Interview with MaskEX VP & Chief Strategy Officer
Welcome to our "Behind the Startup" series, where we explore the insights and experiences of leading figures in the digital asset space. In this interview, we delve into the world of Dubai, UAE, and the next bull market with MaskEX's VP & Chief Strategy Officer, Ben Caselin. Ben shares his journey in the digital assets space, the unique position of MaskEX in the market, the potential of the UAE, and the role of stablecoins in the future of cryptocurrency.
The Emergence of Dubai as a Major Player in the Crypto Industry and MaskEX's Role
Ishan Pandey: Hi Ben Caselin, great to have you here for our "Behind the Startup" series. Can you tell us about your experience in the digital assets space, and what drew you to MaskEX specifically?
Ben Caselin: Great to have this conversation with you. I’ve been active in the space for several years now, first working with projects focused on bitcoin-powered remittances around South East Asia and crypto-collateralized stablecoins - this was an early iteration of DeFi, before it was called DeFi.
I later on joined Hong Kong-based crypto exchange AAX, about 6 months before the exchange went live, and the 3.5 years I was there, I would say were most formative. From developing a fully-fledged educational hub, the first among our peers to foresee and facilitate the rise of Web3*, to being the first crypto exchange to launch a spot market for SATS/USDT, enabling users to buy and sell bitcoin with as little as 0.10cts for optimal accessibility to the market, to coming up second behind Binance on spot volume, to eventually seeing the exchange completely collapse in the wake of the FTX saga; I bring a certain experience to MaskEX that is quite unique indeed.
I initially did not intend to join another centralized exchange, but after many conversations with MaskEX’s CEO, Eric Yang, I became convinced of its potential. For instance, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), one of the world’s largest and most influential sovereign wealth funds, is among MaskEX’s major shareholders with a 50% stake. You can imagine this opens doors, seldom if ever opened before.
When we look around us, we could say that Coinbase is synonymous to the USA, while Binance is dominant in the APAC region. Over the coming year, we will undoubtedly see the UAE rise to the forefront, and with our headquarters in Dubai, and the incredibly favorable regulatory climate in this jurisdiction under VARA, MaskEX is set to be the number one exchange in the region - not just in the UAE, but the entire MENA region and beyond.
We should not underestimate the potential for this region and while I agree with some analysts that the “next bull market” will once again be Asia-driven, with Hong Kong at the helm, the big surprise will come from Central Asia and the Middle East. I see it is as a great honor to be part of that journey and after everything that’s happened over the past two years, I’m more bullish than ever before.
Fun fact: The reason why we jumped on the concept of Web3, at least a few months before it blew up publicly was due to an article on so-called “DeWeb tokens” I had read on your platform actually.
Ishan Pandey: Can you speak to the relevance of stablecoins and any plans MaskEX might have around stablecoin issuance?
Ben Caselin: From the early days on top of the Bitcoin network to today’s complex multi-chain multi-model stablecoin environment, the importance of stablecoins should be apparent to all. As I often say, in the future, we will see that Bitcoin is the ultimate stablecoin. It’s Internet-native, representing only itself, it’s housed on the most decentralized network and is peerless in its design. But until that future, both fiat and crypto-collateralized stablecoins play a vital role for easier on-and-off ramps, liquidity, payments, remittances, unbanking the banked, and so forth; we’re in a transitional period between legacy and novelty, broken money and digital value, and stablecoins provide an important stepping stone.
As to any plans MaskEX may or may not have around stablecoin issuance, it is too early and unwise to comment on this. The global battle for market dominance in the widest sense of the word is well underway and fiercer than ever, and so any plans or initiatives need to be deeply considered and thoroughly discussed with many stakeholders. Nonetheless, there are incredible opportunities for the UAE to capitalize on and it is certainly my hope and wish for the UAE to take its position at the absolute forefront of innovation.
Ishan Pandey: How have the investments from Dubai's Royal Family impacted MaskEX's growth and development?
Ben Caselin: Our capital base is strong, and unlike too many crypto firms we do not rely on some FTT-like platform token. But when it comes to the support we get from across the UAE, it is primarily about opening doors and unlocking previously untapped opportunities. Dubai is the first jurisdiction to house a regulatory body specifically focused on virtual asset services. Furthermore, the UAE is very future-oriented and has placed a high priority on digitalization. Essentially, MaskEX is in a unique position to serve these goals.
On the 7th of May, together with Finoverse, MaskEX will be co-hosting the Opening Reception at the illustrious Museum of the Future in Dubai, as part of the Finoverse Arabia Discovery Tour which brings an esteemed delegation comprised of Founders, CEOs, regulators, and other industry stakeholders from Hong Kong to the Middle East in search of synergies between the APAC and MENA regions on the Web3 or blockchain front. This is one instance where it is apparent how MaskEX is well-positioned to bring more stakeholders to the table, including some very influential members of the Royal Family.
Ishan Pandey: How can the DeFi ecosystem overcome the challenges of scalability and interoperability to ensure long-term growth and adoption of cryptocurrency projects?
Ben Caselin: First, kill the hype. At present, the crypto space is still full of distractions and unworthy projects only aimed at hyping up and attracting retail capital without providing any real value. But beneath the surface, there are certainly a few projects with lively communities and talented developers that may prove to have staying-power. I don’t believe it’s only a matter of technology now - rather, it comes down to focus, commitment and maturity.
We can ascribe many untruths to Do Kwon, but he was right about one thing: more than 90% of token projects will fail. Surely, traders who love volatility can find ways to take advantage of market inefficiencies and seize short-lived opportunities, and admittedly trading platforms provide ample avenues for that type of risk-appetite, but at the same time, everyone needs to be aware of the reality. Over time we will see where communities can truly thrive and where value ultimately comes to settle.
Ishan Pandey: What are your thoughts on the emergence of Dubai as a major player in the crypto industry, and how does MaskEX fit into this emerging market?
Ben Caselin: It’s important to clarify that as of the date of this interview, April 28, we are still in process with VARA in the hope of obtaining the trade license. This means we currently do not target Dubai, nor the UAE.
As for Dubai itself, we should not underestimate the significance of this Emirate, and more broadly speaking of the UAE as an important hub for virtual asset activities and innovation. The “Emirates Blockchain Strategy 2021”, launched in 2018, as part of the nation’s larger digital transformation agenda, called “UAE Vision 2021” is of special importance here, as it outlines the key areas of activity that the UAE aspires to transform, including government services, business, and cross-border collaboration. The establishment of VARA marks another milestone in this regard. My personal view is that it is incredibly important, especially now, for different regions across the world to take charge, set their own agenda and on the basis of that compete with other jurisdictions to push the industry forward.
Notable jurisdictions are obviously El Salvador, which bravely and without restraint has pioneered adopting Bitcoin as legal tender, reducing dependency on the USA and the US dollar. Hong Kong, as part of Greater China, is another very significant player - and it has been so historically since the earliest days. Its recent shift to embrace “Web3” is very important for the region and has instantly put Hong Kong back on the map as a financial hub after a few years of regulatory passivity. The UAE shares the frontline with these very interesting jurisdictions and this is just the beginning.
Ishan Pandey: Can you tell us about some of MaskEX's products and services?
Ben Caselin: MaskEX is more than a centralized crypto exchange. It enables crypto trading across Spot, Perpetuals, Margins, P2P, and OTC, but users can also trade actual US and Hong Kong stocks, during conventional trading hours. MaskEX also offers a VISA-powered Virtual Card for its verified users, making it easy to pay both online and soon offline - through ApplePay - for everyday goods and services with USDT as the collateral.
It’s important to note that MaskEX does not just service retail, but also large institutions, especially in the wider MENA region who are eager to get access to digital assets. Because indeed, in contrast to Kevin O’Leary’s remarks that institutions will not come into the market until there is regulatory clarity, there is a world outside of North America where the reality is quite different and more favorable.
Ishan Pandey: According to you, what impact will AI have on the crypto space? How does MaskEX plan to maintain a competitive edge in a market that is becoming increasingly crowded with new exchanges?
Ben Caselin: For now, I think most if not all crypto tokens that draw on the AI hype are absolute nonsense. However, what openAI and Google are working on is highly interesting and if crypto traders want exposure to this field of endeavor they are welcome to explore the various stocks on the MaskEX platform which provide such exposure. Google and Microsoft are real companies that are producing valuable technology in this field and there are many others, including a few interesting indices users might want to check out. At the moment, I have no comments on nor any interest in so-called “crypto AI” projects. Using AI to trade the market introduces new risks and does not guarantee success in trading.
Having said all that, AI provides great tools and could be of use around customer service, content creation, and strategizing. I’m also of the opinion that as a society we need to approach this technology with caution and ample wisdom.
Thank you for having me and I look forward to more discussions in the future. Readers who want to engage or pick on things I’ve said or have any questions can come to my Twitter account @BenCaselin. And of course, anyone interested in MaskEX is welcome to download the app.