Matej Zak, the new CEO of crypto wallet maker Trezor, is looking to draw on his product background as he seeks to add "very usable" models to its lineup.
Zak joined the Czech company in 2019 as its first product manager, tasked with simplifying the concept of crypto self-custody. Now he's stepped up to the top job, and he's preaching evolution not revolution.
“I’m not a technical person," said Zak, who trained as a musician from the age of seven and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. "Yet that’s why I really love this challenge because it’s basically making something really complicated into very usable and very user friendly.”
As Trezor’s first product hire, Zak would frequently sit in meetings alongside co-founders Marek Palatinus and Pavol Rusnak as the company grew to 120 people. Before taking the CEO role, he also spent about a year shadowing Palatinus, his predecessor.
“We are not a small company, it's a huge challenge,” Zak said. “I won't lie about that, it's a big responsibility. We are talking about millions of users in the Trezor ecosystem and many more to come.”
Building on a legacy
Trezor is one of the oldest brands in crypto, having been founded in 2013. The company tries to lean on this legacy to keep its edge in the market, Zak said.
It’s also a notable crypto startup without outside investors — a rarity in an industry that has received an abundance of funding in recent years.
It's “something we are proud of to be honest and something which, in general, is a direction we want to go in because the idea is we don't want any venture money to tell us what's right for the user,” Zak said.
In some ways Trezor’s legacy is now its biggest challenge, however. Its two hardware products, the Model One and the Model T, were launched in 2014 and 2018, respectively. One of Zak’s top priorities is refreshing these products as the company works on "a brand-new flagship product that we want to bring before the next bull run,” he said.
Bear market competition
Even with crypto prices in a funk, the hardware wallet market has become increasingly competitive. Trezor's big rival Ledger is looking to become the “Apple of web3.” And startups like Foundation and Ngrave are snapping at their heels.
Still, self-custody has become a hot topic in the bear market following the collapse of centralized crypto players such as lender Celsius and exchange giant FTX. Many who lost crypto held on these platforms could have avoided that fate if they'd used their own hardware wallet. Both Trezor and Ledger’s sales spiked following November's downfall of FTX.
Trezor doesn’t want to rest on its laurels, despite that unexpected boost. This year it plans to take more of the mainstream consumer electronics market.
The team is building a software suite for mobile devices, which aims to give users a whole portfolio of options when it comes to using their Trezor — whether that’s checking their funds or buying and selling crypto. The new flagship product will have bluetooth, making it easier to connect to its software suite without a USB cable, Zak said.
“It's all about the portability of these things,” he explained.
A conservative strategy
Even as Trezor powers ahead with its vision for hardware products and sees growth in the bear market at a time when many other players are faltering, it's still operating with the “conservative” approach that’s helped it thrive since 2013.
While Trezor currently has a hiring freeze in place, Zak said it will need to invest in some new hires for the hardware business this year.
“We are more on the conservative side,” Zak said. “We wait and see what’s happening. If there is really real-life use cases and only then we act on implementing it within the ecosystem.”
The outlook for when the company might ramp up its business really depends on when the next bull run comes, Zak said. It’s currently predicting the crypto market will be strongest sometime in 2025, based on bitcoin halvings as well as past sales and prices. But ultimately, it’s sheer speculation, he added.
“We are also prepared for scenarios where the bull market picks up tomorrow and so that's something very specific about this about the market in general,” Zak said. “You really never know, and we have to work with certain level of uncertainty and volatility and that's the job, right?”
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