Fintech/Cryptocurrency/Interview/ Brunch with Ramp: ‘We looked like idiots when we didn’t want to do what FTX does’ Szymon Sypniewicz and Przemek Kowalczyk raised Poland's biggest ever Series B earlier this year — but they're not afraid of a crypto winter By Zosia Wanat 2 December 2022 Ramp's cofounders with their fish, chips and mushy peas Ramp's cofounders with their fish, chips and mushy peas \Fintech Starling Bank cuts customers off from crypto-related payments By Amy O'Brien 22 November 2022 Fintech/Cryptocurrency/Interview/ Brunch with Ramp: ‘We looked like idiots when we didn’t want to do what FTX does’ Szymon Sypniewicz and Przemek Kowalczyk raised Poland's biggest ever Series B earlier this year — but they're not afraid of a crypto winter By Zosia Wanat 2 December 2022 Port Royal, one of Warsaw’s most renowned oyster bars, doesn’t really look like a place you would pick a) for brunch, b) if you’re in your 20s and c) when the industry you’re operating in is falling apart. But here I am, surrounded by middle-aged men in suits with their seafood platters, ready to eat my first oyster and drink champagne with Szymon Sypniewicz and Przemek Kowalczyk, the founders of Ramp, the rapidly growing Polish cryptocurrency payment startup. The week before we met, Ramp announced a $70m Series B, less than a year after its previous funding round. It’s the biggest Series B in the history of Polish tech — and it’s also impressive from an international perspective, given that crypto has done nothing but go downhill since the end of last year. But a couple of days after Ramp’s announcement, FTX, one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, filed for bankruptcy, leaving thousands of its clients without their money and obliterating the remaining trust investors had in the sector. International observers, businesses and journalists have proclaimed the end of crypto — this time, for real. Sypniewicz and Kowalczyk, who are 28 and 29 respectively, don’t seem excessively concerned. Before we meet, my (limited) knowledge of crypto bros prompted me to think I’d be dining with a pair of nerds who’d look down on me for not fully understanding the distributed ledger, while eating oysters and playing League of Legends on their phones. The duo are nothing like that. While clearly passionate about blockchain, they can explain their ideas with simplicity and wit. They also don’t, it seems, eat oysters. When the waitress comes, their order takes me somewhat by surprise. “Fish and chips and diet Coke, please.” The story The two founders met in Warsaw at the beginning of their university years — one studied law, the other physics — at a meeting of the Polish libertarian party. “It was obvious that crypto is something interesting,” Sypniewicz says. He saw it as a tool of social change and a way to get out of institutions’ control. “Because of our political affiliations, we were observing it pretty closely. I decided I cannot not be in this sector.” They started several unsuccessful startups, and worked for another crypto project where the idea for Ramp was born. They wanted to build technology that acts as a gate — or a ramp — between traditional companies and the crypto world. Without a solution like that, they thought, cryptocurrencies would never be able to work in a decentralised way. What they built with Ramp enables crypto wallets, exchanges, NFT marketplaces and gaming companies to embed crypto payments infrastructure into their existing systems so that users can buy crypto assets without needing to jump to other apps. Ramp’s first “serious” office (the one and a half desks at an accelerator don’t count) was in the very same building we’re sitting in today. The office was “a concrete bunker with no windows,” Kowalczyk says. “We were scaling up but we wanted to save money — and the offices with windows were very expensive.” Back then, they didn’t frequent Port Royal. “We didn’t come here. We went there,” says Kowalczyk, pointing at the food court next door, which serves burgers, fries and sausages. “We thought that one day it would be great to come here,” he smiles. There’s also a story behind the delicious fish and chips we’re eating — served with mashed (or mushy for Brits) peas. “It was our London meal. What’s fast, cheap, safe and in a bar? Fish and chips,” says Kowalczyk. “I remember after our first visit to Seedcamp [a VC firm] to pitch, we went to a stall and bought fish and chips and we were just so happy. We had gotten cold, because it’s London, so we’d got blown over, and it was warm there, and I said: ‘It [the pitch] went somehow okay.’” FTX drama It went better than okay. Seedcamp led Ramp’s first seed round in 2018, and then participated in follow-on rounds in 2019 and 2021. A few months later the startup raised a $52.7m Series A from top investors like Balderton and NFX. At that point, VC interest in Ramp wasn’t so surprising — 2021 was a great year for crypto, and in November that year bitcoin’s value reached historic highs. But then things went downhill for the much-hyped sector: cryptocurrencies have been losing their value and collapsing, while European companies like Blockchain.com and Bitpanda have had to make sweeping layoffs. In November 2021, the global crypto market had surged to almost $3tn — only to lose two-thirds of its value by mid-2022, as inflation and a grim economic outlook deterred investors. “When we saw the news [about FTX’s collapse] we thought: well, it had to happen. We weren’t surprised” Ramp, however, has kept growing: so far in 2022, it’s seen transaction volumes increase by almost 240% compared to the same period last year. The total number of unique users has increased by over 600%. Its partner base includes gaming companies like Sorare and GameStop, the web browser Opera and Ethereum wallet Trust Wallet. It’s integrated with the world’s major payment methods, including debit and credit cards, bank transfers, Apple Pay and Google Pay. And, just a few months after its Series A, it raised another $70m. Then the FTX drama unfolded. The crypto exchange filed for bankruptcy in November, and lost billions of dollars of its customers’ assets. “When we saw the news we thought: well, it had to happen,” says Sypniewicz. “We weren’t surprised. For a long time we were worried that a big part of the crypto market is dominated by entities that operate against the fundamental idea of blockchain technology.” Exchanges like FTX are easier for everyday folk to get into and have a much less arduous onboarding process, the Ramp founders say. But middlemen platforms like FTX don’t give people control over their money — unlike the decentralised wallets that are Ramp’s customers, they say. “Our technology is to level the playing field,” Sypniewicz says. “The idea of centralised exchanges is contrary to what we do,” Kowalczyk adds. “We work with wallets that allow for self-sovereignty… Centralised institutions, such as FTX and Celsius, are not the Web3 or crypto that we believe in and that we dream of.” “We looked like idiots when entities like FTX were growing parabolically. We were asked if we [wanted] to set up a crypto exchange. We never turned” Far more people might now — finally — be coming round to that viewpoint too. While they developed their product, people often wondered why Sypniewicz and Kowalczyk didn’t just create another exchange. “We looked like idiots when our partners were growing at a very impressive rate… and entities like FTX were growing parabolically. We were asked if we [wanted] to set up a crypto exchange, something like FTX, if it wasn’t a better business. We never turned this way,” Sypniewicz adds. For a long time, people only saw the difference in growth between crypto exchanges and more dispersed crypto payments solutions. “People didn’t see the quality difference, they saw the quantity difference: ‘Oh you’re a smaller Coinbase’. No, this is something fundamentally different and now you can see how,” Kowalczyk says. Is there a future? The brunch-lunch has now passed its allotted hour, but I still have many questions about the future of Ramp — and crypto as a whole. The difference between Ramp and exchanges might be huge, but they’re operating in the same space — which is, for now, upside down. “In the short term it’ll be a problem,” Sypniewicz says, sipping his post-meal espresso. “Many people will get burnt, many people will lose their trust, some of the opportunities that we were foreseeing for the next 12-18 months will come forward later because it all has to settle down.” But in the long term, Ramp sees the FTX fallout as an opportunity. “It had to happen eventually and it’ll be good for the whole sector,” Sypniewicz adds. “If you believe in what we believe in, it’s obvious for you that crypto onboarding will absolutely be one of the biggest fintech verticals in the world full stop,” says Sypniewicz. “If you believe that Web3 will be like the internet, and Ethereum will be an analogue to the http, and at the same time you believe that crypto won’t win the whole world: your salary will still be paid in złoty and your government will still require you to pay taxes in your currencies, then the transition point between one world to the other is the hottest, biggest, the most monstrous businesses in the world,” he says. “If you don’t believe it, it will still be big, and very successful, because there’s still an appetite for using Web3. We’re a big business already, we’ll grow 10 times on what’s out there. But if you imagine that this sector will achieve what we imagine it’ll achieve, then the scale of the cake is unimaginable.” Zosia Wanat is Sifted’s central and eastern Europe reporter, based in Warsaw. She tweets from @zosiawanat Related Articles Liam Payne launches NFT inspired by lockdown By Michael Stothard Click here to read more How long can fintech firms resist crypto FOMO? By Ryan Weeks Click here to read more 2021 has (already!) been a record year for European fintech investment By Isabel Woodford Click here to read more Crypto startup Ledger fights to repair its reputation By Chris O’Brien Click here to read more Most Read 1 \Healthtech Is Daniel Ek’s new body scanner worth the hype? 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