By JEN WIECZNER
July 25, 2018
More competition is coming to the commission-free cryptocurrency trading market. Voyager, a startup backed by an Uber co-founder as well as an early investor in the ride-hailing company, revealed plans Wednesday to offer no-fee trades of at least 15 different cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum and others.
The company will function as a sort of aggregation engine for cryptocurrency prices across more than a dozen trading venues, allowing customers to buy and sell Bitcoin and other digital assets at the best value available among them. By waiving commission fees—the bread and butter of most cryptocurrency trading businesses—Voyager expects to compete with Robinhood, the stock trading app that also currently provides zero-free trading of five cryptocurrencies.
“We saw an opportunity to build a dynamic smart order router that can take advantage of the marketplace and also offer customers no commissions,” Voyager CEO Stephen Ehrlich tells Fortune. In lieu of trading fees, Voyager will make up the difference in revenue “by beating the average price of the coins at the point in time we execute the trade.”
By simultaneously connecting to and showing prices from 10 cryptocurrency exchanges plus three additional market makers—including those based in the U.S. as well as abroad—Voyager believes it can consistently execute buy and sell orders at better prices than customers would often get by just visiting one exchange, such as Coinbase or Binance.
“Sometimes you go to trade on a certain exchange, but there’s no liquidity there,” explains Ehrlich, the former CEO and founder of retail brokerage Lightspeed Financial who also previously ran the professional trading arm of online stock broker E*Trade after Lightspeed acquired it. Ehrlich says he became interested in cryptocurrency about a year ago, and now plans to bring his experience catering to both individual and professional investors in the traditional equity market to the crypto industry.
The startup’s other co-founders include Oscar Salazar, the founding architect and chief technology officer of Uber, who serves as Voyager’s main tech advisor as well as an investor in the company, which has so far raised “”significant capital” from only friends and family, Ehrlich says. Gaspard de Dreuzy, Voyager’s chief product officer, and board chairman Philip Eytan, an early Uber investor, are also co-founders.
Voyager is entering beta testing later this week, and aims to release its no-commission mobile trading app to the public by the end of October. It also plans to offer additional functionality for hedge funds and other institutional investors, as well as cryptocurrency news and analysis features in its mobile app to help regular investors make buying and selling decisions.
While the list of 15 digital currencies Voyager will trade is still being finalized, it will include the lion’s share of the top 25 most valuable cryptos on the market today, as listed by Coinmarketcap.com, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum Classic and others. “If you see it being traded today by some of the most prominent players, we will definitely have those plus some,” says Ehrlich, adding that Voyager is “leaning towards” listing certain other major cryptocurrencies, such as XRP and Stellar Lumens (which are not listed by major U.S. exchanges like Coinbase and Circle), but first must ensure that they can be stored securely.
The rollout of Voyager’s free trading product will be gradual, as it secures the necessary state licenses in the U.S. It currently is approved in a handful of states including California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Montana. It also has applications pending with regulators in other states such as New York (where a so-called BitLicense is required for cryptocurrency exchanges to do business), with a goal of operating in at least 40 U.S. states.
While Robinhood currently dominates in no-fee crypto trading, after launching the product earlier this year with ambitions to take on Coinbase as the market leader, Ehrlich believes there’s still room for Voyager to flourish, in part by offering a greater selection of crypto assets as well as additional services to help investors get comfortable trading cryptocurrencies for the first time.
“We don’t think crypto has been adopted yet by the masses in the United States,” he says. “I believe the market space itself is extremely large…We think the opportunity for both retail and institutional is vast, and we want to be part of that, and help the industry grow, and be good citizens to the industry, and help people get more knowledgeable in crypto assets.”