The Fast and the Frictionless: Building a Cryptocurrency Exchange with Shakepay

Ah, the pivot—is there a less ubiquitous phrase when it comes to technology? Many companies shift their vision at one point or another, sometimes out of inspiration, but usually out of necessity.

Shakepay pivoted, but they did so due to urgency and insight, which might have been the best thing that could have happened to them. Based in Montreal, the company is an online exchange that allows users to buy and sell cryptocurrency at incredibly quick speeds. Through either a web or mobile app, users can purchase, transfer or liquidate their Bitcoin within 10 minutes, a far cry from the hours or even days it takes for other exchanges to verify and log transactions. Today, the platform is exiting its beta and officially launching in Canada.

When a company experiences 50 per cent growth year over year, that’s a good sign. When a company experiences that kind of growth month-over-month, something must be going right. That is the quick pace Shakepay has seen with its platform ever since launching in March 2018. The growth is easy to highlight, but it wasn’t always easy. Shakepay’s tumultuous history is a common thread shared by many companies in the cryptocurrency space.

Shakepay launched three years ago after going through the BoostVC accelerator in the Valley. From there, they launched their original business plan: provide customers with a card they could load with Bitcoin then spend in physical retail stores. Shakepay launched with a partnering issuing bank but quickly ran into problems. Eventually, the partnering bank (along with VISA) cut off their partnership, and Shakepay’s co-founder and CEO Jean Amiouny had to figure out the best course to fix the problem. Amiouny and his team had always planned on creating an exchange but didn’t know they would be forced into doing it that early.

“We always felt it was an opportunity,” he says. “When you look at it from a logistics perspective, we were highly dependent on the relationship with our issuing bank. That was something that worried me a lot, so when we were talking about the future of Shakepay, it makes sense to be an exchange where you’re not as dependent on a third party.”


Amiouny and the team got to work. They launched the exchange in March and saw it grow at a quick pace, despite missing out on the massive cryptocurrency boom of late 2017. The torrid expansion continued: So far, Shakepay has served over 40,000 customers and transacted more than $30 million. Now they are exiting their beta and inviting Canadians across the country to try and buy and sell cryptocurrency.

“As we developed the beta of Shakepay, we have seen what our users really love and what they don’t use,” says Amiouny, describing what they learned from their initial launch period. “You kind of trim off the pieces that aren’t working and keep building the ones that are. We’ve built a lot on the backend that you might not see with from visual perspective, but it all factors into the speed. The ending of the beta is really just signifying that we’re open for business and ready for Canada.”

Right now, Shakepay is a developer-heavy team working on three key areas to improve the state of exchanges in Canada. The most important aspect is being frictionless—they don’t want users to be hung up and waiting in limbo for transactions to process. Users should log on, buy or sell something, and have that cash or cryptocurrency available right away. Secondly, Shakepay wants to be transparent, and that means clearly showing pricing, as well as being visible with the fact that they are licensed as a money services business by FINTRAC and the AMF to operate throughout the country.

Shakepay’s third marker for success is customer service. Even as the CEO, Amiouny is still helping customers out, knowing that it’s important to hear first-hand where customers are having problems.

This kind of hands-on approach is unique to the cryptocurrency world—the Shakepay team has been in and out of various cryptocurrency subreddits (sections of the popular site Reddit dedicated to specific topics) answering questions and responding to concerns. It was this kind of guerilla troubleshooting that helped the exchange get adopted quickly by a community of subject matter experts (SME). When SMEs get onboard, they will spread their referral codes and bring the rest on board. For Shakepay, it was about making their users their strongest evangelists as well.

“Whenever you post cool stuff on Reddit in the crypto space, people tend to be really excited to try new things,” Amiouny says. “On the flipside, when things go wrong, you get 10 threads about why Shakepay isn’t working. You get a lot of feedback and chatter. That’s what’s really cool—we’ll respond really quickly. If the feedback is good, then awesome. If it’s criticism, we’ll take it as building blocks.”

That word-of-mouth and quick customer service has worked so far. Shakepay is now a top 100 financial app on Apple’s app store, and the platform will only continue to grow. Now that they are out of beta, they are lowering their prices from 1.75 per cent per trade to 0.75 per cent per trade. In addition, Shakepay does not charge for funding or withdrawals, making the cryptocurrency world accessible to any kind of user.

Looking to the future, Shakepay has plans to keep growing, but not through the traditional technology route. They do not want any outside investors, despite the fact a few have come calling. And who can blame them? They are a young company that is growing quickly with a dedicated user base. Shakepay wants to shun the normal growth routes of giving up equity and instead focus on organic growth through word-of-mouth and a few other hush-hush marketing tactics.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen with cryptocurrency. It could balloon back up and enter another bubble, or steadily grow—or neither of those. Shakepay can’t predict the market. All they want to do is let Canadians access it as quickly and easily as possible.