Neil Bergquist | Co-Founder and CEO of Coinme

Introduction

Success leaves clues.

Finance Strategists sat down with Neil Bergquist, Co-Founder and CEO of Coinme. He shared his thoughts on the past, present, and future of the company, as well as the insights he has gained from running the business.

Who is Neil Bergquist?

Q: Who are you and what’s your background?

I am the co-founder and CEO of Coinme, a leading cryptocurrency cash exchange with over 21,000 locations across 49 states. Before Coinme, I was the managing director of SURF Incubator, a community support space for entrepreneurs. We grew the organization to be the largest tech incubator in the Pacific Northwest with over 250 resident startups and strategic partners such as Microsoft and PayPal. During the early days of Coinme, I also worked as an Innovation Management Consultant at Point B and later as the Director of Innovation at Delta Dental of Washington. 

Q: Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you? 

My parents have been significant influences on me. They always say their kids are their most important investment, and I’ve benefited greatly from their ongoing commitment and dedication to my education and development. My dad started and operated a small business that I worked at off and on growing up. With his engineering background, he was my go-to person for any question related to how things work. My mom was a school nurse and later a nurse at a hospital in Seattle. If I had to summarize, I’d say I learned emotional intelligence from my mom and the art and science of business from my dad. They both encouraged me to build the world I want to live in, and naturally, I gravitated to entrepreneurship as a vehicle for fixing problems and making the world a better place. 

Business

Q: What is Coinme?

Coinme, founded in 2014, is a leading licensed cryptocurrency cash exchange in the U.S., with a mission to be a gateway to digital currency and a better financial future. Coinme offers an enterprise API that “crypto-enables” legacy financial institutions and operates a mobile and web app to enable people to buy, sell, transfer and securely store digital currencies. Through partnerships with Coinstar and MoneyGram, Coinme powers over 21,000 locations across 49 states nationwide and was recently ranked as one of the Fastest Growing Companies in the Americas by the Financial Times.

Q: What separates Coinme from its competitors?

Coinme was an early pioneer in the crypto exchange space, having launched one of the world’s first cash-to-bitcoin ATMs. We wanted to address a lack of secure access to bitcoin, and an ATM provided a familiar transaction experience that people trusted. Since its inception, we’ve enabled hundreds of thousands of people to learn about bitcoin and securely transact. 

What sets us apart is our four value propositions reflecting an enhanced and trusted experience for customers who want to invest in crypto. They include: 

  • Instant: Crypto is immediately available to customers to send, sell or transfer after purchasing. 
  • Affordable: Purchase crypto using cash with lower fees than many other bitcoin ATM providers.  
  • Simple: Transactions are seamless and straightforward. All purchases are instantly and directly deposited into Coinme’s secure wallet, eliminating the need to set up a third-party wallet and input separate wallet information.
  • Trusted: Name brands trust Coinme to offer crypto purchases to customers at MoneyGram and Coinstar locations. In addition, Coinme focuses on regulations and compliance to ensure customers’ safe and secure experiences.

Q: What led you to start Coinme?

 I first encountered bitcoin ATMs while serving as the managing director of SURF Incubator in Seattle. After that, I became passionate about bitcoin and its technological advantages to serve as a store-of-value and medium-of-exchange for our digital world. The technology just made sense and served as an obvious framework for the natural evolution of money. However, before I could give people trusted access to bitcoin, I needed to collaborate with regulators to see if they would support us. I quickly learned about the Bank Secrecy Act and the U.S. Patriot Act and how they provide a framework for anti-money laundering laws in the U.S. I also educated myself about state-level money transmission laws. 

After investing what little money I had, I partnered with my co-founder Michael Smyers and an experienced fintech lawyer. I learned how to fit exchanging bitcoin into the existing legal boundaries to operate a money services business. I taught myself everything I needed to run a regulatory-compliant bitcoin exchange. I worked closely with local, state, and federal regulators to ensure compliance and protect consumers. 

After several months of collaboration with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, Coinme received a state-issued license in April 2014. A couple of weeks later, on May 1, 2014, Coinme launched the first licensed bitcoin ATM in the U.S., one of the first ten bitcoin ATMs deployed globally.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given your younger self?

Borrow as much money as possible and buy as much bitcoin as possible. When we launched our first location on May 1, 2014, bitcoin was trading at about $420. Besides the apparent trading advice, I would have set a more realistic expectation that building a company, let alone a heavily regulated technology company, will be a lot harder and take much longer than one may think. Although, if I had known the full scope of how challenging building a company is, I might not have jumped in as quickly. I believe regarding all pioneers heading out on an epic journey, having a little bit of intentional ignorance is a good thing. It’s easy to overthink things instead of enthusiastically jumping in and figuring it out.

Q: What has the experience of building the business taught you? 

To answer this question effectively, I would need to write a book. Entrepreneurs often think about competitive differentiators as product-based features. However, I’ve learned that product-based features are a point-in-time snapshot. Organizational speed becomes the sustained differentiator. An organization’s ability to operate strategically and intelligently with agility and a sense of urgency will enable it to evolve and thrive continuously. The companies that last are the ones that grow in the right way faster than their competitors. 

Q: Where do you see things headed for you and the company in the next five years?

Over the next five years, Coinme will continue to crypto-enable existing financial institutions and, in turn, give millions of people access to the benefits of a blockchain-based financial system. For our consumer apps, we will expand to more locations across the U.S. and the world through new partnerships with existing financial institutions to create cash onramp and offramps to crypto. In addition, we will continue to focus on making crypto widely accessible to everyone, especially the unbanked and underbanked populations. We also plan to introduce and add more products to the Coinme ecosystem to offer more ways for people to live a mobile-first, multi-currency life.

 

For more information, visit Coinme.com.

Published on: July 30, 2022