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Kiran Raj, chief strategy officer of Bittrex, spoke about blockchain regulations at the TF Blockchain Conference in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne)

Founded by former Amazon and Microsoft security engineers, cryptocurrency exchange Bittrex defies the Wild West reputation of the blockchain world with an appetite for government oversight.

What does Bittrex want more than anything? “Regulatory clarity,” said Kiran Raj, chief strategy officer at Bittrex, a Seattle-based company that allows users to buy and sell 200 different currencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Raj said that current regulations put U.S. startups at a disadvantage.

“It’s really difficult to complete with an unlevel platform,” Raj said during a conference hosted by TF Blockchain Conference in Seattle.

Raj said the lack of regulatory clarity in the U.S. has hurt innovation and forced startups, including Bittrex, to set up shop in Europe and elsewhere. Bittrex has a European branch that operates within the EU’s legal framework.

“It’s not too late for regulatory clarity,” he said. “There are ways to get some of this innovation back to the U.S.”

Raj is not alone with his request. Several members of the House of Representatives sent a letter last year to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, asking for plans to regulate cryptocurrency.

This past November, Clayton said cryptocurrency ETFs (exchange-traded funds) won’t be approved until “market manipulation” concerns are addressed, according to Coindesk.

Raj’s perspective on regulation isn’t too surprising. He came to Bittrex after working at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Raj was at the DoJ when the FBI was working on taking down Silk Road, an online marketplace known for using Bitcoin to sell illegal drugs.

Bittrex co-founders Richie Lai, Bill Shihara and Rami Kawach bring over 30 years of experience in security engineering at Amazon and Microsoft.

“Our executive team is probably one of the oldest teams in crypto,” said Raj. But that experience has also given Bittrex the ability to help other blockchain companies play by the rules, such as by performing background checks on users to comply with anti-money laundering laws.

Raj said the founders set out to build an exchange for blockchain-related products with security in mind. After starting Bittrex in 2014, the founders ran the exchange as a side business until leaving their previous jobs in 2016 and 2017.

Raj was optimistic that regulated cryptocurrency exchanges will eventually win out over unregulated ones.

“We’re hoping for a level playing field in the long term,” Raj said. “We know we can compete. We just have better technology.”

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