Bitcoin and the False Dichotomy

This post originally appeared on Geekwire.

You might have asked someone recently, what the heck is going on with Bitcoin? Or maybe you are still wondering what Bitcoin is, or even questioning its relevancy?

A lot has changed in the last year in the cryptoworld — most notably Bitcoin’s price. It’s a good time to dissect a few points about Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market, things I couldn’t help but notice during my first year in the industry.

The biggest point is the false dichotomy in the general perception of Bitcoin. I’d like to unpeel this and provide a deeper evaluation of the industry, because people who commit the mistake of false dichotomy do themselves a disservice by not taking a full view of what’s going on.

First, a definition to help us here:

A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy that presents two opposing views, options or outcomes in such a way that they seem to be the only possibilities: that is, if one is true, the other must be false, or, more typically, if you do not accept one then the other must be accepted.

As one of the few people here in Seattle who frequently (attempts) to explain Bitcoin to non-technical people, and being the one who handles customer interactions for Coinme, I have noticed a problem. The media, tech executives and the general public talk about Bitcoin mostly by committing to a false dichotomy. Quite amusingly, I find people either preach the positives of Bitcoin or they dismiss it, like Gagnam style. One side thinks we’ll live in a libertarian world where Bitcoin will eventually be an anonymized currency to rule us all, and the other believes it’s only for crooks in the shady, dark interwebs. “It’s doomed to fail!” they pronounce enthusiastically.

Well, neither are true.

When I read about a new random Bitcoin startup here, or a larger funding round there, I start to understand how things are changing, and in what direction. The more I talk with highly technical people who mine Bitcoin or build on top of the blockchain, I learn we’re very early in something very special. Even though we aren’t living in Crypto-utopia, there is a subtle rumbling deep within the Internet we should pay attention to.Studying Bitcoin and watching the markets adjust has taught me a very important lesson: nothing ever ends up being 100% of what you think it will be. Innovation cannot be predicted, and the future cannot be known ahead of time. Correctly predicting the future is simply a function of luck. But seeing around corners can be a function of deep listening, observing and learning. So the best action for success is to (safely) get as close to the something as possible, and learn as much about it as you can, so you start to identify where the world is heading. Only then are you equipped with perspectives on where to invest your time, capital and energy.

My time around Bitcoin has shown me that our world will not be changed as much by the cryptocurrency you read about today as by the underlying technology.

Joichi Ito, who has been involved in building many layers and pieces of the Internet — from helping start the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan to investing in Twitter and helping bring it to Japan — recently wrote about the similarities between Bitcoin and the internet:

The similarity is that Bitcoin is a transportation infrastructure that is decentralized, efficient and based on an open protocol. Instead of transferring packets of data over a dynamic network in contrast to the circuits and leased lines that preceded the Internet, Bitcoin’s protocol, the blockchain, allows trust to be established between mutually distrusting parties in an efficient and decentralized way. Although you could argue that the ledger is “centralized”, it’s created through mechanical decentralized consensus.

What Ito is saying is that we could actually be witnessing the early stages of the next phase of the connected world, a time not so dissimilar to what we experienced in the early 1990s.

An often quoted example of a false dichotomy was when the Internet first gained media attention in the early to mid-nineties. Back then, many people thought it was a fad, hard to understand and a waste of time and money.  They simply couldn’t get their head around the fact that there were more than just two possibilities: A (success) or Z (failure).

And therein lies the fallacy of the false dichotomy around Bitcoin.

What we witnessed with the Internet was the invention of the web and the browser, which commercialized the internet and brought with it every major corporation in the world. By ending up somewhere between A and Z, the world changed forever.

It’s clear to me and many others in the industry we are still in the “pre-browser” era of Bitcoin and blockchain technology.  It’s there, but you really don’t know how to interact with it. What happens when we reach the “Netscape” moment of Bitcoin?

Could Bitcoin — the currency — pop and crash?

Yes, it could.

But seeing investment dollars in the cryptocurrency/bitcoin market grow each quarter, one has to believe that if Bitcoin the currency pops, then something else will emerge even better and more suited for the general public.

What will that be?

I could take a guess but in reality I don’t have a clue. Yet committing the false dichotomy sin here is a grave mistake. An important point to understand is that Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, is just one app that runs on the blockchain technology. People well-versed in bitcoin are familiar with the blockchain, the underlying open-source technology (or rails) that bitcoin the currency runs on. Looking deeper, theblockchain stack presents interesting solutions to problems which have hindered our society for quite some time — outside of finance. Issues such as trust, security and identity can be improved with applications built on the blockchain.

In fact, here are a few other areas where the blockchain serves as underlying technology.

  • OpenBazzar: An open peer-to-peer marketplace not controlled by any specific organization such as eBay or Craigslist. Ideas like this, using a decentralized platform to exchange goods and services, could change e-commerce as we know it.
  • Factom: A conceptual framework for a system that secures and proves the authenticity of records, documents or other important types of data that are later enshrined on the Bitcoin blockchain. This could transform how we handle record-keeping online.
  • Counterparty: An example of digitizing property and identity. Developers are starting to build networks that work in parallel to the Bitcoin blockchain to perform tasks that the bitcoin network can’t, but that make use of the bitcoin blockchain to, for instance, timestamp or validate work.

The reality is that no one really knows what will happen next — that is why it’s called innovation.  But something is going to happen in this area to improve our lives and I hope you don’t get caught up in thinking only A or Z is possible.

Most likely somewhere in between A and Z we’ll see Bitcoin technologies enhance our digital lives. There’s more down there than you think.

 

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What I Learned Launching A ‘Crazy’ Bitcoin Startup

The months leading up to the announcement of our new company was chock full of lessons learned.  We launched Coinme on May 1st at Spitfire in Belltown during a well attended launch party, complete with our first Meetup and an entertaining expert bitcoin panel.

It was the culmination of many long days, phone calls, emails, re-designs, re-brandings, and all sorts of other seemingly frustrating things.  Below I have detailed three of which helped me realize a few things – namely the biggest risk of all is not taking a risk.

Setting a deadline is essential

Setting yourself a deadline – be it a launch party, a internal team milepost or some other marker – is the single best thing you can do to push yourself and your team to execute and actually complete what you set out to complete.  We set May 1st as our launch party, and determined the machine needed to be there, dressed in its new costume and ready to take live transactions in front of more than an hundred people.

photo (9)We also – very importantly – needed to get passed through the State of Washington as an officially licensed money transmitter business before this date.  You have no idea what was required for all these pieces to come together, and before we began this process I didn’t either.  But given we had committed to launch this company, we held ourselves to the deadline and pulled through right at the end.

I have painfully seen it time and time again with other startups in Seattle… they never release their feature or finally launch their company.  Crazily, they just keep working on things.  In the end, they simply don’t set themselves a deadline to stick to so they just remain in startup purgatory. This is not the right place to be as a startup – trust me.

Being early is both good and bad

One big thing I have learned is it’s very early in the bitcoin world, probably too early for most consumers.  Most people still have no idea what it is, why they should purchase it, and why they should use it for payments.  Although the answer to those questions will be left for future posts, suffice it to say the entire world is still trying to figure it out.  Coinme, as a company, believes in the transformative nature of the technology and feel it can influence not only financial transactions but many more industries.  And again, it’s way too early to tell.

But we feel our opportunity to influence such an early industry was/is too great to pass up.  We see areas where we can help educate and inform people about the positives, negatives and in-betweens of this new cryptocurreny world.  We’d rather be early to the party than too late.

Being early to the market can be good for a startup, but it also can be not so good.  If you are too early to the market you risk spending all of your available capital without generating enough revenues (assuming at some point you need to run on revenues, not invested capital) which will ultimately end the business.   Successful businesses are able to time the market in a way where they achieve both early mover advantage and customer adoption.  One without the other spells doom for any high growth company.

Calculated risk is worth it

I touched on this last post but I feel so strongly about it I think its worth addressing again.  Taking a calculated risk – hopefully a number of them – is one of the best things entrepreneurs can do to accel their careers.  Doing what no one else is willing or ready to do places a person in a very select group of people, a group where things are created, companies are sold and millionaires are made.  Even if the venture ultimately fails, the business (or tech) community will consider the founder a leader, an innovator and a healthy risk taker.

And you know what?

That’s exactly the person investors want to invest in.  That’s who others want to follow when they take their next job and join their next company.  That’s who the media wants to cover when they write about the next generation of business leaders.

No imagine if you don’t take that risk…

Trust me, what I learned over the last few months is that the biggest risk of all is not taking a risk.

 

Introducing My Latest Project: Coinme, WA State’s First Bitcoin ATM

coinme logoI’m excited to announce the launch of a new company and project, Coinme.

In addition to forming a new company around the cryptocurrency industry, we just launched the state of Washington’s first Bitcoin Kiosk, or better known as an ATM, on Thursday at a downtown Bar and Grill called Spitfire.  These machines provide a quick access portal to buying and selling the popular cryptocurrency and allow users to to turn their cash into bitcoin, or vise versa.  It simply is the fastest and most secure way to buy and sell bitcoin in the world.

Also notable, we are the nation’s first Licensed Bitcoin Kiosk, meaning the State of Washington and the Department of Financial Institutions has declared our business lawful to operate as a money transmitter within the state of Washington.

I will expand on my thoughts about the new emerging cryptocurrency industry and why I am choosing to dive into it in the near future.  Stay tuned!

photo (9)

Below are a few media articles and more from our press release:

Meet your Bitcoin ATM: Digital currency craze hits Seattle, with help from startup vets

Seattle Welcomes Its First Bitcoin ATM Kiosk at Coinme Launch Party

 

Seattle Technology Executives Launch First Bitcoin Kiosk in the Pacific Northwest

The Coinme Kiosk will be the first licensed bitcoin kiosk in the United States

SEATTLE, Wash. – May 1, 2014, Seattle-area residents will now have a way to conduct fast and secure bitcoin transactions via the Coinme Kiosk. Built by world-leading kiosk manufacturer Robocoin, first-time bitcoin users or avid enthusiasts will now be will be able to buy and sell bitcoin as securely as using a standard ATM.

The launch of the Coinme Kiosk comes months after working closely with state and federal regulators to ensure compliance with existing money transmitter laws, anti-money laundering protocols and KYC (“know your customer”) requirements. As a result, Coinme is the first licensed Bitcoin Kiosk in the United States and complies with state money transmitter laws.

To celebrate this bitcoin milestone, the Seattle community is invited to see a demo of the first Coinme Kiosk and hear a panel of industry experts discuss the potential of cryptocurrency at the company’s launch event beginning at 5:00 p.m., May 1, Spitfire 2219 4th Ave, Seattle, WA.

“Coinme was created out of the frustration local technology executives had with the current state of the Bitcoin market,” said Nick Hughes, General Manager of Coinme. “In order to reach its full potential, the cryptocurrency industry needs more accountability and consumer protection. The market also needs more leaders who are offering education and community outreach,” he said. “Coinme was founded with the goal of bringing all of those factors together. The kiosk is just the start.”

In the coming months, Coinme will roll out additional kiosks in the Seattle metropolitan area. To use the kiosk, users will only need their cell phone and driver’s license. Transactions generally last 5-10 minutes and the funds settle almost immediately; whereas, transactions through online exchanges can take several days. Check the company website for more information and join the newly formed Seattle Bitcoin Meetup for upcoming social events and educational programs.

“At Coinme, we’re a team who believes the digital currency industry needs more accountability and leaders who are accessible to help the general public understand the potential of this new means of exchange,” said Hughes.

 

LAUNCH PARTY DETAILS

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. PST

Spitfire – 2219 4th Avenue Seattle, WA 98104

 

5:00pm – 6:30pm       Networking and Kiosk demos

6:30pm                       Official Coinme announcement

6:35pm                       Bitcoin Panel

6:55pm                       Audience Q&A

7:00pm                       Kiosk demonstration

7:15pm                       Social and kiosk appointment booking

 

ABOUT COINME

Coinme is on a mission to increase cryptocurrency literacy, build the local cryptocurrency economy and provide the fastest and most secure solution for buying and selling Bitcoin.

COINME INFOGRAPHIC

Coinme partnered with Killer Infographics to create an easy-to-understand explanation of bitcoin and how the Coinme Kiosk works. The infographic can be found here.

 

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For general information please go to: www.coinmekiosk.com and follow @CoinmeKiosk

Press inquiries: press@coinmekiosk.com

General inquiries: hello@coinmekiosk.com