Make Crypto Currency Easier to Use：Exclusive interview with CEO of Moon Ken Kruger
Recently, Moon, a browser extension, announced that it is now possible to use bitcoin to pay on Amazon. The online shopping site will accept payments from Lightning-enabled bitcoin wallets. The bitcoin payment is converted into fiat currency by a financial institution behind the scenes, which takes responsibility for passing the same value in a national currency to Amazon or the seller. In other words, “merchant integration” is not required. Amazon itself never sees the bitcoin and does not have to agree to the process. The company also promised that customers can make purchases with the most popular cryptocurrencies instantly, securely and without fees. In today’s piece, the founder and CEO of Moon, Ken Kruger, will share the story of the team behind Moon as well as his perspective on the past, current, and future crypto market.
Bianca: How did you get into the crypto-market?
Ken: I originally got into startups when I was in the sensor space. My background was working in the defense industry on sensor systems. I first took that plunge into startups by creating a gesture recognition company and that was a really interesting adventure. After that, I created a software consulting company where I worked with venture backed startups in New York to help them build out their products. I did a little crypto trading and got involved in the Mt. Gox class action lawsuit. I was in and out for a little bit, but never professionally. And then just about two years ago I was thinking what's my next step? That's when I finally got into crypto as a profession. I think I have an opportunity to really make a difference.
Bianca: What made you think this is the future?
Ken: Undergrad, I studied computer science, grad school, I studied financial engineering. I never went into finance, but I do find it interesting from an academic perspective. And I really do appreciate the value that crypto currency brings to the table in the form of decentralization. There's something that's really powerful about that. So, when I first saw the coin crypto currency, I said, you know, this is something that's gonna be here for a while, and it's something that's very powerful. And it's gonna make a really big difference in the world. And that's something I just have to be a part of that.
Bianca: What kind of pain point did you identify?
Ken: It was really around payments. The whole idea of crypto originally was to be a currency where you could buy stuff and it would replace fiat currencies. And you'd have this interesting behavior in terms of competition, in that the currency is worldwide. I really like that idea. And then what I saw happening was that crypto currency became more of a speculative asset. I saw people trading and it became all about the price. How am I gonna make a quick buck? To me, that's just not interesting. What I wanna see is that it becomes a currency that the average person can use day to day. It's hard for people to use. Moon will make transaction payment easier. Our big thesis is that people are only going to use crypto currency as a payment method if it's effectively instant. If it's secure and they're minimal to no fees. It has to be as good as paying with a credit card or Alipay, or WeChat Pay. If it's not that good, It's just not gonna be adopted. What we're doing with Moon as we're working with technologies like lightning network and some of the other blockchains where the transactions are effectively incident free, is to make sure everything's locked down. We think that's what's gonna take the bare minimum to get people on board to use crypto currencies as a payment method.
Bianca: Interesting. So why didn't you just invent a new type of wallet? Are you connecting the e commerce with different wallets?
Ken: There are so many wallets out there. Another wallet is not something I'm looking to create. Everybody seems to have their favorite wallet. There's some really fantastic wallets out there. For us, we wanted to really create something that would allow you to spend your crypto currency anywhere. Treat it like it is a currency. You could use your favorite wallet. We don't wanna be responsible. And we're not looking for a custodial type system. Customers want to have control over their own money.
Bianca: How do you use Moon?
Ken: What we've done is that we've built it as a browser extension. What you do is you install the browser extension to your browser. You can shop on your favorite e commerce shop. Right now, we support Amazon, but will be expanding that to all e-commerce websites by the end of the year. And from there, you shop the way you normally do at checkout. Moon appears at the checkout, very similar to the way the browser extension appears to give you deals and discounts, and then just hit the pay button and it facilitates the transaction just like you paid with any other payment method.
Bianca: So, basically, Moon is going to help the customer to change crypto into something easy to use.
Ken: That's the situation we're in right now where a lot of merchants are not accepting crypto currency. Only about three percent of merchants accept crypto right now. This is very low and the companies that are doing those are direct merchant integrations. They have a very long b to b sales cycle. They're not penetrating the market. So, the solution that we have is it doesn't require merchant integration. You could shop on Amazon. What we do is we take the crypto from the user, on the back and handle converting that to fiat currency and then paying the merchant. And from the user's experience, it looks just like they're paying crypto currency on Amazon. And from the merchan'ts experience, it looks like any other payment.
Bianca: Do you have to work with Amazon to get permission?
Ken: No, we don't have to get the approval from the merchant or anything like that. We work through a variety of intermediaries in order to facilitate this. And that's really the power of our technology as it doesn't require b to b sales. It can be a consumer facing brand. Eventually we hope to integrate with merchants. We go to a merchant and say, hey, we have users who are transacting with crypto on your website right now. Maybe we should do direct integration and save you some money.
Bianca: How can you guarantee the customer will get the best price?
Ken: I mean cryptos prices fluctuate and can be different in each venue, with a different price on each exchange. So what we do is when the user submits a payment request, we give them the current exchange rate at that moment in time. What we do is we hook into a few different exchanges and pass on the best rate to the user, because that's what it's all about. Just making sure the user is getting the best possible experience.
Bianca: Are you going to take a commission out of the transaction?
Ken: That's really the best part, that we don't charge the user any fees whatsoever. The way it works is that the partnerships that we've established with these intermediaries, we bring them all this transaction volume and exchange. They give us commissions and fees. That way we don't have to charge the user at all. That's really our core thesis, instant, secure, and no fees for the user.
Bianca: So you're charging strangers.
Ken: Not exactly. These are more traditional financial institutions. And they're getting these transaction volumes through their platform, facilitating purchases with merchants. They want to get in on the crypto action. And now what kind of wallets can be connected. Right now we have an integration with Coinbase, so you can pay directly from your Coinbase belt. And then we also just integrate with Lightning network. This past week, we launched it. If you have any kind of Lightning network enable to wallet, you can pay with that wallet, and then in the future we will be adding additional currencies.
Bianca: So, Lightning network is aiming to make transactions easier. What do you think about their development so far?
Ken: Lightning wallet is a little bit more complex technically to set up. Obviously, Lightning network is still in its early stages. There are some restrictions on it, and it is a little bit more complex. What we're looking to do is really help people understand that Lightning works better, especially users that get on board with the Lightning network wallet. What we're looking to do is really educate people and help them understand.
Bianca: And why do you have the incentive to educate people?
Ken: Because then they'd use my product. It’s really about being a part of the community, contributing to the community as a business, and willing to establish ourselves in the community. And Lightning is very popular right now.
Bianca: But do you think it's going to solve the problem scalability?
Ken: The experience I've had so far in laying their work is pretty great. The transactions is like if you pay for something on Amazon through Moon using Lightning network, It's effectively instantaneous, which is faster than Coinbase. We have a really nice integration with Coinbase. But the issue with Coinbase integration is that the transaction is not on the block chain. That's an off blockchain transaction where overlay, so, at least you're on the Lightning network. It eventually becomes a part of the blockchain. It has a lot of potential in solving this. But one of the best things I like about crypto currency is the market driven approach, is that there's competition between currencies.
Bianca: Where's your next stop?
Ken: There's a lot of opportunities in China. That's something I've been doing a lot of research on. But I also know there's a lot of opportunities in South Central America, Africa, Europe, Folks coming from different regions of the world are trying to use different currencies. We're going to take somewhat of a data driven approach on this. Interesting. The browser extension, is a very strategical way to establish ourselves. And from there, that's when we can go into more of a point of sale, all different other options in the payments space. The right strategy is to move us forward and really make a name for ourselves. We started the project about a year ago. I was running a software consulting company and when I have clients I couldn't just drop them, so I had to finish up a lot of my ongoing projects. But in the meantime I was talking to people, talking to potential users and understanding the market a lot more. Not just from a hobbyist perspective but talking to folks in the industry and understanding what's actually going on here. Make sure that you run some tests and make sure to test my hypothesis. That's when I was like, this is the time to go all in. I've done enough testing, have done enough talking, and so far that was the biggest discovery for you along the way. We first did this Coinbase integration. People were really upset by it. They wanna have that complete control, not custodial services, at least the core hard core crypto enthusiasts. Then we started on integrating directly with Lightning network. Another blockchain technology is applied directly so that users can keep the money in their own wallet and have that complete control of their money.
Bianca: Do you think in the future we are going to get rid of these kind of centralized Coinbase model that very similar to traditional banks?
Ken: It’s hard to say. I do think that there's a lot of value to having a banking type system. If you want to take out a loan for a large amount of money, like investment banking style, you deposit your money, you're gonna make a return. But I do think the financial institutions of the future, when they're involved in crypto, are really gonna have to entice people and really say, hey, if you deposit your funds, we're gonna give you a great return on your investment. There are a lot of interesting opportunities for funds like that. You deposit your crypto, it's invested on the other side. It gives out loans, mortgages. But then again, people may come out with a really fantastic, decentralized solution to do just that.