For many people who work in technology, the idea of Bitcoin has remained something of a joke since its emergence a few years back. While most will acknowledge that the underlying concepts are significant, the idea of Bitcoin as a mainstream resource or a disruptive new currency will still cause many to chuckle or roll their eyes.
Yet, as someone who works as an entrepreneur in the technology sector, I’ve developed a different outlook over the past year or so. I agree that many still overstate the ultimate potential or significance of Bitcoin in global finance, but it has become clear that the digital currency will soon have more of an impact on our day-to-day lives.
Mainstream usage for digital currency may now be little more than a concept, but with a number of interesting startup companies seeking to take advantage of the new(ish) technology, practical applications are starting to emerge quite frequently. Here are a few examples, as highlighted by an editorial from Business Insider.
Blade Payments is still in its first year of operation, but if it really gets off the ground it could become the most significant Bitcoin-related startup out there, at least in terms of providing mainstream functionality. Essentially, the company provides users with prepaid debit cards whose funds come from Bitcoin; you can load your card with Bitcoin, and then use it at popular retailers just as you would any other, ordinarily loaded debit card. This is significant because, as Blade CEO Ed Boyle said in a press release, “It’s the age old chicken and egg problem: which comes first, merchants or consumers? Blade takes away half of the equation by fully solving for the merchant side.” Indeed, Blade has made it possible for just about any mainstream retailer or merchant to accept Bitcoin payments—now it’s just up to consumers to use Blade’s products.
The idea of a Bitcoin wallet is one that’s already taken a few different forms, with varying degrees of clarity and success. To be clear, some refer to computer or smartphone Bitcoin storage as a “wallet,” but there is also such a thing as physical storage. Inbreaking down the history and use of Bitcoin, FXCM wrote that “a paper wallet is a paper snippet containing two QR-codes: one for the address and another for the private key.” Such an option is described as a good back up option. Well, Ledger Wallet’s significance is that it essentially combines the two ideas—online wallets and physical alternatives—in the form of a highly secure USB stick. The idea is to provide maximum convenience while also saving users the potential security risk of storing private key information online, or in a paper wallet. Naturally, this can expand mainstream usage by alleviating some of the security concerns of would-be Bitcoin users. However, it can also entice more users by making its storage a more tangible, familiar concept.
Circle is one Bitcoin-related startup that has taken the unique approach of building its foundation on the idea that people don’t want to use the currency. Other companies seeking to design everyday applications are looking to take advantage of people’s intrigue related to Bitcoin by making it easier to use, store, and understand. Circle is instead appealing to those who don’t want to bother with it but like the idea of easily transferred digital currency. It does so simply by providing a money transfer tool that converts imported currency to Bitcoin, but it displays values in the user’s primary currency terms. Put more simply, this means you can load your Circle account with $100, have it converted to Bitcoin, and then choose to send someone $15 and have the conversion done automatically. You’re basically dealing with Bitcoin without realizing it. Founder Jeremy Allaire remarked that “there aren’t a lot of direct competitors,” and he’s right as Circle relates to Bitcoin. There’s a chance the company makes a major impact with users who just don’t want to delve into the complexities of Bitcoin just yet. However, one has to wonder if at this stage such users might prefer other, ordinary money transfer methods.
These are only a few of many examples of Bitcoin-related startups, but they exemplify the ways in which entrepreneurs are looking to make the digital currency more practical. There’s still a long road ahead for such currency, and many won’t trust it in everyday use for years to come, but services like these stand to hasten the process.