Life in a Bitcoin Startup

Oct 19

A few weeks ago, I joined Bitpay, a company that helps businesses accept bitcoins over the web or at point-of-sale. This is an interesting business to be in, because for me the main thing has been learning about Bitcoin and also learning about being a coder in a culture that I expect is more like normal coding culture than the companies I've worked for in the past.

What I want to talk about here is a problem that I think Bitcoin has, which is that cryptocurrency is poorly understood outside of a fairly small, and fairly homogeneous user group. This is a problem that, to some degree, Bitpay addresses by making it easier for anyone to accept Bitcoin as a method of payment. However, as I think this question on StackExchange shows, non-technical people (and some technical people) still have trouble accepting the idea of Bitcoin as a legit means of holding and moving value.

The core users of Bitcoin are technically savvy. If you look at the first businesses to accept bitcoin, places like NewEgg, it seems that they were catering to this group. People who need computer equipment. People who are, statistically speaking at least, middle class, young, and male.

But everybody can benefit from Bitcoin. Bitcoin has the potential to be incredibly empowering. It is a decentralized protocol that can be scripted. Consumer protection can literally be written into the transaction, identity theft is practically impossible. These are not concerns only to 18-40 year old white males. Women also worry about having their identity stolen, and minorities are concerned about the security of their financial transactions. A huge market for Bitcoin, potentially, is people who can't get a checking account. Paycheck cashing places charge gigantic fees. There has to be a better way to do that transaction, and it seems like Bitcoin, as the currency gains some stability, has a potential role there. After all, anybody can get a Bitcoin wallet.

Which would be really helpful for people buying gas, you could pay at the pump, in cash (BTC) rather than having to go into the store. A small thing, a convenience the rest of us take for granted but one that is denied to anyone without a checking account. If you carry a lot of cash around, also, you are a target for theft. So there's some advantage there as well.

The point being, there are benefits to cryptocurrency for people who are not members of the current user group. The current user group is actually made up mostly of computer programmers, who are famously hostile to women. I say famously because whether you believe it is justified or not, we're still famous for it. That fame is a reality, a real thing that can't be ignored, and it's a problem for Bitcoin. The reason it's a problem is that women vote, and if women don't know about Bitcoin or are misinformed about how "dangerous" it might be, that's one less constituency with an interest in not regulating cryptocurrency out of existence. The biggest enemy to Bitcoin is FUD, and FUD's greatest enemy is information.

The best information I can think of for the future of Bitcoin is that Bitcoin is for you, whoever you are. If you have a lot of money or almost no money at all, Bitcoin can work for you. You can punch a Bitcoin address into a flip phone or even scan the QR code. There are uses for Bitcoin in Africa, where digital currency has better traction than it does in the US. Here in the developed world, it's a way to get rid of credit card fees and other corporate taxes.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm glad the Girl Scouts accept Bitcoin. It's a start.