Brett Harrison: FTX US Now & Where It's Going

In FTX Podcast #73, Tristan Yver interviews Brett Harrison, President of FTX US. Brett describes how he first met Sam, his past work, and the future of FTX US.

*Compared to major competitors. Terms and conditions apply. This is not investment advice or an investment recommendation. NFTs are shown for illustrative purposes and the types of NFTs available may vary. Cryptocurrencies, including NFTs are highly volatile, subject to significant price risk, and may not be suitable for you.

Join us on this episode of the FTX podcast where we have an in-depth chat with FTX US president, Brett Harrison. Get to know Brett as he dives into his wealth of experience in the finance space, what he’s learned along the way, and what it means for the future of FTX US. 

Brett Harrison Interview

Tristan Yver: 

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the FTX podcast. I'm your host, Tristan Yver. Today, I have the pleasure of having here with me, Brett Harrison, the president of FTX US. Welcome, Brett. 

Brett Harrison: 

Hey, Tristan, awesome to be here. 

Tristan Yver: 

Absolutely, great to have you on the podcast. I know we've been trying to plan this for a bit. I'm really happy it worked out. To get things kicked off, would you mind giving a brief introduction of yourself?

Brett Harrison: 

Sure. I'm Brett Harrison. I'm the president of FTX US. I've been with FTX for about three months. It's felt like three years with everything happening. But I came over to help run and build out the FTX US business. I have been in the traditional finance space for 12 years before joining FTX, and I’m happy to go into some of that background. 

Tristan Yver: 

Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I'm really curious to start actually from the beginning here, because I know you're a developer by trade, actually. That’s come into a lot of other things you do now. But how did that start in the first place? When did you realize that programming was the world you were going to go into? 

Brett Harrison: 

Sure. Yeah. I studied computer science in college. I really had no idea what I wanted to do with it at the time. I think I figured I would either become a teacher, or maybe go work at a big tech company like Google, or something like that. I think it was a little bit before the major explosion of innovation required programmers at basically every company ever. 

Brett Harrison: 

At the time, I was just not even sure what I was going to do with it. Then I had a couple of friends who were going into the world of quant finance. They were interning at companies like D.E. Shaw, or Citadel or, Bridgewater, or Jane Street. They said, "Brett, like you should give it a shot." I had no idea about anything relating to finance, but thought, "Yeah, sounds cool. A lot of my friends are going. They're all really smart. I'll follow them there." 

Brett Harrison: 

I interned at Jane Street Capital in 2009. I actually had a hybrid role as an intern there. I was doing half trading, half developing. At the time, I thought, actually, all of the cool stuff was happening on the trading side. I remember I told one of the partners and founders of the company, [Shandur Ohaski 00:02:33], I said, "If you guys do end up wanting to hire me, I really only want to be a full-time trader. I will not be a full-time programmer." 

Brett Harrison: 

Sure enough, they hired me. I went there full-time in 2010. About three months into being a trader, I realized one, I was terrible at it. Two, that I actually really want to do programming. I told them, "Guys, if you want to keep me on in the company, I am not going to be a trader. I definitely have to be a full-time developer. That's what I've always wanted to do." 

Brett Harrison: 

I think the Jane Street sorting hat wasn't quite sure what house to put me in at first, but eventually, it worked out. I ended up staying in the development space. I was their first embedded trading desk developer. It was originally a group of software developers, engineers who were doing technology for the whole company, typically balancing priorities between a lot of different trading desks. 

Brett Harrison: 

A trading desk at a firm is like a group of traders who are trading the same kind of product, the group that trades ADRs, or fixed income ETFs, or volatility products, or things like that. But I decided to stay on the desk and only do technology for the one trading desk that I was working for. As a result of doing that,, I grew into this world where I was constantly translating between business and software development all the time. 

Brett Harrison: 

Figure out what problems do they have and how we can translate those into problems that can be solved with technology. Also how can I bring them [new] technology and say, "Hey, I think this could help you do something better and more efficiently, et cetera.” 

Tristan Yver: 

During this time at Jane Street, when you're doing this mix between the development side and also learning a lot on the business side, did you meet Sam by chance back then? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. Sam joins Jane Street, I think in 2014. At the time, I had already assumed this role where I was no longer working just for one desk. I was doing things for all of them, and particularly doing a lot of work with the international ETF desk, which was one of the largest trading desks at Jane Street. That's the one where Sam was on. We overlapped. We actually ended up working together quite a lot. 

Brett Harrison: 

Even in the beginning, he was special and had distinguished himself as someone who ... When the desk would talk about priorities and what we wanted to do, or we were working on designing subsystem, they would say, "Go talk to Sam." Even though Sam had only just started and he was 22 years old, that happened very quickly. We were working together on designing a particular trading system. 

Brett Harrison: 

Over that time, we realized we had a bunch of things in common. We were both vegans. We're both interested in Effective Altruism. We had actually donated to some of the same charities. We found a relationship there that I'm very thankful for, given where things fortuitously ended up now. 

Tristan Yver: 

That's really cool. I love [how] these things seem to go full cycle, as they should.. How did the rest of your story of Jane Street play out? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. I was there until 2018. The main reason that I left was because the process of starting a family, my wife and I. I should back up a second and say, "I met my wife at Jane Street." I feel I took a lot with me when I left that company. I made lifelong friendships with the people who were there. I met my spouse there. I feel a lot of my philosophies around what makes a company good and how to build good software, and just all through…I think a lot of meaningful values came from my experience there. 

Brett Harrison: 

It was really awesome and really wonderful. Maybe the most meaningful work experience in my life up to this point. When we were starting a family and my wife’s entire family’s completely from Chicago. We realized it was inevitable that we should move out here. We moved our way out here and I took a job at a place called Headlands Technologies which is a fairly small, high-frequency trading firm, primarily trading in futures. 

Brett Harrison: 

That was an interesting experience, because that was the first time I'd experienced a fully systematic blackbox trading firm. At Jane Street, there were automated trading systems where, sure, they were automated systems, which automatically which took in market data and spit out instructions on how to send and cancel orders, things like that. But there were also user interfaces, where traders would be constantly manually adjusting parameters and different inputs and things to drive the system to do certain things based on the intuitions of the traders, sort of like a hybrid system. 

Brett Harrison: 

At Headlands it was much more like the system ran completely on its own. There were no traders. It was only quants and software developers. This was also my first professional experience not using a functional programming language. Jane Street was famous for using OCaml, which is an esoteric functional programming language. Headlands was much more like standard C++, Python type thing. 

Brett Harrison: 

It was interesting to get back into that world with a really great, super smart group of people, super smart, a really great firm. From there, I left because I realized that it was a pretty small place. Getting to program all day and work on exciting low level, bare metal sort of problems was really cool. But a lot of the skills that I gained from being at Jane Street had to do with management and people skills, and stuff that really enjoyed doing the most in terms of getting to use my own personal leverage. 

Brett Harrison: 

An opportunity had opened up at Citadel to go over there and run their ETF technology team. I moved over to Citadel. There was also a pretty short time that I was there. At that point, I had been at three different trading firms. It's a lot of the same stuff. But the difference [at Citadel] was much more of a top-down culture. I got a lot more actual explicit management experience, which is something that is different from my previous times at Headlands and Jane Street, firms with much more flat cultures. 

Brett Harrison: 

[Citadel] was a much more top down organization. It was a good chance to lead a huge team of people. Eventually, I'd taken over the ETF and the options technology teams. I got a chance to work with over 100 engineers there and really see how to build out a technology business in a quite large, organization setting. Another really great place where I made a bunch of good friends. Because I'm still in Chicago, and they're mostly in Chicago, I still get to keep in touch with a lot of them. 

Tristan Yver: 

Well, I have a few questions for you there. But one, from starting at Citadel and broad strokes, like what do these large teams do? What are they building? How does that work? What were you managing there? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. Good question. Typically, when you think about it, a trading operation, especially electronic trading operation, you can usually break down the kinds of technology you have to build based on the lifecycle of the trade. There's the pre-trade aspect where you need to figure out what trade the system is supposed to do or what trade you want to do. 

Brett Harrison: 

That involves things like research pipelines. Storing large amounts of data, being able to present those to the research team in a way where they can use that data to basically crunch it and come up with models for trading. Systems which help present what's going on in the market to the traders and the researcher. They can look at that and glean insights about what's going on in the market. 

Brett Harrison: 

Sometimes we call those insights or data visualization tools. That's one lifecycle. Then there’s the actual trading system itself. So the thing that takes in a lot of those pre-trade inputs and actually affects trades. Those are the algos, the automated trading systems that they run in a loop and they take in market data and different fair [market] valuations from models and things like that, do some special magic, and then spit out instructions to an actual [trading] exchange. 

Brett Harrison: 

That say, “Hey, I would like to buy this order. Buy this stock here or sell this future here.” Then there’s the post-trade lifecycle. Now, we actually have to take that trade that we’ve done, and we have to book it. We have to actually make sure that it hits up in the books and records at the firm, you have to make sure that we're actually keeping track of what our total positions are, and that we're hedging our risk properly. 

Brett Harrison: 

We want to actually display to the user do we think we made money on that trade or did we not. What we would do is we split the team into several groups based on these life cycles. There's multiple ways to do it. This is just one specific way that I like to do it. Then have people work on the various systems that are required to help scale out a business like that. 

Brett Harrison: 

For example, at Citadel or Jane Street, which are places that are like fairly old at this point (I say, old compared to crypto companies, which are two weeks old, and things like that), there's typically already a large, pre-existing operation. A lot of what I was doing at these companies, especially at Citadel, was basically helping re-architect existing systems to be more scalable, stable, and to help the business grow, as opposed to coming up with brand new ways to trade or things like that.

Tristan Yver: 

This was both from the actual development pipeline perspective, but also the human management perspective? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah, exactly. A lot of the human management side of it is making sure the right people are attached to the right work streams based on what are people's competencies. What are their interests? What are they naturally inclined to do? What teams within their group work well together, which ones don't? Are there two people working on a project together who absolutely hate each other? 

Brett Harrison: 

Figuring those relationships out can often be just as important to the success of the organization as figuring out what project to do in the first place. Then also making sure that we're working on the right things in the right order. A lot of prioritization work. Trying to figure out what things are blocking progress. Sometimes a team can get stuck on something for a long time, and you find out they're waiting on a certain person. But that person thought they were waiting on the same person before. There's like a deadlock. 

Brett Harrison: 

Just jumping in and helping resolve operational issues between teams is a big part of being a manager in this space. 

Tristan Yver: 

Something that I thought was fascinating that you spoke about earlier was this culture and structure of how things worked at Jane Street. I see it very closely followed on, more specifically, the Alameda side but it's also definitely been a part of that [inaudible 00:13:47] side and stuff. It's interesting that you and Sam both had an amazing experience there, which has shaped what you're doing now going forward. 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. I think I see so many parallels between Jane Street and FTX in terms of the culture, where ... At Jane Street, it was the place where there were no private offices. Everyone worked on this giant open floor. All the software developers, all the traders, all the HR people, all the operations, the founders of the company, etc. There was a story of one guy who I'd worked with who showed up for day one in his job, and he was working for a while and the guy next to him asked him about himself and stuff. 

Brett Harrison: 

The person next to him was eating lunch at his desk. At some point, this newcomer asked the person next to him like, "Hey, what do you do?" He's like, "Well, I founded this company." It felt he was next to him the whole time in a workspace that was smaller than his. That was just the place it was. It was so much less about title and tenure and much more about just being entrepreneurial and doing whatever you can to help the firm and doesn't really matter how long you've been there, how old you are, how young you are, or what you studied before you went to Jane Street. 

Brett Harrison: 

It was hyper collaborative. You hear stories of some companies where internally, the teams are like pitted against each other, for some scarce pie where everyone gets a particular slice. If you grow your slice, you make someone else's slice gets smaller. At Jane Street, because of the way the culture just flowed from the top-down there, it was always the case, and always understood by everyone, that everyone will do better if the whole team does better. 

Brett Harrison: 

People were always walking around saying, "Hey, I noticed this thing, I think it might help you guys out, too." That kind of environment was just super functional and fun to work in and made it a very happy place to work. 

Tristan Yver: 

My next question for you would be around these three experiences you've had working within traditional finance. Could you perhaps share it? I know, there's probably a lot, but one fundamental thing you took from each of these experiences that have marked you and made you into a better person, manager, developer, etc. however you want to look at it. 

Brett Harrison: 

Sure. Yes. I think I'll work my way backward, I guess. Starting at Citadel, the thing I took away from there is ... even though it was great working in flat environments, at some point, as a company grows, you really do have to think about structure. You have to be deliberate about it. You don't want some highly bureaucratic thing where person A reports to person B reports to Person C reports to person D, and nothing can ever get done, because you need 16 approvals to get a project out. 

Brett Harrison: 

But at the same time, you do need to think deliberately about structure and how you want things to look, and how you give people opportunities for advancement internally in the company. When you give people responsibility, they feel like they understand their place in the company. I feel doing that was a lot of what I gained from the Citadel experience. 

Brett Harrison: 

At Headlands, to compare that to Jane Street, (I talk a lot about Jane Street, because Jane Street built itself, according to lore on this esoteric programming language), it also likes to rebuild a lot of systems itself from scratch. I'm sure that all the automated trading systems are proprietary. But also things like the code review system, and a bunch of other tools were just all built in-house. 

Brett Harrison: 

Breaking out of that and getting to Headlands and seeing a company that used much more commonly and widely available programming languages and tools meant ... it showed me how a really, really small company with a very small number of software developers can still accomplish huge things; which to me that reminds me a lot of FTX, as well, where there’s a very small number of developers. 

Brett Harrison: 

FTX was built from the ground-up, and very quickly. Some of that, obviously, was built in-house and is proprietary. But a lot of it is just leveraging existing tools and services out there to help bootstrap as fast as possible. When you're in a highly competitive entrepreneurial world, like crypto, getting to market as fast as possible is often the difference between being super successful and just being left in the dust. 

Brett Harrison: 

Then with Jane Street, as I said, I think, maybe to expand a little bit more on what I took from there: the importance of behaving with intellectual humility, and prioritizing cooperation over competition, and openly questioning authority and questioning convention. These are some of the most valuable things I've gained from any of my work experiences. As you said, I definitely see a lot of the parallels there with FTX. 

Tristan Yver: 

You've had these three experiences before that at the end of the cycle, you were about as high as you can get in the intersection of finance and technology. Why crypto? What was able to draw you into this incipient world where it's still very exploratory? It's not a sure bet that this is going to keep going for 30 years, even though I believe it does. What brought you in, Brett? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. It's interesting. I stumbled into this through my connection to Sam. I really had no thought or intention about going into crypto. I saw crypto a little bit from Jane Street's perspective. Of the three companies I talked about the only one who was in crypto at all was Jane Street. They were getting into it in late 2017, which was during this huge run-up and then eventual crash. 

Brett Harrison: 

I remember seeing it from there thinking this is the Wild West. I don't know if this is going to last for the long term. Maybe this is just like a short-term thing for this company, at least. But I watched it a bit from the sidelines through my next couple of jobs. It was very clear that there was something very special there. For the long-term, and around the end of when my contract was going to be up at Citadel, and I... was interested. [As I was] stepping aside from Citadel and trying to find new opportunities, Sam and I have kept in touch a bunch throughout the year. 

Brett Harrison: 

It's just on and off when you started Alameda, when we started FTX. In March, he just casually brought up over text like, "Hey, if you'd like to come to FTX, we'd love to have you. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on here." I was like, "Oh, yeah, let's talk. I've only been reading about everything that's been happening in the news and hearing all the incredible things going on with this company. But I would love to find out more about it." 

Brett Harrison: 

In typical Sam/FTX fashion. Within one week, he had an offer out and I signed it, and there was a whirlwind. That's how it happens. But I think very quickly after deciding to come to FTX, and starting to really understand the world that I was getting into, I realized that it's an enormously exciting time for programmers to be in crypto. 

Brett Harrison: 

A lot of people think about the longevity of crypto as being somewhat tied to the prices of tokens. If Bitcoin keeps going down, then there's going to be no more crypto industry and things like that. But from the inside now, when you see the sheer volume and quality of talent that's coming to crypto, you can't help but just be bullish on the industry as a whole. It doesn't even matter what happens to crypto prices. 

Brett Harrison: 

There's so much intellectual capital coming into crypto that tons of exciting things are happening every second. Little companies, big companies, people investing in each other, companies investing in each other, and all new technology. Things that we can't even fathom now that will be available four weeks from now. It's a completely different atmosphere from being in the traditional finance space and something I could definitely expand on from my point of view. 

Brett Harrison: 

But it was just really exciting seeing it all happen. As soon as I saw that, I said, "Man, I'm really happy that I get to be a part of this now." 

Tristan Yver: 

Yeah. I mean, we're really happy that you are a part of this now. I think it goes both ways. Before I go into it, I do want to hear more about the differences/intersections between finance and crypto. Before I go there, I actually wanted to ask you a little bit more about FTX US. I know ftx.com gets all the attention. It's what Sam talks about the most. That's what everyone knows the most. But FTX US is now very much beginning to surge forward, but it hasn't gotten that much attention. 

Tristan Yver: 

I'd love to hear a little bit of where FTX US is now and then, maybe later, we can go into where it will go. 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah, definitely. For those of you out there who don't know, FTX US is separate company. It's a US affiliate of FTX International Exchange. It's a regulated US spot cryptocurrency exchange. It's been around for about a year. Even though it hasn't been the primary focus of the FTX brand, for its time there, it's grown an enormous amount in quite a short period of time, just organically. 

Brett Harrison: 

Obviously, a lot has to do with the organic growth of the international exchange as well. But I think in January of this year, 2021, the FTX US exchange was doing something like a million dollars a day in spot crypto volume. Now, it's doing around $150 million a day in spot crypto volume. I think at its peak, it reached almost a billion dollars in a single day of crypto volume. That's without a ton of thought, effort, and investment put into it. 

Brett Harrison: 

Where I come in here is that there is an enormous potential for things that we can do with this platform, especially being in the US. First, we really would love to expand the US exchange offering to as large a retail base as we can. Typically, FTX and FTX US have been really geared towards institutions and professionals. We're the place where if you’re an institution or a high-frequency trading firm, you come to FTX because we have 100% uptime. 

Brett Harrison: 

We have a great margining system. We have low fees. But not that many people on the retail space really know about us and use us compared to one of our competitors, Coinbase. A big push that we're going to make for the US business is simply to have more and more of the people who want to buy Bitcoin once a month know about us, use us, and trust us as their crypto provider. 

Brett Harrison: 

This is a big part of why we're doing such huge branding partnerships and sponsorship pushes in the US. In addition, it’s something that Sam talks about a lot, as well as that technology at FTX and FTX US aren't really that specific to crypto per se. It's just a place where you can go and deposit money and trade some asset and eventually withdraw money. You can abstract away all the different kinds of trading in that simple process. 

Brett Harrison: 

I think it's a very natural move for us to consider getting into other asset classes besides crypto. Hopefully in the near future, we want to offer trading in US stocks to our retail user base, so that they can trade crypto and stocks in the same place using the same app. We also have ambitions to get into the regulated derivatives space in the US. 

Brett Harrison: 

Right now, we can't offer futures in the US, because to do so you have to be a CFTC Regulated Futures Exchange. That is definitely something that we're aspiring to do. I think there's a lot on the horizon for FTX US in terms of expanding our product offering and just getting our name out there more. 

Tristan Yver: 

Absolutely. How does it tie into this rebranding of Blockfolio into the FTX app that's occurring right now? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. Blockfolio was acquired by FTX. The thought there was FTX is totally an engineering first organization, where what always had mattered is trying to get to market as fast as possible with new features, which is fantastic if you're a black-box, high-frequency trading firm, where you don't care what the thing looks like. You just want to be able to connect, and know that you can reliably send your order and cancel your order, and get your trades, and see your P&L. 

Brett Harrison: 

But if you're someone who uses your iPhone to buy Dogecoin when Elon Musk tweets, that's a very different kind of customer. What they're looking for is a beautifully, well-designed application that’s super easy and intuitive to use. It's inviting. It's engaging. The Blockfolio team really did that. They have an excellent set of designers and programmers, and they built this awesome product. 

Brett Harrison: 

It really has become the de facto in a retail trading app for FTX. After acquiring Blockfolio, the teams worked together to add trading to the Blockfolio app. Previously, it was just a tracking and news app. But now you can trade through the app. Because it was our main trading app, we came to a crossroads where we said, "Okay. If we want to compete with our main competitors who offer this retail product, we can either write our own retail focused app from scratch, or we already have a really great one like Blockfolio." 

Brett Harrison: 

But it was really confusing to go out and say like, "Hey, we're FTX US Blockfolio." People are like, "Wait, why are there two different things? There's two different names, what do they do?" You're like, "Okay. Well, the backend of Blockfolio talks to FTX US if you're in the US. Blockfolio was something we purchased." It's just a really confusing story. I think people want to know that if they see the FTX arena, they drive by the FTX arena at Miami, and they're like, "That sounds awesome. I want to trade crypto through FTX." 

Brett Harrison: 

They can go to the App Store and type in FTX. An app called FTX comes up and they can click on it and trade to FTX. I think that's exactly what we are hoping for, again, with this intuitive, easy-to-use, easy-to-understand type of workflow for the user. That's a big reason why we had renamed Blockfolio to FTX, so that it's very clear that we really care about the retail product and the retail user. This is how we want to reach them. 

Tristan Yver: 

If the user is more of a professional experience trader, then there's the pro-apps, which happens ... 

Brett Harrison: 

Exactly. Exactly. We have the FTX Us pro-app and the FTX pro-app. That's where you can see the full depth order book. You can have different complex order types, stop limit, take profit orders, spot margin trading for people who are actual either experienced day-traders or professionals or institutions who really know what they're doing. But for everyone else, whether you're very new to crypto or a little bit experienced in crypto, there is this ... the normal FTX app is our simple, easy-to-use, “few functions but do it super well” app. 

Tristan Yver: 

On the webpage ftx.us, is there also a vision to make some aspects of it easier to use as well and also have the complex functionalities or... 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah, definitely. The ftx.us is really the web equivalent of the FTX US Pro App. Again, it's the full exchange. It has all the full exchange functionality, all the different things we offer in there, and all of its complexities. We've come to the understanding and realization through this rebranding exercise that people love that simple, easy-to-use experience of the Blockfolio (now called FTX) app. They love that on the web, too. 

Brett Harrison: 

They would like to be able to log in somewhere and have a few basic functionalities that are designed super well and super easy to use and understand. They want their portfolio tracking. They would like news and signals. They would like to see their balances, be able to do withdrawals and deposits and then affect basic trades, buy-sell in the market. Hopefully, pretty soon, we'll put out a product that will be the web equivalent of [what was] formerly Blockfolio. 

Tristan Yver: 

Right. With recurring buys and things that make it more mindless for people without experience. 

Brett Harrison: 

Exactly. Exactly. If you want to set up a thing where you buy some Solana once a day for the next seven days or something like that, we'll be able to do that in a way that's really easy and intuitive. 

Tristan Yver: 

One more question before I go on to the next topic. You spoke of abstracting away what asset classes are being traded because the fiat goes in at some point fiat comes out as well. Would that also be represented?  Then you’ll have a simple form with this plethora of different assets, but then you also have a complex form with the same things, or will you split and divide there? How are you thinking about that? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. It's a good question. As with most software projects, it's hard to predict what people want. Probably we will do the simplest thing that's most adjacent to what we're currently doing. I think that's good advice in general, which is it's hard to predict what the perfect version of a solution should look like without trying stuff. I think probably what we'll do is we'll stay in this two app world, where if we do list stocks, we will give traders the way of just hitting the buy button, and buying 100 shares of Apple, whatever they want to do, tracking the portfolio, eventually selling it, and taking their money out. 

Brett Harrison: 

Very similar to the way that FTX app works now. Then maybe for more advanced users, we'll give them more advanced order types, limit orders, stop limit orders, different kinds of more advanced order types there, and maybe more of a view into the depth of book on the different US exchanges. We'll see based on what people want. 

Tristan Yver: 

Now that you've been with us, three months (vis-a-vis, three years) how have your thoughts maybe shifted about the space? What are some things you've taken a special interest in? How are you thinking about this or how are you ... not thinking? How are you feeling about this compared to how you felt about previous jobs? 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah, definitely. One interesting thing was I started in May. Right after I started, there was the big Bitcoin Conference in Miami. For my first real outing with the company, I went to the conference there and it was so night and day difference from anything I had experienced before. I've been working inside of super secretive, proprietary, hedge funds proprietary trading firms that ... so much of their edge comes from the things that they do that no one else does, and you can't tell anyone else about it. 

Brett Harrison: 

It's highly locked down and secretive. Whereas in Miami, it was an outpouring of people and companies that all just wanted to talk to each other, and learn from each other, and invest in each other. I think learning from that experience that it really helped shape how I viewed my previous life in the Trad-fi world versus my life now going forward in crypto. 

Brett Harrison: 

I think that if I have to summarize what I think has happened, since maybe the late '90s or so up until now, so much of the world's intellectual capital, the top talents when it came to finance, would go to these hedge funds and prop shops. These little companies built out these incredible think tanks of very, very smart people with very high pedigree degrees from various top colleges and they have math, and physics, and computer science, and chemistry degrees and other amazing stuff. 

Brett Harrison: 

I mean, this is where so much of that technological and financial innovation took place. You built all this amazing stuff there. But what I see now is that there was always going to be a ceiling to what you could accomplish at a place like that, because the stuff you're building for, very naturally had a ceiling because it's not natively digital. You're still trading stocks at the end of the day.

Brett Harrison: 

You're still trading options or futures. You're just building more innovative ways of doing what's ultimately the same thing outside, which is trading this asset class that’s been around potentially for decades. What's so different about crypto is that it is natively digital. This thing has grown up in the digital age. We don't yet know where the ceiling is for this technology. I don't think any of us really know where this is headed. I think it's possible that the main killer application of crypto and blockchain technology is something we haven't really even discovered yet. 

Brett Harrison: 

It's evolving so fast. There's no plateau we're going to hit or not going to hit for a really long time in crypto. As a result, there's just a lot more excitement, and innovation, and collaboration. It ends up with things that I would never have expected ever happening before, like direct competitors in crypto taking investment stakes in each other. Or If you want to get a project funded, each year, you can go to a traditional venture capitalist or you can just go to another company or a friend and raise some money quickly through crypto. [You’ll] end up with funding to do some brand new project, and then you go help and fund other projects. 

Brett Harrison: 

There's this very, very tight loop, super multiplying very fast ecosystem now around crypto that is very different. I think if you're adjacent to this space, or even if you're not, if you're not someone who has experience, let's say, as like a computer programmer or whatever, there's just no better time to get into this because it's really nothing I've ever seen before in my career. 

Tristan Yver: 

I know that you're having to think a lot about regulation about cryptocurrency, as far as geographical regions, and how each place is thinking about them. What are some of the things that you think are really important that are happening in the United States as far as these topics? What is the direction that you think it may go? How do you think it may go in that direction? 

Brett Harrison: 

Sure. Regulation is a super hot topic. I mean, as we're speaking now, there's a big infrastructure bill on the floor of the senate, talking about how to label and characterize brokers in the crypto world, people who somehow touch crypto transactions and whether they should be reporting taxes. I bring this up only to say that, finally, discussion about regulation of crypto is really hitting the public sphere. 

Brett Harrison: 

It's really about time. What our view as an exchange in this space has always been ... Let me take one step back. I think that there's this misconception that everyone in the crypto world wantsis mega anti-government. We don't want anything to do with regulation, or taxes or anything like this. I think that is very, very not true. If anything, we want the regulation. We want the clarity. We want to know what do we have to do to exist in this ecosystem in a way that's compatible with US laws and regulations, such that we can offer everything we want to offer to our customers, to our retail and institutional base. 

Brett Harrison: 

We can grow. We can innovate. But we can do that within the confines of a system that has made sense for other kinds of finance for a very long time. Coming from the visual of finance space, I appreciate -- I think we all appreciate here at FTX -- that a lot of these regulations grew up in the US for a reason. They were in response to X thing happening that was bad. We needed some rule or a law that would prevent that from happening again. 

Brett Harrison: 

We don't want to ignore the decades of history that brought those things to life. What we are trying to do now is make it very clear to regulators that we want to work with you. We want to work with them and help shape regulation in a way that will be conducive to this explosion of innovation while also making sure we're operating safely and we’re safeguarding  our customers’ funds and everything that they would like to do. . 

Brett Harrison: 

That is the ultimate thing for an exchange: making sure that we are a good, safe, responsible actor in the space because so many people are relying on us and trusting us to be that essential actor that helps them do their trading and holds their money for them. That's a lot of responsibility. We want to make sure that we do it right. 

Brett Harrison: 

We're definitely in talks with regulators and lawmakers in a way that we hope is based on mutual trust and collaboration. We want them to use us as a resource to help them understand and shape these kinds of new rulings that will eventually come out in a way that will work well with what we're trying to do and what they want to do, too. 

Tristan Yver: 

Yeah. I mean, then for the good of overall country, so it doesn't stifle innovation and it's able to grow as it did with Silicon Valley. Yeah, I think it's super important. I'm really happy because I know you and Sam are thinking about it a ton. I'm glad we have our brightest minds on it. That's fantastic. I know you've only been with us for a short time but in the same way that you shared some of these superpowers or characteristics of these previous companies you've worked at, how would you describe or define FTX? What are the things that make it special or make it move? 

Brett Harrison: 

I think that FTX has hit upon something very special, which is it's always looking at the world around it and saying, "How can I improve something about the way this works?" A lot of the way here, the origins of the FTX story is based on seeing derivatives exchanges around the world doing bad things, taking customer funds whenever there is volatility and going down for large periods of time, or preventing people from taking money off the platform. 

Brett Harrison: 

Well, we're not trying to do something that is mega groundbreaking. We just want to provide a better version of that. Let's do it in a way where we can innovate super fast. We're not going to grow some huge 5,000 person company. We're going to stay super lean. We're going to make sure we can always move quickly. We're going to make sure that every person on the team is extremely valuable and has their place and knows what they need to do. 

Brett Harrison: 

In doing so, we're going to be able to take everything around us and just make it better. I think that attitude leads to this entrepreneurial spirit that just cannot be extinguished. I think that's what makes FTX so special. It's a small place. Everyone is working extremely hard, because everyone sees this vision -- this mission of just hyper improving everything around us at the speed of light. 

Tristan Yver: 

Yeah. I mean, it’s the freedom we all have. The freedom we get, which lets us express ourselves to our fullest. I think it's also so amazing. I mean, as an employee, as well, just for anyone listening, it's truly remarkable company to work for. I only have one more question for you, Brett. This is a bit more personal. But throughout your life in finance and now in crypto, and as a father of many animals and pets, what are some things that have really stood with you throughout your life that have allowed you to become better in any facet that you think is important? 

Brett Harrison: 

It hard for me to give life advice. I feel I haven't been around long enough to give life advice. But maybe I could give some work-related advice that I think really eventually permeates into non-work life as well. When I think about the companies that I worked at, what is so important and so rare to find, and you should really hold on to it if you have it, is if you find yourself in a work environment where people are openly admitting their mistakes and they're openly talking about what they think is wrong or what could be better. 

Brett Harrison: 

When someone messes up, when there's a mistake, people talk about it openly. They make things better. They don't cast blame and they move on. That's a special place. It means the people running that place are very special. You should hold on to that. You should try to understand what is it about the people, the founders, the partners, whatever that make it that way. 

Brett Harrison: 

Conversely, if you find yourself at a place where people are intentionally trying to cover up their own mistakes, and there’s just a culture of fear around getting things wrong or doing things wrong, and there's a lot of pointing and casting of blame, then head for the exits, because that's not going to be a place where it's going to be a sustainable environment for you to grow. 

Brett Harrison: 

When I think about that, in my personal life, I think being able to be someone who can openly admit when you're wrong and openly realize how much you have to learn from other people, and from our partners, and our kids, and our animals, and everything, that's how you really grow as a person. It’s realizing that this is so much bigger than just you. 

Brett Harrison: 

You're here to learn from others and grow from your own mistakes. Not to assert your dominance, or prove to the world how great or smart you are. That's me and my little piece of life advice I think has been drawn from my work experiences so far. 

Tristan Yver: 

Thank you. Thanks for sharing that. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. 

Brett Harrison: 

Yeah. Anytime. 

Wrapping Up with Brett Harrison 

There you have it! An in-depth, “fireside chat” with one of the brilliant minds behind everything happening here at FTX. We hope you walked away with a deeper understanding of what we’re providing for our customers here at the company, as well as the general crypto landscape. Be sure to check out our other exciting podcast episodes and blogs for the latest in crypto news and intel. 

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