Home / Blockchain / Blockchain: The Winklevii just hired a co-founder of Starling Bank to run Gemini’s European business. Here’s why the neobank exec made a jump to crypto.

Blockchain: The Winklevii just hired a co-founder of Starling Bank to run Gemini’s European business. Here’s why the neobank exec made a jump to crypto.

Blockchain:

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  • Gemini Trust, the cryptocurrency exchange founded by the Winklevoss twins, just hired Julian Sawyer, co-founder and former COO of UK neobank Starling Bank. Sawyer will run Gemini’s UK and European operations.
  • Gemini was founded in 2014. Similar to Coinbase, it offers users a platform to buy and sell cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
  • Starling was also founded in 2014, but its younger competitors have outpaced it in customer acquisition.
  • Gemini’s goal is to build the future of money. Leaning on space travel imagery, Gemini calls its employees the “astronauts.”
  • “Having the opportunity to build a bank is probably once in a career. I’ve done that,” said Sawyer.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Gemini Trust, the cryptocurrency exchange founded by the Winklevoss twins of Facebook founding fame, just hired Julian Sawyer, co-founder and former COO of UK neobank Starling Bank, to run its UK and European operations.

While some caution of the crypto winter that followed a 2017 boom (when the price of bitcoin rose to $20,000), crypto is still hot in the fintech world. 

Coinbase was valued at $8 billion following its 2018 fundraise, and Gemini just made its first acquisition. Facebook has announced ambitions to launch its own cryptocurrency, Libra.

“I think this is the perfect time, because the crypto market is coming to age,” Sawyer told Business Insider. 

In crypto, Sawyer sees unexplored crypto use cases as opportunities to take on incumbents. Sending money cross-border, for example, can take a few days with a traditional bank. Using blockchain and a stablecoin, it can be done instantly, he said. 

“Having the opportunity to build a bank is probably once in a career. I’ve done that,” said Sawyer. “To me, it was a natural step. I’ve done the future of banking, so now I’ll do the future of money and find out where this is going to go.”

Blockchain: Julian Sawyer Gemini

Julian Sawyer, co-founder and former COO of Starling Bank, joins Gemini to run its European operations.
Gemini


Gemini was founded in 2014. Similar to Coinbase, Gemini offers users a platform to buy and sell cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Sawyer sees part of his role in building out Gemini’s European footprint to be raising awareness of possible crypto use cases. Crypto is more than just bitcoin, he said. 

“If you think of the traditional bell curve of product adoption, you’ve got the innovators and early adopters—and we’re clearly in that space at the moment and need to continue in that space—but we also need to start getting to the mass market,” Sawyer said.

Blockchain: ‘Crypto Without Chaos’

Cryptocurrency requires strong and secure infrastructure, said Sawyer.

Gemini, which markets itself as the “regulated crypto exchange,” has been a slow-and-steady player in the crowded and volatile bitcoin world. 

Earlier this year, Gemini launched a marketing campaign featuring slogans like “Crypto Without Chaos,” and “The Revolution Needs Rules.”

“It’s about doing it right,” said Sawyer. “You can cut corners in compliance, how you store client money, payments infrastructure, and service levels, et cetera. But that is the wrong way of building a business, and we all know that.”

Referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Sawyer stressed the importance of security in fintech.

“If your money, your investments, and you payments are not safe and secure, you’re not going to use it,” he said. “Therefore, you’ve got to go regulation first, security first, and compliance first.”

Read more: The Winklevoss twins explain why bringing regulation to the crypto market isn’t a zero-sum game

“It may take us longer. But we’re not in it for the short term, we’re in it for the long term,” said Sawyer.

Gemini’s goal is to build the future of money. Leaning on space travel imagery, it calls its employees “astronauts.”

In 2018, Gemini launched the industry’s first regulated “stablecoin,” which is a cryptocurrency pegged 1:1 to a fiat currency like US dollars. It’s called the Gemini dollar, and it’s backed 1:1 to a reserve of US dollars held at State Street Bank.

Gemini hopes that embracing regulation will help bring Wall Street money into the crypto space. In 2018, JPMorgan launched its own stablecoin to move client money, and Wells Fargo followed suit in September.

Blockchain: Key hires

Gemini has been beefing up its executive ranks, hiring experienced leaders from financial services incumbents.

Noah Perlman came on as chief compliance officer in September after 13 years as a managing director at Morgan Stanley. Robert Cornish, who spent 17 years at ISE Holdings (a Nasdaq subsidiary) and was most recently the chief information officer of the New York Stock Exchange, joined Gemini as CTO last year.

“What the founders and executives have done is they’ve hired lots of really good people who come from the financial services industry,” said Sawyer.

In addition to growing its UK and European footprint, Gemini recently made its first acquisition—a blockchain startup called Nifty Gateway, also run by identical twin brothers. 

Starling has seen high turnover in its top ranks. Sawyer, who left Starling Bank in July, was one of four execs to leave the UK-based challenger bank this year. Starling, like other neobanks, is challenging the traditional brick-and-mortar retail banking models of incumbents.

Starling was founded in 2014, but its younger competitors have outpaced it in customer acquisition. Its CEO, Anne Boden, told Business Insider that the neobank was closing in on 1 million customers in September. 

Monzo, one of Starling’s top UK-based competitors, secured 3 million customers in September. Germany’s N26, which just launched in the US, announced 3.5 million customers in July.

Monzo was founded in 2015 by a group of former Starling execs, including Tom Blomfield (former CTO), Gary Dolman (former CFO), Paul Rippon (former CRO), Jason Bates (former chief customer officer), and Jonas Templestein (former software engineer). 

Monzo secured a $2 billion valuation after a $113 million funding round from investors including fintech accelerator Y Combinator Continuity, venture capital firm General Catalyst, and the buzzy $35 billion fintech Stripe.

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