting for us in this journey of being this sort of public face of regulation and policy, is that what we found is the most effective thing that we can do as a company is just showing up in person. You’d be surprised how many companies, and this is not just crypto, send these large teams of lobbyists and lawyers to Washington hoping to sort of engage in policy discussions.
And I’m not in the room for those, but I imagine some of those come off as disingenuous. Or there are cases where you can’t really get in the weeds of a conversation because the right stakeholders aren’t in the room. The fact that Sam and Zach and Ryan and Mark and I just sort of like go to Washington, and email the Fed or the Treasury or members of the House or the Senate or the executive branch, and just show up and talk to them. And say like, “We don’t have an agenda. We’re just here to answer questions. We know we’re in the education phase.” Same thing with regulators. We talk with the CFTC, SEC, FINRA. It is just great to show up in person and show that we are open honest people who really want to engage in dialogue. It’s been so useful for everyone involved. And I think that’s really helped shift the narrative of crypto being like anti-regulatory or anti-government in some way. And that’s been really helpful.
Do you see this as something that you’re primarily, obviously there’s a lot of upside for FTX in getting greater clarity around regulations and having a legal framework that it can operate in with more definition around it. At the same time you look across at other industries, the credit card industry, the banking industry, agriculture, et cetera. They have very well defined and powerful industry groups at this point. And you often see like a lot of the big banks in the US moving in lockstep with one another. How closely does FTX work with other large exchanges in the United States or other people in the crypto space? And if that’s not really as mature as it is in other industries, why do you think that is right now?
Yeah. Great question. We do to some extent. We do more now than we did before. It’s almost certainly not enough. And partly it’s because this industry is very new, and it’s not super well defined exactly what we need, and there’s differing opinions of how we get there. I also think that crypto has done itself a bit of a disservice in the past by being somewhat hostile to regulatory involvement. And you see this a lot on Twitter. And I think it’s not super productive. We want to be able to create a market environment that allows for all participants to participate in a way that it safeguards them. And to just completely throw away a hundred years of regulatory development to think that we can just sort of do the whole thing better from scratch, with no protections, is almost certainly not right.
At the same time, I’m very sympathetic to the idea that you could, through the act of regulatory requirements, end up excluding individuals for not good reasons. For example, there’s a lot of people who criticize KYC by saying there might be disenfranchised people who don’t have good drivers licenses. And so therefore they can’t KYC with an exchange. And so you’re actually excluding a certain segment of the population by doing so. And I think we are receptive to those arguments. And so we would like to be able to push the envelope forward with crypto and allow the greatest number of people to participate without prejudice. But we have to engage collaboratively and cooperatively with regulators to do so.
And so we are now starting to talk a lot more with the other competitors in the space about what are our shared goals for regulation? What do we think about who should be regulating us? What do we think policies would look like in the areas of spot tokens, of stable coins, of listing procedures, of licensing for exchanges. And I think that we’re making progress there. Because the thing we’ve heard all the time in Washington is, okay this proposal of yours sounds great, but it can’t be just the FTX proposal. Washington’s not in the business of picking winners and losers in industry. We want to see you guys come together as an industry. And so that’s, it’s going to be critical for us going forward. And it’s not just the exchanges. I mean, it’s the protocol tokens, it’s the stable coin providers, the infrastructure providers, miners. Sort of all across the board, I think we just need to come together more as an industry.
Yeah. It’s one of those things where you look at the Web 2.0 industry, and I think it’s probably pretty obvious that they say at this point that their unwillingness to come together around issues of establishing common frameworks for content moderation, common frameworks for when a user should be banned from a platform, those sorts of things have really opened them up to a lot of attacks from Washington about… You see these hearings in the Senate all the time when they’re talking one company, why your policy different from another company? And then there’s a void there, where the regulators and Congress aren’t really sure how to write a law, but they have a lot of ideas about what could be changed. Given the decentralized nature of crypto, there’s one level where it’s like, there are these centralized companies like FTX, like Coinbase, like Kraken, like Chainalysis that are on one side of things.
But then there’s organizations like Solana Labs or the Solana Foundation, which have a very different role and place in the market. And don’t always necessarily have the same incentive alignment in those sort of areas. One of the beautiful things about FTX is, or any exchange, is that it’s a entity which makes money on the aggregate state of cryptocurrency. And so the specific whims of one network is not necessarily of huge concern to it. For example, the shutting out of a certain type of user, based on a KYC requirement, is much less of a burden in the United States or for something like an exchange, then it might be for… Like if you have to KYC every user, that’s not a problem. If Audius has to KYC every user, that actually puts them at a significant disadvantage compared to a competitor like a Spotify. How do you think about both the role of the policy work FTX does within the exchange industry and the wider crypto industry in general?
It’s interesting to think about where we need to head as an industry together. I think a lot about the role of CeFi and DeFi and how they interplay. I think there’s a lot of people online who sort of draw this very bright line between them. And it’s like, if you’re on the left side, you’re a centralized player and you are completely antithetical to the whole point of crypto. And if you’re on the right side, you’re part of the golden club and true decentralization means there can never be anyone who touches anything involving like regulation or identification or safeguards and things like this. And I think, again, these are the kinds of counterproductive discussions I was talking about earlier. I think that we need each other to grow.
The more DeFi grows, the more equitable access to financial markets will continue to grow around the world. And the more the need for centralized regulated players, like FTX, who kind of bridge the gap between the traditional financial system and DeFi, will play that role as well. As far as regulation goes, you’re right. It’s not clear where you go with a project like Audius. And you like it to be such that it’s the same as Spotify, but then you get into these tricky issues of like, well, what is the Audius token? And how does that interplay with who can actually buy and sell that token and interact with the system in some way? You have more ambitious projects, on the topic of music, like can we create tokens for songs where people can receive token distributions for the number of plays that occur? And does that make it sort of like a dividend and a securities offering? Well, I don’t know. And this sort of is very difficult to understand.
But there are two strategies when it comes to regulation for a company like Audius. And so one strategy is to sort of move as fast as possible and try to always stay like a step ahead of regulation. And eventually, maybe the feeling and the ecosystem around DeFi regulation catches up to an Audius and everything is okay. It allows us to do what it does, and it was worth the risk because they got to innovate very quickly and become a profitable business. But that comes with its risks, that maybe regulation catches up to it in a bad way, and says, “You shouldn’t have been doing this all along. And please give me all your profits back from the last couple years.”
There’s another way, which is sort to walk in the front door, and be sort of transparent and obvious about what you’re trying to do, and to try to operate within the regulatory envelope of some jurisdiction, and try to get this properly vetted and allowed to occur. And that has the benefit of sort of establishing clear rules and allowing for other companies to tread similar paths. On the other hand that could slow you down. And if you have one of these competitors, that’s going to run as fast as possible, you might lose to them, even though you’re doing the right thing.
So there’s not really a right answer here. And this is sort of a tricky space for DeFi. I will say in either case, I do think it’s worth it for these DeFi projects for Solana Labs, for the founders and companies involved, and this kind of entrepreneurship, people in the United States should really start going to Washington more and just explaining what this stuff is. I mean, people kind of get what Bitcoin is, but people do not understand what Solana is and why it’s different. And that should change. People should understand what Solana is, what all these other layer 1s are, these layer 2s are. What these different token projects are. Why they’re interesting. Why they’re useful. Why they represent a departure from Web 2.0. Why that’s important. Why that needs to be fostered and why that needs to be grown. I think that would be something that we could continue to work together on, as industry participants, is the education piece.
So changing topics a little, we’ve seen FTX.US try and enter a few different, I would say different markets than are necessarily like the original core. So one of those was the NFT marketplace. I think there’s been it probably mixed success in that. One of the things that I found fascinating is how different NFT culture is from crypto culture. Obviously it’s a subset, but a lot of the applications and the platforms that have been very strong from a crypto trading perspective, in terms of fungible digital assets have not had much success in the non fungible space. And the non fungible marketplaces have either had no interest or no success in moving into the fungible asset space. Talk a little bit about some of the learnings that you guys had in that process and how that’s informing the decisions of where FTX expands into in the future.
Yeah, it’s fascinating. So I personally worked on the NFT marketplace a lot for us. And when we entered this space, we thought there’s not enough competition for Solana NFT marketplaces. There was really only one at the time. And we thought, this is definitely an area that’s ripe for disruption. We were not wrong. But at the same time we did it, six other players did it. And they were able to move a lot faster for a number of reasons. First of all, they were able to really focus all of their energy on the user experience, which was super important. The second is that they were just sort of deeply in that culture and they were able to create, continue creating that NFT culture, in a way that like you have to spend 150% of your time on that to be able to actually really keep up with it and get what’s going on.
And the third was the decentralized nature of it. Whereas most of the trading in fungible assets is occurring on centralized exchanges in a custodial fashion. Just about all the NFTs are trading in a non-custodial fashion. Hook up MetaMask to OpenSea, you list your asset, you’re done. And so I think we were disadvantaged by trying to, although I don’t regret it at all, walk the sort of regulatory path of requiring people to custodian their NFTs with FTX in order to list them. And then we do proper KYC, and we make sure you’re not like transferring an NFT from North Korea or something. So this is what we chose to do. And I think we ultimately lost out a little bit on that, but we’re still very happy to have done it for a number of reasons.
So first is that NFTs have been an important part of our various partnerships, like getting to do this really cool NFT drop with Coachella or for Formula 1. And having that as a platform has been very beneficial to us, even if we’re not competing on Bored Ape Yacht Club. The second is that we have this longer term vision that majority of NFTs will not be in these like art or PFP collections. It will be in things like games. And to do that, you have to really build a platform and your average Tier One AAA game studio is not going to partner with a non-custodial solution. If they think it’s going to hurt their regulatory standing at all. And so we’re kind of building things out from the B2B platform side. With a hope that’s actually going to be where this technology actually takes us. And so it’s been definitely a learning experience for us and humbling in a lot of ways.
So let’s kind of talk about that a little bit. In a future where US regulations relax, and that there’s a framework that allows for a little bit more flexibility and a little more certainty throughout it. We’ve seen over the last few months a rise in cross-chain DEX swaps. Whether that’s enabled through something like Wormhole or whether it’s these organizations that are sort of rolling a bit of their own solution. How do you see the competitive world, between what a centralized exchange offers and what a decentralized exchange, can offer evolving over time? I think in the early days of decentralized exchanges, a lot of people were like, oh, these are totally going to kill centralized exchanges. And we obviously have not seen that to be the case. But for a long time, the moat was described as being like, well, I can’t swap my SOL into Eth on anything other than a centralized exchange, but we’re seeing that change. So I’m sure this is a strategy that you’ve mapped out internally. What does that look like for you guys?
I think you probably give us a little bit too much credit. I’m not sure we’ve like completely mapped out the strategy. I mean, between FTX, FTX.US, FTX Ventures, I think we have various either monetary or intellectual capital investments in a bunch of these spaces. Like FTX Ventures invests in a lot of DeFi and different bridging solutions. FTX itself is benefits and more people trading on our centralized exchange. And so we want to kind of to be able to benefit from the growth of both. I mean, again, we sort of see that, no matter what, FTX is going to be one of the major places to link up with traditional financial system. Like if you want to get Mexican Peso onto a blockchain, you’re going to have to do this going through someone who can actually hook up to a Mexican bank.
It’s just going to be required.
But in terms of like you want to swap Eth for SOL then, yeah, I think there’s going to be a couple different ways to do that. And I can sort of see the benefits and drawbacks of each one. One thing I think is sort of obvious, and I think people understand it but they don’t talk about it enough, is the fact that DeFi still has a long way to go. Primarily because the entirety of the code is sort of laid bare for all to see at all times. Usually if you have a financial application and it has a bug, you’re sort of protected by the network. And by network, I don’t mean network of people who use it, I mean like the actual switches and routers that prevent certain kinds of traffic from getting in. And you have your moat around your application. And if there’s a bug, you patch it and you’re done.
With DeFi, if there’s the slightest bug, your whole smart contract gets exploited, and the funds are drained, and you’re sort of back at square one. And again, I think that the discourse around Defi or CeFi as being kind of incompatible, has probably done DeFi a disservice in terms of its growth. Where probably some slight hybrid approach of building out smart contracts, iterating on them for like a long time, but doing so in a way that’s sort of safe and secure, and doesn’t mean that the first side of a bug means you are going to be drained, until it gets to the point where it’s highly stable. And then you start to relax some of the centralized aspects. You follow the goal of making it completely decentralized, completely open, no intermediaries, and kind of get there over time. But I think the people who do that now would be criticized as being like too centralized. Everyone thinks everyone else is too centralized.
So I think we have a lot that we can do together is what I’m trying to say. Whether it’s us helping with KYC, or it’s providing sort of the regulated entry points into DeFi. Whether it’s helping create sort of these hybrid solutions between DeFi and CeFi, that will, I think, help DeFi grow over time. So we’re trying to foster that innovation in a bunch of different ways.
I would also say that if we are in a place where CeFi versus DeFi is a zero sum game, we’ve all astronomically succeeded as an industry.
That’s still probably a five to 10 year away, before there are no new users left to onboard and instead a battle for who actually has those users’ attention.
Even CeFi versus CeFi is not a zero sum game.
There’s a story that when ICE listed certain versions of energy contracts, that were being traded on the CME, the day they did that, CME volume went through the roof and the largest trading volume times per day were the times where the two overlapped with each other. And this is obviously because arbitrageurs came into the space and were interested and started trading the two off of each other. I think we cannot just have one centralized exchange. We need a bunch. And we will grow the pie together. And so, yeah, we’re very, very far away from a zero sum nature of crypto, which is why I like crypto so much.
So actually to that extent, I think there’s a built in assumption there, which is that we need multiple centralized exchanges. And that is a, I think, a very valid assumption, but in some ways that comes from a world that predates computerized global interoperable connectivity. And that the idea that arbitrage opportunities should exist between comparable, centralized financial exchanges feels a little outdated, honestly. That the thesis of Solana as one global state machine to settle all of the world’s trades and information, that’s a very compelling, decentralized narrative story, but you can also see the exact same thing where you would have interoperable order books between something like FTX and Coinbase. Is that anything that, are there conversations anywhere about building some of those interconnectivities that you see in the traditional equities world still, within like centralized crypto exchanges? Because there is no NYSE for centralized crypto exchanges yet.
I have actually the complete opposite take to what you’re describing here, which is US equity markets have to abide by this rule called reg, or regulation, NMS, or National Market System, where you have to fill a customer quote at the best price seen on any exchange, any one of the lit exchanges, of which they’re like 15 now. So that means like, let’s say you want to go send an order to NASDAQ and NASDAQ thinks that they are one penny behind the price on BATS. Well then NYSE either has to reject your order or route your order to bats and get filled. There’s a big problem with this. Actually, there are multiple big problems with this, in my opinion.
One is that light is not infinitely fast. And so what is the kind of prevailing quote is going to depend on where you are. Because of those 15 exchanges, some of them are in Secaucus, New Jersey. Some of them are in Carteret, New Jersey. Some of them are in Mahwah, New Jersey. Some of them are in Chicago, Illinois. And so there’s no one place where you can have the absolute truth of what the best quote is. And even above that, the second big problem here is you have to pay a lot of money just to get the market data required to make that determination. And then third, if you’re going to do that, some HFT with slightly faster hardware and market data is going to detect that routing and probably beat you there. And they’re going to profit off that opportunity.
While I think that NMS was well intentioned at the time that it was created, which was somewhat before the real advent of electronic markets, now that we have electronic markets, I actually think that NMS has added a lot of complication, and fixed cost, and deadweight loss to the system of equities, and made things like very difficult to sort of spin up as a new exchange. Compared to, in crypto where there was never like an NMS routing between exchanges, but there doesn’t really need to be because there’s someone whose job it is to arbitrage between the exchanges and keep them in line. And they’re paid naturally for the job of doing that. And so the market forces keep the exchanges in line and that works extremely well, and makes crypto very low cost and low barrier to entry for new participants.
You don’t have to hook up to every single exchange. You don’t need to send your market data to some central thing, which has to display the quotes everywhere. And you can’t accept orders, if it doesn’t look like it’s on the top of the book of that far away aggregator. It means that exchanges can exist sort of more globally instead of all being centralized mostly in New Jersey or something like that.
So there’s been so many benefits to that. And then the other thing I want to say about this is, look, there’s never going to be just one of anything. The only real way to kind of get rid of an arbitrage opportunity is to only have literally one order book. And even on Solana, you have different order books for SOL, USDC. And some of them might be kind of built off of similar primitives, but there’s still going to end up being kind of arbitrage things between this swapping tool and this DEX order book and this centralized exchange, it’s always going to exist.
And so I think we should just thank the arbitrageurs for their service and just be happy with the fact that we can have multiple marketplaces. I think that’s the ultimately right thing for competition.
Do you think crypto needs market hours?
We’ll never get them, but I’m curious if you think it would help or hurt the industry?
No, I don’t. One thing I’ve kicked around in my head at some points is, something like whether one time per day, there should be an auction. Basically like a five second freeze or something, where people can submit bids and offers. And there’s like a single kind of auction type clearing event that establishes an official mark for the day in that crypto. And there’s a lot of different market structure theory between whether an auction type mechanism or a continuous trading mechanism is ultimately better and fair for our participants. And there’s just lots of research in both directions. But that could be interesting to me to have some sort of discontinuous event, maybe once per day. It would help for things like ETFs that want to sort of mark their basket to sort of a day over day performance and they need sort of an official closing mark, and it would be nice to have sort of a single auction event for that. But I don’t feel strongly about that at all. And in general, I think that 24/7 markets are the way that every other market has to go.
Yeah. I agree with you on that. So I put out a call on Twitter that was like, oh, what are people most interested in learning about from FTX, apart from a rundown of all of your cats, which we don’t have time for today. One of the ones is what is the process of evaluating the listing of a token looks like. Obviously replies are full of people shilling their specific coin. But there are also some real genuine questions in there about like, you see Coinbase having taken a very, very sharp turn in what the criteria they use for listing a token is over the course of the last 12 months. How do you and FTX.US think about that?
So we have taken the position, as a company, that we would like to be very conservative on token listings in the US. And that is because a lot of the issues we talked about earlier in the podcast about the regulatory uncertainty around what US based crypto companies are allowed and not allowed to list. And I think there might become a point at which listing criteria becomes clearly well defined by regulators, at which point we will basically take as much risk as it allowed to us. But for now we think about what is our comparative advantage as a company? Is it to list the long tail of 500 tokens? Or is it some of these other things that we’re doing that maybe some of our competitors are not going to be able to do in the short term? So the biggest one for us is listing Bitcoin and Ether futures for US customers.
And we think that has such a greater potential to improve the health of the market. Give people opportunities for hedging risk, and being able to get capital efficient exposure, and to be able to trade the spot versus the future and capture the basis. This is much more important to us than listing that 200th asset on CoinMarketCap. And we’re concerned that some of our actions in the latter might jeopardize our success in the former.
So we’re just sort of, we have different risk profiles in the different aspects of what we want to do. And that’s part of the decision there as well. We’re also moving very much into some non crypto things. Like we’re a student launching a stocks trading platform that’s going to be vanilla US stocks through a broker dealer, all trading through like an exchange that’s not ours. So we have just sort of different ways of thinking about diversifying our product set. And for now, I think as long as the regulatory environment remains this unclear, we’re going to stay on the conservative side of that.
One kind of last question before we wrap up here. With the amount of market volatility we have seen in the last few weeks here, the sort of precipitous drop in the first half of May, what are you excited for and hopeful for about the future of this industry in the United States?
Yeah, it’s natural for these times of great volatility and certain assets dropping a lot in value, for people to sort of turn inward and maybe lose sight of the broader mission. And we have to remember that we are building a generational opportunity for technology and for wealth creation. And many have already benefited from this, but we have much more to go on all the promises that we have. I mean, just think about how one of the main things people have talked about for crypto is creating this kind of global payments network for people to sort of cheaply or freely send money for remittances and things like this. I think we have yet to really fulfill that promise. So regardless of where asset prices go, we have to, as everyone says, keep building.
And we’re just excited for people to continue to push forward and continue to sort of responsibly innovate, and hopefully show people in the United States, especially policy makers, that even though assets can be volatile… I mean, equities have lost more money in value in the last month than crypto has, and people sort of forget that sometimes. But in spite of downward cycles in markets, there’s a real intrinsic value to what we’re all doing here. It’s not just pure speculation. And we need to do everything we can to keep that going, and keep building, and keep investing.
Well, Brett, thank you so much for joining us today on the Solana podcast.
Yeah. Thanks for having me on.