Jean Amiony co-founded Shakepay in 2015 after seeing a need for Canadians to have more control over their wealth. After exchanging a couple of emails, we were able to do this interview via google meet on September 23, 2020 (Wednesday @12pm). The duration of this interview was 19 minutes and 46 seconds.
Urgen Kuyee (UK): Hi Jean, thanks so much for doing this man.
Jean Amiouny (JA): No problem.
UK: Why don’t you let my readers know a little about yourself? Which school did you go to? What did you do before Shakepay?
JA: Sure. I went to McGill University from 2009 to 2013 and got my engineering degree. Before Shakepay, we did prepaid debit cards. If you google Shakepay, you will start seeing things like a prepaid debit card and then things got shut down. I mean there is a bit of story behind what we are doing at Shakepay and why.
UK: How did Shakepay start? How long ago?
JA: We started Shakepay five years ago. Shakepay started with two guys in Montreal, we are both from Montreal. We went to the same university and studied together. Roy, who is my co-founder, was working in the financial division at Morgan Stanley. What really got me excited about Bitcoin was its programmable aspect. I am a developer, I am an engineer. I found it exciting that you would be able to program money.
One of the things we take for granted in the Bitcoin space is that you don’t need anyone’s permission. You can download a node, run a script, and you are now moving money across borders. I was really excited about that. The economics and its profound effect on the world comes after you learn that you could just run a script, move money across borders and no one could stop you. I found that to be really powerful and that’s what really got me into Bitcoin.
So, I approached my buddy Roy and we started Shakepay as a side project, working on week nights and on weekends. There is this bar in Montreal, basically a student bar, lots of young folks and we are talking about this bitcoin idea. The waitress comes over and gives us the check for the beer. And, we say, “Hey, can we pay in Bitcoin?” This was in 2014, maybe 2015, this was before the big price jump in 2017. No one knows really what Bitcoin is. She looks at us and says, “What?” She shows the terminal on our face. And, that gave us the idea that it could be really cool if we can use our bitcoin to pay for our day-to-day transactions. And, that’s what initiated the company that Shakepay is today. We’ve since moved away from the prepaid debit card and are now the easiest way for Canadians to buy and sell Bitcoin, allowing our customers to own their first bitcoin in under ten minutes.
UK: A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Shakepay saying you guys have passed 100,000 customers. Huge congrats. Why do you think more Canadians are buying Bitcoin?
JA: Thanks but let me ask you, why are you buying Bitcoin?
UK: I first bought Bitcoin in 2017 when the price of Bitcoin was over $25,000. I mean I bought a small amount, less than $1000 just to see how this new technology works. But the past couple of months, I have bought way more. Why? We are all seeing trillions of fiat money being printed out of thin air. Especially after COVID happened and money kept being printed so I wanted to have Bitcoin in my portfolio and use it as a hedge against inflation. I would say that is the primary reason. I am long Bitcoin for sure.
JA: Most Canadians are buying Bitcoin for the same reason. Canadians want to protect themselves against inflation. I am Lebanese and I am not sure if you heard what happened to the Lebanese currency (Lira). Lebanon is now in the midst of the worst economic crisis in modern history. The Lira had an inflation rate over 50% and the fiat currency is failing right in front of us. And this is happening around the world to varying degrees. Bitcoin offers a solution to this, and we’re happy to be helping Canadians access it.
UK: I have experience using Coinbase and Quadriga as well before it got dissolved but I am taken aback by the transaction speed of Shakepay. How do you guys make it so fast? I remember withdrawing my Bitcoin from Shakepay and transferring it to my wallet. It was super quick. What is the magic sauce?
JA: Well, I am not telling you our sauce. But, we have leveraged e-Transfer technology that’s existed for a long time here in Canada. The idea behind why we wanted to go on the e-Transfer route was it’s usually what Canadians use to pay each other. It is the peer to peer protocol in Canada. It is used to pay rent, pay someone back for dinner. It is usually done through an e-transfer so Canadians are used to sending e-Transfers. So, we decided, “Hey let’s see what we can do with the e-Transfer protocol”.
The fundamental reason why we went down this road was because we wanted to emulate how fast it would be to transact on the blockchain and wanted to bring it quickly to the fiat space. We have automated a lot of things in our system. I mean in the early days, we would initiate a lot of things when they would come in by hand. Now, things kinda go in and out automatically. Without getting too much into the details, it’s really gotten to a point where we have built a whole system behind just depositing and withdrawals of Interac e-Transfers. That’s why 24/7, it will hit your bank account right away. If there is any delay, it is usually because Interac e-Transfer sometimes puts a delay on sending out, it’s just a notification you would get when you receive an e-Transfer.
UK: Yeah, I was wowed for sure. The e-Transfers are on fire.
JA: Thank you.
UK: Which city has the most client base for Shakepay? Is it Montreal? Toronto? Vancouver? Calgary?
JA: I would say it is scattered all over the cities. I mean Shakepay is a Montreal based company so we do have lots of clients from Montreal. But we have customers from all over, from east coast to west coast to the Arctic. Like, we have clients from Yukon buying Bitcoin via Shakepay.
UK: That’s awesome. You need to fly to Yukon and give a presentation about bitcoin man.
JA: Hey, I would love to.
UK: You are walking around downtown Toronto, let’s say in Bay Street. You meet a 62 year old banker and he has no idea what Bitcoin is. How would you explain Bitcoin to him?
JA: It’s funny you ask this because we have 82 year old grandmothers buying Bitcoin at Shakepay and then, they are teaching their grand kids about Bitcoin. Isn’t that awesome? They know what bitcoin is and they know how the internet works. But for the banker, I would say something like Bitcoin is this money that exists for the people, it exists with the people and no government can control it. I believe Bitcoin will change the world.
UK: If one of my friends or co-worker wants to learn more about Bitcoin, where do I send him or her? Where do you learn more about Bitcoin?
JA: I would ask your friend to watch Andreas Antonopoulos on YouTube, he has lots of awesome videos. I would tell your friend to read his books as well, especially Mastering Bitcoin. I highly suggest reading Mastering Bitcoin. For myself, I would say twitter. You have heard about Andreas, right?
UK: Yes, I have watched a couple of his YouTube videos. I would also add, I have learned a lot from twitter as well. The amount of good quality, free content on twitter is awesome.
JA: I would also send your friend to Shakepay learn blog. It is an educational blog and has a bunch of blog posts about how to do things in Bitcoin. One of them is how to generate private keys and own your currency. We very much believe in that. We don’t want you storing your Bitcoin on Shakepay. We want you to learn how to be self-sovereign, to run your own keys, and to own your own wealth. We also cover the mining fees. We somewhat incentivize you to take your Bitcoin off Shakepay. We have built our system to incentivize people to learn how to be self-sovereign and we believe that.
UK: Last question, where can people find you?
JA: People can find me on twitter @aiouy
UK: Thanks Jean for your time. Be safe out there.
JA: Thank you, Urgen.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Thanks to Jean Amiouny for his contributions, all errors are mine.