Jump Names 25-Year-Old Former Intern as Crypto Unit Head
A few years ago, Kanav Kariya was studying computer engineering amid the cornfields of central Illinois, helping Jump Trading Group build out its cryptocurrency business as an intern.
Now, the 25-year-old has been put in charge of the finance heavyweight’s crypto division.
Kariya’s promotion to president was announced Tuesday as the Chicago-based company debuted Jump Crypto, the new public-facing brand for its six-year-old digital asset division. The business features more than 80 employees who work on the firm’s crypto trading and software development teams.
Jump has pledged billions of dollars of capital toward crypto, according to Kariya, out of a belief that the potential is gigantic. While the company’s roots are in the old-school derivatives pits of Chicago, its trading of futures, stocks and more recently digital assets involves highly sophisticated software and infrastructure.
That, Kariya argues, gives Jump the quantitative and technical chops to go way beyond simply trading crypto -- though it does that, too.
The company is doing serious work building the basic plumbing of the rapidly growing decentralized-finance industry -- better known as DeFi -- which aims to replace much of conventional finance with computer programs known as smart contracts running on Ethereum, Solana and other blockchains.
“It’s a natural extension of where we started,” Kariya said in an interview. “The DeFi ecosystem is so young, there are so many hard engineering problems. The work we’ve done at Jump in building complex, high-performance systems lends itself to us being very meaningful contributors to these open-source projects.”
Jump has emerged as a major player in crypto. It executes trades for Robinhood Markets Inc.’s customers. The company was one of the founders of Pyth, which supplies updates on asset prices every 400 milliseconds to the Solana blockchain, giving regular people access to the turbocharged data feeds used by some of the world’s most sophisticated traders.
Wormhole, according to Kariya, has enormous potential. “I don’t think you can think big enough,” he said.
Solana can process about 50,000 transactions a second, akin to modern securities exchanges. Ethereum can do a dozen or so. But much of the early work on smart contracts has been focused on Ethereum, so connecting the two could dramatically amp up the scope of DeFi applications.
“The finance industry is undergoing one of the biggest paradigm shifts in its history,” Dave Olsen, Jump Trading’s president and chief investment officer, said in a statement. “There is substantial opportunity for industries including healthcare, real estate and social media to leverage the blockchain to transfer information in a trusted, efficient manner.”
Raised in Mumbai, Kariya’s early dream job was joining the army. Then he found video games like RuneScape, and his dreams started involving computers. Kariya decided to attend college in the U.S. after visiting at the age of 13.
He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the alma mater of Jump co-founders Bill DiSomma and Paul Gurinas. Kariya linked up with Jump at Research Park, a facility near the school where interns work on projects for big companies like Caterpillar Inc., CME Group Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co.
For Kariya, his internship involved crypto, something he was only superficially familiar with before.
“It was a bunch of young people talking about crypto,” he said of his time at Jump’s Research Park office. “It was impossible not to fall in love.”
After graduating in 2018, Jump hired him. Despite his true-believer stance, even he’s surprised how fast things are moving in the business.
“The thing that wasn’t clear a year ago was whether we’d see the explosive growth we see now” in DeFi, he said. The industry is bustling with activity, and it’s easy for folks to start developing stuff, with the software equivalent of Lego bricks just waiting for them to connect together, he said.
“We have had conviction for a while, but we didn’t know how it would play out,” he said. There’s been an acceleration, he added, in the “pace at which we see really smart people now come in and approach us and want to work in crypto.”
Jump is famous for buying and selling financial assets, but Kariya is adamant that Jump Crypto is about more than that, stressing the work it’s doing with the crypto community to build new tools.
“This is more than just trading,” he said. “We are building the plumbing and infrastructure for decentralized applications.”
With Pyth, Jump and its partners are supplying industrial-grade pricing data on stocks, fiat currencies, cryptocurrencies and commodities to DeFi developers. One example application, Kariya said, is giving platforms that let crypto investors lend coins up-to-the millisecond price updates, so they can avert disaster by ensuring they have collected enough collateral to cover losses.
“If that price is being used for that kind of high-stakes stuff, you need pricing to be very fast, very accurate” he said.
Kariya said the marching orders from his bosses are pretty simple: “Make sure we’re positioned in the next five years to be a really big player in an industry we think is going to be enormous,” he said, adding that Jump’s strengths in engineering and quantitative analysis give it an advantage. “We are building this entire business and committing this capital predicated on us seeing this space be much, much bigger than it is today.”
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