S14 E3: Matej Zak on Trezor’s New Hardware

As the new CEO of Trezor, Matej Zak takes on the responsibility to expand and optimize a Bitcoin security empire. Trezor, the company that produced the world’s first hardware wallet to secure the users’ bitcoin holdings, has had a phenomenal year in terms of sales: due to the collapse of FTX, Celsius and BlockFi (this generation’s Mt. Gox), millions of users finally understood the importance of self-custody and started their journey with a hardware wallet. And since main competitor Ledger made a sloppy key custody service announcement in early 2023, which implied the ability to remotely access the users’ private keys, Trezor has gained a higher market share.

According to Matej Zak, the Prague-based company has reached new sales records and expanded beyond the 100-employee mark. But this glimpse of success does not allow anyone in the team to rest on their laurels. More money and a greater manpower will also come with new products and services that are meant to expand the ways in which customers can acquire and secure their bitcoins.

One significant first step comes from sibling company Vexl, which launched all across Europe only a couple of days after this interview with Matej Zak has been recorded. Vexl is a messaging application which essentially uses a web of trust model based on your anonymized phonebook contacts in order to pair you with people who buy or sell bitcoin in a peer to peer way. This is a significant move towards increasing Bitcoin adoption, as the unbanked have greater access to purchase coins, while governments can’t censor this type of decentralized system that helps people meet. Vexl also operates in a way that makes it difficult to get delisted by Apple and Google: the application doesn’t function as a Bitcoin wallet and nor does it process payments. It’s basically a messaging environment that lets people meet, and their reputation is based on the mutual phonebook contacts. Certainly a great idea that can give HodlHodl and Bisq a run for their money.

Another sibling company which expanded and improved is Invity: a more traditional and institutional way to purchase bitcoin, which allows Trezor users to buy more coins directly from the Trezor Suite interface and keep the coins secured. However, these purchases don’t have much privacy because they make use of bank accounts. So people buying bitcoin with Invity will reveal their identity to the exchange that’s selling and might also have their coins tracked (which is why Trezor users should try the native CoinJoin feature).

Matej Zak’s work does not concern either Vexl or Invity – all of these companies (along with Tropic Square) are under the Satoshi Labs umbrella, but they have different administrative structures. Trezor only deals with the creation, production, distribution, customer support, and software development for the hardware wallets. In many ways, sibling companies are complimentary because they aim to improve the experience of the hardware wallet division.

But speaking of Trezor, there are some exclusive news to be discovered in this interview: first of all, Trezor is planning to launch two new hardware wallets in 2023 and 2024. The first one is an affordable unit which improves on the Trezor One design and retains the physical buttons – the code name for it is Trezor Model R (later renamed Trezor Safe 3), and according to the ongoing GitHub commits it features a 3-button layout, a USB-C connector, and a SLIP39 (Shamir Secret Sharing) integration. If it costs around $70, the Trezor Safe 3 is bound to be the most affordable Shamir-powered hardware wallet on the market. It’s bound to launch sometime during the fall of 2023.

The second hardware wallet that Trezor will add to their line is a more high-end device. Not too much information is known about it, but it’s expected to be more feature-packed than the Trezor Model T and get sold at a similar or even lower price point. The expected launch date is sometime in 2024, but the bad news is that it won’t come with the Tropic Square open source chip.

According to Matej Zak, Tropic Square‘s TASSIC (Transparent Authenticated Secure Storage Integrated Circuit) chip is still in testing phase and will enter production sometime in 2024. Therefore, it can’t become available sooner than the year 2025. The good news is, however, that Trezor will be the first company to benefit from this unique security chip. So the Czech-made hardware wallets will finally get the kind of uncompromising physical security that they have been seeking.

However, it’s worth mentioning that Trezor One (which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2024) will keep on getting supported through firmware updates. It’s a rare occurrence in the world of consumer electronics that a company develops software to keep such an old device relevant for security. But Trezor is committed to keeping Model One users happy, so no upgrade to new hardware is really necessary unless some special features are desired (especially Shamir Secret Sharing).

Another interesting topic that we cover concerns Trezor’s decision to integrate Wasabi wallet CoinJoins in their Suite desktop application. Matej Zak explains exactly what were the considerations behind making use of ZK Snack’s privacy engine and provides some advice on how users should approach this new feature. Though it’s a controversial topic for some, the considerations regarding liquidity, east of use, and the quality of on-chain obfuscation are more than justified.

During this 49-minute interview, Matej Zak appears to be rather shy and reserved. He politely replies to every question, doesn’t try to evade answering to some of the most pressing issues, and remains calm and playful. In many ways, it makes sense for someone like him to head the Czech-based company: unlike former CEO Slush, Matej has a background in business and management. He understands the needs of an expanding business, he knows how to manage an growing team, and his vision to add more products to the Trezor line-up is pretty exciting.

This interview was recorded just 3 days before BTC Prague in May 2023, at the Trezor offices in the capital city of the Czech Republic. I would like to thank Joseph Tetek and Pavol “Stick” Rusnak for helping me make this happen, and then making sure that the best recording room is being used for this interview.

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Introduction [00:01:50] Discussion about the new CEO of Trezor and the continuity of the company with the previous management.

Trezor’s growth and market trends [00:02:44] Discussion about the increase in sales, growth of the company, and the market trend towards self-custody with hardware wallets.

Trezor’s upcoming product announcement [00:07:17] Discussion about an upcoming product announcement from Trezor that will be a breakthrough for the company and the market, expected to be released in 2023.

The new hardware wallet [00:11:08] Discussion about the upcoming Trezor Safe 3 hardware wallet, its design, accessibility, and software features.

Price and features of the new Trezor Safe 3 [00:12:59] Comparison of the new wallet’s price and features with the Trezor One and Trezor Model T.

Physical buttons vs touch screen [00:15:21] Debate on the advantages of physical buttons for user experience and the announcement of a future model with a touch display.

The choice of Wasabi for CoinJoin [00:21:03] Discussion on why Trezor chose Wasabi as a partner for CoinJoin, highlighting the importance of usability and user liquidity.

The privacy concerns with Trezor’s backend servers [00:22:10] Explanation of how Trezor’s use of backend servers can affect privacy and the misconception surrounding it.

The rejection of certain transactions by Wasabi [00:24:25] Explanation of Wasabi’s rejection of certain transactions for CoinJoin and the misunderstanding surrounding it as collaboration with the government.

The recent launch and community support [00:31:35] Discussion about the recent launch and community support for open source solutions.

Durability testing of Trezor devices [00:32:13] Conversation about durability testing for Trezor devices, including a durability test involving Slush, a Trezor One and his BMW’s wheel.

Future plans for Trezor and self-custody [00:38:21] Discussion about the company’s plans for the next ten years, including the goal of educating users on self-custody and reaching millions of users globally.

More shitcoins [00:42:08] Discussion about Trezor’s support for altcoins and how people always seem to end up in Bitcoin.

Outsourcing coin integration and Bitcoin-only version [00:42:55] Conversation about how Trezor outsources the development of integrating new coins and the availability of a Bitcoin-only version.

Efforts in implementing new coins and outsourcing [00:44:21] Discussion about the effort spent on implementing new coins, outsourcing development, and upcoming announcements of new networks.

Vlad Costea

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