Marieke Flament is Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Circle, a global crypto-finance company founded in 2013 with more than $250m in backing from investors such as Goldman Sachs, Bitmain and Breyer Capital. The company describes its mission as, “making it possible for anyone, anywhere to help change the global economy”, and offers four products: Circle Invest, a retail crypto investment app, currently only available in the US; Circle Pay, to send money in £, € or $ like a text; Circle Trade, an OTC trading desk for crypto-assets, and Poloniex, one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges. Recently Circle co-founded a consortium with Coinbase and launched its first fiat backed stable-coin (USDC).
Fintech Disruptors caught up with Marieke to discuss progress at Circle, building a blockchain brand, and the challenges fintechs will face in 2019 – including the development of regulatory frameworks.
Fintech Disruptors: Tell us more about Circle’s growth path since its inception five years ago: what were the motivations behind starting this company for the founders, who were already successful entrepreneurs?
Marieke Flament: From the start, we had an advantage over other new companies in that we were founded by two tech veterans in Jeremy Allaire and Sean Neville. We were able to secure early backing from prominent investors like Jim Breyer, IDG and Goldman Sachs, which went a long way to enhancing our credibility as a start-up. Our vision was also different: instead of looking solely at crypto from an asset perspective, as bitcoin did at that time, we wanted to use crypto as a means of exchanging and sharing value. Our first step was to engage with regulators – of which more later – to make sure our operations were fully sanctioned and approved. This meant applying for money transmitter licenses in every US state, and also for an e-money license in the UK.
We launched Circle Pay as our first product, which was a bitcoin wallet allowing for value to be exchanged in crypto-currency and settled as fiat currencies. This gave birth to Circle Trade, an over-the counter trading desk that also linked crypto-currencies with fiat currencies. In 2017, we moved bitcoin to the back-end of Circle Pay so that it’s now about blockchain-enabled payments, and we launched Circle Invest in 2018 to enable the holding of crypto assets. We followed that earlier this year with the acquisition of Poloniex. The goal we’re working towards is a stable environment for crypto assets which can be used alongside or as an alternative to fiat currencies such as the US Dollar.
Fintech Disruptors: You referred to regulation – has that been a particular challenge for you as a young company?
Marieke Flament: We’ve taken great care to make sure that we have the right regulations in place and in that regard we’ve made tremendous progress. At the same time, there’s so much work to do in the blockchain environment to establish what constitutes a security, a commodity, a currency, and so on. Compared to two years ago, we find many countries have made hugeprogress, especially in the UK, Europe and in Asia. Regulators have been sitting up and getting involved, which is great – not just for us, but for traditional players as well, since a more comprehensive regulatory environment encourages them to get involved – which is exactly what we want.
Fintech Disruptors: What other challenges have you experienced so far?
Marieke Flament: Generally speaking in the crypto industry, creating a friendly and simple user interface something of a challenge. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re still not where we want to be. The concept of crypto is not easy – for instance, private keys inevitably contain a lot of characters. However, we’ve seen a lot of positive developments in terms of mobile apps and interfaces of late, so watch this space. Another area would be the creation of the right infrastructure to enable blockchain-based payments. Examples here include the limitations of some blockchains, the speed at which we can get transactions to move between parties – and even the amount of energy that has to be expended to maintain transactions. In all of these areas, the industry needs to work to establish standards – and that’s something we are a part of.
Fintech Disruptors: Finally, as you are a CMO, could you say a bit about brand-building for a blockchain company?
Marieke Flament: The major challenge in my job is to educate those who are new to blockchain and crypto-currencies. Our goal is to help bring crypto mainstream and to that end I do a lot of work with regulators and with traditional financial services firms like Barclays in the UK to share information and explain what we’re trying to do. The good news is that I am seeing a shift in attitudes and approaches in the three years since I joined the company: we’ve gone from having less than five people in Europe to now having three offices. Also, we can now demonstrate success in our capacity to offer customers fee-free payments across multiple currencies, and trading between crypto and fiat currencies.
I think the best comparison for our business sector is with the growth of the internet itself. To start with, the internet was very focused on universities, then it spread rapidly. Right now, there are perhaps 20-30 million people trading and paying with crypto-currencies around the world: but these numbers are changing rapidly. In fact, I’ve never worked in an industry that moves this fast – so these are exciting times indeed.
MagnaCarta will launch its report, “Fintech Disruptors 2019”, in London in December 2018. For more information about this study or how you can get involved, please go to: magnacartacomms.com/news-insights