In this episode of the DeFi Download, Piers Ridyard discusses with Simon Yu about StormX and its products, Play, which allows you to earn crypto by completing microtasks and Shop, a browser extension that enables you to earn cashback from over 700 stores.
SPEAKERS: Simon, Piers
Hello, and welcome. I am Piers Ridyard, CEO of the decentralized finance protocol Radix, a public ledger entirely focused on bringing DeFi into the mainstream. This is our podcast, the DeFi Download, a show about decentralized finance and all things crypto, where we dive into the details of the projects, assets, and services that are powering the DeFi revolution. Today, I am joined by Simon Yu, founder, and CEO of stormx.io. StormX allows you to earn crypto while you shop at your favourite stores with the award-winning crypto cashback app that took the internet by storm. Simon, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Yes, thanks so much for having me, Piers.
So, we can start off by giving a little bit of background to what StormX is, why you saw that there was a place in the market for it, and how it all started.
Yes, absolutely. Proud to say, we've been doing this for a long time, for about six years. So, in my previous job, I was actually in banking, and I saw this exciting opportunity with my co-founder, Calvin, where blockchain allowed a global transaction place to happen. I was in banking so I saw how much fees are being transacted on, each day. Definitely, the biggest opportunity was that I thought, from a payment side, that it was going to be disrupted because if you think of all the credit card payments, the foreign transaction fees, there are so many fees that are being upcharged in Bitcoin, at the time allowed you to send value to anyone at near-zero cost. So, we were really excited and my co-founder built this app originally where you received two-tenths of a penny for just watching a short 30-second video, and this was in Bitcoin. So, in the beginning, I thought it was kind of dumb just because the amount is so small, and I'm like, “Who's actually going to use this?” But surprisingly, the user base was continuing to grow extremely quickly. I think it was growing triple-digit percentages every month. So, there was something there. Then, what we found out was that, one, because the transaction fees were so low, it allowed you to basically have a global user base that wasn't possible before because sending fiat, anything less than $100 does not make sense because it costs so much to send internationally. So, you can have a global user base. And two, both my co-founder and I had a really tough time growing up in college. We both self-funded college, we worked through multiple jobs and stuff, and we're always looking for some sort of side hustle to try to bring more income. We're always looking for jobs online and stuff and there wasn't a single place where you could go and find all these different ways to make money online. That's what we set out to do back in 2014. But since it was right after Mt. Gox and Silk Road, the [unintelligible] really bad and every time we tried to pitch an investor, they thought that we were trying to sell drugs or launder money, so, we bootstrapped for three years. I eventually even quit my job in banking, which the pay was okay and I sacrificed that to even drive for Uber and Lyft for a little bit just to fund this for a while. That's how passionate we were. Eventually, we built out the next iteration of the app, where [unintelligible] microtasks, where you can complete these short tasks, earn some cryptocurrency rewards. That started growing extremely quickly, as we launched in like 2017, and then Bitcoin transaction fees started skyrocketing so it wasn't possible anymore because it went from 0-50 cents overnight. So, we decided to pivot to Ethereum and then, Ethereum had the same issue when the price went up from $10 to $430 and the gas cost became too expensive. So, we decided to create our own token called StormX (STMX) and we figured out a way to minimize the transaction costs by batching transactions and doing some various techniques, and we got a patent on that. Then early this year as well, in February, we launched a new product where you can shop and earn crypto online. So, our goal is not so much to just only focus on crypto, but using crypto in a way that we could lower the transaction costs and bring more value to the users, well, different ways to earn money. So, that's, overall, our theme. We have multiple different products to try.
So how does it work, the main product, from a consumer’s point of view? What is the consumer doing, why is that valuable for the consumer, and then what's happening in the background that is allowing you to create this crypto cashback for the consumer?
Yes, yes, absolutely. So, we've had the first product, which is towards microtasks, for about five years, but definitely, our strongest growth is from the cashback app, which is called Shop in the StormX app. So, users just shop from stores like Nike, or eBay, or Samsung - we have like 700 stores right now - and shop like they normally would, but they get cashback whenever they do. And so—
And they have to do that through the app.
Correct. Yes. So, when you go through our app, it asks you, “Hey, do you want to start a transaction?” And whenever you make a purchase after that shopping history, then you get rewarded in a few days or— In the traditional space, there are companies like Honey or Rakuten, and Honey was actually acquired by PayPal for $4 billion last year. It's a pretty well-growing space, but because they're using fiat, even though Honey is like this unicorn, they're only in four countries, the US, UK, Canada, Australia, because it's so expensive to send value halfway across the world. To send a $10 or $15 reward payment doesn't make sense if it charges $100 to send wire transfer fees and all that stuff. That's why I think because of that we're in like 150 countries now. We've also figured out a way to use our tokens as a good way to upgrade reward members. So, the more people that use the app— or they can also buy their way to the top of the membership and get higher cashback and get up to like 250% extra cashback bonus and also faster withdrawal, which are some perks that are available because of our token economics and stuff like that as well. And yes, I think that's the value, the unique value prop and—
So, what kind of crypto can a consumer earn from purchasing via your app?
Yes, so we have six crypto right now: Bitcoin, Eth, Litecoin, Dai, Wifi, and, obviously, StormX as well. The StormX tokens are used like an airline mile equivalent, where you can continue upgrading membership. So, people can do that but, when you ask how is this possible, all these companies, especially e-commerce, and a lot more companies are focusing on e-commerce because of COVID and all these physical stores are closing and they're spending money to try to acquire new users anyway. They're trying to spend money through Google and Facebook, which takes up probably 30-40% of the ad budgets to try to acquire more users and get more shopping traffic that way. So basically they're taking that and offering StormX a discount. So, think of us as like a wholesaler. We help them drive a ton of sales, they discount certain product lines and then we pass that on to users and we take a very small transaction fee for each time a cashback occurs. I really love the model and it's because we make money when the user makes money. It's a win-win situation. The retailer drives more sales as well, too. So, everyone wins and you don't want to overly sell anything. It's just like, “Hey, you know, we're trying to give you free money. Don't waste it if you're going to shop anyway.” One of the cool things that have been going on is, I noticed a lot of crypto Twitter folks have been getting into flipping Pokémon cards. Even Jake or Logan Paul, and some YouTube stars are starting to take this on as well but they're buying $200,000 cards from eBay, and we can offer 4% for diamond users. That's a significant amount. It's 1000s of dollars. So, this is extra money that they weren't having anyway and we're just putting that into their pockets, which is a great product and something I enjoy building.
Interesting. So, the advantage that you guys have is that, essentially, you're using crypto as the clearance asset to pay to consumers their cashback, which allows you to essentially go global very quickly, versus something like Honey, where they're much more stuck with specific payment rails. Does this mean that you are targeting a global audience from the start or have you started regionally, as well?
Yes, so we have a very global user base. So, the US is number one right now, but in Korea and Indonesia, we have some huge shops there. So, in Korea we have Emart and Daicel and Gmarket, which are the Walmarts of Korea, and in Southeast Asia we have Sharpie and Lazada, which are the Amazons there, which drive a ton of— Every day, people buy even $2-$3 purchases through our app, which is amazing. We haven't done much advertising; people are just finding out and using the app because it's useful. We're live, currently, in about 150 countries, and we're growing extremely rapidly. I think the global awareness is definitely one unique advantage, but also how we incorporated the token model in terms of being able to offer much higher cashback. Honey, Rakuten, and all these guys, even Lolli in the Bitcoin space offer like 6% from eBay, while we can actually offer up to 21%. Then, one of the annoying things about the cashback is, typically, you have to wait 90 days until you can get cash back because you have to wait for the return period. But for us, for our diamond member, we'll speed that up like 75%. So, it only takes about 11 to 14 days, on average.
So, how are you able to substantially increase the amount of cashback that comes to the user via something like eBay?
Yes, the higher cashback is only available for people that own and hold the tokens. Then, the extra amounts are coming from the Treasury as well, too. But overall, the model works because there is a fixed supply and the more members that are also part of the program, there's only a handful of people that could actually be a higher member. So—
Got it. So, a little bit like Crypto.com's model in terms of, the more STMX token that you hold, the higher your membership is, and so the more cashback you get. So, if you're someone who shops a lot online, holding a lot of STMX token could end up being a really, really valuable way of making sure that you're reducing, I suppose, your total spend online, right?
Correct. Yes. And, actually, the secret that not too many people know about is our product stacks with Crypto.com. So, you can earn by shopping in the StormX app and get whatever, the 21% from Agoda, for example, and then just [laughter] [unintelligible] it back and get like [unintelligible].
So, this is the tip, right? Go to Crypto.com, get a Crypto.com card, and then attach it to your StormX account, and go and shop through StormX and start stacking some crypto stats.
Yep, I think I have their green card, or I think it's our mid-tier card. And yes, it's something that I do, which is pretty.
So, how do you guys acquire customers? How has that developed over the six years? Also, I'd be really interested to understand what mistakes and learnings did you make along the way. What hypotheses or who did you think the customer was and what did it turn out the customer to be? How has that learning experience been to here?
Oh, yes, definitely a ton of learning mistakes, and opportunities for the last six years, for sure. In general, I think when we did launch a token sale, and launch the StormX tokens with their products this was the height of the bull market, the end of December ‘17. But we were trying to be the token for x, which is the token for earning, and I think a lot of companies are trying to use it like a payment token for their product. But it didn't really work because, on the consumer side of the app, people figured out how to set up an ERC-20 wallet and were receiving StormX tokens, so we had a ton of users on one side. But then, on the other side, the people that were supposed to, the companies that were supposed to buy the tokens to send the transactions were large conglomerates and it was way too difficult for them to do the onboarding experience because to have StormX tokens, you actually needed to go to Coinbase, buy bitcoin, transfer that to Binance or Bittrex, convert that to StormX, and then send it over. From an accounting perspective that was way too much of a nightmare, as well, too, and the fiat on-ramp and off-ramp, which was really bad at that time, and it's definitely a lot better now, but it's still a hard sell to do that on a B2B basis, getting companies to interact with tokens. So, when we launched Shop earlier this year, we really tried to brainstorm what can we do better that makes the token work and enhance the current product, rather than not having that good product-market fit. So, the way we designed it was, the consumers that hold the tokens can get these better tiers, instead of having the advertisers interact with that. It is definitely a lot more effective. Just being in this space for like nine years or six years and seeing a bunch of crypto projects appearing, and disappearing, and stuff, honestly, 98% of the projects don't need tokens, this is a very realistic thing. I think, when you think about it, even if they're in right now, before 2.0 launches, I think that's when you really start [unintelligible] Eth for the staking rewards, but even that is primarily used for gas, right? Why would you need to hold $100,000 worth of Eth to pay for a $3 transaction?
But I think Eth 2.0 is going to be very different. So, we've found a good model and I think that was probably one of our most important lessons. And then two was, at the peak of the bull market, I think, our total supply was like $2 billion or something. We have seen a lot of this in the DeFi space recently, and a lot of these projects got hyped up really fast. That's not a good thing because when it crashes, then users, everyone, hates you for a long time. So, we scaled up like a really big team and we were trying to launch quickly and stuff like that. But when the market dies that doesn't all stay with you for a while, so just making sure that you still have a very small core team and focusing on the key objectives. This space is still pretty early, so just making sure that you evolve with the rest of the industry, instead of trying to do everything too quickly, at once.
So, you started as— if I'm reading this right, your model was this idea that the STMX would be the marketplace token that both consumers and businesses would be paying with and receiving and that you would essentially reduce the transaction costs and all that kind of stuff associated with traditional card payment networks, and banking, and all that kind of stuff. And what you've honed in on is, well, actually, there's this subsection, which is payments, small payments to consumers, for things that they do as part of their everyday life that you can build an incentive scheme around, that is going to work far more effectively than competing incentive schemes because, by dint of using crypto as the payment method for that sort of cashback aspect, you have a key strategic advantage, a key cost advantage versus other players in the same industry. But it's just that component, where the true USP for the user is rather than trying to eat the entire elephant, which was the starting point.
Yes, yes. And this is a DeFi podcast here so now there's been a lot of really interesting products coming out of DeFi. Definitely a lot more crap than good for sure but [chuckle] I think it's doing a really good job connecting people on a peer-to-peer level with smart contracts and with the users being able to control their keys. We're taking it one step further, where we have this cashback that rewards cash back and it’s global but we're also adding a staking feature where users can hold their STMX balance in their own wallets, any Web 3.0, like MetaMask or Trust Wallet, for example. Then each week, they can earn more STMX just by staking, and so it's like another layer of cashback. Traditional fiat partners can't do this kind of thing. And the best part is, we're not the custody owners. It's all split up, and the users have their own keys. We just verify that the balances [crosstalk] in their private keys [unintelligible]. So—
That was what I was going to ask you. Has StormX got a noncustodial wallet built into it or do most of your users use things like Trust Wallet, Argent, and stuff like that?
Yes, so we partner with companies like Trust, and yes, we encourage them to own their own private keys like MetaMask and Argent. For us it’s how can we really mix the beauty of decentralization, and then also the key benefits into this awesome product, and how can we be different than traditional fiat partners out there? Right? Because there are other cashback apps like Lolly, and Fold, and some stuff like that as well too, but they're only using Bitcoin as a payment rail rather than actually being innovated, like smart blockchain and stuff like that, like smart contracts. That's where the key innovation is, with how it could be different than a $4 million Honey. That's what's really exciting.
How has your community changed over the course of the years? I definitely can see how going through that sort of boom and bust cycle, 2017, having your token trade up to— Did you say, 2 billion as—
[crosstalk] cap was like, yes.
Yes? So, all the way up to 2 billion and then that journey to now, what lessons have you learned around community management? What would you say to, I don't know, the Uniswaps or Aaves or whatever is the world’s this period's darlings? What might happen to the communities if the DeFi revolution doesn't take off in quite the same way as expected to and it takes longer and it's a harder road? What would you give as advice to those founders about community maintenance and building and getting through those difficult periods?
I built this, before, with my co-founder, we built our [unintelligible] just the two of us and all the way through and nobody knew who we were. We were like the hot girl, and everything we did people just praised us for, every partnership, for all the progress updates that we had, and stuff like that, to when it fell, getting death threats every morning, because of a lot of hate, and spam, and all that stuff. Pretty much my Telegram, or Twitter DMs, or whatever just got bombarded every single day and have been for several years. I know a lot of people that joined in on that 2017-18 hype, and yes, I'd say probably 90% of the companies gave up because it's just way too stressful. There were a lot of scams, but then there were a lot more decent companies actually trying to do something. But then there's stress from the user base, there's not that much interest. There's also stress of, possibly, regulators shutting everything down and, from their perspective, it’s like, “Is this really worth it?” And the case is it's not, they can just go to banking or whatever is hot, like a different industry, it's completely [unintelligible] to crypto. For me, we had gone through a ton and we even had to do a big downsize and a lot more work on our side but we still just kept going. The mental stress is probably extremely tough. I think with a lot of these DeFi products, it was more aggressive because of the liquidity mining incentives. It boosted the token side of things temporarily but then from a long-term perspective, it’s not a really good model. So, think when you see like [unintelligible] and some of these other projects, they're already dying down, like Kimchi. All these short-term projects that lasted, some of them lasted a week or even less. Right? So, I do think a lot of the companies will give up, but then, the ones that do want to stick around, I think they have to get ready for a mental preparation because there will be days that it will fall. I think some of these companies are getting glorified because they're multi-billion-dollar market caps, but what happens when it becomes 50 million and everyone turns on you? Are you still willing to build that product?
How did you find strength during those times? What was it that kept you going?
It was stressful. But for me, it was just being passionate about what I wanted to build because we thought that there was a bigger opportunity here, which is if we could build out the marketplace that allows people to earn. That's what really got us excited and why we wanted to build in the first place. Then, we were in the space way before all the money came flowing through. Like I said, I was driving for Uber and Lyft, and stuff like that. So, money wasn't really my passion for doing this. I think that's the key driver. At the same time, I had those days where I got so burnt out because I'd be working 16–20-hour days and just not enough sleep, and my body was failing me, and it became tough. But yes, I think having good people to talk to is always good. One of my key advisors, investors, was CEO of Bittrex, Bill, who was our first investor, but every time I would say— A lot of people when they talk to their investors just talk about all the good things. I would always just go and talk about all the bad things that were happening. Like, this is why I'm stressed, this is all the bad stuff. And he would just give advice like, “Oh, you should talk to this person to do that.” And then we would just brainstorm on some things. I think having good founders to talk to is always really helpful because a lot of people are going through similar situations and you realize that you're not alone. A lot of people are also facing this issue. So yes, it was some hard times. But now we've seen some significant growth again and this is very different so I think there are just cycles and you have to withstand all the hardships.
Yes, absolutely. This is what tests you, right? This is what makes a company exist through several cycles rather than one cycle. It's not the good times that define the resilience and staying power of a company. It is the bad times and whether or not— Money is just one aspect of that drive and focus, and a willingness to get things done even when it's hard is a much bigger part of that journey. One of my favourite books is The Hard Thing About Hard Things, have you read it?
No, I haven't.
Ah, I highly recommend it. It's a book by, I think it's Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz who wrote it, though it might have been Ben Horowitz. It's just a book about— It's a story, not the typical start-up story because everything goes wrong a lot, and there are lots of periods where the company almost dies and he almost runs out of money. It's just that tenacity to keep going that meant that the company didn't die. There's no other reason but the tenacity of the founders really because the show is not over until there are no more options. The great thing about running a company is there is always another option. It's just, do you have the energy to go out and chase it rather than just sit and feel sorry for yourself?
So, what's next for StormX?
So, as I mentioned, we're launching staking, which is a pretty big feature for us in a few weeks. So [crosstalk] another layer of cashback, which further separates us from the other products.
How do I stake?
We'll have a website, you can just go in there and connect your Web 3.0 wallet, whether it's MetaMask or Trust Wallet, and each week, you just have your balance there, you'll be able to receive more STMX every week, and then, just having STMX in a connected wallet grants you the extra cashback. So, it's perfect time for holiday seasons right now because Black Friday and Christmas is about to hit up and we just added some really big stores. So, it's a great way to earn some additional cashback. This past week, we added a really cool referral program, where if you sign up someone to be a diamond member for 90 days, they can get up to $1,000. You can get rewards for signing someone up to be gold or platinum as well. But the rates right now, because it's a promo period, are very aggressive. So, if you want to refer your friends, it's a very good time to do so right now. There's definitely a lot, a lot of things that we're working on: more stores, a UI change that we're going to make; it looks really smooth. I think one of the biggest challenges of crypto products is that it's so hard to use. We spend quite a bit of time trying to take current user feedback and trying to make sure that it's easy for anyone to use outside of crypto too. But overall, I think, we'll probably hit 360,000 users in eight months.
It will hit a million pretty soon as we launch out more of these features soon. So, we're pretty excited. Yes.
That's awesome. 360,000 users. What's been the main driver of your user growth? What have you seen the most success in funnel building there?
I think the first thing was, we did have an existing product already, where we had two and a half million downloads and those users already knew our product and they became our first [unintelligible]. The second is, the product itself is definitely useful just because it's free money anyway. We haven't done too much advertising yet. Just word of mouth, people sharing the good news. We haven't done anything and people are creating YouTube videos and how-to-use-it and just sharing it as well, too. We're focusing on the product itself and making that better and then getting people aware of it.
So, if I want to maximize my StormX rewards, I need to buy some STMX, stake it, and then go shopping using my crypto.com card and I can go and a load of crypto for shopping on things that I would already be shopping for. Right?
So, eBay, and Macy's, and Nike, and all these kinds of things, and Amazon, which is really, really cool. I think the opportunity is getting into these things early as well, right? When everyone's using it, the rewards are going to be a little bit lower. But now that you're in the early promotional period, now is the time to be an early adopter because if you're already shopping online - of course, you are because it's COVID - you might as well go get the StormX app and make some extra money on the side as well.
Exactly. And yes, the cool part is, our highest cashback for a diamond member— so there are PureVPN and some of these software products where we offer 87.5%.
Yes, there is a chance if you mix all of those together, including staking, as well as the Crypto.com card and stuff, there is a chance you can actually get a higher cashback than the actual purchase. Another secret tip. Yes. So—
So, what gets you 87.5%?
Well, those offer companies just offer aggressive rates because their margins are so thick. So that's why, but we boosted—
No, no, not that. Which retailers can I get 87.5% at the moment?
It depends on the region but there are some VPN companies, for example. It's mostly software-based, I think.
That's really cool. Cool. So, if people want to get involved, if you're reaching out to the podcast listeners, what kind of people do you want getting involved in the project? Feel free to talk about all levels. Obviously, you want people to go download the app, right? But apart from that, who else are you looking to join the STMX community and what do you want them doing?
Yes, so we have an iOS, Android, and Chrome browser extension. So, I think getting people to download the app is always great. And Piers, if you set up your own referral account, they can use yours to [laughter] bonus, which is great for each person.
Affiliate links are in the show notes. No, no they won't be in the show notes. But yes, though, I will obviously, include the link through your website, etc. But apart from that, what else do you want? You want people to set up their own affiliate so that they can go and make some extra STMX tokens?
Yes, I think there's a lot of people that are regularly speculating in the crypto space, but there aren't really good use cases. So, I really do want some of those speculators to find out about our project and realize that, “Wait, there's actually a project where you can have tokens for something outside of speculation, which is a real-world use case?” And then start spreading that around as well too because then that will also motivate other companies to think similarly. Then, rather, one phrase I really hate about DeFi right now is "stay poor." It’s such a bad message that, you know—
I've never heard that. What does that mean?
It's just a popular thing on crypto Twitter right now, where, people don't understand the logistics of certain products, especially in DeFi, and people criticize with the comments saying, "stay poor", as, “Oh, you're poor because you don't want to understand this” [crosstalk]. I think that sends people a message that crypto's only use is for making profits or whatever. But there are so many good use cases where we should step back and realize why this is used for, good stuff instead of just all the bad.
I think that's a really interesting point, that kind of attitude. the "stay poor" attitude. If you look at where the crypto space has come from, the history of the crypto space, Bitcoin was established in 2008 for the reason that it was against banking. Specifically, the greed and hypocrisy that was created by the banking system and the bailouts that the governments were doing of the investment banks, and their capriciousness, and their greed in the way in which they played with other people's money, and they willingly screwed their clients, and all that kind of stuff. And fast forward to now— I mean, you've worked in investment banking, I've done a little bit of work in investment banking as well, and I see a lot of those attitudes that I saw, the worst people that I met in investment banking, I see a lot of those echoes of those attitudes happening in DeFi now; it's crazy.
Yes, the first Bitcoin meetup I ever went to was just 10 people, people just mining from their mom's garage and stuff. It was just people that were curious about technology. And then, definitely, there's a big shift in that sentiment. I guess it does happen with more adoptions, but yes, just missed the core, engineer builders that just want to go in and tack stuff out to build stuff. Yes.
Honestly, I think that will be the thing that stays long term. There's this saying which I like, which is “missionaries versus mercenaries” and that fundamentally good product long term are the things that deliver value and therefore the things that accrue value, but during bull cycles, you certainly do end up getting these secondary order effects in the market, where people think because they're making money, they are either delivering value or being successful. And there's a narrowly defined sense in a broader sense and so narrowly defined, sure, you're making money, but that doesn't mean that you are providing any sort of value to the world, or the economy, or pushing the technology forwards, or anything like that. So yes, I absolutely agree with you. This space is driven forwards by people who fundamentally want to build things that are better, not just ways in which they can make money super quickly. That's certainly a good result, but it shouldn't be the reason for which you get involved in things in the first place.
Awesome. Well, Simon, it's been such a pleasure talking with you. If people want to find out more about the project, where do they go and where are you guys on social? Where does your community hang out?
Just go to stormx.io, it’s our website. We're also very active on Twitter or Telegram. Feel free to join us and communicate with us there.
Awesome. So, on Twitter, what's your Twitter handle?
Okay. And then on Telegram?
I think it's StormX Official Channel.
StormX Official Channel. Awesome. Thank you very much, Simon. It's been wonderful talking to you and hope you have a wonderful day.
Yes, thanks so much for having me, Piers. It was great.