Making it big in the crypto world

Luno is a tremendous South African success story. From its humble beginnings six years ago, it has grown to become a successful global cryptocurrency player with over 200 employees.

The company offers bitcoin storage and transaction services like buying, selling and paying through its bitcoin wallet services to over 2 million people in 40 countries.

Luno co-founder and CEO Marcus Swanepoel explained that a group of five people from both technical and financial backgrounds started the company together.

“We were united in our belief that cryptocurrency and blockchain technology would underpin a broader shift in the way people think about and use money,” he told MyBroadband.

To this day they believe in building a new and better financial system for the world, with is illustrated by their mantra – “Upgrading the world to a better financial system”.

Luno’s first offices

Swanepoel and his four co-founders started the company with two offices in 2013 – one in Singapore where it was headquartered and another in Stellenbosch.

The Stellenbosch office, he said, was needed for them to be close to their first customer – a large African company.

Later they moved the South African office to Cape Town and opened offices in London, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Lagos and Johannesburg.

When Luno launched, only the five founders worked at the company. “Our first employee joined the year after we started,” Swanepoel said.

Luno’s Cape Town office in 2016 is shown below.

Funding Luno and making its first R1 million

Initially, Luno was funded largely by the founders’ own savings and by consulting fees from its clients.

It took the company around a year to make its first R1 million in revenue, but the company soon started to show strong growth.

To support its rapid growth the company launched funding rounds – a seed round led by DCG, a Series A led by Naspers, and a Series B led by Balderton and joined by RMIH.

It also started to generate significant revenue which provided further financial support for this growth.

Biggest challenges

The biggest challenge when Luno started was to hire talented people that believed in what Luno was doing.

“When we started in 2013, no-one wanted to work for a crypto company,” Swanepoel said. “Now we are hiring some of the most talented people in the tech industry from across the world.”

He added that Luno stuck to its strategy through difficult periods where many other crypto companies jumped onto ‘the next big thing’ like ‘blockchain’ and ‘ICO’.

Staying focused and operating a very lean company, Swanepoel said, helped them to succeed and build a great company with fantastic people.


Luno CEO Marcus Swanepoel’s tech and business choices

Marcus Swanepoel shared his business and tech choices with MyBroadband.

What was your first ever business?

During the US Soccer World Cup in 1994 one could buy collectible cards of all the players that you could paste into a book. While all the other kids at school were buying and keeping these cards, I was trading them to earn some extra money.

What was your first job and what was your salary?

I was as a waiter at a Mexican restaurant during high school where I earned between R100 and R200 per week – mostly through tips.

My first professional job was doing my articles at an audit firm in Johannesburg where I was paid about R5,000 per month.

How did you get into the tech field?

I’ve loved technology since a very early age. I convinced my dad to buy us a personal computer when I was 10 and I started coding when I was 12. I have always been an early adopter of tech, whether it be the internet or new apps.

What laptop do you currently use?

A MacBook Pro.

Apple MacBook Pro 15

What smartphone do you currently use?

A Samsung Galaxy S9 is my primary phone. I also carry an iPhone with me that has the exact same apps installed that I use to test the Luno app.

What is the best gadget you have ever bought?

I want to say my first MacBook in 2007, but the honour has to go to my Bose Wireless Noise Cancelling headphones that I use when I fly.

What is the worst gadget you have ever bought?

In 2008 I enrolled for an online course that wouldn’t work on a Mac, so I had to install Bootcamp on my Mac so I could run Microsoft Windows on it. Every time I started that Mac up in Windows a small part of me died.

When it comes to hardware my worst decision was to buy the pen that was supposed to automatically transcribe everything I write on paper into digital format. Needless to say, it didn’t work so well, but then again it was 2005.

What was your best ever investment?

This one is easy: Bitcoin.

What was your worst ever investment?

Shares in a uranium mining company called Uranium One.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

I have received so much incredibly valuable advice from so many talented people and colleagues all over the world. But if I have to choose one it would be from my father, who told me when I was young and moving to London for the first time, to ‘do the thing that scares you the most’.

Now read: How Teraco was started, and how long it took to make its first R10 million

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Making it big in the crypto world