The Montreal Bitcoin Embassy was first announced on bitcointalk.org around the middle of June and they successfully secured a building in a beautiful section of Montreal and held a meetup 2 weeks ago. I caught up with the embassy’s executive dirctor, Guillaume, to learn more about this project.
Ruben Alexander: Can you describe how the Bitcoin Embassy (Montreal) concept began?
Guillaume Babin-Tremblay: Like many good things happening in the Bitcoin world, the concept for the Embassy originated on the Bitcointalk forums. Since the early days of Bitcoin, there’s a small but very active and knowledgeable community in Montreal. Pretty much like everywhere else, they began meeting in pubs and restaurants to discuss their common interests. At some point, our Chairman, who has been involved for a long time in the real estate market, decided to offer a regular meeting spot for Bitcoiners in a building he owns in downtown Montreal. After a few meetups there, we found a perfect synergy between some of the most established Bitcoiners in Quebec. He generously decided to dedicate the whole building to Bitcoin-related projects, and after a few discussions, we came up with the Bitcoin Embassy concept.
RA: What is the purpose of having a Bitcoin Embassy (Montreal)?
GBT: Part of the Bitcoin Embassy’s mission is to promote Bitcoin and to accelerate its adoption locally, nationally and globally. One way to do this, especially on a local level, is to create an attraction pole to stimulate the exchange of creative ideas and to facilitate networking throughout the Bitcoin community by regrouping passionate entrepreneurs under the same roof. Montreal is well-known as a technology hub and we are confident great ideas and projects will emerge from this initiative. Also, one of our main goals is to get brick-and-mortar businesses in the neighborhood to accept Bitcoin. We feel that by having a physical presence and easily accessible technical support, merchants will find it much easier and safer to accept Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.
RA: Have the floors of the Embassy been planned out? Could you talk about the purpose of each floor?
GBT: We are in the final stages of our planning phase. We have over 14,000 square feet to work with, so there’s a lot of work ahead of us on that front, especially considering the scope of the renovations we have in mind. On the street level, we will have an open collaborative space with free wifi, food and beverages, as well as a counter with Bitcoin-related items for sale. On the second floor, we have a large open space that we are using as our meetup space, for conferences, lectures, events, and so on. The third floor is where the Bitcoin Embassy offices are. In addition to the Embassy’s offices, we have an incubator for Bitcoin-related start-ups and an open-source development lab. We are currently finalizing the details of our first incubator project, which we will be announcing shortly.
RA: What type of neighborhood surrounds the Embassy?
GBT: We are located in the perfect neighborhood for the projects we have in mind. The words innovative, artistic, trendy and geeky all come to mind. There are several great restaurants and bars, the area being part of the nightlife scene in Montreal. The neighborhood is also home to several other technology companies, including Shopify and large branch offices for Electronic Arts and Google amongst others.
RA: After successfully establishing the Embassy, what would you do differently if you had a second chance?
GBT: Nothing much different really. We have been working very hard and the talent pool we draw from is extremely deep and broad, so we already have contingency plans for almost every eventuality. It’s thrilling to be working with so many smart and forward-thinking minds. So at this point, if we had to start over, we would do pretty much exactly the same thing.
RA: What are some measures you will take to get folks who aren’t tech savvy interested in Bitcoins?
GBT: This is one of our biggest priorities! We are exploring different avenues to engage and educate people about the advantages of owning and using Bitcoins. To do this, we will be holding conferences and lectures, as well as providing introductory packages to help people better understand Bitcoin and ensure that they can make transactions in an easy and secure manner.
RA: What percentage of business comes from Montreal residents compared to those who visit from other countries?
GBT: We are still in the process of preparing our shop for its official launch. We expect that in the long term the ecosystem we’re building around the embassy will make of Montreal a destination of choice for international travelers willing to spend their Bitcoins.
RA: What is the current sentiment about Bitcoins among those you know that don’t like Bitcoins?
GBT: So far, most of the people we are talking with and who have reached out to us are very excited about Bitcoin and are very much pro-Bitcoin. The few we met that aren’t usually bring up the same arguments that we’ve heard: its value is too volatile, it’s used to buy drugs, it’s a ponzi scheme (or digital tulips), it’s not controlled by a central entity etc… Some of them, like volatility, might be valid concerns for now — even though it is probably not for merchants who will mostly likely convert any bitcoin payment to dollars on the fly. Others, like Bitcoin being a ponzi scheme or being the new tulip craze have been debunked and are completely false. Regarding the use of Bitcoin to buy drugs, the reality is that these types of transactions are very limited and amount to less than 0.5 percent of all Bitcoin transactions. The message that we try to impart on those that may still be skeptical is the tremendous benefits of Bitcoin: little or no transaction fees, payments are processed instantaneously, it is extremely secure, and it has a fixed money supply that guards against inflation. These are just some of the many benefits Bitcoin is bringing to society.
RA: Have you seen established businesses accept Bitcoin in Montreal? If so, could you list the businesses now accepting bitcoins from Montreal residents and travelers?
GBT: There are a few businesses in Montreal accepting Bitcoin from what I heard, but I haven’t seen any myself so far. We will change that!
RA: Were there any obstacles from the Canadian government or Montreal government to overcome in completing the Embassy?
GBT: So far so good. We welcome the opportunity to open a dialogue with legislators, regulators and banks about the legal status of Bitcoin. We have already started this conversation; we will continue doing outreach to politicians, legislators, regulators and financial institutions. We are also raising awareness about Bitcoin and its wide-range benefits within the general population.
RA: Overall, how has the Canadian government responded to Bitcoin businesses?
GBT: In recent developments, FinTRAC sent QuickBT a notice to the effect that they are not being considered a money service business. According to QuickBT’s press release on August 22nd, 2013, which cites [the] FinTRAC (Canada) position:
“To be considered a Money Services Business (MSB), an individual or entity must be engaged in the business of any of the following activities in Canada:
• Foreign exchange dealing;
• Remitting or transmitting funds by any means or through any person, entity or electronic funds transfer network; or
• Issuing or redeeming money orders, travellers cheques or other similar negotiable instruments (except for cheques payable to a named person or entity).”
We welcome this development and we are actively trying to establish a clear legal context for Bitcoin companies.
RA: Do you know of any requirements to report personal or business Bitcoin income to the government?
GBT: It has been made clear that Revenu Canada expects Bitcoiners to report capital gains from the sale of their Bitcoins. I think it’s normal that Bitcoin transactions be subject to the same taxation requirement as dollar transactions. We want to comply with all the laws and fiscal policies as they are established and encourage as well as help individuals and business owners to do the same.
RA: Where did you advertise this meetup or publish it online?
GBT: We advertised it on social media networks, on the Bitcointalk forums, on meetup.com and through word of mouth. We are very happy with the turnout. We had about 50 people, some very interesting folks and it was a lot of fun.
RA: Could you provide some stories you heard while at the meetup?
GBT: We were excited to see that the majority of people were already pretty familiar with Bitcoin and some of them had great ideas to help accelerate the adoption of Bitcoin. Some of the funny stories included a guy who mined Bitcoin at the very early stages of its adoption, then forgot about it completely for a few years. One day he realized Bitcoin was actually becoming kind of a big deal, he found his old wallet.dat file and he still had a hundred Bitcoin or so in it.
Suffice it to say, he had a very happy surprise.
RA: What new Montreal based businesses did you hear about?
GBT: We had some people with very interesting ideas, but in terms of actual businesses, we had already met with most of them before the meetup. I’m sure there are others we will discover in time. We are eager to meet them and help them establish their business!
RA: When is the next meetup at the Montreal Bitcoin Embassy?
GBT: September 21st, 2013 at 2:30pm at 3485 Blvd. St-Laurent, H2X 2T6. We would also take the opportunity to extend the invitation to Bitcoin Magazine readers who might be in Montreal that weekend. Hope to see you there!