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Matej Žák (Trezor): "We can't accept that only 2% of crypto holders have a hardware wallet"

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Matej Žák (Trezor): "We can't accept that only 2% of crypto holders have a hardware wallet"

To mark its 10th anniversary, Ledger's main competitor Trezor has launched a new range of hardware wallets for the first time since 2018. Its CEO gave us an interview at the Bitcoin Amsterdam conference (12 & 13 October).

The Big Whale: Despite the generally complicated context, there are still so many events. How do you find the atmosphere at Bitcoin Amsterdam?

Matej Žák: The interest in the bitcoin goes far beyond its price, so the atmosphere is good! It's nice to get together with other bitcoiners for a few days. Despite the Bear Market, the ecosystem remains dynamic, and it's always a pleasure to meet people we know and have worked with.

You mention the situation on the markets. Even though bitcoin has risen back above $30,000, things are complicated for everyone... What about Trezor?

We can't give any details about our financial situation, but what I can say is that previous Bear Markets have been tougher.

When I joined the company four years ago, we weren't at our best, it was a much more complicated Bear Market. Today, we're continuing to hire and we have the resources to invest in new products. Everyone's aim is to be ready when the market picks up again.

You talk about hiring. What is Trezor's current workforce?

We're around 150, and we're aiming for 200 people by 2025.

You've just announced the release of new products. The last time was in 2018, in other words an eternity ago by industry standards. Why so long and what's new compared to previous wallets?

Creating hardware wallets takes time simply because we're touching on a very sensitive subject, which is the safekeeping of crypto-assets, and our new products will enable us to be even better.

The first new product is Trezor Safe 3, which secures almost 7,000 cryptos. Firstly, we have integrated a Shamir-type recovery function that allows trusted third parties to be included in the transaction process.

But the main new feature is the addition of a secure element inside the hardware wallet. This is designed to limit the physical attack surface. It protects your PIN code, which gives you access to the physical wallet. The special feature is that the Secure Element does not memorise it.

Why didn't you include this element in your previous wallets?

This is an additional level of security that we are integrating. That's not to say that our previous hardware wallets aren't effective, but the new ones are even more secure.

Globally, the best way to secure access to your Trezor wallets is to have a strong "passphrase" which, via our system, can be made up of the letters and numbers of your choice.

Now that you've integrated a secure element, what are the main differences with your competitors like Ledger?

The fact that our software solutions are completely open-source is the big difference from Ledger.

We're also working to make our hardware wallet as open-source as possible. To this end, we have signed no confidentiality agreement with Infineon Technologies, the manufacturer of our secure elements, so as to be totally transparent if a vulnerability is discovered and above all to be able to communicate about it publicly.

Many companies choose to keep this process opaque. That's not our case.

To celebrate your 10th anniversary, you've also launched a physical wallet dedicated to bitcoin. Why this choice?

For us, Bitcoin holds a special place in the crypto ecosystem and we wanted to remind people of this. It's both a philosophical and technological question. Bitcoin is an invention that can solve a lot of problems like inflation or financial inclusion.

Trezor will donate €21 from every Bitcoin hardware wallet sale to support the Trezor Academy, a bitcoin education initiative. Where are you going to set up this "Academy"?

We hope to have a presence all over the world where Bitcoin would be most useful, but initially we want to deploy our academy in Africa.

The aim will be to provide support to local bitcoiners by setting up courses, meetings to educate people. We already have very good contacts with several African countries.

Why did you choose Africa?

On this continent, there are many problems linked to inflation or financial inclusion. Bitcoin can also be useful for opponents of dictatorial regimes. Educating people about bitcoin in Africa really makes sense.

Back to products, you've also launched a physical recovery phrase system taking the form of a metal tube. Original...

Yes, the idea of the "Keep Metal" is to give our users as many options as possible to secure their seed phrase which is often written down on a simple piece of paper without further protection.

With our new system, you can both engrave your seed phrase inside the tube but also store paper inside. The "Keep Metal" is designed to be fire and water resistant to avoid accidents as much as possible. It's a physical solution that means you don't have to store your seed phrase on the Internet.

Doesn't this sound a bit 'gadgety'?

No, not at all. It's an additional option for saving your recovery phrase. We want to give our users as many options as possible for their self-custody.

The aim is also to have a recovery system with as little KYC (Know Your Customer) as possible and that prevents potential data leaks as much as possible.

In terms of regulation, things are changing a lot, both in Europe with MiCA and in the United States where the US securities regulator has taken a tougher line. Have you been impacted?

For the moment, we are not impacted either by what is happening in the United States or by MiCA regulation, which will begin to be phased in gradually.

Are you a member of any association in Europe to make your voice heard should the regulations impact your business?

We are not a member of any association and at the moment we have no plans to join one. Generally speaking, we want to appear on the public and political stage as little as possible.

What are the main markets for Trezor?

Today, the United States accounts for more than 50% of our sales, and Europe just under 30%. The rest is split roughly equally between South America, Asia and Africa.

In the spring, you said that your sales had suddenly risen by almost 900% following the Ledger Recover controversy. Are they still rising?

We did see a very big spike at that time, which has since subsided. Today, our sales are back to pre Ledger Recover levels in the spring.

Since the launch of Trezor, how many hardware wallets have you sold?

We don't disclose this figure.

Your new products will start shipping from mid-November. What is the current status of pre-orders?

All Bitcoin hardware wallet products were sold out within 24 hours. For the other products, we have already received a few thousand orders.

For just over a year now, some of your competitors have been planning to develop services for businesses. Is this also the case for you?

No, we want to remain a company that focuses entirely on private individuals. Trezor's vision and mission is to democratise self-custody and therefore financial independence for as many users as possible.

We don't want to deviate from our primary mission, that would be too risky for us.

Is it economically realistic to remain focused solely on the retail market?

We're convinced. According to our estimates, there are around 400 million cryptocurrency holders worldwide, and less than 2% of them have a hardware wallet, it's not possible.

This percentage could double in the next five years. It's also reasonable to assume that the number of cryptocurrency users will also increase and therefore, automatically, the self-custody market with it.

Many people consider Trezor wallets to be complicated to use. Do you share this view? What are you going to do to improve things?

At the risk of surprising you, I don't share this point of view! It may seem complicated to use because we provide many options for our users to secure their cryptos.

Our new hardware wallets can be initialised in a minute from two buttons on the box. We've also launched our Trezor Suite app to make it as easy as possible to keep track of crypto investments with a simplified user experience.

Since your launch, you've chosen to grow without recourse to venture capital (VC) funds. Will you continue to do so?

Yes, for the simple reason that we want to remain as independent as possible. Often, companies that receive a lot of money from funds have to grow very quickly, which can have an impact on the quality of production or corporate culture.

The current Bear Market has shown this time and time again. We are not interested in becoming a cash machine. We want to remain a company that grows in a healthy way.

Are you planning to conquer other markets in the near future?

Today, our head office remains in the Czech Republic, where most of our production chain is also based. For the time being, we're not particularly looking to expand elsewhere, although we are keeping an eye on the United States, which accounts for the majority of our sales today.

Last May, the company Unciphered revealed a way of accessing the seed phrase of your wallets. As a reminder, this hack was a physical attack. In general, if you have unlimited time and resources, anything can be hacked. This type of attack is reduced with the addition in our Trezor Safe 3 of the Secure Element, which also does not retain the seed phrase.

As I have reiterated many times, the best way to secure your cryptos via our hardware wallets is to have a very strong Passphrase.

In this case, the only way to gain access to your cryptos is to steal this password from you. What's more, this attack vector had already been known about for a few years and I was personally a little surprised that this video was published at this particular time.

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