“I spent my first night in the Valley sleeping in the car on a hill in thick fog.” Interview with Ukrainian who sold his product to Binance
In 2018, the largest global cryptocurrency exchange Binance bought the cryptocurrency wallet Trust Wallet. The parties have not disclosed the transaction amount, as well as the company valuation in connection with the deal. Shortly before the sale, the application had managed to raise $5m via an ICO.
Few people know that Trust Wallet was created by a Ukrainian, Viktor Radchenko. Today, he lives in Silicon Valley and operates Trust Vallet, which is part of the Binance ecosystem but remains an independent product.
In his interview with AIN.UA, Viktor speaks about his moving from Ukraine to the USA, working in the fishing industry in Alaska, becoming a programmer, and creating Trust Wallet, among many other things.
About the Binance deal
I was working at a mobile banking company. My friends were interested in cryptocurrencies, and I decided to try and take part in an ICO. I bought tokens, but when I wanted to receive them on my phone, it turned out that this could not be done. I am a mobile developer, and this seemed strange to me. Then I decided to create such a solution myself.
I created a mobile wallet and published it on GitHub so that anyone who needed it could use it.
This was 2017, the ICO boom year. Trust Wallet became popular quite soon. Six months after starting Trust Wallet, I decided to quit my main job and dedicate all my time to the app.
The product was growing rapidly, but I had no money to expand the business. So, I decided to raise funds as everybody was doing it then – via an ICO. In the first private round we raised $5m and began planning an IEO on Cyber Network.
At the same time, I was negotiating with Binance. At first, they considered the option to invest in Trust Wallet, but then it became clear that it would be much more convenient if the company just joined Binance. I met Binance’s founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao, and we settled the matter in one day literally.
I am a tech person, and I don’t feel like getting into operational issues. Rather, I am keen on the product: I enjoy coding, developing new functions, communicating with users. Binance made me a very interesting proposal: I would get full autonomy, would be able to work on my product and develop the company as I think fit, focusing on one thing only – making cryptocurrency more accessible. At the same time, I would not have to bother about raising investments, working with partners, and monetizing Trust Wallet.
Back then, we had not issued tokens yet. I returned money to the ICO investors and joined Binance along with my team.
I have remained in charge of the product and a shareholder in Trust Wallet. Binance attends to its own business separately, and Trust Wallet keeps moving the industry forward as an autonomous entity. An this makes sense. Binance aims to advance not only its own business but also the cryptocurrency industry as a whole.
About life in Ukraine
My story began like everyone else’s did. I got my first computer at 15 or 16, maybe. I started playing games. But I found that games are not quite that exciting to me – I can play for a couple of hours at most. I enjoy watching somebody play more than playing myself. But I was curious: okay, I have virtual money in the game – how can I arrange for it to become more? I recall, when we played games, there was an application called Upmining. It allowed to find variables in a game and change them. For example, you could “make a fortune” in the game.
That’s where it all started. I became interested in how the software works in general, how it can be hacked, how the security of different systems works, and how it can be bypassed. The most basic things – how to hack Windows – this was where I began. Then I stumbled across various forums on the Internet that described security bypass techniques, and I began to delve deeper into it.
I entered the university in Dnipropetrovsk (now Dnipro) majoring in Security of Computer Systems and Networks. Sounds like fun, but it really wasn’t. When I reached the third year, it became clear that we had been studying the wrong thing. There were some basic subjects, half of which I skipped because I was not interested.
At the same time, I was working at PrivatBank in the security department; online banking had just begun to develop then.
The funniest thing is that I don’t know math even now. All my life, I have been getting 2s and 3s in mathematics, and I am still quite good at programming. This is amazing because most often, programming is favored by people who do great in math and algorithms. And math was never easy for me: as a boy, I missed a lot of it at school and later struggled bitterly to catch up. At the same time, I just understand the principle – how these systems work, and I can create products.
Back then, I was 20, and I combined work with study. I decided to go to America in the summer under the Work and Travel program. I went to Alaska and stayed for three months.
About moving to the USA
Alaska is quite a memorable life period for me. We were working 16 hours a day, cleaning salmon. There were 5 to 6 hours left for sleep. I liked the physical work, but you cannot work at that pace for a long time: the brain begins to degrade due to constant lack of sleep and physical overstrain.
But there were advantages to it also: we ate a lot of red caviar there. We could eat a kilo of caviar for three of us in one evening.
I left Alaska for Sacramento: I knew some people who had moved there from Ukraine, and they allowed me to stay with them for a while. I was surfing the Internet, searching for something to do. At that time, I still did not really know how to program, but I had skills in the field of security. I decided to apply them in development: I began to study coding and created several interesting websites.
Then, suddenly, a hackathon was to be held in Sacramento, not a trivial event for the area, although they were constantly happening in Silicon Valley at the time. It was organized by an IT company for recruiting purposes: they promised to hire the best contestants. And despite having just two months of programming experience at best, I won the first or second place there. I was offered a job, and they told me, “We will teach you everything you need. It is just your wish to do it that matters.” That was my first IT job in the USA.
I received a basic offer with a $20-an-hour wage. That is a very low rate for a programmer in the US, next to nothing. But back then, it was a pretty cool opportunity for me. My friends, the ones I was staying with, were quite surprised. They were working at Walmart for $10 to 12 an hour, and at first, they couldn’t even believe one could earn that much.
I worked for that company for 5 or 6 months and learned a lot. I realized that the future belongs to mobile technologies, and I wanted to build a career on those.
About moving to the Valley
It was 2012. I decided I want to move on and relocate to San Francisco. I got into a car, crammed all my stuff into it, and drove off. And when I arrived, I understood I had nowhere to stay.
I am such a spontaneous person: I can decide I want to move in one day, without taking trouble about where to sleep. However, I had sought out a job in SF in advance – I cannot do it any other way. I am not the kind that says, “I am sick of it all, I quit, and I’m going to look for another job!” No, I would rather have my back already covered.
I spent my first night in the car on one of the hills in a very thick fog. It turned out that in San Fransisco accommodation is very hard to find: upon arrival, I spent the whole day searching for a room through Craigslist. I wrote about a hundred letters and received an answer only in the morning. Some guys, who were working at Zinga, offered me a bed in their living room. So, I settled there.
This is what my first day in San Francisco was like.
About searching for myself and entering the crypto industry
I worked for Symphony, a company that was creating a secure messenger. At the same time, I was developing another product, and I worked on it for about a year and a half afterward. And then, I decided that I wanted to take a break from all this and just started traveling around America, trying to figure out what to do next.
That was one of the most interesting periods in my career. I realized that taking a rest is very important. I also understood that it should not last that long. When you have too much spare time, you begin to stuff your head with imaginary problems, and it also gets boring. All places seem similar: the first and second national parks that you visit are exciting, and the third and fourth are not different from others in any way.
On coming back, I joined a company that was developing an online banking system. That was where I arrived at crypto, although, in fact, I learned about it for the first time quite early, in about 2013.
So, there was 2017. I decided this was the thing to go into. Trust Wallet was a hobby project for me; I just enjoyed working on it.
The first 50 users were my friends. I am such kind of a person that if I do something, I will tell everyone about it. And the first 50 App Store reviews were also all from my friends, whom I forced to write those for me. Just kidding, some wrote theirs themselves.
I think, when you make your own product, one thing is very important. How you position it. If you have gotten your first customers, first reviews, then when the 51st person comes and sees that your app has 5 stars, he or she will think, “Oh, cool! This is probably a good application because others have recommended it.”
That was the starting point. Further on, the traffic came in from search engines. You just have to know how to do some basic SEO stuff and apply that knowledge. I used some keywords; people would find Trust Wallet using popular search queries like “ethereum wallet download,” etc. And the fact that we had started from iOS (Google Play was added later) proved that our application was trustworthy.
When we had about 15,000 or 25,000 users, I realized this was serious, not just a hobby anymore.
Trust Wallet today
As of today, I am still busy making the product; it must be 50% of the time that I dedicate to programming. I just love doing it, and I comfortably delegate management and some operational activities to my teammates. I have complete confidence in my team.
There are 12 of us, all in different timezones. We mainly interact through GitHub. Apart from myself, we have another person from Ukraine and several more guys from Russia, Czechia, Britain, Brazil, China, and Indonesia. We communicate via popular messengers, but chiefly all the work goes through GitHub because it is the technical part largely.
Over the last two months, we have come out on top among crypto wallets in terms of the number of downloads. We have jumped ahead of Blockchain.com, Black Wallet, Coinbase Wallet, Exodus, and the rest. For the last three years, there have been 8m to 10m downloads. I cannot tell you the exact number of active users – we do not disclose those figures – but there are at least several million of them.
My approach is not to compete with anyone. We are just making a product that would be convenient for people to use. Why should we compete? We do not make money off it; our only goal is to popularize cryptocurrency. Perhaps, we will launch monetization of some kind in the future, but now we compare our metrics with those of our competitors only to understand how good the product that we make for users is and what ideas we should borrow from our competitors in terms of functions, etc.
About jailbreaking, social engineering, and human greed
Every day, incidents occur when people have their money stolen or lose access to their wallets. There are so many scenarios of attacking users, and they are not related to the product. Many people keep their passphrases on the Internet – in their Google Disk or their mail, where it is very easy to steal them. And when they come to us and say, “You have stolen all my money!” we begin to figure out what has happened, and they discover their mistakes themselves.
Many people give their money to scammers posing as Trust Wallet tech support. Many simply lose their passwords, because the human brain is just unable to remember all the information it needs and to store it in proper order.
We think about how to improve all this from the product’s side. How do we give people more educational information, so that they don’t fall for such tricks?
When I worked in security, I saw that hackers were stealing huge databases, containing emails and passwords, from organizations all the time. One of the most popular and effective attack methods is nothing else but social engineering. When people work there who know how to manipulate very well. And users who know little about technology are easily hooked. Because of the lack of knowledge. That is why I believe that educating people is crucial.
Today cryptocurrencies are primarily a means of speculation. Everyone hopes to earn 1,000% of the deposit, and this is one of the main reasons why people make mistakes and become victims of hackers – because of their greed. They may invest in some fraudulent products, pyramid schemes, etc. Greed is probably the biggest problem of our society.
I liked Ukraine. I had a lot of friends there, I liked my school, my university.
A lot of people go to the US and then talk about how bad it was in Ukraine. But for me, it was a very good place both, in terms of career development and the people who were there.
Maybe someday I’ll come visit old friends but I don’t plan to live there.