Trying to make access to the world’s largest cryptocurrency automatic for the people, BitAccess is looking to build a network of automated Bitcoin banking machines available worldwide.
The concept of a Bitcoin ATM isn’t new, with companies like Robocoin Technologies, GenesisCoin, Lamassu Bitcoin Ventures, and BitXatm all launching variations on bitcoin transaction hardware, but BitAccess touts an incredibly easy interface, a broader vision of how new hardware can be used, and the fact that it is the only player manufacturing its own transaction hardware.
“All you need is a phone number and a dollar,” to get a unit of Bitcoin says Haseeb Awan, one of the four co-founders behind BitAccess.
Awan and his three co-founders met in Ottawa, Canada at a startup weekend competition and then later worked together at a local accelerator there where they were each developing different ideas. Awan was working on a payment system for parking, Ryan Wallace was developing faster checkout technologies, Mohammad Adam was developing a point of sale technology for Bitcoin and Vignesh Sundaresan was developing a cryptocurrency exchange.
Beyond shared interests, the four were keenly aware of the problems associated with getting Bitcoin in the hands of the general public, beyond the hardcore community which had grown up around the cryptocurrency and exchange platform.
“There was a lack of trust,” says Awan. “What we wanted was when you wanted to get Bitcoin you could just walk up to a machine.” So the four began working together in November 2013 and launched their first machine on January 1st, 2014.
The entrepreneurs installed their first machine in Decentral, the startup incubator dedicated to financial technology innovation.
From those humble beginnings the company applied for and was accepted into the latest Y Combinator cohort, from which they’re just launching. They’ve also managed to line up customers in 40 cities, and are already operating in 20 cities, with new ATMs shipping every day.
“Our focus is on how people can use this ATM as a platform,” Awan says. He sees the BitAccess kiosks as a hardware platform for multiple applications. Instead of just exchanging currency for cryptocurrency, Awan envisions developers building additional transaction tech to run on BitAccess machines. The company launched an API this month so people can develop other tools for just that purpose.
Anything from money transfers between individuals to eventually exchanges of other types of digital contracts could run over the BitAccess network of machines, Awan says.
Here’s how a basic transaction works. The machine prompts users to enter their telephone number and then a code is texted to the that number. Once it’s received the person enters that code into the machine and is prompted on whether they’d like to buy a certain amount of Bitcoin. If the answer is yes, the machine then prompts the user for their bitcoin wallet.
If a user doesn’t have a wallet, the machine generates a piece of paper which is the amount of Bitcoin they’ve acquired — think of it like a cryptocurrency version of a dollar bill, except the value is however many Bitcoins or Satoshis the user has exchanged currency to receive. The machine then texts a receipt of the transaction to a user’s cell phone.
“We are expanding globally right now,” says Awan. “The ultimate goal is to have a global network of these machines where you can transfer fiat currency and Bitcoin. It’s an infrastructure play.”