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How Two Army Buddies Became Crypto Pioneers in Southeast Asia

Coinhako co-founder and CEO Yusho Liu recounts the startup’s early days and how they overcame early hurdles to become a dominant crypto player in the region.

By SGN | 8 Sep 2022

Years before they became fintech co-founders, Yusho and Gerry met as officer cadets during national service. 

“We were both in the combat engineering vocation,” Yusho recalls, “and though we went on to different units, we remained close as army buddies and stayed in touch, even throughout university.” 

While undergraduates, the pair started to explore Bitcoin investing, back when there weren’t any good avenues to buy crypto in Singapore. Gerry, a software engineer, set about building a platform of his own, then roped Yusho in to see how they could grow the project together. This led to an early incarnation of Coinhako in 2014, with Yusho and Gerry taking on the respective roles of CEO and CTO. 

Very quickly, however, the duo experienced firsthand how ruthlessly volatile the crypto environment can be. The collapse of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox – the largest Bitcoin exchange at the time – caused a loss of their personal monies and threatened to shutter their budding enterprise. 

“We had to figure out a way to raise capital,” Yusho shares. “Since nobody in Singapore was investing in this space back then, we flew to the US to seek out investors.” And so they went to America to pitch their vision for Coinhako: to be a trusted platform in Asia where users can easily convert fiat currency to Bitcoin, and vice versa. 

Their fundraising trip turned out to be a success. “We secured an initial incubation investment from Boost VC, a crypto-focused venture capital firm, and additional funding from Tim Draper, a prominent American venture capitalist, as our vision and strategy resonated strongly with him.” 

Eight years on, Yusho and Gerry have successfully built the leading crypto exchange and wallet service in Singapore, through which retail investors can gain access to a whole slew of cryptocurrencies. 

The results are impressive. In 2021, Coinhako’s trading volume amounted to $7 billion, while its customer base had grown around 500% year-on-year to nearly 400,000 users. Currently, the team is looking to expand their headcount of 200 while bringing on strategic investors to help Coinhako enter markets across Southeast Asia. 

Yusho was a panellist at the Singapore Fintech Festival 2021.

Firm believers in crypto education

Despite incidents of fraudulent behaviour – such as Mt. Gox – where bad actors give crypto a bad name, Yusho and Gerry have never lost faith in the blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrency and decentralised finance (DeFi). 

But they firmly believe in the importance of education. “As investors, we always have to do our due diligence,” Yusho notes. “I think there’s much room for education in the crypto and blockchain space, so that people don’t just jump into it purely out of hype but have a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts before they make the decision to invest.” 

He says education is a key focus for the company this year. Coinhako has been conducting crypto 101 sharing sessions at large corporations to demystify blockchain technology, as well as producing FAQs, newsletters, blog posts and opinion pieces to reach a wider, more general audience. 

The firm also works closely with law enforcement in proactively detecting and intercepting crypto scams. “To date, our compliance team has, together with the Singapore Police Force’s Anti-Scam Centre (ASC), salvaged over a million dollars in Singaporeans’ money,” Yusho shares. 

Coinhako received the Singapore Police Force Community Partnership Award in 2021.

Crypto is permeating culture

Beyond trading and investment, Coinhako is deeply interested in the ways that crypto is permeating culture and giving rise to the Web3 economy, particularly through non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

“Brands today are increasingly using NFTs for consumer engagement,” Yusho says, “and we’re seeing a lot of our users open crypto accounts for gaming or to support artists on NFT marketplaces.” 

As the Web3 ecosystem matures, he sees Coinhako developing new verticals to serve the needs of the crypto ecosystem and devising ways to make the process of acquiring NFTs easier, even for non-technical users. 

Within the past year, Coinhako has explored creative Web3 partnerships, becoming the first crypto firm to sponsor an esports team in Singapore and co-presenting the country’s first large-scale NFT exhibition at Fine Art Storage Services at Le Freeport. 

In a follow-up to the exhibition, Coinhako has invested in a new project called Co-Museum which upends the traditional model of the art museum and places ownership of works into the hands of art lovers. 

Yusho receiving the Singapore Business Review National Business Award in the financial services category in May 2022.

Growing the crypto capital of Asia

Since Singapore’s Payment Services Act – a landmark regulatory framework for crypto innovation – took effect in January 2020, numerous digital asset firms have been vying to establish their presence here. Out of nearly 600 applicants, however, only a handful have been awarded a digital payment token (DPT) services licence by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to operate in cryptocurrencies. Coinhako was one of them. 

“Coinhako has always taken a compliance-first approach in our business,” Yusho says. “Being one of the first few to be issued the DPT licence by MAS is a validation of our trustworthiness and reliability.” 

He notes the emergence of a wide range of companies forming the crypto value chain – from mining hardware to security auditing to law firms that specialise in crypto regulations. Many token projects or initial coin offerings (ICOs) in the region (e.g. Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines) have their operations headquartered in Singapore. 

Aside from regulatory clarity and friendliness, he says crypto players are drawn to Singapore’s good governance, sound banking infrastructure, and abundance of legal and professional services. 

“We also have a sturdy pipeline of talent in this industry,” Yusho says. “The fact that a lot of smart builders, brilliant tech talent and top graduates today are coming into this space makes me very bullish about the future of Web3. 

“Singapore is well established as an innovation hub, and it is set to lead the way in the realm of crypto. As more companies, funds, family offices, and financial institutions grow their presence here, Singapore will be a major force in driving global crypto adoption.” 

Meet Yusho

Yusho is the co-founder and CEO of Coinhako, where he drives corporate strategy, investor relations and business development. He is also a founding member of the Association of Cryptocurrency Enterprises and Startups Singapore (ACCESS). 

Connect with him here

Meet Gerry

Gerry is the co-founder and CTO of Coinhako, where he leads the technological development and business support functions of the cryptocurrency platform. He is a seasoned software engineer with over a decade of experience in systems design. 

Connect with him here

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