Igniting Bitcoin’s Consumer Use: Feature Interview With iPayYou’s Gene Kavner
Despite growing popularity, bitcoin is rarely used for everyday commerce. Rather its use as a speculative investment has garnered much attention, with users electing to hold it when the price rises and sell which the price declines. Gene Kavner, founder, and CEO of iPayYou hopes to change this narrative by encouraging everyday consumer spending of Bitcoin. Kavner who has a background as a software developer and digital marketer was previously Worldwide Director of Amazon Associates, the world’s largest internet affiliate program.
Prior to founding iPayYou, he served as the Principal Architect and Director of Software Development for Expedia Lodging, overseeing a team of 60 in the U.S. and China. Kavner holds two U.S. patents and has a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Michigan.
In an interview with Blockchain Magazine, Kavner recently offered his thoughts on why bitcoin spending is key to fostering a vibrant crypto economy, now and in the future.
BM: Where does the spending element fit into the Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto’s original vision?
GK: When Satoshi invented Bitcoin, he wanted to create a decentralized currency that allows people to transact with each other peer to peer, person to person without the involvement of any centralized entity that would control commerce. In terms of this vision and what Satoshi wanted to accomplish, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. A lot still needs to be done.
BM: What, then, has hindered advancement?
GK: Satoshi also created a kind of pure democracy, where open source technology could be debated, discussed and agreed upon publicly. Inevitably there have been disagreements with various factions invested in taking cryptocurrency in one of a number of directions. So we’re at a bit of a crossroad at the moment.
BM: And what’s your position on this?
GK: At iPayYou we believe the e-commerce element is essential to Bitcoin’s long-term viability. We need to ensure that bitcoin becomes a better solution to the problems people face worldwide. The most immediate problem right now is the enabling of peer to peer transactions in a way that’s most useful to those countries where there are either weak financial systems or currencies that governments have not maintain well.
BM: Can you elaborate a bit more here?
GK: It’s important to ensure that Bitcoin is fulfilling Satoshi’s vision of it being something that’s earned and spent not just bought and sold, the latter of which we’ve certainly seen recently. Contrary to his vision, Bitcoin has become purely a speculative instrument used by those hoping that bitcoin prices will keep going up. As I see it, whether bitcoin is one hundred dollars, a thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars per coin is not as important as the fact that bitcoin is a decentralized entity that allows two people to transact.
BM: So where are we at present in terms of fostering transactions between merchants and users?
GK: We know that a lot of merchants are not yet accepting bitcoin. So when we are making bitcoin usable for people to spend with merchants that haven’t necessarily adopted it yet, that’s a sign that we still have a ways to go.
BM: What role do you and your team at iPayYou hope to play in improving this?
GK: We simply want to make everyone’s life better when they use bitcoin. And when I say the word bitcoin, I not necessarily referring to THE BITCOIN as in BTC. Rather, I’m using the word a bit more globally, whether its bitcoin, bitcoin cash, or another type of digital currency. I think it’s best to let the market decide which one offers the most efficient and cost-effective use case for e-commerce.
BM: What in your mind will it take to boost crypto spending among users?
GK: On the one hand bitcoin needs to become a lot simpler to use. We need to provide better education as to how to properly use bitcoin in ways that are different from today’s banking system. Let’s face it, a lot of people are very used to banks and cash. Bitcoin is trying to play a similar role as banks, yet the terminology is becoming too complex for the average users. Questions like “what is a double spend? Or what is a private key or even a mining fee? There’s a lot of strange terminology that people simply are not familiar with.
BM: How can these issues be best addressed?
GK: As an industry, we really need to make Bitcoin more understandable to the average person. More importantly, we need to help people to use it by having more and more places for them to spend it. We believe that merchants will accept bitcoin in greater numbers once they see a lot of users demanding bitcoin acceptance.
BM: There’s been much debate as to whether Bitcoin (BTC) or Bitcoin Cash (BCH) will be the go-to cryptocurrency for everyday use. Where are we at the moment with this?
GK: As of right now we are now seeing greater demand at iPayYou on the Bitcoin Cash side of the equation than with Bitcoin. A lot of the users of bitcoin proper (BTC) still embrace a “hold” bitcoin mentality versus a “spend” mentality. On the other hand, those on the Bitcoin Cash side actually want to spend it which is why low fees and adoption are critically important. So we here at iPayYou are investing a bit more of our effort to make sure that the former community, the Bitcoin Cash community is benefiting.
BM: Are you personally implying then a preference for Bitcoin Cash?
GK: Honestly, we’re not dogmatically focused on one or the other. We simply want to enable Bitcoin e-commerce to happen. And whatever currency is ultimately more amenable to this is what we are going to invest in. At this point, we’re seeing Bitcoin Cash as that currency.
BM: So what does that mean for Bitcoin users on your site?
GK: Oh, we’ll continue to support Bitcoin as well. Whether it’s BTC or BCH, our main goal is to enable all of our customers to transact in a simpler and easier way with as many merchants as they can. We’re also going to be building infrastructure that accommodates a lot more product and services directly into the wallet. We want to make it a simple, one-click experience.
BM: Can you provide us with an example of how a one-click system benefits the user?
GK: We’ll have it so the user doesn’t have to know the exact bitcoin address of the merchant they’re sending a transaction to. They’ll just click on the product they want and we’ll automatically ensure that the merchant receives that payment. In our eyes, that’s what needs to happen.
BM: But again, all of this largely predicated on merchant participation?
GK: That’s certainly true. Merchants would need to know that there are enough customers out there to take advantage of this? Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet. Again, bitcoin is being used too much as a speculative mechanism with the hope of investing a certain amount of dollars into bitcoin and getting more dollars out. If that’s all people do, I don’t think merchants are going to be jumping to accept it soon. It’s not until we see more and more people wanting to earn and spend bitcoin that we’ll start moving merchant acceptance forward.
BM: One of the features of the iPayYou site is that users can purchase a Starbuck gift card using bitcoin. But what are the chances that a big retailer like Starbucks will begin accepting bitcoin directly?
GK: Do we all want Starbucks to accept bitcoin directly? Absolutely! And that’s where we all need to get to. We’re certainly hoping that enough bitcoin users will use this gift card mechanism to get coffee so that as a company, Starbucks at some point will say, hey, we want to enable direct payment. We’ll (Starbucks) just accept it directly.
BM: And the same with Amazon?
GK: No doubt. Having Amazon accept cryptocurrency directly would absolutely play an enormous role in terms of enhancing the reputation of cryptocurrency. There is no question about that. It would serve as a validating process in that it allows people to directly benefit their lives by spending currency on Amazon.
BM: And all of this appears to be significantly more cost-effective using Bitcoin Cash? Is that correct?
GK: Yes. When you use Bitcoin Cash to purchase a Starbucks or Amazon gift card on iPayYou, there are practically no fees (a penny or two). Moreover, the user doesn’t have to wait for confirmations in order to get a gift card. They can purchase a card almost instantly and put it into their Starbucks app and then go there and order a latte.
BM: What is your goal moving forward?
GK: Our goal is to keep building on this momentum, bringing more and more product and services into the reach of each consumer so they can spend their bitcoin. In a broader context, the focus is on solving everyday problems for the average bitcoin person. In other words, how does it help people who are unbanked? Or citizens in countries like Venezuela and Zimbabwe who just want to spend it peer-to-peer without having to rely on a banking system. It all boils down to the effective use of this new payment mechanism. That, in my mind, is what will determine the long-term success of cryptocurrency. Once we solve these issues, direct transactions through Amazon and Starbucks will eventually happen.
BM: So where do you think the whole Bitcoin movement is headed over the next 12-18 months?
GK: We are definitely headed to a place where more and more consumers are wanting to use bitcoin. Of course, there will always be a group of people who will continue to want to use bitcoin as a speculative asset. But in my opinion, we cannot rely on price as the only thing that drives bitcoin forward. We need to keep enabling bitcoin for use in commerce. The good news is that I think there are more and more companies like iPayYou that are going to be bringing e-commerce solutions online making it simpler, better, and easier to use bitcoin. And as this occurs, more merchants will accept it.
BM: Any final thoughts to add?
GK: My hope that bitcoin’s rebound in price will be due to its everyday usefulness, not just as a speculative currency. Honestly, I believe that this trajectory is going to be four steps forward and three steps back. But that’s the norm. It’s a process that will yield results in time if we have the right attitude and right set of expectations. This will allow us to eventually turn Bitcoin into what Satoshi envisioned nine years ago.