In the first part of this series, we discussed the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada, a Bitcoin association focused on the needs of Canadian users that has seen rapid growth since it was originally founded in April this year. The Bitcoin Alliance of Canada’s main distinguishing feature is its highly democratic organizational structure; unlike most other national organizations, the board of directors was chosen by a selection committee that anyone in Canada had the opportunity to participate in. In the first part of this series, we talked about what the Alliance is, how it was formed and what distinguishes it from other Bitcoin organizations. Here, Anthony Di Iorio shares his thoughts on how and why he founded the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada, and what the future of both the Alliance and the Canadian Bitcoin community as a whole might bring.
Vitalik Buterin: Talk about who you were before Bitcoin.
Anthony Di Iorio: My schooling was in marketing and business, but I’ve always had a passion for Computers and technology I worked in my family business, which was a sliding door manufacturing company, until it was sold in the mid-2000s. In 2007, I got into green technology; I started a geothermal drilling company, and I did that for a couple of years; it was successful, it did well. It involved drilling holes hundreds of feet deep into the earth to heat and cool buildings using the Earth’s temperature. I got out of the operations and pushed the drilling off to another company, that continued doing the drilling work, allowing me to free up my time. At this time, I also had some rental properties, but due to what is in my opinion the imminent collapse of the housing market in Canada, I sold the properties. Looking for investments, I first heard about Bitcoin in the middle of last year and soon fell down the rabbit hole. It has enveloped me ever since. A month after that, I started the Toronto Bitcoin community meetup group.
VB: So what happened next?
ADI: At that time Butterfly Labs was announcing their miners, and I made a decision of whether or not I would get involved in mining, but I decided to invest into Bitcoin instead. I didn’t like Butterfly Labs as a company; that involved their attitude, customer support and how they were treating their customers, and I decided that it was just not a company I wanted to work with. I follow mining a little bit, but it’s not something that I really got involved in; there was just so much other stuff going on, it’s hard to get involved with everything. I invested a sizable amount into Bitcoin when it was at $10, I started the meetup group, then created SatoshiCircle (which we’ll discuss in the 3rd part of this article), then I founded the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada. From then on everything that I’ve done has been Bitcoin-related full time. Now, after selling SatoshiCircle a few months back I’m fully committed to the Alliance and building Bitcoin communities.
VB: Could you explain how and why you created the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada?
ADI: This was all during the media frenzy in April, so seeing the interviews that were going on on national TV in Canada I really felt that there was a lack of proper representation of Bitcoin, a lack of good quality people to talk to media and promote Bitcoin, and that’s where the concept for the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada started. And from there, our goals expanded.
My concept for the Alliance was a nonprofit organization of Bitcoin enthusiasts, volunteers that were interested in coming together to represent Bitcoin in Canada. In April I put out a press release making a general call for anyone that wanted to get involved. Over the next two to three months I communicated with hundreds of people across Canada. After a few more press releases and a last call for involvement, it was time to put together the board of directors. Through input from the community, it was decided that two groups would be commissioned: one group of board applicants, and another group to serve as an independent board election committee. Of the thirteen applicants, seven board members were ultimately elected by the fifteen-member election committee. Having applied myself, I became a member of the board.
The structure of the Alliance is key. It’s a bottom-up approach that I feel is the best model to approach community building. It’s a longer approach that’s cautious, as you’re not just announcing your plans fully formed and dictating everything to the community, but I believe it’s one that everyone can be happy with at the end.
VB: What’s the Alliance’s status on its negotiations with the Bitcoin Foundation?
ADI: Because we’re so well on our way to developing this national organization, with directors, committees, legal counsel and accountants already onboard, we were asked by the Foundation to take part in their international chapter/affiliate program as a test model. I spoke with Jon Matonis and had a lengthy talk about what his vision was for the Foundation. I laid out our background and our thoughts for the Alliance. In the end out board decided that, although our board would like to work with the Foundation, we need to continue to push forward independently for the time being. We believe the proposal from the Foundation is not developed sufficiently at this point, and would hold us back for a period that we’re not willing to commit to.
VB: What point is the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada at right now?
ADI: We have a seven-member elected board, and nine committees each run by a board member. We have an official legal counsel and two accountants. All of us are working pro bono in a volunteer effort. I’ve been elected Executive Director by the board, and I’m committing myself on a full-time basis to this role. I work with many leaders on a day-to-day basis; currently we are adding advisors and expertise to our committees, developing our membership structure and building towards our official public launch next month. We’re also at a point where we’re encouraging other national leaders to contact us for assistance or to just share our resources and help any national group get off the ground. If this sounds interesting to you, feel free to contact us.
VB: How do you feel about the current and future state of Bitcoin business in Canada?
ADI: There is definitely a growth of Bitcoin businesses in Canada. We’re seeing meetup events specifically focusing on Bitcoin businesses, entrepreneurs and merchant services. We have CaVirtex, the largest exchange in Canada,developing their own BitPay-esque merchant services. They’ve hired salaried employees to go signing up merchants, so that’s a big step. One of our board members is involved in CaVirtex, and he is running the merchant committee in the Alliance as well. The Alliance is working with CaVirtex, and we intend to reach out to all Bitcoin businesses, listen to them, and see how we can assist them in developing the Bitcoin ecosystem.
It’s important to get brick-and-mortar businesses onboard with Bitcoin; this will be a focus of the Alliance. I believe you want to target people that are technically inclined and want to be leaders in their industry; those are the types of people that are going to be the most receptive to Bitcoin, I think. What we need to let business owners know is this: there is a huge press opportunity for you to get involved, it’s free to set up, and you can pay lower fees compared to traditional credit card and debit card purchases, so there will be an opportunity to pass along savings to customers. You don’t need to be a speculator in Bitcoin; you can transfer your Bitcoin revenues to dollars in your bank account as frequently as you would like. There is very little reason not to accept Bitcoin if you are a merchant or business owner today. Heck, my lawyer accepts Bitcoin, and my accountant accepts Bitcoin, so there are people out there.
Hey, we’re still very early. We, me, you, the people at the conference are building this foundation of grassroots enthusiasts. How long will it be before large corporations and banks are getting involved? From the circus of things, it looks like banks are trying to shut things down. My long-term view is the opposite of that. As old-school as many banks are, it’s only going to take a couple forward-thinking institutions to realize that Bitcoin is the future and get onboard. I believe the mining space will be a target, as will the exchanges. It will be an arms race in the next few years as banks from around the world start trying to control the means of production in the mining space, and the means of transaction, which are exchanges. We in the grassroots level must do our best to develop communities, develop collaboration, and develop cooperation. We have to efficiently develop local, national and international cooperation, yet ensure that along the way you’re still promoting independence and decentralization. It’s these groups that will educate the public and counteract potential corporate takeover. That being said, I’m very optimistic of the future of Bitcoin, and even more optimistic of the future of cryptocurrency.
VB: Canada has often been praised as a particularly Bitcoin-friendly jurisdiction, with the Canadian anti-money-laundering agency FINTRAC telling Bitcoin exchanges that they do not need licenses. What do you think is the regulatory future of Bitcoin?
ADI: I think we are considered lenient right now, but I think that it’s going to eventually be controlled by what the banks want. And I think being in Canada we will need to listen a lot to what’s going on in the US, as we have a tendency to follow our southern neighbors. I think the Canadian government and regulatory bodies are taking a “sit back and wait” approach right now in terms of regulation, but I don’t see that lasting very long. I don’t want people to get over-optimistic about what’s going on in Canada at this point; Stu Hoegner, our legal counsel, has the same kind of thinking, which he relayed at the London conference. That being said, many people think Canada is a great place to start a Bitcoin business right now. We’ve had talk with American companies that are thinking of starting operations over here; in my opinion the US isn’t looking very welcoming to Bitcoin, which is unfortunate. However, countries that are welcoming any type of businesses in emerging technologies are going to be reaping the rewards in the end.