Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
I’m Adrian, the co-founder of bitHolla, a Seoul-based service provider in crypto software. As a person with a design background, my focus at the company has been to help shape the flagship product called HollaEx Kit, which is an open-source exchange system that allows anyone to start a crypto platform to share coins or tokens and develop prices for these new digital crypto assets.
bitHolla started back in the early days of crypto around 2016. At that time, there weren’t many bitcoin users, so we made the first app Bitholla (with a capital B,) to help enthusiasts find each other to use bitcoin technology.
Back in 2016, donating bitcoin for free was a thing. The app gained some transactions but eventually, as the price of BTC increased and the fees along with it the app became less usable but we decided to keep the name as our company name bitHolla (with a smaller cap b and capital H).
bitHolla in 2021 has evolved into a general-purpose crypto service, with a focus on exchange technology. bitHolla also covers all key crypto infrastructure and the company provides consulting, custody wallet tech, and pro trading tools.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea of bitHolla?
As mentioned it was very hard to find other bitcoin users and so our first app called Bitolla was a sort of Tinder-like an app where you can find people in your local area (or globally) to chat about and also send coins to anyone. The app allowed you to use multiple bitcoin wallets and included a user search list and a way for users to share their public address to accept payments from anyone.
Today, we are focused on crypto exchange technology because we believe the exchange experience right now is the number 1 crypto experience today.
The exchange is where the pricing happens, the trading, and the coin storage. That’s why we’ve designed the HollaEx Kit to be your go-to crypto tool that helps you to start your journey into the crypto world. The HollaEx Kit is what you call a white-label exchange software, which just means you can easily rebrand it and use the technology as if it is your own.
We’ve also open-sourced the HollaEx Kit to help better share it with more people which has taken on a life of its own with many people taking the open software and starting their own crypto businesses in all shapes, and sizes.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and testing out your first product.
Before HollaEx was open-sourced, it went through a long trial and error period. Which is always a long and costly process, particularly on time, but helped the overall product design.
Another factor that affected the product was the growth of the crypto industry. For example, as prices of crypto rise so do the demand for exchanges and exchange system software. The crypto season, when it is on, it’s one of the best times to get as much feedback as possible.
One of the design goals was to make the HollaEx Kit runnable on anything, the more devices an exchange can live on the better for the crypto industry. And, so you can find the exchange kit software running on an inbuilt Tesla computer or even a tiny Raspberry Pi’s!
As we’ve gotten more feedback we realized it wasn’t always necessary to provide all the software to people to host and manage themselves. In fact, like WordPress or other easy website builders like Squarespace, people often want their website hosted for them and the same goes for crypto exchanges, in fact, more so because crypto comes with inherent security complexities that most people would rather give to experts. That is when the first product expands into the second version of the product with a cloud exchange first design.
The HollaEx Kit runs on anything and everything which very few exchange software kits can do and with that. The software is also very fast to launch your exchange website. Normally it can take weeks to months to launch but the HollaEx Kit is fast, and there are videos demoing exactly this.
We’ve slowly realized that pretty much all projects, businesses, and communities, in general, are in a prime position to create an exchange, their own coins, and their very own market economies.
Similar to how every business now has social media, a payment processor, and/or a login there will be a large portion of businesses that will add coins, tokens, and other blockchain systems. It isn’t hard to imagine that even NFT, which is inherently a blockchain-driven technology is going to take over digital ownership rights for content going forward. That is something very much part of the HollaEx Kit capabilities and that there will be a large demand for blockchain/crypto tools that are easy to integrate into the business.
All anyone needs to break into crypto is an exchange system that shares the coin and helps price the coin. HollaEx Kit cost-effectively does this with the free DIY kit (self-hosted) and even has a cloud solution for those that need help with hosting. To start your own crypto project or exchange and/or coins just login and complete the setup here.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We started a company pretty early on. We just wanted to go through the process of having something on paper and it was a good move because the age of a company can hold merit.
Partnerships can be advantageous and sometimes all you need is a small transaction to form that lasting connection. As your business grows and your partners and connections witness that, so will their desire to work with you and their willingness to recommend your service or product.
Establishing a website domain was also a big step that every company should start as early as possible because sharing a site is pretty much the easiest way to get your idea across these days.
Before the initial launch, we learned just how hard it is to get found. Google ads can only take you so far and so honing in on SEO keywords and plastering helpful information around the place in the form of blogs, forum posts and generally engaging with the community is a good way to get links back to your site which in turn gets it ranked higher on the search engines.
One thing we should have done a better job on in the launching of our business was more activity on social media because that can help down the line when customers come to review your company and product.
You can think of social media as proof of company timeline tool.
Just having a social media historical record on various platforms can pay off dividends in the long run. But for our company, as we shifted our product line a few times this made the management of social media challenges.
Another thing for those starting a business or crypto exchange business is to consider the idea of starting your own coin, even if the coin does not have many functions or proper pricing it is just one of those things that require time and so starting a coin early can pay off which anyone can do with HollaEx Kit.
For bitHolla, the customer base only really started coming in in 2020 and 2021 because it took time for people to trust and understand cryptocurrencies. That was the gamble.
We believed coins and exchanges would eventually go up in demand but it took, in our HollaEx Kit’s case, along 5 years from 2016 till today, but goes to show that no matter what your idea is it can take years to develop and be ready for that is half the battle.
Lastly, beware of launching too early as it comes with extra costs from the marketing, communications, to customer support which sucks up resources fast. Resources that could better be spent on developing the core product.
Saying that releasing something in a low-cost manner is always something worth doing if the chance arises, as the information can be invaluable.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As mentioned once we open-sourced the software we got much more attention because people like free stuff.
Another thing that helped us attract customers was making things more automatic which led to a friendlier exchange software user experience. The kit is made so that non-coders can do crypto.
How did we do it? Essentially two versions of HollaEx Kit exist, one that can be used for free but must be set up yourself. The second version of HollaEx Kit is a paid version where you get an automatic crypto cloud exchange that launches in minutes.
By putting the responsibility on the user to make their own choice of how to set up their crypto exchange has made it so that the effort put by a DIY exchange user was worthwhile as they are rewarded with a free service. And, for those that require speed, they appreciate the ease of use of the cloud exchange version of the HollaEx Kit and don’t mind paying for that.
In effect, servicing a larger addressable market.
Another thing that boosted our customer base was when we started sharing content online from videos on YouTube to articles, how-to guides and even doing content for websites like Starter Story has made a big difference as it helped our SEO and allowed our users to do their own research.
Product review sites like G2 or similar ones bring legitimacy to your company and/or product and spending time setting these accounts up can be a good on-going practice.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The HollaEx Kit is now at the stage where we can share it. And in the future, starting now, we are introducing the HollaEx Token (XHT). We’ve purposely left the token coin last because we wanted to make sure the exchange kit software was battle-tested.
As the number of exchanges using the kit has risen, so have XHT’s use cases.
Anyone holding an XHT token today can stake it to earn more XHT, pay for exchange software, activate their own crypto coins, and unlock extra features in the kit.
XHT can even help fund other crypto exchanges in a process called XHT collateralization that earns funders XHT overtime for their contribution.
Our plans involve getting more DeFi related features working within the kit which in turn will make staking XHT even easier as it will be built right into the exchange software itself.
A MetaMask connection is the only thing required to participate once DeFi features are active which should open up a new world of possibilities for exchange operators too.
Our jobs post section will also allow others to contribute to the development of the open-source cryptocurrency exchange software kit. I believe blockchain and crypto infrastructure is key for getting our financial system updated and so the more people helping others to do their exchange in every country the better it is for society's financial system.
Lastly, in the future, in my opinion, we don’t need more Coinbases or Binances, instead, we need thousands of crypto exchanges. This increases competition and increases business opportunities and the global economy.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When bitHolla was started we learned that crypto exchange technology is becoming more and more valuable because it includes all the parts people need all in one place. Coins, charting, pricing, brand, and even blockchain communication are all within the exchange system, ready to use.
Crypto should be made as accessible as a tool like WordPress or Squarespace that made website building possible by more types of people and not just coders. This realization pushed us to create a sharable exchange software kit that allows anyone to unlock the power of blockchain technology for business applications.
Another thing we learned is that crypto's complex nature takes a lot of educational marketing. Even writing this particular Story Starter is a trade that may pay off later as readers learn about starting their own exchange business. Educational marketing material is something worth considering if complex products are in new industries.
Finally, partnerships can be advantageous, and sometimes all you need is a small transaction to form that lasting connection. As your business grows and your partners and connections witness that, so will their desire to work with you and their willingness to recommend your service or product.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We used to use Jira but found the fluidity of Notion to be best suited because it allows for easy formatting of things like tables, graphics, and even videos.
Google calendar and the simplicity of organizing meetings can’t be underestimated as Google manages the timezones well and as a crypto service company we have to deal with people globally and Google calendar has been a great free service.
Video recording software like OBS Studio has given us the ability to teach people how to use the HollaEx Kit that a static document or article just can’t do. Utilizing video has been a great time saver as it helps educate people faster because everyone nowadays prefers to learn through YouTube.
For business documents, we’ve found using DocSend can pay back great divides as you get tools to protect your docs from being copied, sign NDAs, and feedback on your documents engagement.
Medium blog has also been a useful tool and can attract new customers. Other free blogging platforms with a big readership for crypto are Publish0x or Steemit are great for more crypto-focused content platforms.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources
Recently it has been all about Bankless and breakdownwith NLW (Nathaniel Whittemore), these resources have consistently provided up-to-date information, without the hype and go into a variety of topics at depth.
For books, Masters of Doom is hands down the best as it gives an insight into the emerging computer game industry and just how radical the team was.
Otherwise, Twitter is the king when it comes to real-time crypto news.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Not changing too frequently and just surviving is half the battle. This can be tricky as there is a constant temptation to start new things.
Most people in the crypto industry deal with consistent price distraction of coins and projects. In 95% of cases those building anything in crypto end up giving up too early one market conditions take a turn, only to miss all the upside when the market returns.
Another point, striking a balanced life in crypto has its difficulties. That comes with the 24/7 global market that is unique to crypto. Having the staying power of at least 2-3 years, no matter what will give them invaluable experience that can be used forever no matter what field you are in.
It is our personal belief that tokens, cryptocurrencies, and their blockchains will likely play a big role in every sector. Similar to the internet changing all sectors.
Those taking the time to actually use blockchains today, learning how to harness their powers, these entrepreneurs will get paid big dividends with their technological edge.
Lastly, doing things alone might be good to start but as they say, if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together. The difficulty of finding a team can be what makes or breaks an entrepreneur but having team members with complementary skills is what brings success long term.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for global talent and much of that just comes down to showing us what you got. Since the kit is open-source and out there to use, people can start learning how to do crypto by using the HollaEx Kit. Once the basics of handling the exchange kit are there, it is easy to contribute through job posts.
Making suggestions to the open-source kit and developing with it is a good way to get your ideas inside the kit and expand your knowledge on how crypto works behind the scenes and can lead to hiring.
For non-developers, we are always looking for active social media community people to help. This would require some knowledge of how the kit works but simply creating content in the form of videos, articles, and even just answering questions on HollaEx forums is a good way to earn XHT.
Where can we go to learn more?
For people that just want to see what the exchange kit can do they can visit the HollaEx Exchange which runs on the open-source exchange software kit that is HollaEx Kit. What you see on the HollaEx Exchange is what you get once you’ve completed the setup, and includes liquidity for the big crypto markets.
If you want a behind-the-scenes experience or want to ask a specific tech question, then the HollaEx Discord channel is the place for you. The channel is where you’ll be able to help contribute directly, answer other questions, and even get your ideas implemented.
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