Damian Merlak, who together with his business partner co-founded Bitstamp in 2011, has just became the 6th richest businessman in Slovenia. The list was published last week by the leading financial magazine and we had a chance today to have a quick chat with him. This is what he said.
What is your background and how did you get involved in cryptocurrencies?
I developed passion for software development very early, at the age of 13. During the college years I started professionally working as a software developer for different companies and in 2011 my co-worker told me to take a look at something called “Bitcoin”. At first I wasn’t very interested, but after a few months as I watched the price go up it caught my attention. I bought some Bitcoins at first.
As I explored the technology behind Bitcoin I created a small mining rig in my basement. Back then you mined Bitcoins using GPUs and the software was full of bugs, so you really had to fix things all the time.
That was also the time when Mt.Gox was the only real exchange to buy or sell Bitcoins in the world, so me and my business partner Nejc Kodric had an idea. We did some math and predicted that Mt.Gox must be making $10.000 daily. All we had to do was to be as good as they were, and we could take home $10.000 every single day. A few months later we had a working exchange which we launched under the name Bitstamp. Later, Bitstamp became the largest Bitcoin exchange in the world and the rest is history.
Did you do most of the development?
At the beginning, yes. I did all the development as we didn’t have the money to hire people at that time. Funny, last week I had a dinner with our CTO and we pointed out that the core trading engine is still 90% intact, just as I developed it in 2011. I guess that is a sign of something done right.
Do you still write code?
Yes, I am always working on new projects. Currently I am doing an ICO for Tokens.net. After we finish collecting funds I will design the system and develop the core infrastructure for it. I would like to do more development as I really enjoy it, but unfortunately a day only has 24 hours.
What is Tokens.net?
It is going to be a platform for trading ERC20 tokens and other crypto currencies against each other. We are raising $15 million to fund the operation. More information on the project is available on www.tokens.net.
You must be a big believer in ICOs then.
I think there will be great projects to come out of this ICO era. But we must not fool ourselves, there will be many that will fail. In fact, most will fail. Just like startups, so choose wisely!
You also created Quantum Project not so long ago. How is that going?
True. When I developed the Quantum Project I was already planning to create a trading platform, so Quantum was the first step towards that goal. Unfortunately the QAU price is suffering right now, as many people want to participate in Tokens.net crowdsale and they are selling QAU to get the money for the Tokens crowdsale. It is important to know that both Quantum and Tokens.net will benefit greatly from each other. Tokens.net will act as the platform and Quantum will be the market maker. Natural co-existence. At the moment I see QAU as a great buying opportunity. When Tokens.net ICO closes, the pressure on the price will stop and the reversal will come.
You come from Slovenia, a country that is taking a lot of steps to become a blockchain/cryptocurrency friendly destination. Did you see this coming many years ago or does it come to you as a surprise?
I did not see that coming. Cryptocurrencies are a big thing in Slovenia. When I come to Slovenia I usually go mountain hiking and the last time people on the top were talking about Bitcoin. It’s crazy and funny at the same time. I doubt there is any other country in the world that is so crypto aware.
You are considered a pioneer in cryptocurrency world. What would you say were the biggest obstacles you had to cross to get to the point where you are today, a true pioneer that keeps on building this ecosytem.
Banks. People can not imagine how difficult it is to get and maintain a bank account if you are dealing with Bitcoin. I hope this will change at some point.