Bootstrapping An Over-The-Counter Cryptocurrency Exchange

As fame, fortune, and admirers accumulate, the humble beginnings of innovation are often overlooked. For example, in the late 2000s, Zimride was a ridesharing service used mainly by college students. Patterned after the grassroots transportation system used by locals in Zimbabwe, the service integrated with the Facebook API to connect folks looking to carpool. It might be hard to believe, but today, Zimride is better known as Lyft.

Of course, the idea for carpooling existed long before Lyft or Zimride, but nobody had packaged a consumer-friendly and scalable product. Retrospectively, it’s clear that Zimride would be the precursor to a billion-dollar transportation enterprise, but who could have predicted that in 2005?

In the cryptocurrency world, the concept of decentralized exchanges is another idea with incredible disruptive potential. But even though platforms like the Kyber Network are under development, it’s not obvious which ventures are poised to become the big-time players in cryptotrading. In fact, it’s not even clear that consumers know the financial advantages of decentralized trading.

Over the last few days, two young men have started a subreddit with a mission to “increase the rate of adoption of decentralized exchanges and to support Ethereum’s general ecosystem.” Although it’s begun on a small scale and essentially piggybacks off existing services, r/tokentrade is the sort of grassroots solution that may act as a harbinger of popularized decentralized exchange.

ETHNews had the pleasure of speaking with the moderators of r/tokentrade, Jan Sarychev and Ghilia Weldesselasie. They might not fit the profile of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but their initiative is the mark of a healthy and promising crypto community.

Sarychev is a 22-year-old London-based software developer. He typically builds large-scale web scrapers but two months ago, he began writing EDCCs (smart contracts). As one would expect, Sarychev’s clients offered him payment using virtual currencies and, although Sarychev was not a cryptocurrency trader, he thought to himself, “why not?”

ETHNews spoke with the young developer via Discord, a chat platform for gamers.

Sarychev said he was deeply moved after watching a demonstration of 0x, an open protocol for decentralized exchange on the Ethereum blockchain. On its website, 0x states that Augur, Aragon, and Melonport are among the projects that are building on the protocol. The 0x team just concluded a token offering which was conducted using its own protocol. There is a total supply of 1 billion ZRX tokens and the development team set a contribution cap of $24 million.

On Tuesday, inspired by 0x, Sarychev quickly created r/tokentrade, a subreddit dedicated to the peer-to-peer exchange of ERC20 tokens. The subreddit acts as a hub for traders to post buy and sell requests – something like a Craigslist for cryptocurrency. The burgeoning digital forum has already gathered over 660 subscribers who are interested in over-the-counter (OTC) trading.

Sarychev generously walked me through r/tokentrade’s buy and sell system. On its face, it looks like a bit of a convoluted process.

“A trader would produce an order on 0x’s OTC website using Meta Mask. A link will be created, and he will then copy that hyperlink and post it on my subreddit, where traders can find and fill his order.” According to Sarychev, over 20,000 ZRX tokens have changed hands because of r/tokentrade. So far, there isn’t a reliable process for filtering out requests that have already been filled.

Apart from reddit, Sarychev doesn’t maintain much of an online presence – he doesn’t even have a Twitter handle. But reddit was all that was required for Sarychev to connect with a like-minded, young cryptocurrency enthusiast from Quebec.

This past week, 17-year-old Weldesselasie also created an OTC cryptocurrency subreddit, r/rotctrading, though his community did not take root. As of publication, there’s only one sell request posted and the subreddit attracted eight subscribers.

Weldesselasie told ETHNews that, at first, he was irritated that r/tokentrade outpaced r/rotctrading. But in an act of humility and unity, he reached out to Sarychev. “[Sarychev’s subreddit] had more activity and to be honest his subreddit name is a lot better, so I just asked if I could join him as a moderator, which was just as good.”

Sarychev accepted. “We basically had the same idea, so we decided to pool our energies rather than compete,” he said.

Weldesselasie is quite new to the cryptocurrency world, though he claims it was on his radar as early as 2013. “The tech sounded really cool, but it wasn’t ready for use, so I dismissed it. I didn’t know I could have bought some bitcoin at the end of 2013 and just sat on it, making me super rich. I only started investing since April, and although I hate that I didn’t start earlier, I know that I’m still way early.” Weldesselasie currently works as a “community manager” for Swap, another decentralized exchange that’s under development.

Amazingly, Sarychev and Weldesselasie have never met. They didn’t even know one another’s names, just their reddit handles. And yet, the duo has suddenly embarked on a strange journey together as the moderators of this new, niche community. Sarychev and Weldesselasie say that they are not affiliated with 0x and neither is working on r/tokentrade full-time. In fact, Weldesselasie is a student and begins classes next week.

When pressed about potential regulatory issues, neither was terribly concerned.

“Haven’t really given it much thought,” said Sarychev. “I’m rather surprised by the attention r/tokentrade has already attracted. Generally, however, I’m not too worried. If r/tokentrade closes down, a new hub will sprout up.”

Weldesselasie expressed a similar sentiment. “We already know that courts, judges and regulators have the power to censor and erase content from the web. We also know that they have no power over which content can pop up, which means that if they were to sue reddit and request it remove our subreddit, we could just create a new subreddit, or a Facebook group, Slack, Discord, or Gitter chat room.”

In the future, Sarychev plans to create a “tokentrade search engine to facilitate the discovery of orders.” He imagines that the subreddit will function “more as a place where token traders can congregate.”

What becomes of r/tokentrade is secondary to the spirit of development. The fact is that cryptocurrency and social media have empowered optimistic collaboration. This is as strong a signal as any for the future of decentralized exchanges and the continued growth of digital assets.

As Weldesselasie put it, “What I love the most about the crypto community is that complete strangers can come together to do good work and do their part to further the community. Not too bad for someone who can’t code amirite?”