A fintech executive’s message to Silicon Valley: ‘Get a grip’

Simon Khalaf, Marqeta’s new chief product officer, thinks crypto products have wandered away from consumer realities.

A photograph of Simon Khalaf, the new chief product officer of Marqeta

“Rather than shrinking the gap between ambition and reality, we went further and further into la-la land,” Khalaf told Protocol.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Simon Khalaf, Marqeta’s new chief product officer, said the downturn, particularly the crypto crash, made him think twice about taking the job.

But he decided a time of turmoil was a good occasion to join the payments pioneer.

“This is the best time to build,” Khalaf, who began his role in late June, told Protocol. “In a downturn, the need for innovation doesn’t go away. This is the best time to be here.”

Marqeta announced Thursday that Khalaf was replacing Kevin Doerr, who left in September last year. Khalaf previously served as Twilio’s senior vice president in charge of the communications technology company’s core products.

A tech industry veteran, Khalaf had also served as an executive at major companies, including Yahoo and Verizon. “This is, like, my third decade, and I've seen some downturns and two waves of the internet,” he told Protocol.

Khalaf joined Marqeta at a time when the payments company, which went public a year ago, has also taken a hit from the market slide. Marqeta’s stock has fallen more than 50% this year. The company is a major player in fintech as a pioneer in card-issuing technology, but it also faces heightened competition from rivals like SoFi’s Galileo.

Khalaf said the current economic slump caused him to hesitate in taking the job. He pointed to the crypto crash as “something that gave me pause,” as Marqeta has steadily expanded in that market.

But Marqeta isn’t betting on crypto prices or depending on trading revenue. It’s providing tools to crypto companies, fintechs and banks to help make it easier to convert fiat to crypto and back. One of Marqeta’s biggest customers, Block, previously known as Square, has also made a sharp pivot to crypto; Marqeta issues cards for Block’s Cash App users and Square sellers.

The crypto industry has taken a major hit from a price crash that erased about $2 trillion in the value of all cryptocurrencies in the last seven months.

That crash has underlined crypto’s failures, Khalaf said. “The two products that we promised — as a form of payment on the internet or as a stable asset class — have failed,” he said. But “it does not mean that going forward crypto is going to fail.”

Khalaf said crypto will be a “pillar” in Marqeta’s aim to develop products that offer “instant and on-demand access to money.” There are “trillions of dollars in the existing monetary system and payments — whether it's cross-border between consumers and businesses — that can be optimized,” he said.

“I do believe crypto will play a huge role in this,” he said. “The killer app has not materialized. Honestly, the crash will teach us … we’ll learn a lot from this, and then we'll be able to come up with a killer app.”

Crypto failed because the industry went after ideas that did not fit into reality, Khalaf argued. “In the last 18 months, we started talking about NFTs, DAOs, metaverse, while you are in inflation, you're in a supply chain squeeze, the tightest labor market and a war, right?” he said. “Rather than shrinking the gap between ambition and reality, we went further and further into la-la land.”

It made him want to say, “'Hey, Silicon Valley, get a grip. Come down to reality and solve real-world problems.'”

Khalaf will have an opportunity to do that at Marqeta.


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