While crypto trade, customer service and marketing have remained largely intact, the outbreak has taken its toll on technical improvement, product development, logistics and business travel, according to a dozen executives in China interviewed by CoinDesk.
After the outbreak, the Chinese government extended the Chinese New Year holiday by one week to February 10. A few weeks later, several major Chinese cities remained locked, and many companies asked their employees to work from home – including the blockchain business.
“We encourage our employees to work remotely after the holidays because there are so many people from every part of China returning to work,” said Aurora Wong, vice president at ZB Group. “Coronavirus is not a regional epidemic, it has spread throughout the country and even to other countries.”
The outbreak “has caused psychological stress on people,” Wong said. “Although many cities are not technically locked, it is certainly not encouraged to go out for the sake of our own health and the entire community to control the epidemic.”
Founded in China in 2013, Swiss-based ZB Group claims its crypto exchange now serves more than 10 million users, with an average daily trading volume of $ 3 billion. It has operations throughout the world including China, Singapore, South Korea and the US.
According to Wong, the outbreak is likely to slow down the technical upgrade of the exchange to the new version. Enhancements can include front-end mobile applications for users as well as back-end trading machines.
Before the outbreak, “we were very efficient and fast in improving our platform because people in various departments such as engineering, product development and marketing teams could meet and work together to implement the plan,” Wong said.
However, the outbreak has only had a limited impact on the daily operation of the ZB trading platform since the company made a schedule to rotate its staff to maintain the exchange, according to Wong.
The Estonia-based Bibox crypto exchange, which also originates from China, said it had an emergency plan to address operational challenges due to a coronavirus outbreak.
“We might move our core engineering team to other Asian countries such as one of our Asian headquarters in Singapore or Vietnam where there are fewer cases of infection,” said Aries Wang, one of the founders of Bibox.
According to Wang, Bibox’s trading, marketing and customer service has not been affected much, but the development of new products and networking events with potential investors has been disrupted to some degree.
“We originally planned a meeting for Chinese crypto funds and private equity companies in London to pave the way for our initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange in March,” Wang said. “The meeting and IPO may be postponed to a later date.”
Furthermore, when Bibox registers a new token, the product development team needs to work very closely with the engineering team, create special services for clients and improve its own exchange platform. But this requires a face-to-face meeting, which is currently rare.
OKEx, one of the top three crypto exchanges based on trading volume, said it remained vigilant now after they resume business after the holidays.
“We advise our employees to stay where they are now, avoiding crowds as much as possible and reducing business travel,” said Jay Hao, CEO of OKEx, about its headquarters in Hong Kong.
“Our office has been completely disinfected, and we have also prepared protective equipment such as surgical masks, liquid soap and alcohol-based cleaners for all our employees,” Hao said.
The company has improved its IT systems, such as telephone and video conferencing software, to streamline the process of working from home and ensure normal operations in all of its global offices, according to Hao.
Working (and conferencing) remotely
Outside trading places, other startup-blockchain in the region said they had been greatly affected by the plague.
B Labs, the blockchain incubation center founded by Canaan Creative, OKEx, and the Yangtze Delta Region Institute of Tsinghua University, has decided to reduce rent for some startups that use the space and open a platform for them to apply for subsidies.
Conflux, a blockchain company based in Beijing, also faced the consequences of this outbreak.
“Coronavirus has influenced us in the way we have to re-plan many offline events in the Asia Pacific region,” said Christian Oertal, head of marketing at Conflux. “We have to pivot into organizing and participating in online events.”
“Regarding office work, everyone at Conflux works remotely from home. The health of all people in the company must not be in any risk situation at this time, “he added.
Another part of the blockchain industry that has been significantly affected by the plague is mining, the business of running expensive computers that are racing to solve mathematical problems to record transactions and secure crypto networks.
A number of mining producers, including Bitmian, MicroBT, and Canaan, estimate some of their shipments will be delayed due to slow logistics caused by the outbreak. Some mining farms lack workers to maintain machinery, while some mining farms have been closed by local governments as part of measures to deal with the epidemic.
The growth rate of mining difficulties, an indicator of the level of competition among bitcoin miners, has slowed since the coronavirus outbreak, signaling that miners have stopped upgrading for newer, more powerful machines.
In the last two weeks cycle, starting February 11-25, this measure has decreased for the first time since early December.